Hello. My name is Brenna, and I’m a recovering perfectionist.
That’s right. I said it. I struggle with perfectionism. Or as I like to call it, being an overachiever. For some reason that just sounds less offensive. You know, more playful. Less anal. Whatever makes me feel better, right?
Let me back up for a second. I’m assuming you all know and struggle with perfectionism too. But, just in case you don’t (You lucky thing, you!) or you’re in a deep state of denial as was I, I’ll start at the beginning.
First of all, what IS perfectionism?
According to dictionary.com, perfectionism is defined as a personal standard, attitude, or philosophy that demands the highest degree of excellence and rejects anything less.
A PERSONAL standard DEMANDING the HIGHEST degree of excellence REJECTING anything less.
Those are some pretty harsh words right there.
Words that I have no doubt we’d rebel against if they were unrelenting requirements put upon us byan outsider--a boss, coworker, spouse, or friend.
There’s one little word in there though that seemingly makes it okay.
Apparently, while we’d rise up and stage a coup against anyone else requiring us or our loved ones to meet such unattainability on a regular basis, we’re perfectly fine with it as long as we’re requiring it of ourselves.
Yup, commanding elusive and insurmountable standards for ourselves is JUST fine.
Anything sounding familiar? Just vaguely, right?
Since we’re starting at the beginning, I feel it’s important to lay out why the above description is a bad thing. And y’all, regardless of what you may be telling yourself, it’s bad. Real, REAL bad.
Why? Because perfectionism breeds fear.
It makes us afraid to take chances.
Afraid to mess up.
Afraid to look weak in front of people we assume are stronger than we are.
Afraid to fall apart.
Simply put, perfectionism is just like Regina George. A life ruiner. They both ruin people’s lives.
And as if that’s not bad enough, the negative ramifications of perfectionism don’t just stop there. The ripple effect of perfectionism reaches much, MUCH farther.
As a matter of fact, there are three main ramifications that I see in myself and in my clients on a regular basis. Ramifications that are actually all the reasons you’ll ever need to make yourself a charter member of Perfectionists Anonymous.
1. Perfectionism paralyzes us.
Adhering to such an outrageous PERSONAL standard keeps us from taking advantage of great opportunities that come our way because we believe that if we can’t do it “just right” then we shouldn’t do it at all.
In all honesty, the opportunities don’t even have to be that great. They can be mundane things in everyday life. Not putting in a load of laundry because we can’t get it all done at one time. Not cleaning up our closet because we haven’t figured out the “perfect” fail-safe system yet. Shying away from bible journaling because we’re terrified to draw something that’s less than “amazing.”
I’m going to go even one further on this whole opportunities train we’ve got going. Not only does perfection paralyze us from acting on opportunities, but our inaction in turn devalues those opportunities.
Have you ever gotten a new composition book or a new planner and been scared to death to put a mark in it for fear that you’ll “mess it up?"
What about this one. Have you ever gotten new art supplies but only went as far as inhaling the fresh aroma of that 120-count box of Crayola crayons because you didn’t want to mar the beauty of those perfectly sharpened tips?
(Just so you know, I’m typing with one hand right now because I’m raising the other one while screaming, “ME! ME! I HAVE DONE THIS! I STRUGGLE AGAINST THIS EVERYDAY!”)
What if a loved one digs up that gorgeous composition book in thirty yearsand cracks that sucker open bursting with expectation at what could be living within those pages only to find them blank? What if, in fifty years, someone finds that 120-count box of Crayolas, cracks it open, and realizes that not a single one has shared its color?
That’s a waste, y’all.
That composition book and box of crayons tell no story. Give no hints about your life! They’re generic and have absolutely no value whatsoever.
Now think about the other opportunities that you’re not taking advantage of and the ramifications of leaving those guys blank. They’re HUGE.
2. Perfectionism sets you up for failure.
By requiring such high standards of yourself, you’re making success as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster. Actually, I think there’s more of a chance of swimming alongside ole Nessy than there is of feeling successfulwhile living within the bonds of perfectionism.
Until you stop rejecting anything aside from perfection, your only option is to fail. You’ve given yourself no room for error!
Oh, andnot only will you never live up to your own expectations and drive those closest to you absolutely INSANE, but the weariness that ensues is…I don’t even have the words to describe the weariness. And that weariness? It takes up all the room in your soul, so there’s absolutely none left for joy.
Think about it like this:
Start with that gut-wrenching feeling of failure.
Now add in soul-crushing weariness brought on by repeated attempts at perfection which resulted in failure.
Mix those two together for a while, and you’ll find a complete lack of joy in your life all because of a self-imposed standard that doesn’t exist.
IT. DOESN’T EXIST.
And I hate to be the one to break it to you, but nobody cares about those tiny details over which you’re obsessing. Actually, no one even notices them besides you.
You know those seven hours you spend alphabetizing your pantry only to rip it apart and start over because you didn’t like it and end up feeling like a loser? Your pantry looked GOOD.
What about those three birthday cakes you trashed because you didn’t like the way the icing turned out on any of them? They were still cute AND edible!
And how about that recital you missed because you couldn’t get your hair to lay exactly the way you wanted it to? YOUR HAIR WAS FINE.
“Good” is still good enough!
3. Perfectionism makes it all about us instead of all about Him.
Think about this. Who are our lives supposed to be glorifying? Who are we supposed to point towards with our every word, action, and intention?
It’s not ourselves; that’s for sure.
Our life needs to point to Jesus. Plain and simple. Everything we do needs to point at Him.
When we fall into the trap of perfectionism , we’re turning right back around and making it all about us. Instead of pointing to Him, instead of giving HIM the attention and glory, perfectionism is about what WE can do.
Think about Mary andMartha for a second. Poor ole Martha was working her tail off while Mary seemed to be slacking off with Jesus. Just sittin’ at His feet. Not carrying her weight. All Martha wanted was to be a good host. All she wanted was to please Jesus.
The thing is, she was making it about herself instead of about Him. And His response?
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
Jesus calls Martha out on being an overachiever and tells her that instead of worrying about everything being perfect, she needs to pay attention to Him. It doesn’t really get much clearer than that.
In my humble opinion, perfectionism is absolute crap. Because of it we’ve become paralyzed. Because of it we constantly set ourselves up for failure. Because of it our own selfish human standards have taken precedence over the standards of the one ACTUAL perfect person in our lives.
So what do you think?
Strong enough testimony for you to dip your toe into the possibility of recovery?
I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, but I promise you that it will be worth it.