Facing Failure: The Art of Eating Live Frogs

From Jeff: This is a guest article from Anne Peterson. Anne is a poet, speaker, and author of 42 Bible studies and 25 articles with Christianity Today. Her book, Real Love: Guaranteed to Last is releasing today. Find out more by visiting Anne’s website, blog, or Facebook page.

“I can’t,” I said as a kid, growing up.

“There’s no such word as ‘can’t,'” Mom told me every time. And how right she was.

Frog on face
Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc

Funny how some conversations burrow themselves deep into our brains. There’s no such word as can’t?  I wonder what would happen if we actually believed that — especially when it came to creative pursuits.

Consider the excuses we make every day and how they hold us back:

  • I can’t write.
  • I’m not as good as ____. 
  • I can’t share that (it’s too personal).
  • What would people think? 
  • I’m not ready.

Yes, you can…

The truth is you are already competent and capable. You just need to acknowledge the fact. Remember the children’s story of the little engine that could? When he changed his locomotive mind, he changed his destiny. You can do the same.

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” You have to start believing you can do it, whatever “it” is. Here’s an exercise:

  1. Make a list of the things you’re avoiding because of what you “can’t” do. Maybe it’s submitting a piece to a popular publication or joining that local writer’s group. Maybe it’s even writing the story that’s been burning inside you for years.
  2. Now picture yourself doing those things. See yourself pressing the “send” on that pitch to the editor or signing up for that group that intimidates you. Feel the relief that comes with taking the next step. You may wonder why it took so long to start in the first place.
  3. Then imagine yourself doing what you’re afraid of all the time. Can you visualize the kind of person you’d be, constantly sharing ideas without fear of rejection, getting feedback without being defensive, chasing your dream without restraint?

It’s a fun exercise, until you have to do it. When we apply these concepts to our actual lives, it can become altogether scary.

Swallow the frog

So… now what? Start small: Think of one thing you’re avoiding and then do it.

Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” What you need to do is identify your frog — your absolute worst-case scenario — and swallow it whole.

What would happen if your fears were realized? It’s probably not as bad as you think. Go ahead and get it over with now, so you can move on.

Remember the game Red Rover? You can almost hear the children chanting: “Red Rover, Red Rover let Jimmy come over.” And there you stood, shaking, as Jimmy — the biggest kid in third grade — came barreling down the field in your direction.

And what did you do? The only thing you could: You let go. You quit. Didn’t even try. And you probably regretted it for the rest of grade school.

Well, here’s another chance to take a stand — this time, without the threat of bodily harm. Grab hold of the thing you’re afraid of and don’t let go.

Failure isn’t final

At worst, you will fail. You’ll write something sub-par or have your art misunderstood. A critic will come along and tell you he hates your work. You’ll get your feelings hurt.

But failure is not the end. It’s something you encounter on your way to success. So please, stop trying to do things without failing; it isn’t possible. So if you’re going to do this, you might as well learn how to fail.

Doing anything well takes practice. Winston Churchill said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” So, what’s holding you back? It certainly isn’t failure, it can’t be.

Believe you can do this, that you can achieve your goal, whatever it is. If you’re stuck, look for the frog and swallow it. If you’ve failed, try again. And remember, there’s no such thing as “can’t.” My mother told me so.

Note: Anne’s book, Real Love, is free on Kindle today and tomorrow only. Check it out!

What tips or tricks do you use for facing the threat of failure? Share in the comments.

90 thoughts on “Facing Failure: The Art of Eating Live Frogs

  1. Good post Jeff.

    I’m in that place of identifying the frogs. Some I’m staring at, some I’m nibbling, others I’m swallowing whole. But getting there.

    I enjoy reading your stuff – inspiring!

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Nic. I find the frogs I don’t swallow immediately seem to grow. But, strangely, no matter how big the frog is, I seem to say the same thing once I swallow it, “Why was that such a big deal?”

  2. Feel the fear but do it anyway – oh wait, someone has already beaten me to that wuote. Oh well, I”ll still live it

    1. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Yep, that’s good stuff, no matter who said it first. There are some things we’ll shake all the way through, but we’ll still get to the other side.

