Pursuing Perfection, Part I

Defining Perfectionism

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.

7-16-13 perfectAre you a perfectionist?

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:

  1. All or nothing thinking
  2. Critical eye (worse on self than others)
  3. Pushed toward goals by fear of not reaching then
  4. Unrealistic standards
  5. Focused on results instead of the process
  6. Depressed by unmet goals
  7. Fear of failure
  8. Procrastination
  9. Defensiveness
  10. 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.

God is a PerfectionistPath to Perfection

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?


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32 Replies to “Pursuing Perfection, Part I”

  1. I am not a perfectionist by any stretch. Let me just say you don't want me building your house. LOL Lean-to would be more like it. At the same time I don't want to take a lackadaisical approach to my walk. So while close enough motivates part of me, i desire to be making the journey to following in His steps.

  2. I have just a few odd areas of perfectionism: packing clothes for vacation, making decisions, and writing. I am a perfectionist when it comes to writing especially – that's probably why I have such a hard time with it! (Or maybe it's just that writing involves so many decisions!) Looking forward to the rest of the series, Kari.

    1. Some people do have pockets of perfectionism, like my son. Making decisions is definitely a difficult thing with a perfectionist mindset. Sometimes I avoid something because of the decisions I have to make, like sorting through my books. God has done a work in me in this area, and perfectionism no longer has the hold that it once did. Have to continually keep it in check though; it's not something that will stay at bay unless I deliberately keep it there.

    1. Not sure which one you're referring to, but I find that both having to make the decisions as well as avoiding them make life more stressful. Yet, fighting through the perfectionism has always provided the most fruit and joy for me. Avoiding has only led me down a path of depression. This is just based on my personal experience.

  3. Perfectionism raises its ugly head in church league softball. I knowingly signed up for the b-team but have a-team expectations. I grumble and grouse (under my breath) when someone drops a ball or lets a ball slip between his legs. And I enjoy the experience of being on the field less and less, not so much because of other people's shortcomings but because of my legalistic heart and perfectionist attitude.

    Appreciate your post. It makes me think a little harder about my sorry attitude and a lot less about others' shortcomings.

    1. Funny that you should use church softball as an example. I just played a game last night and certainly saw some of what you talk about. I have been able to focus my perfectionism in softball on myself more than on my teammates. Works most of the time, but I still have trouble sleeping as I replay over and over in my mind how I played and what I should have don differently. I see a perfectionist attitude a lot in church softball, not just in myself. Makes me wonder if competitiveness somehow is tied to perfectionism. I'm not a really competitive person, but perhaps the two are tied together in some way for those who are competitive.

      1. Part of my problem is being a baseball guy. I like to watch it, play it, and coach it. And I am competitive (just ask my younger brother who competed with and against me as we grew up). The problem with church league, and especially the b-team, is you show up, you play, you go home. Learning to play better (practice makes perfect) isn't a part of the equation.

        Seems like there are some important lessons now mulling around in my head thanks to your post and our conversation.

        1. There are a lot of men on our men's team like you, and I see some of the same struggles you describe. They don't see it though, but that's another story. On the women's team, there is no "b team," so it's those of us who want to learn and practice and play better and those who want to exercise and be social. Frustrates me some but I have made peace with it, but that probably happens easier since I'm not competitive in the sense of having to win. I am competitive with myself always needing to improve and play well though. The bigger picture, though, is your mention of "important lessons" that are floating to the surface for you. I look forward to hearing about those, perhaps as a blog post soon? Your site or mine…

  4. I'm guilty of being a perfectionist. Over the past few years God has helped me loosen up and trust in Him. I still have a long way to go, but at least I can finally say that it's okay for me to NOT be perfect. I don't have to get everything right and sometimes I will fail no matter how hard I try.
    God's been showing me how my controlling behavior (perfectionist) covered up my lack of trust in Him.
    It's been a long process of learning but God's a patient teacher.

    1. A long process… I get that for sure. What you said about perfectionism really being controlling behavior is so true. My need to control things has caused a lot of unhappiness both within myself and in my relationships with others. I still struggle in my reactions, that's where I see my perfectionism popping up the most. When I have time to think, I can usually work through it with little to no damage. But, those reactions are another story. Lack of trust in Him is for sure the issue, and so we must focus on trusting Him more. My prayers have been for the Holy Spirit to control my reactions. At this point, I am catching them soon after I react and then making it right with anyone involved. Hopefully, soon the reaction can be prevented. Yeah, a long way to go here too.

