Michelle, 5m4m contributor, shares her thoughts on what a perfectionist is or isn’t. This post is part of a promotional campaign with Tyndale for the book, Confessions of a Raging Perfectionist. We were compensated for writing this post. All opinions listed are our own.
Growing up, I was that kid in school. I never once had my name on the board all through elementary school. I always had my homework done, and it was generally right. And tests? You know I was the kid setting the curve.
And it was exhausting. Trying to be perfect and to live up to the image I thought my mom had for me based on how I saw her was mentally and physically draining. How I presented myself to the world was key. The pressure to be perfect caused me to do things I still regret.
I remember in fifth grade studying the circulatory system. We had to memorize how blood flowed through the body, and the test was to list the flow in order. I memorized it, of course, but I got a zero on that quiz because I didn’t pay attention to the fact that the teacher didn’t start with the same first step that I’d studied as the first step. Only one person – Lizzie Lebens – noticed it and got her quiz right. I was devastated.
I still didn’t learn my lesson from that, of course. I spent my life growing up trying to hold perfect together. Occasionally the dam would burst and I would have breakdowns that were horribly painful to go through, but then I’d be right back where I started. And I would edge back just a little bit further from risk. Fear of failure ruled me and my life. It became a black or white issue for me. Either everything was perfect and good, or some part of it wasn’t perfect and it was a disaster.
My coping mechanism of backing away from risk didn’t help. Perfection so defined me that I found ways to ensure that “it wasn’t my fault” if I wasn’t perfect. Rather than study for a difficult test in college, I’d avoid that and do something else. Then when I received a mediocre score, I could point to how busy I was and that it wasn’t my fault because I hadn’t had time to study, but if I had studied, of course I would have been perfect.
Ironically, it was when I got a job in an industry filled with perfectionists that I finally saw the ridiculousness of my situation. In management consulting, we spent hours poring over our presentations changing a word here or there to make it more perfect. We would be up working until 2 or 3 a.m., changing our presentations based on feedback from the partners and principals in the firm who would change a word and in the next draft change it back to what we’d had originally.
They’d take out a chart, then ask for an identical chart hours later. It was exhausting, and bearing the brunt of it, I eventually saw how insane it was to strive so constantly for perfection and to let it impact us so much. Would the clients not have taken our recommendations had we used the word “selected” instead of “chosen” – I don’t think so. And yet we wasted hours on decisions like that. Hours we could have been sleeping or doing laundry or cooking or anything other than hunched over a computer in a foreign city making miniscule changes at 2am.
That was the final straw for me. That isn’t to say that I don’t do my best. It isn’t to say that I don’t want to do well or try hard, but perfect isn’t achievable. And working for it is ruinous. I heard a phrase several years ago that summed it up perfectly for me. ”Good enough is the new perfect.” And it is. I have my standards, and I adhere to them. And that’s good enough because I won’t – and no one ever will – be perfect.
How You Can Break Free from Trying to Be Perfect
Amanda is a raging perfectionist. She begins each day with a long list. “Keep the house picked up; limit myself to two Diet Cokes; spend special time with each of the kids; work out; pray; avoid sugar; read a chapter in a book about something very important; read my Bible; call my mom.” She determines each day’s worth, and ultimately her own, by keeping track of her stats—pounds gained or lost, stuff accomplished.
That is, until God spoke into her life, waking her up to the true costs of her addiction to perfection. Confessions of a Raging Perfectionist is more than Amanda’s confession; it’s a journey of letting go of the subtle but destructive idols of her overactive inner voice and replacing them with God’s truth. Amanda hopes her journey can inspire others to let God dig in to their own lives, uncovering the subtle lies we unconsciously live by.
Click here to purchase a copy of this book and start learning to live a life free of perfectionism.
Michelle may never stop running around Chicagoland, but she always makes time for the important things in her life – her wee ones, cooking, reading, and spending time with friends – and of course, writing. You can see what she’s up to on her blog Honest & Truly! or on Twitter where she tweets as @HonestAndTruly.