  3. Love this encouragement, Anne.  In so many ways I feel like I have learned this but recently some failures from years ago have  reentered my life and I have to face them again.   It’s amazing how everything I thought I understood seems to go out the window when I  have to face a new fear…or an old fear that I thought was behind me.

    The old me used to run from the scary…now I face it and God walks me through it.  You are right, failure is necessary on the road to success.  My failure and mistakes have grown me so much more than success ever has.    Thanks again for the reminder.  I needed it today. 

    1. I totally can relate to what you are saying, Eileen. The fear of the moment becomes the fear of your whole life.

      Thanks for reading, and for your comments. I remember one time a business owner once said he learns from his failures. I sat stunned. 1) that he admitted that he had failures, and 2) that there was any value in them.

      When I was taking an exam in college. I always thought it was funny that the questions I missed when I reviewed them, were always the ones I remembered. We need to change how we look at failure. It’s not our enemy. It’s something we will encounter on the way to something we want.

  4. Brilliant post Anne – really what I needed to hear. So often struggle with fear of failure & can hold me back. But its like you say, we need go face that fear. Love the phrase ‘Failure is never final’ – heard from a few people about the creative process. A very wise, insightful & timely post – thanks for sharing it with us.

    1. Thanks for reading it James. I am still learning about fear and failure. I like the idea of changing the weight of the word failure. To me, it has been something I’ve tried for years to avoid. And yet, some of our greatest lessons have been things we’ve learned when we’ve failed. And anyone whose ever accomplished anything of value has failed. So, it’s helping me see how unrealistic it is to think I can accomplish something without a flaw. I guess that’s the perfectionist in me I’m trying to change. 

  5. Thanks Anne, there’s a story of a high-wire artist who never fell, but one night he had a dream of falling. The next day, he was so afraid of “not” falling, he fell. We all can spend so much time and energy trying “not” to fail that we fail anyway.

    1. Owen,
      I LOVE that story. That could have been me. Not the high-wire part, but definitely believing something into existence. I think I’d like to try believing good things into existence for a while. Thanks for sharing that illustration, Owen. I appreciate it.

      1.  I’ve forwarded your post to a couple of my clients. I hope that’s OK. I’d like to connect with you, if possible. Thanks Anne!  ODB

  6. Wonderful post Anne! I echo the sentiments of all the others here. Naming “it” a frog is a different approach–I like the idea. Not saying swallowing them [yep, more than one it seems] will be a blast, but the alternative of giving space and time to ‘lingering regret’ as a companion is even less appealing. Thanks for the encouragement!

    1. Micky,
      Thanks. I like your line about giving space and time to lingering regret. That closet is full. I want to live the rest of my life out with as few regrets as possible. And making that a life goal is helpful. Helpful in sorting out what I will do, from what I don’t need to pursue. And helpful in knowing where to expend my energy. You only get so much!

      From the first time I heard the idea of swallowing a frog it somehow clicked with me. Maybe because I knew once I did, I didn’t have to think about it. Even when it slid down my throat I knew it would soon be done. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it.

  7. Great post, Jeff.  I would add, for lack of a better term, the Nike slogan: “Just Do It.”  For me it’s been less of an “I can’t” attitude, and more of a “I’m just a little fish in big pond” feeling that has held me back in the past.  But I chose to take action on my own.  Rather than submitting my work to publications and publishers, I decided to “Just Do It.”  That way, I’m getting my work in the market immediately rather than spending countless hours querying publishers and waiting for months, or even years for a deal.  I have a story that I believe needs to be told, heard by others.  I don’t think it would do much good sitting on the shelf, so I self-published.  I believe in time, my work will gain more momentum as self-published work, and when I feel the time is right, I will seek a traditional publishing deal.  I guess you might say I’ve already swallowed the frog.  

    1. Dan,
      Boy, can I relate to what you said about being a little fish in a big pond. I have to fight the voices that say, “Who do you think you are?”

