I am a perfectionist. Well, actually, I am a perfectionist who is trying daily to accept my own imperfections and allow Christ’s perfection to be my focus. This move to acceptance came slowly for me. I had become so dependent on my habits of perfectionism, that I could no longer see how infinite my God is. I saw the world as a practice in anxiety and waited for myself to fail. I realized my view of Jesus had become so very small and that doubting myself really meant I was doubting the one who created my very being. I had to stop and begin to identify the habits in my life that were building my perfectionism strongholds. Here are five of them:
1. Fearing Failure
My mom was a first grade teacher. When she had bus duty in the mornings, we ate breakfast in the cafeteria. I remember being in kindergarten and going to the cafeteria one such morning. I got my tray and went to the counter to pay. My account did not have the entire 75 cents I needed to pay for my breakfast. I was mortified. I remember the icky feeling of humiliation and guilt wash over me as I stood there with my tray. I immediately abandoned the tray at the cash register and went to my table, trying not to let the emotions drip out of my eyes and onto my cheeks until I could get my head down on the table. Several years later, someone asked me why I always seemed flustered and stressed when I purchased things at the store. It took me a while to figure this out. When paying for something, I have always been afraid that I won’t have enough money, even when I have calculated the cost and the tax many times over. The fear of failure is a crippling feeling. It smothers perfectionists with heavy feelings that can overwhelm and freeze them.
I know this sounds silly, because wouldn’t a perfectionist get everything done two weeks before the due date? Maybe, but maybe not. Putting things off or preparing at the last minute seems to be the ever present cycle of the perfectionist. For me, it has always been easier to think to myself, “if I had just spent more time, I could have done better” rather than “wow, I gave it my all and still missed the mark”. Procrastination can become a very comfortable place for perfectionists.
For perfectionists, self deprecating thoughts and statements multiply in our lives like gnats in a banana store. The negative self talk slips into our minds before we notice it. Before we know it, it is dripping off of our tongues in the form of jokes about ourselves. Yet, these jokes only belie the turmoil within. The truth is that we analyze every single aspect of our beings, from our looks to our decision making, and we always feel like we come up lacking.
I know you have seen the signs that say, “don’t should on yourself.” I mean, what is so bad about taking on the conditions of others and ourselves? The truth is, we only compare what we know about ourselves against what we don’t know about others. That, in itself, becomes a deceptive cycle of pursuit which always ends in us never quite measuring up. Before we realize it, we are slaves to the “shoulds” in our lives.
5. Believing False Guilt
If there were an Olympic competition in believing false guilt, I would have won the event every year. Sure, we need to own our mistakes and make restitution for our wrongs. But let’s make sure if we are going to carry the guilt, we are certain that the 5,000lb suitcase we drag around is our own and not something someone has unfairly strapped to us.
So, what is a perfectionist to do?
For best results: Surrender. Self Accept. Rinse. Repeat.
That may not sound too hard, but oh, how difficult it is! For me, admitting that I was living this life that was so diminished and defined by something I created (and was never created for) was not just a step, but a jump off a cliff. This life-saving posture of admitting my habits and accepting that perfection is not what Jesus is requiring of me transformed my entire being. Christ calls us, not to be perfect, but to be His so clearly that His perfection is clearly seen in us. It is not my responsibility or privilege to be perfect, only the Son of God gets that glory.
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