Afraid to Fail

April 30, 2024 | My Jottings

Have you ever missed out on something wonderful in life because you were afraid to fail? I have. More times than I care to count.

When I was little I quickly learned the things I did well (swimming and reading, mostly) and spent a lot of time doing those things. But there were things that I was not good at, and while I don’t think I gave it as much thought as I am doing with this post, I kept a low profile when it came to those things.

I was not a fast runner, not a lover of upper levels of math, or someone who was surrounded by swarms of friends. So instead I played basketball, concentrated on the literary parts of my education, and savored my two or three close friendships. I didn’t know it then, but I can look back now and see that I may have had a fear of failing.

My dad was a basketball coach at my high school from the 1940s until the 1970s. I tagged along with him to almost all the games, sitting in the bleachers and watching the basketball excitement cheerleaders. Even when I was seven years old I knew all the cheers, knew all the cheerleaders by name, and would go home and practice cheers in front of the sliding glass window that led from our family room to our patio. I can still do some of those cheers today, but I am certain you would not want to see this.

I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a cheerleader. At the end of my freshman year of high school, I tried out for cheerleading and miraculously made the squad. In Southern California at that time, one group of six cheerleaders was chosen for the whole school year. We didn’t have a group of cheerleaders for each sport like they do where I live now. My squad had cheerleader uniforms for the football season, the basketball season, and we had what we called a rally uniform for when we had pep rallies during school assemblies and did some of our cheers then.

In order to be a cheerleader one had to go through four weeks of cheerleader training after school, where we learned to do the different jumps (air splits, Russians) and the different cheers and the various contortions required. Then the forty of us went through Screen Outs, where professional cheerleading judges were brought in and we tried out in front of them. This narrowed the approximately forty of us down to twelve, and the results were posted all over the school the next day. I was ecstatic to see that I came in third place. But the next part of the competition was what made me the most nervous. The entire high school then had to vote on the twelve girls who made Screen Outs, and the six with the most votes out of those twelve would be the cheerleaders for the following year. I wasn’t certain of my popularity and thought there was a pretty good chance I would not win.

So when I did, I was thrilled and a bit relieved. Maybe I wasn’t the geek I thought I was. And being a cheerleader during my sophomore year in high school was a blast. I was on the squad with five other girls I hadn’t known very well before this, and each one of them was a jewel. Over the next year we competed in different cheerleading competitions, went to San Diego State University for a week of cheerleading camp, had practice two times a week after school, rode on the buses to the games to cheer the teams on, wore our uniforms to school on game days, tried to generate a lot of school spirit during the games, and made lots of memories I still carry with me.

As my sophomore year drew to a close, it was time to think about trying out again for cheerleading the next year. But the more I thought about it, the more I grew afraid that I wouldn’t make it again. I thought that being chosen once was a near-miracle, and that my chances for being voted in two years in a row were unlikely. So rather than just do my best and see what happened, I didn’t try out again. When people asked me why I wasn’t trying out for cheerleading the next year (because most people just kept right on trying out for cheerleading once they’d made the squad) I just casually answered that I didn’t want to. This was not the truth. I really did want to be a cheerleader again, but I was afraid to fail. So rather than try and fail, I just decided not to try at all. And maybe I missed out on another year of wonderful memories.

Here’s the yearbook photo of our cheerleading squad in 1973. Our uniforms were cardinal (deep red) and white:

L-R: Cindy Akin, Shelly Zahrt, Desiree Giambrone (in back), me (doing splits in front), Shawn Cover, Trudy McRae.

How about you? Have you ever refrained from doing something because you were afraid you would fail at it? Have you ever not reached out to someone because you weren’t sure they would accept you? What kinds of things have you missed out on because you didn’t want to fail?

I have failed at marriage, at friendship, at mothering, at being a good Christian, at loving well, at so many things…

And I keep failing. But I’m going to keep trying. With God’s help, I will face my failures, ask Him to help me get back up, trust that He’ll help me do better next time, and try again.


  1. Kay says:

    Too bad you didn’t try out your junior year, Julie…with your splits skills, you could have gone on to cheer for the Lakers for sure! I’m impressed!
    Seriously though, aren’t you glad for Romans 8:28? God really does work all things out for our good when we love Him and hear His call….in spite of our missed opportunities.

  2. Sue Raimo says:

    What fun to see the cheerleading photo! Who would have guessed?!

    The most obvious things I don’t try because of fear of failure have to do with financial risk. I seldom attempt home improvement projects on my own because if they fail, it will cost too much to make it right. I don’t know if this is sensible caution or fear keeping me from a great adventure into untapped potential.

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