      It’s there I have really been helped by learning I am a writer. I guess I’m talking back to myself.

      And as far as “Just Do It.” I too, use that so I cannot lose momentum. Sometimes when I start getting scared I get what I call a burst of “guts.” And believe me, I make that count. 

      Yes. You have swallowed a frog in publishing your book! Congratulations! I have just self-published mine, Feb. 11th. And it’s just one of others I am going to put out there. We all have stories that need to be told. We need to tell them.

    1. Cheryl,
      Thanks for your comment. I still struggle with this sometimes because when I’m in the moment all I tell myself is, “Don’t fail, you can’t fail.” And that is not helpful. If I see that even failure is movement, I will have a better perspective. Thomas Edison didn’t see his attempts as failures, just steps on his way to a bright idea. (pun intended). 🙂

  8. Whenever I worry about what others think of my art- “she’s crazy” or whatever- I hear in my heart that the only opinion that matters is my sweetheart, JC. So,we have a good laugh and create the heck out of it.

    1. That’s a great way to combat those negatives we hear. To remember who our audience really is. Thanks for sharing. 

  9. Great stuff, Anne. Your writing is so concrete 🙂

    My Dad said something similar to me when I was growing up, “Can’t never did anything.” It echos in my head almost every week.

    When I get afraid to engage something it’s because it feels too big, or just unmanageable, like trying to carry a huge box that I just can’t get my arms around. So, what I do is get out a blank sheet of paper and start writing down all every element of the project that I can think of. Soon, themes and categories emerge, and I’ll try to draw it out; this could be an outline or a list, but it’s often some kind of diagram. By the time I’m done, it feels doable, and in the process, I find the courage to start.

    1. Aaron,
      Thanks for your comments. You certainly have a different way of solving that “too big” project. So are you the kind of person who benefits from mind maps too? I was just curious.

      I mull things over in my mind. For me it kind of simmers there. The frogs, they have to be swallowed, and I know that. But sometimes, they have to be small enough first.

      Thanks for sharing your technique.

      1.  Anne, I do like mind maps 🙂 Sometimes that’s the approach I’ll take. Sometimes it’s just a set of columns. A couple months back, I noticed that I kept putting off certain projects, so I asked why. It turned out that they were all mentally daunting; I just had no idea where to start. So that’s what started this whole sketch-it-out thing. I’ve been surprised how effective and simple it is. I usually know what to do in about 15 minutes.

        The other thing I’ll do is just get up and go for a walk to pray and think about whatever has me stuck.

        1. Aaron,

          I knew it. I saw my first mind map when I returned to school in 2005. It was interesting. It sure helps when you want to retain information.

          I have seen people really benefit from the columns. I will use that as well.
          I agree when things are daunting it does help to break them up in smaller pieces and look at them again. I have a post it note on my computer that helps. It says, You just have to do the next thing.

          That helps me not beat myself up when the whole job isn’t done. The next thing will at least get me closer. Sometimes even little steps will help me feel better.

          Walking and praying is an excellent thing to do.


          1.  Now you made me think of 2 other little strategies 🙂 We buy  a huge role of brown paper (like the stuff grocery bags are made out of) from the paint aisle at home depot, and we use it to let our kids paint on. Sometimes, I’ll roll out a sheet, cut it off, and pin it to the wall. It’s like an instant whiteboard–well, brownboard. The other is the whiteboard i have in my office.

            1. I like that idea. I used to be a preschool teacher years ago and we’d get that white roll of paper, unroll it and draw the outlines of the kids. 

              Since you are probably a visual learner, all these ideas would lend itself to that.

  10. Great post, Anne! You know, I use the technique of picturing the worst-case scenario, seeing that it’s not that bad and then taking the risk all the time. But I’ve never done that with writing. I guess it’s just a little scarier! 🙂 Thank you for the encouragement. 

    1. Thanks, Erika,
      I guess the question comes to my mind as far as worst case scenario and writing, what would that look like?

      Some might say writing and being rejected. While others might say, never submitting. Something to think about.

