This topic pulls at strings deep inside my heart and mind. Not only does it represent a personal struggle, it also reflects a struggle I see in those I love too. Perfectionism creates a focus on self, and many – myself included – find this mindset difficult to shake. For this reason, this series will address this widespread challenge and look at the path to freedom from its dictatorship.
Consider the following definitions:
Perfect = complete or to complete thoroughly
Perfection = the state of being entirely without fault
Perfectionist = a person who is displeased by anything that does not meet very high standards
Perfectionism = a personal standard, attitude or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything else
Still not sure? Read through the following signs to help clarify whether or not you’re a perfectionist:
- All or nothing thinking
- Critical eye (worse on self than others)
- Pushed toward goals by fear of not reaching then
- Unrealistic standards
- Focused on results instead of the process
- Depressed by unmet goals
- Fear of failure
- Low self-esteem
Confession time: I said “yes” to all 10 of these. Clearly, a perfectionist mindset securely grasps my thinking. While this is a more widespread issue for me, many people are perfectionists only in certain areas of life. For example, my oldest son is a perfectionist with grades in school but not in other areas of life.
My Perfectionist Story
When I was a child & through high school, I lived life without much guidance or any focused plan. In college, I became a perfectionist. Why? Maybe I wanted control over my life, or perhaps I wanted to finally feel good about myself, or it could be I wanted others to acknowledge my accomplishments. Most likely it was a combination of these and other reasons.
Regardless of why it started, my battle with perfectionism eventually found its way into virtually every area of my life.
- Perfect shoes – Guys don’t understand, but shoes matter.
- Perfect purse/bag – So glad I have not kept count…
- Perfect hair – A lifelong struggle still without resolution.
- Perfect work – A missing comma is good reason to reprint & recopy.
- Perfect friendship – Expectations of perfection resulted in lacking any longstanding friendships.
- Perfect marriage – Being depressed over imperfection almost cost me my marriage.
- Perfect kids – Always focusing on how to improve and forgetting to focus on progress.
I wanted perfection but at the same time knew perfection was impossible. I created a heavy burden for myself and others. I was not a fun person to be around.
The “Good Enough” Approach
At the other end of the spectrum are those with a “good enough” approach. They don’t even try because they know that perfection is impossible. So, instead of doing their best, they do enough to get by.
“So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot or cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:16)
Doesn’t sound like just getting by really works well either.
The Impact of Culture
Perhaps you’ve seen the slogan, “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” in a Lexus advertisement. I want a perfect car, don’t you? For me, that means never having to buy another car or fuel it up again.
For sure you’ve heard the sayings, “Practice makes perfect,” and “Nobody’s perfect.” So, we practice to achieve something we can never achieve? Why bother?
Probably the best example of how our culture impacts perfection lies in the beauty industry. Products to make us perfect and then more products that made the old perfect no longer good enough.
Without a doubt, our culture pushes us to the extremes telling us to be perfect but at the same time keeping it well out of our reach. We are set up for failure. Unfortunately, Our own expectations plus the mixed message of our culture bring us only to frustration. Perfection remains painfully illusive.
Both approaches – perfectionism and “good enough” – focus on our own efforts, and that’s not what God had in mind when he told us to be perfect.
“Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
That’s right, God wants us to be perfect. He is a perfectionist, but He can be BECAUSE HE IS PERFECT. But here’s the difference… God provides a way for us to become perfect. Our culture and our own efforts do not.
Pursuing Perfection, Part II looks at the only way to obtain perfection… God’s way.
DISCUSSION: Anyone else have any perfectionist confessions?