Skip to main content

Don't Be Afraid to Fail

Don't Be Afraid to Fail | Laura Tevaga

Brothers and Sisters Aloha! Before I start, I wanted to let my staff, my students, and my co-workers know that I am just as surprised as you are to see me up here. One of my responsibilities at BYU–Hawaii is to run university events and one of our main events is this weekly devotional.

I thought I was pretty safe from having to speak. And it’s not because I know the people that select the speakers but because I AM one of the people that selects the speakers. I mean really, how did I let this happen?

Well, when President Tanner is your boss and asks you to speak at the weekly devotional, you speak at devotional—Now since I’m involved with all of the planning and details for this weekly event, you’d think that I’d be comfortable being up here this morning, right?

Nope. I’m just as uncomfortable as I thought I would be.

Which is a great segue to introduce my topic today. Why is it that many of us are afraid to speak in public? Why is it that speaking here at this podium on this stage in front of all of you right now should feel any different than when I was just talking with my husband a little earlier?

It’s our fear of making a mistake. A fear of saying something wrong or of not sounding smart enough. Basically, we don’t want to fail.

And it probably doesn’t help that most of us can recite the commandment from Matthew 5: verse 48 in our sleep: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”


In his October 2017 general conference talk “Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland shares that perfection is not something that we should expect in this lifetime.

Elder Holland said that he hears from church members, including teens, missionaries, new converts and even lifelong members, with statements like:

I'm just not good enough.

I fall so short.

I will never measure up.

He then reminds us that “…as children of God, we should not demean or vilify ourselves, as if beating up on ourselves is somehow going to make us the person God wants us to become…

Elder Holland goes on to say, “I would hope we could pursue personal improvement in a way that doesn’t include ulcers or anorexia, feeling depressed or demolishing our self-esteem. That Is not what the Lord wants…” [i]

I remember hearing this talk last year and it really hit home for me personally because I HAVE had ulcers in the past from stressing myself out trying to be perfect. Luckily for me, that was a long time ago back when I was finishing up high school. But as a recovering perfectionist, I’m just the type of person that needs a good reminder every now and again to guard against the “toxic perfectionism” that Elder Holland warns about.

So what do we do? How do we balance between debilitating perfectionism and Christ’s invitation to become perfect like him? Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was recently asked this exact question and strongly counseled against comparing ourselves to others.

He said, “We live in a world of comparison. Social media has made this worse as we go online and compare our seemingly less exciting lives with “fake lives” we see online. Many of those fake lives are edited, boastful, and unreal. Some people may have unrealistic expectations that they should be happy all the time, and if they are not, they feel like something is wrong with them.

We should not compare ourselves with others. Please remember that the Savior is interested only in our personal growth.” [ii]


Let’s talk for a minute about personal growth and the parable of the talents. A rich nobleman heads out of town and decides to leave some of his money with three servants while he’s traveling abroad. The first employee gets five talents, the next gets two talents, and the last of the trio gets one talent. And since I’m pretty sure everyone here has heard this story before, I’ll skip ahead to the end.

“He which had received the one talent came and said, Lord . . . I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth. . . .

His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant. . . . Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. . . . And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness.” (Matthew 25: 24-30)

If you think about the one talent servant, this was a severe penalty. After all, it’s not like he wasn’t careful with the money. Not even one cent was lost. But the master condemns the servant who was afraid to fail and did not try to increase what he had been given.

In his book, The Law of the Harvest Elder Sterling W. Sil of the Seventy explained, “[The third servant’s loss] was not because he did anything wrong, but rather because his fear had prevented him [from] doing anything at all. Yet this is the process by which most of our blessings are lost. …

“…When one fails to use the muscles of his arm he loses his strength. …When we don’t develop our abilities, we lose our abilities. When the people in past ages have not honored the Priesthood, it has been taken from them. …Neither spiritual, mental nor physical talents develop while they are buried in the earth.” [iii]

We can’t be like the servant that went and buried his talent in the earth.


There’s an old saying that says “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” I recently heard a story that demonstrates this very lesson.

Some of you may be familiar with Sister Sherri Dew. She’s the executive vice president of Deseret Management Corporation and the CEO of Deseret Book Company. She’s a former member of the general Relief Society presidency, a best-selling author, and public speaker. In an interview, once she mentioned that not making the BYU women’s basketball team in Provo was one of her biggest regrets.

But it’s not for the reason you might expect.