  11. So fortunate to have experienced your heart for so many years. You helped ignite what lights my spirit. Your passion for Him rides up front like an old hood ornament on a Rolls Royce! Yes Anne, you can. You sure can. 

    1. Honestly, I can relate to that. Especially if a person has not experienced a lot of success in his/her life. Then it would be change, and we know how hard change is for some people. Oh, wait a minute, I was talking about me.

    2.  Lately I relate to this fear…didn’t used to be this way. Not sure what changed in me…maybe having succeed in the past and realizing it cost me more than I ever thought possible.

      But to stay still isn’t an option.

      1. So true…we cannot stay still. I wish I could say that past success kept me from moving forward; seems I always stop just short. Success rears its head and I get squeamish!

        1. I understand.
          I was thinking about my comment, I think I should have specified “worldly success” verses following God and receiving HIS blessings. Worldly success hasn’t been worth it from my experience.

    1. Alene,
      Thanks so much. Just get it over with. Making the decision to swallow it is actually the hardest part. Ready, set, swallow.

  12. Thanks for the article and push. I guess it is fear sometimes that holds us back from sitting and writing. Sometimes I just need to sit and write it without having a clear picture of where it is going. Maybe this is the fear of the reader? Anyhow, thanks for the quotes!

    1. Thanks for reading, and for your comments. And you’re right, sometimes we just have to write and let the writing take us where it wants to go.

      1. That’s what I did today.It was this particular story that was causing a block…and tonight I just tried writing without fear. I think something good came out. Thanks again 🙂

        1. That’s great. And if you are afraid, write anyway. The fear could be an indication this needs to be written.


  13. Great article.  I took up Tae Kwon Do at the age of 38 and figured I’d quit once my knees gave out.   4 years later I earned a black belt and was MN state champ in my division in sparing.  The hardest thing… that first step to go train.  But once that was done, there was no turning back.

    1. Chris,
      Sticking with Tae Kwon Do sure paid off. First steps are hard to take. But, as you said once you did, there was no turning back. If only we’d remember that when we are debating whether or not to do something. Moving is so much better than just standing still.

  14. I hope I’m as successful as Chris in the last comment….I began running at the age of 41. I’m 43 now, but my goal is a 1/2 marathon and I’m quite a ways away from it. When I started, I had a post it note on my bathroom mirror with a frog on it that said, “Eat the frog,” and I’d try to get the running out of the way first thing in the morning, so I didn’t have to dread it all day! 

    1. Celeste,

      So, you’re familiar with the frog. How great that you employed it and got to see the results. It doesn’t matter that the 1/2 marathon is a ways off. It’s closer than if you had never started running. Congratulations on the two years of running.

  15. I remember when I was a kid and my dad was spading up a plot for a garden in the back yard. Well, he struck this big rock, and told me, “Son get that rock out of there.” I said, “I can’t,” and he said “There’s no such word as ‘can’t’.” So I said, “Okay, I don’t want to.” Then he hit me in the head with his shovel. Since then I have had no fear whatever, but I think it’s more because of brain damage than any lesson I learned that day.

    1. Mat,
      Yeah, I can see how “I don’t want to would have been an unacceptable answer. So, hearing “there’s no such word as can’t,” must have been something parents all said back in the day. Thanks for taking the time to comment. 

  16. I  belong to a writer’s group in our church. Joining this group was one of the best things to help counter act the “lies of failure”. There is no forcing to share, but there is encouragement to share what we write during the sessions. Community and encouragement in reality is really good. I have also been told, very gently, when items that I have written, need to be tweaked. You do not want to be surrounded by a group of “yes” people.  Granted, a writer is allowing people into the inner parts of themselves so if it is not received initially the way you had hoped, it hurts. Also, I am relatively new at this adventure, so I am sure I will be experiencing more of these challenges. I will repeat, the writer’s group is very helpful.  

