Giving in to Fear is Worse Than Failure

Success requires overcoming fear

Short excerpt from the book Swing: Finding the Courage to Become

Casey’s Way. This lesson is essential.

But it’s not always easy to learn—at least it wasn’t easy for me. I’ve learned over the

downloadyears that a lot of people face the same struggle. It’s hard sometimes to remember that giving in to fear often brings worse results than whatever you’re trying to avoid. It reminds me of the great baseball poem “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer. It begins:

“The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day; The score stood four to two, with but one inning to play, And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same, A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.”

I can relate to that “pall-like silence”. I felt it every second as I walked to the batter’s box and stood there with my bat on my shoulder. And that feeling lasted for many years. I felt it again, even more deeply, at my college orientation.

As the poem progresses, however, it goes in a very different direction than my youthful experience. Thayer wrote:

“There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place; There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile lit Casey’s face. And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat, No stranger in the crowd could doubt ‘twas Casey at the bat.”

That wasn’t my experience at all. But at this point Casey’s story gets really interesting. With two strikes against him, and everything on the line, Casey knows that it all depends on him:

“The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate, He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate; And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go, And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.”

He took the swing! With so much force that the air was “shattered.” That’s power. That’s amazing. I find myself holding my breath.

I know he struck out. I’ve read the poem before. But still, I find myself in awe. He took the swing with all his might. He gave it everything. Okay, he struck out. Just like me. And he lost the game, while in my story we won. So a lot of things are different.

But one thing is incredibly different. One little thing. He took the swing, with all his heart and soul.

That’s what it means to have courage. That’s why he was such a famous hitter. That’s why the crowd was so sure he would win it for them. Not because he was perfect. He clearly had his failures. The whole poem is about one of his huge failures. But he was a great and successful hitter because he took the swing. How many times he hit the ball isn’t mentioned in the poem, but it must have been a lot or the fans wouldn’t have been so sure of him.

Obviously Casey hit a lot of balls before this famous strike out, and no doubt he kept swinging in games that came later. Because of such swings, he was known as a truly great hitter. It isn’t just the hits that bring success, it’s also the swings. When we truly swing for what we want in life, with courage and our whole heart, we’re going to get some big hits. But it is the swinging that counts.

Keeping the bat on my 12-year-old shoulder was the problem. Striking out while swinging would have been great. Way better than not even trying. And going to my college orientation alone, even fearful and doubting, would have been the right move too. The worst-case scenario is to not even swing, or to take mommy to hold my hand on the first day of college—to let fear run my life, instead of just trying. Giving in to fear is worse than failure.


COURAGEOUS ACTION IS VITAL FOR SUCCESS. (Allowing fear to run our lives nearly always brings more and more fear. Trying and failing at least teaches us important lessons that help us learn how to do better.)

Failure is just failure, after all, it’s not the end of the world. Everyone fails. And failure teaches us a lot of important lessons, if we’re willing to learn from it. All truly successful people—in all walks of life—have failed and learned, and then kept trying. This is part of success. A key part. Just look at the string of failures put together by people like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Albert Einstein, all before they did truly great things.

Churchill said that “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Allowing fear to run our lives is much worse than failure, because it guarantees that we won’t succeed. Letting fear control us shuts down enthusiasm, and it blocks our progress. That’s the bottom of the barrel.