Growing up, she was a star player on her high school basketball team in the small Midwest town of Ulysses, Kansas. It says she averaged 23 points and 17 rebounds a game. (Since I’m not a basketball player, I’m just going to assume that means she was good.) Well, when it was time for her to go away to college, she chose to attend Brigham Young University and try out for the school’s basketball team. In addition to preparing herself physically, she also did her homework and learned all she could about the team—when the tryouts would be, who the players were including who was leaving the team, who was returning, and who the coach was.

When the day for tryouts arrived, she showed up at the Richards Building gym. She even arrived a little early. As she peeked in at the players warming up inside, Sister Dew said that she lost all of her confidence and just couldn’t bring herself to walk through those gym doors.

But she thought maybe she could work up her courage if she paced the hallway outside of the gym. So she walked back and forth and back and forth and eventually…walked back to her dorm room three hours later without trying out. She never even entered the gym.

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Years later, Sister Dew would share this story for the first time when she was invited to speak to the BYU Women’s basketball team. It’s a story she had never even shared with her family.

She wanted the athletes to know that they were doing something that she had wanted to do but had been too afraid to try. Elaine Michaelis, the coach from when Sister Dew was a student, said that she remembers that specific year because it’s the only time she’s had a team play one player short for the entire season. The coach said she tried to fill her roster but just couldn’t.

On hearing that news Sister Dew said “I felt as I had been kicked in the stomach when she told me that. That was supposed to be my spot on the team. You mean out of 25,000 students they couldn’t find one girl to fill that spot? The truth is, nobody can take your place.” [iv]

We need to remember that we can do hard things. President Thomas S. Monson once said,

“In our journey on earth, we discover that life is made up of challenges—they just differ from one person to another. We are success oriented, striving to become “wonder women” and “super men.” Any intimation of failure can cause panic, even despair. Who among us cannot remember moments of failure?... Our responsibility is to rise from mediocrity to competence, from failure to achievement.

Our task is to become our best selves. One of God’s greatest gifts to us is the joy of trying again, for no failure ever need be final.” [v]

We are here on this earth to be tried and tested. Sometimes it might be putting ourselves out there for basketball tryouts. Other times, it could be applying for a new job.

I remember when I first told my previous boss at BYU Broadcasting that I was interested in applying for a job opening I had seen. There was just one little catch. The position wasn’t at BYU Broadcasting. Oh, and by the way, could you also write me a glowing letter recommendation so I can get this new job?

Now if that’s not a potentially uncomfortable conversation, I don’t know what is. I was in a senior management position and was the first and only female to be appointed to the BYU Broadcasting Director’s Council. But, I had also been very honest with my managing director and he knew that as much as I loved the exciting work that we were doing, I just didn’t see myself staying in that same position for the next 20 years.

So I applied for that job opening I had seen. With his glowing letter of recommendation, I might add. And I waited. And then I interviewed. And then I had a second interview. And finally, the phone call came letting me know…that I did not get the position.

It turns out that Heavenly Father had something else in store for me. But I’m proud to say that at least I took the shot. And the next time I applied for a job—which was for the position I now have here at BYU–Hawaii—I made it. And I’m so glad I did.

When Nofoa and I told our kids we would be moving to Hawaii, they were excited. Anytime we had come to visit Laie, they had begged and begged for us to move here. But as excited as they were, they were also a little nervous too. And the truth was, we all were. But I remember telling Kobe and Tehani that it’s good to be uncomfortable sometimes. And that we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.


I heard a saying once that the only time we are actually growing is when we are uncomfortable. We don’t grow when we keep things the same as they’ve always been. And it’s easy to stick to our same daily habits and routines. It’s familiar. And it’s easy. And it usually means that we are not being pushed outside of our comfort zone. Being comfortable keeps us where we are.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m one of those Type A personalities. Google says that Type A people are competitive, highly organized, impatient, ambitious, and highly aware of time management. My son just says that Type A stands for Type Annoying.

But as a Type A person, I like lists. Lots and lots of lists. And one thing you will always find me with is my to-do list. A few years back, I was noticing that there were tasks that just kept getting moved from one day to the next day. And sometimes the day after that. When I stopped and looked at this pattern that was forming, I could see that I was simply putting off the things that I didn’t want to do.

I decided that my new system would be to do my worst task first. To get the uncomfortable out of the way. I mean it’s not like the magic to-do list fairy was going to come and do it for me, right?