    1. Sandi,
      That’s great you are part of a writer’s group. I took part in one for a few years as well and it was equally as satisfying as the one you described. Now I am part of an online one and it’s amazing how encouraging it has been. And I totally agree, “yes” people do not help. You need people who will gently point out areas you need to improve. Writers are putting part of who they are out there, it’s important to know it is a risk, it may be rejected, it will hurt. But, the results can far outweigh the pain. You can have stacks of writing either in your office, or the files of your mind, but your voice needs to be heard. No one has knocked on my door and asked to read what was never put out there. The writer’s group was the best first step I ever took. This community of writers is the logical next step. Each was important.

  17. Great post Jeff !! It’s always so delightful to read your posts ! Ever inspiring! I always get ideas from you. This is my blog, do check – https://lawschoolsterrace.blogspot.in/

    1. Anisha,
      I’m not Jeff, but I did check out your blog. I’m sure it will be an encouragement to other lawyers, or those who personally know lawyers. Your ideas are being shared. You are letting others see who you are. That’s good.

  18. Hi Anne, you made me laugh out loud with your frog quote. I loved the post. You’re right, failure isn’t final. I have failed an awful lot at things, but I have kept trying different ways and now those efforts are actually starting to bear fruit. So much of success is just starting and seeing something through. 

    1. I think it’s great that you admit you have failed lots of times. I find being open like that refreshing. Changing my mind about failure is reaping results. 1) it makes me human, something that works as long as I live here on earth. 2) it actually makes me more approachable. People can relate to others who fail. The ones who seem to have it all together. Well, it’s harder to relate to them. You’re right. The fruit will come if we keep doing the work. 

      1.  This is in response to admitting that we do fail. It is hard to admit failure.In writing , what is inside is so deep and I want to express it perfectly so other people see it exactly the same way I am not there and it is soooooo ( meant to do the multipe  oo’s ) ok to be in training. Aren’t we all in training?
             Also,  in growing up, though how many kids really  received the positive notes saying they could  become who they were meant to be even when they failed or made a mistake. It is healing those wounds that cause us to be free to make mistakes and become the person God created. I think it is exciting when that is happening. 
        Looked up definition of failure too – The condition or fact of not achieving the desired end or ends.We are not failures. Just the activity that we worked on did not achieve the desired end.

        1. Sandi,
          Yes, it is okay to be in training. And yes, we are all in training.
          I think some kids did receive the positive notes encouraging them to be all they could be. I was not in that group of kids. Only perfection was acknowledged in my family. Consequently we never measured up. I wrote a post about that called, “Not Good Enough.”


          Yes, I liked the definition you put up, it’s important to know we are not what we do. It is separate. Good points.

    1. Samantha,
      Thanks for reading it and for your comments. I find if I don’t pick one my energy starts to go. Sometimes even a little frog can start the process. Then I get a little confidence and go on to the next one.

  19. Some experts, such as Brian Tracy, have used this in terms of not just tackling hard tasks but giving us motivation to keep going. Once you conquer something that you’ve been fearing, you get a kick of endorphins which will make you more productive throughout the rest of your day.
    So it’s not just about those big projects – it could be those small, daily tasks that you’ve been procrastinating on as well.

    1. Loren,
      I absolutely agree. We need to generate that feeling of accomplishment and finishing tasks does it. Sometimes it’s helpful to start with the little ones, those pesky ones holding you back. Thanks for sharing that. I want to check him out.

  20. Good word, Anne. It seems when you tackle that thing you’re most afraid of, whether you succeed or fail, the experience brings about a new perspective about yourself, about life. It seems much easier to try something hard again because you have new insight and new confidence. I often feel this way about taxes this time of year :~)

    1. Scott,
      Yes. I also share that same feeling about taxes. 
      And when you don’t feel you can handle the whole thing. Break it up. I love the point you make about one big accomplishment giving you confidence to tackle another. To me, I am redefining fail. I fail when I don’t try. I came across this quote today which I absolutely love. 

      Albert Einstein said, “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” So, mistakes then are evidences of movement. No mistakes, you must be stagnant. Puts a whole new light on it for me. 

