I would classify myself as an overcoming perfectionist. I say overcoming, because I have found a great measure of peace, joy & rest in my life, thanks to God and His great love. However, during the seasons of college, young married life, and mother of small children that was not the case. I cringe when I remember the treadmill of overachieving that was the bars of my self-imposed prison. It seemed that I was always “2 steps ahead” of my present moment. I lived in the future, marching on to the next thing that had to be done.
Perfectionists reject “average” as one step above failure, setting the bar so high that they are constantly exhausted from trying to reach it. Perfectionism is a ruthless taskmaster that strips away your confidence and leaves you with self-defeating thoughts. It causing you to create outrageous to-do lists, have paralysis in agonizing over every decision, or emotionally flogging yourself when you make a mistake.
I use to push myself to live beyond my personal limitations because the inner critic inside of me would never be silent. Today, as a family, we laugh about the heights, I would attempt in just pulling off birthday events for our daughters. I say “event” because it was way over the norm for a child’s party. Yes, I am embarrassed to admit, they included over the years: ponies, farm animals, tea parties and so many guest, that I rarely enjoyed taking in the moment with our daughters on their special day.
I was trapped in the performance of trying to be perfect. My husband Greg, would say I was DRIVEN. Driven, is different from the saner qualities of faithfulness, attention to detail, and simple hard work. It is more complicated. Driven, is the overriding compulsion to achieve and accomplish, to stay busy and stay needed by others as a means to gain personal satisfaction and to overcome feelings of shame and inadequacy. It springs from a hotbed of insecurity that makes a person say ‘Yes’ to nearly every opportunity and request; it’s when what you achieve is necessary to validate your life. Being driven costs the people you love most, as you strive to make them accomplish more as well, in the over-the-top life you lead.
In addition to being driven at home, I can remember returning from far too many Women’s events that I had planned, feeling guilty for being in my driven task mode, instead of connecting with the hearts of our women.
Psalms 51:6 says, “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”
I began to recognize that behind my perfectionism was a lie that I believed. My lie was: “I’m not good enough or worthy enough”, so I was driven to prove otherwise.
My slow metamorphosis wasn’t a result of more white-knuckled determination and will power. It wasn’t from trying harder. It came from changing my perception of God, others and myself.
I will never forget my “Aha moment”. God spoke to my heart, “Susie, you have an A+ in my book and you don’t have to do anything to earn that status (Being a Valedictorian, I knew the effort that went into achieving a 4.0.)
As my Heavenly Father continued to remind me that it was Jesus’ assignment—not mine—to be perfect, He invited me to trust in a love that does not depend upon my performance. Living with an understanding of that reality, gradually started setting me free from the exhausting drive of perfectionism. I began to give myself permission to slow down and take life at a more realistic pace.
So how about you, are you a perfectionist?
If you are anything like me, you might feel some resistance to naming perfectionism. To help you determine if perfectionism has crept into your life, I’d encourage you to prayerfully consider the following questions:
- How easy is it for you to say “No”?
- Are you comfortable asking for help or only offering it?
- Are you able to receive appropriate criticism without getting defensive?
- Are you willing to try new activities when others are present?
- Do you have a nagging belief that you are falling short of some illusive standard?
- Do you harshly critique yourself?
- Are you able to experience joy?
Being a “Doer” is a part of our wiring and the world certainly needs us “doers” to make things happen. It’s not the list and the tasks that are problematic, it’s the motivation behind them. To really transform, we perfectionists have to do constant, heart-checks about our activities.
The good news is, we can learn to break the perfectionism cycle.
But on a practical level, steering clear of perfectionism means we have to be mindful of our tendencies and identify our triggers.
Here are some tips to stop the negative cycle:
- Recognize when you are trying to do too much
- Redefine the standards of living that are causing stress for you
- Allow others to help you, even if they don’t do things exactly the way you would
- Be kind to yourself (laugh at your mistakes, forgive yourself)
- Sometimes “good enough” is okay
- Don’t sweat the small stuff (it’s so very true)
- Take breaks to play – it increases your productivity
- Accept yourself for who you are – a work in progress
- Remind yourself of Jesus’s example. (People trumped tasks every time)
- Set your goal on excellence not perfection.
I want to close with the following quote that shows a world of difference between compares striving for excellence over perfection.
Excellence vs. Perfection
“Excellence is willing to be wrong. Perfection is being right.
Excellence is risk. Perfection is fear.
Excellence is powerful. Perfection is anger & frustration.
Excellence is spontaneous. Perfection is control.
Excellence is accepting. Perfection is judgment.
Excellence is giving. Perfection is taking.
Excellence is confident. Perfection is pressure.
Excellence is journey. Perfection is destination.”
Enjoy the journey!!