“You’re such a perfectionist!” These words have been spoken to me on countless occasions. Whether at work, school, or play I listen to people moan and groan about how I always want things to be exactly right. And while they’re going on about it I stand there with my arms crossed wondering why it’s frustrating them so much.
What IS so wrong with being a perfectionist? Isn’t that a good quality to have? Perfectionism is a highly encouraged trait, especially in American society where we place so much value on hard work and climbing the ladder to success. After all, perfectionists are organized, high achieving, and often extremely successful. Who wouldn’t want to be that? Unfortunately, as I’m learning, that isn’t the entire story.
On the outside, their lives seem so put together. They get the A’s, stick to their schedules, and fix everything that’s out of place. But, what happens when they don’t? What happens when the red ink pen comes out? Or how about when something interrupts their perfectly balanced schedule? I’ll tell you this: It ain’t good. All of those high expectations and the constant pressure to perform can quickly become damaging when their humanity strikes a blow. Perfectionists are at a higher risk for mental health problems including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
Perfectionism has pervaded my life in more subtle ways as well, creeping into decisions, habits, and thoughts until I’ve become consumed with its voice and started to believe I am who it says that I am. For a long time, I didn’t see how trying to be perfect was holding me back from living fully. I didn’t understand that joy doesn’t come from getting everything exactly right. Until one day when I looked at my life and just wondered: why?
Why does my life look like this? Why did I ever go on that extreme diet? Why did I quit taking piano lessons? Why isn’t singing fun anymore? Why can’t I play board games with my friends? Why am I procrastinating on this class? And the worst why of all: Why is it so hard for me to see God in any of this?
And here’s the “why”- Perfectionists suffer from All-or-Nothing thinking. Here are a few examples to illustrate.
Oh, I only have 30 minutes to do this today, and I really need an hour and a half, so I’m just not gonna do any of it because I won’t be able to get it all done.
Ugh, I had so much sugar for lunch today; forget eating a nutritious dinner because my progress is already ruined.
I messed up on that part, and that part, and that part on this song, so clearly I sang the whole song horribly and should never sing it again because what’s the point if I can’t get the whole thing right?
All-or-nothing means either the whole task gets completed or none of it does. It means that if you eat a cookie, then the salad won’t help. The whole song is right or none of it is. There is no middle ground, there is no moderate view. And we hate incompleteness. We avoid it at all costs even if it means procrastinating because we can’t get it all done. Living that way makes it extremely hard to see any good anywhere. It makes it hard to accomplish anything. It makes you miserable. And the most horrible thing is that it is a complete and total lie.
When we are pursuing perfection. Perfection becomes our god. If perfection becomes our god, then guess where we are going to place our worth? All the while the One True God is calling. Perfection Himself, Jesus Christ, invites us into His presence on this earth and one day in Heaven to partake of a perfect Kingdom in a perfect body. THAT is what’s worth pursuing. Jesus is the One who will make us perfect. We could never do it ourselves, but we try to believe the lie that we can for the sake of pride.
I’m exhausted from chasing an unobtainable perfection when I should’ve been chasing the available Perfection.
But, here’s the good news: all I have to do is turn around and run the other way. With the wind instead of against it. And that’s exactly what you can do too.
1st Corinthians 15: 51-58
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.