  21.  Occasionally I do something that is out of my comfort zone, which forces me to face some fears and stretches me. For example, yesterday I made phone calls for my church regarding their capital campaign. Starting in a week, I will be visiting people in their homes. Asking people for money is way outside of my comfort zone.
    I have been resisting sending in a query to a magazine, but I plan to do it this afternoon. It doesn’t seem quite as scary now after taking the above risk.

    1. Susan.
      I totally see how doing the calls prepared you to send in the query. I find another thing that helps me when sending in queries is to have more than one net out there. Then when the one net doesn’t yield what I wanted, I still have some I can check. Good luck on sending it out! Sometimes even telling someone you are going to do something helps.

      1.  Anne, I was thinking about that as I walked a few minutes ago. Why do I just send out one piece and then wait? It’s like I’m hoping for affirmation before continuing. Your comment is confirmation that I need to submit more! Thanks.

  22. The idea that I could do what I’m afraid of all the time is surprisingly liberating. Makes my palms sweat, but the it’s still a compelling challenge.

    1. Lee,
      You’re right, it is liberating. And I like the idea of a compelling challenge. Bring it on!

      And one thing that always amazes me is AFTER the fact. I wonder what the big deal was. I’ll give you an example. When I knew someone wanted to enlist my services as a speaker I would start to get afraid. I wasn’t afraid of speaking. I loved that. It was the negotiating of fees. When I finally just created a fee list after doing research I saw how much easier it was to deal with this area. It really squelched fears before they had a chance to grow.  

  23. Anne, I needed to read this tonight as I’ve been stuck on a course I want to offer with the fear of not doing everything right. The advice to see myself as a success is helping me combat those “fear of failure and rejection”  thought darts.

    I hear God whisper, “See yourself as good enough, competent enough, as successful.” I’m visualizing this.

    These words were not simply words with good insight, they became words of life to my heart.

    Your pen is sharper than a sword. 🙂

    1. Sharon,
      Glad the post struck a chord with you. I like the idea of visualizing God saying those positive things. 
      Thanks for your comments, Sharon, and for taking the time to read the post.

  24. I just faced my fears and launched a blog in spite of them. And wonder of wonders, I am writing every day (and–gasp–letting people see what I wrote!) and loving it. Thank you for the tips! I love what you said about failure not being final. There’s something so liberating about knowing that failure, while inevitable to some extent, is not the final word in the matter. Feeling so hopeful about this new season, it’s almost scary :).

    1. Jenn,
      Good for you going past your fears!
      And you’re in there writing every day. That’s great. I think the line about failure not being final resonated with a lot of people. It’s my black and white thinking that begs me to believe that failure is final. You’ve failed and you’re done! Not true. So not true.

      And you’re right, it is liberating. I’m glad you are hopeful as you enter the new season. Almost scary is okay. We can do almost scary.

  25. I believe that success and failure are two sides of the same coin. 

    Are we thinking in weeks, months, years or decades when measuring our success and failure? Warren Buffet said “Someone is sitting in the Shade today because someone else planted a tree a long time ago” 

    We may never see the full effects of our successes .. and failures. In many cases it will be our children and grandchildren that benefit … or pay.

    1. Sam,

      Really enjoyed your comments. I also liked the long range view you suggest we look at. That is a wonderful quote from Warren Buffet. And it’s so true.

      I guess when we hear how someone was touched or challenged by something we’ve written, we should feel blessed. Sometimes that doesn’t come. And as you have brought up, sometimes it won’t be for our ears.

    1. Crystair,

      So true. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” Without him, I’d have nothing to say.

  26. “Stop trying to do things without failing; it isn’t possible.” Loving the encouragement here man. I’ve found many quotes from people we would admire from history say this same thing, just using different words.

    1. John,
      Oh if I only would have known some of this stuff a while back. I was stuck because I was so afraid of failing, so I didn’t move. And yet, my outlook has changed dramatically. The results? Well, I’ve launched my first book ever, and I’m even going to be interviewed. Two things I am sure would not have happened if I didn’t change my thinking. 

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