  5. I have thought about this topic a lot. Mostly because striving for perfection is a goal in my religious views (mormon) and also because my personality is all about being a perfectionist. I definitely answer yes to all 10 of those things….one thing that I think is GOOD about this idea of trying to be like God (even though we never will be) is that it does inspire us to do good things. Sure, we may not always accomplish them, and we will never be perfect, but if we can focus on the fact that the GOAL helps us better in all aspects of our life, even if we sometimes fail, then that is all that the Lord expects of us. It is a daily struggle though to fight the feelings of perfectionism that can also be unhealthy. It's a fine balance.

    1. You're right, pursuing perfection can motivate us to reach higher than we would otherwise. Having that goal certainly creates a higher standard for our lives. When I realized that it's not up to me to be perfect, the pressure was relieved. I knew I could dive in and do my best and that the Holy Spirit was continually working in me to help me continue in this upward spiral toward the perfect we'll one day receive in Heaven. Just knowing that God already views me as perfect because of Jesus helps me not have to be a perfectionist in man's eyes, which just isn't possible anyway. You're also right in that it's a balance, one that we cannot maintain ourselves and that we need God's help to achieve. Great input!

  6. Well I can breathe a little easier because from your list I do not lean toward being a perfectionist at this stage of my life. BUT my husband says I am picky about a few things, does that count? Through the years I have worked with people whose standard was so high everyone fails but them. I so believe in doing a good faithful job at what ever I am doing but after that have learned to leave it in God's hands. They are sure stronger then mine. Good post Kari.

    1. My husband has his picky spots, but he is not a perfectionist. Maybe it depends on how tightly you hold to preferences? Perfectionist can create a heavy weight, and my first goal in shaking it was to remove the weight for my husband & kids. Boy did our relationships improve! Focusing on faithfulness is a perfect way to helo drop the weight of perfectionism.

  7. I stand up and say I'm a perfectionist. Mainly wanting to make sure everything is perfect or at a high standard. It also happens at home wanting to make sure everything is clean, in order, and in it's proper place.

    This statement is powerful "God provides a way for us to become perfect. Our culture and our own efforts do not." The only way to become perfect comes from a relationships with a perfect God. Great post!

    Kari, shoes matter to me:)

    1. Relationship with Him needs to be the focus. He can cure perfectionism and turn it into a pursuit of Him.

      P.S. The shoe comment made me smile. My youngest son is too. Just… most guys are not 🙂

  8. Christ will not settle for less than creating perfection in me, true – but *I* will not go neurotic over my inability to be perfect in anything. I thought *everything* depended on my efforts – what a relief it was to drop that rock. That doesn't mean I don't do my best at whatever it is I am trying to do – I make my best effort and leave the outcome in God's hands.

    Good post! 🙂

  9. I do not lean toward perfectionism. I want to excel in things I do but I recognize that I would have a tough time even identifying what perfect was for something. I think I could always figure out someway for it to be better than the perfect I have come up with. To chase perfectionism seems to be like trying to find the end of the rainbow.

    1. We really can't identify what perfect means, can we? I mean, the beauty industry has certainly proven that. There's always some way to improve. Chasing perfection – as man defines it – definitely seems as illusive as the end of the rainbow. Thankfully, pursuing perfection as defined by God becomes possible as we focus on Jesus.

  10. I find that my struggle with perfectionism is more focused on appearing perfect in the eyes of others than actually being perfect. For me it's helpful to remind myself that Jesus has already done the perfect work for me and my only task to to live a life that pleases God.

  11. I liked your post – – God is a perfectionist and because we are NOT perfect – he makes us so in his image and in his sight. I found your post over at Rick's shortcut list.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read & comment. God’s perfection gives hope & life, and I am so thankful for that. Look forward to hearing from you again. I appreciate Rick & his friendship and am glad for the connection.

  12. I don't struggle with extreme forms of perfectionism, but I do hold myself to an often unrealistic standard. It slows me down a lot because it leads to procrastination and paralysis. And I really appreciate how you've presented the opposite side, which most rarely mention. We DO want to do things with excellence, but not to the point of being an obsessed perfectionist. I think the key for me is who am I loving and who am I trying to give glory to. Because perfectionism and a "good enough" attitude tend to happen when I'm focused on myself.

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