The truth about perfectionists

The truth about perfectionists

I felt a bit overwhelmed last week, so this post might seem a little dramatic, as was the last one. Sorry about that, but I promised myself and readers honesty if nothing else.

I cried during a business planning session last week. I’m not a big crier, especially in front of other people. Because the team I work with cares, and because I couldn’t think of a different answer to the question, I gave an honest one:

“I feel more stressed and overwhelmed than excited.”

As my mind assembled the next words, and the faces around the table showed concern and slight confusion, I felt the stinging behind my eyes.

I recognized their expressions. I had seen the same in the eyes of my parents, teachers and Mike as I tried to articulate a shortcoming. To me, the issue was communication. If I could just explain why I was unhappy with myself, they’d see the logic and understand. But instead they always looked at me like I was the confused one.

The response in the conference room was similar. Their bewildered voices chimed in, reminding me that I had met and exceeded my goals.

The tears came when I uttered that poisonous refrain:

“But it wasn’t enough.”

My accomplishments hadn’t made the impact I’d hoped on the broader company goals, so I felt defeated.

As I said the words, I recognized that joy stealing, perfectionist anthem of “never enough.” Out loud, it sounded dramatic, self absorbed and unrealistic. Why did I put the weight of company wide goals on my own shoulders when I had accomplished my part?

Brené Brown beautifully describes the truth about perfectionism in her book, Daring Greatly:

“Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule following, people pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: ‘I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.’ Healthy striving is self- focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused: What will they think?

Perfectionism is not the key to success…The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized keeps us outside of the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds.”

I exhaled slowly as I read those words, knowing she was right, and remembered some familiar words of truth:

“For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

No amount of striving is “good enough,” but God didn’t leave it up to me. He stepped in with the perfect remedy for our collective falling short.

It’s easy to compartmentalize though, isn’t it? I can accept free salvation, but I have to earn a living and work at my relationships.

God even encourages that kind of effort, but problems arise when my self worth is tied to results and accomplishments.

Perfectionism masks itself in virtues like hard work and diligence to hide its true nature. Its job is to tell you that you can never do enough, to continually raise the bar higher, to point out the places God’s grace (supposedly) doesn’t cover, to point out your weaknesses and flaws.

God wants you to work, but not for your identity. He wants you go to bed knowing you are His and you are enough whether you failed or succeeded today.

Question: If you struggle with perfectionism, can you relate?

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One thought on “The truth about perfectionists

  1. This is such a true blog post, Jacey! No matter how much love and respect those around us show, for us perfectionists the idea that “I could/should have done better” is our biggest competition. Instead of fearing failure and letting those around us down, fellow perfectionists must remember to build ourselves up from time to time. Thanks for the reminder of Christ’s trust in his creatures and the honest portrayal of a hardworking, amazing woman’s life! Miss you.

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