So, when there’s:

  • A difficult conversation that I don’t want to have with someone? I do this first.
  • Returning an angry voicemail message? First phone call of the morning.
  • Big project that I’m not looking forward to? Top of my to-do list.

It’s a small thing that I’ve done that has helped me to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Does this mean that I get through everything on my to-do list every single day? Not always. But I am trying my best. And I keep trying and that’s all that counts.

Would you think I was a bad boss if I told you that I want my employees to fail?

One of the areas that I was over when I was at BYU Broadcasting was fundraising and we had some pretty aggressive revenue goals. Ok, we had some very aggressive goals. I had told my employees that there was no way we would be able to hit our numbers if we kept doing the same things we had always done in the past. We needed to test and try new things. And not all of those ideas were going to work.

People were a little hesitant at first. Was I really telling them it was ok if they tried something and it didn’t work? So I did the only thing I could do. I included it as part of their yearly performance review. And in writing, I gave my employees permission to fail.

You can see it right here in black and white. Now, this wasn’t giving them a license to go crazy. They knew that we needed to be smart about how their “tests” were handled. For example, most of the new ideas that they tested would be done in the first half of the year. That way they would still have the rest of the year to make up any lost revenue for ideas that didn’t go as well as they had planned.


So is everyone ready for their homework? I know most of you are thinking, “This is devotional. We don’t get homework at devotional?” Well, today you do.

I want everyone to get out a piece of paper. Or even just your cell phones will work. Anything so you can jot down the ONE NEW THING that you are going to try.

Maybe it’s a business idea you have. Or it could be asking someone out on a date (that only for you single students.) It could even be applying for your post-graduation job. It can be anything. An unpleasant task that you’ve been putting off. Or just something that you’ve been wanting to do but have been too afraid to try.

The good news is I’m even going to give you permission to fail. So you have nothing to be afraid of.

The only way you are going to fail at this assignment is if you do nothing. And if you see me on campus, I’d love to hear about what you did. And if it was a success. Or if you simply need a second chance to try again.

And second chances are what the plan of salvation is all about. In his most recent general conference talk Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Presidency of the Seventy talked about why the Lord allows us to flounder and fail through the stumbling blocks of life.

Elder Robbins shared the story of his freshman physics professor, Jae Ballif. After each unit, Professor Ballif would test his students. If a student received a C and wanted a better grade he would allow the students to take a modified exam.

And if a student received a B and was still unsatisfied with his score? He or she could retake the test a third time or maybe even a fourth. (As we’re getting closer to the end of the semester right now, there might be some of you that were wishing there were more professors that tested like this.)

Elder Robbins said that Professor Ballif inspired his students “to keep trying--to consider failure as a tutor, not as a tragedy, and to not fear failure but to learn from it.”

Elder Robbins goes on to say “No one is more on our side than the Savior. He allows us to take and keep retaking His exams. To become like Him will require countless second chances in our day-to-day struggles with the natural man, such as controlling appetites, learning patience and forgiveness, overcoming slothfulness, and avoiding sins of omission, just to name a few. If to err is human nature, how many failures will it take us until our nature is no longer human but divine? Thousands? More likely a million.” [vi]


Brothers and Sisters, as I said a little earlier, we are here on this earth to be tried and tested. The Lord has blessed us each with many talents and opportunities. And he wants us to do something with all that he has blessed us with.

We need to take the shot.

We need to take and keep retaking His exams.

And when you are afraid to do something because you might fail, you need to do it anyway.

Fear has amazing power. Fear can keep us from experiencing the blessings the Lord has in store for us. Please don’t let fear dictate what you do. Don’t bury your talents.

Fear only has power if we let it have power.

Even great prophets like Moses and Enoch were hesitant to believe that they could do the things that God called them to do. But they tried anyway and succeeded with the Lord’s help.

I may be imperfect but I have a perfect knowledge that the Father and the Son live and love me—and they love you too. I also know that this church and this university is where the Lord wants me to be. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[i]Jeffrey R. Holland, “Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually,” Ensign, Nov 2017

[ii]M. Russell Ballard, “Questions and Answers,” BYU Magazine, Spring 2018

[iii]Sterling W. Sill, The Law of the Harvest, page 375

[iv]Sheri Dew: Living the Unexpected Life, Deseret News, March 10, 2002

[v]Thomas S. Monson, “The Will Within,” Ensign, May 1987

[vi]Lynn G. Robins, “Until Seventy Times Seven,” Ensign, May 2018