I never won awards for the most perfect-looking projects or the neatest handwriting in elementary school.
“Your letters are too fat.”
“You used too much paste.”
“You did that backwards.” (#lefthanderissues)
But Alex, a boy in my class, was as close to perfection as I could imagine. This kid used a ruler on his handwriting assignments.
Our second grade teacher moaned and groaned when she saw the dreaded ruler come out of his desk.
“It doesn’t have to be perfect!!” she pleaded time and again. “It’s time to finish up.”
He and I weren’t close but we had respect for each other. Presumably he liked my creativity and of course I was naturally fascinated by his peculiar habits which often earned him poor grades and social problems.
One day, however, when our final year of elementary school rolled around, it was time for the big “Twelve Days of Christmas” art project.
Our teacher gave Alex and I the twelfth day to work on as a team.
I remember how efficient and satisfying that project was to complete. Alex measured every detail of course, from the tall black hats to the circular golden cufflinks on each soldier.
He carried out the orders to minute detail, adding his own intricate touches. I inspired him to move quickly and pretty soon he was cranking those drummers out almost as fast as I could assemble them.
He’d slap my hand occasionally, “Stop using so much glue! I don’t wantone sequin out of place.”
I’m laughing as I think of it because it’s a good memory. I’m pretty sure we came away with a first place award that year, something neither of us likely would have earned on our own!
Either way, it’s a good memory to begin an important conversation about perfectionism.
Perfectionism has excellent intention. But it never carries it out what it hopes to accomplish on its own.
How perfectionistic are you with your goals?
Do you say, “I can’t enroll in the class that I just got accepted in even though I want to take it so badly. What if I fail?
How about with relationships?
Do you give up easily because of fear of failure?
“I messed up this marriage. Forget trying to fix it!”
“I yelled at her again. I’m the worst.”
“He’s always screwing up! I can’t stand him!”
This is the ugly side of perfectionism. And if you thought perfectionism was actually a good quality, think again.
Perfectionism doesn’t push you to do your best, it paralyzes. Why? Perfection is always elusive. There’s always more to achieve, someone else to beat, or someone to be disappointed in.
If you struggle with perfectionism, consider coming in to see us to work on your issues with anxiety or a low-self image, which are usually at the bottom of perfectionism.
But whatever you do, don’t tell yourself you have to be perfect or you won’t get anything done.
Remember no one meets a perfectionist’s perfect standards, not even a perfectionist. It’s a lonely and sad world of judgment and criticism underneath a facade of control.
But pursuing excellence…
That’s a different story.
Pursuing excellence offers a supportive framework from which to grow. An excellent worker/family member is willing to learn from their mistakes. They come to understand that different tactics have to be tried in different ways to get to the desired end result. The only aspect of perfectionism they carry is the resolve to never give up on trying their best at whatever God has put before them.
Next time you’re tempted to turn away from a great idea, project or person because of your perfectionism problem…
Ask God to give you wisdom and a heart of grace towards yourself and others who are not perfect.
And remember, Jesus already has perfection covered. He gives us the covering of His grace in the areas we fail to meet that perfect standard.
A beautiful word for all of us today.
I hope you’ll never allow perfectionism to rob you of grace.
And I hope this week brings you excellence in all you undertake.