How St. Teresa of Avila Helped Me Overcome the Fear of Failure

Stained glass image of St. Teresa of Avila.For many years, I struggled to overcome a paralyzing fear of failure. I was living a circumscribed life, afraid to take risks, unwilling to step out boldly and develop my talents in the service of God and neighbor. The painful memories of past mistakes and failures almost smothered my desire to be a professional writer. In college, I struggled with writing term papers and at one point I even dropped out of a writing course because I had convinced myself that I wasn’t talented enough to be a “real writer.”

For years, I let myself live this way, desperately unhappy and painfully aware that I was not making good use of the gifts that God had given me. Instead, I had buried them like the unwise servant buried his bag of gold in the Parable of the Talents. (Matthew 25:14-30)

Not long ago, on a whim, I picked up a copy of St. Teresa of Ávila’s autobiography. I knew of this saint only as a famous Carmelite mystic and doctor of the Church. I was mostly unfamiliar with her writing and had expected ethereal meditations on her many raptures and visions. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that her style was engaging, unpretentious, and relatable. Her profound spiritual advice is delivered with an endearing humility and self-deprecating humor.

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In one early passage, St. Teresa writes about perseverance in our resolutions: “There is no task, however hard, that I would hesitate to undertake if it were put before me. For now I know from plentiful experience that if I resolutely persist in a purpose from the beginning, and it is done for God’s sake only, His Majesty rewards me even in this life in ways which only one who has known their joys can understand.”

Through the saint’s words, I felt that God was reminding me that he will not fail to bring my creative projects to fruition if I undertake them for his greater glory. God does not promise that all my endeavors will be met with worldly success or recognition, but if I remain faithful to his Word and place my trust in his goodness, I can be confident that all things will work out for my good and the good of others.

St. Teresa encourages her readers to be attentive to the inspirations that come to perform good works. Her advice is straightforward and wise: “I would recommend anyone to whom a good inspiration repeatedly comes, never neglect it out of fear. If he turns nakedly to God alone, he need not be afraid of failure, since God is all-powerful.”

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When I read this passage, I felt like St. Teresa was speaking directly to me. One of my childhood dreams was to become a novelist, but in the wake of my painful college experiences, I had buried my passion for writing fiction. Even after I began writing professionally, I contented myself with publishing articles and short essays online. Indeed, these efforts met with some success, but I just couldn’t shake a sense of restlessness, a feeling that I was called to attempt more substantial literary projects. Particularly, I feel called to write fiction for children and young adults, to write stories that entertain, educate, and inspire young people to dare great things. I believe it is important for kids to have access to stories that embrace what is good, true, and beautiful.

Until now, I had been neglecting this good inspiration out of fear of failure and fear of rejection. What if I’m really not talented enough? What if no one reads my novels? What if I receive nasty criticism?

Once again, St. Teresa had the answer I needed: “The greater the fear, the greater and the sweeter the subsequent reward will be if we succeed.” God doesn’t desire me to live in fear. He will grant me the grace to tackle the challenges before me if only I step out boldly in his service. St. Teresa helped me realize that God’s grace is stronger than my fears. I can be confident that following my good inspirations will lead me to abiding joy and profound inner peace, a reward greater than any monetary gain or professional recognition.

When I finally made the decision to begin writing children’s fiction, I felt a powerful sense of purpose and peace wash over me like a wave. Doubtless, this new adventure won’t be easy. Trials, disappointments, and setbacks may lay before me. But I have a new friend in heaven in St. Teresa of Ávila. Through her kindly intercession, I have confidence that God will bring all my good inspirations to fulfillment according to his will.

Originally published September 7, 2022.