When Perfectionism Paralyzes You

If you look for perfection

I am a perfectionist.

But it is worse than that. I am a perfectionist that doesn’t have the time or patience for perfection.

Even worse still, I have a tragic fear of failure which is the perfect recipe for…nothing to happen.

My life has been a series of opportunities where if I don’t think I can hit it out of the park, I avoid getting up to bat.

A case in point: my junior year of high school, we were assigned a 25 page creative story project in my English class.  (This is one of those stories that teachers use as an example “what not to do” for the next 15 years). We were given an entire term to write the paper, only my story wasn’t very good. Don’t ask me the plot because I can’t remember a word of it for the life of me. I only remember that I hated it, so much so that I didn’t turn it in at the end of the year.  That gave me an Incomplete in a required high school course. On one hand, I saw no way to rework the paper into a Pulitzer Prize winning piece (which of course was the main motivator for any high school student); and on the other, the idea of scrapping 25 pages and starting all over made me sick.  It was a stalemate of epic proportions, and I did nothing with it for twelve months. It was exactly one year later, the day before my graduation, that I sheepishly dropped my paper in my English teacher’s box.  Not a single punctuation mark had been changed, but I got to walk down that aisle in my cap and gown.

Not my proudest moment.

Where does this drive for perfection come from?

In Art and Fear, author David Bayles shares the story of a teacher that created two separate grading criteria for his college pottery course.  Students were split into two groups – the first group would be graded by quality and the second group would be graded on quantity.  The quality group only needed to throw (mold/create) one perfect piece of pottery.  The quantity group, however, needed to throw 50 lbs of pottery to receive an “A”, 40 lbs to receive a “B” and so on.  By the end of the course students brought in their pottery to be graded, and the results may surprise you.  The quantity group had not only created more pottery, but they had created better pottery than the quality group that had spent so much time on perfecting one piece.

There is a great deal of learning in the doing, and one needs the freedom to learn imperfectly.

A fantastic lesson in this came last year when Jake and I were on a TV show called, “Renovation Realities” and we took on a DIY remodel of our kitchen. Not going to lie, it was a hot mess.  We knew nothing about construction and made plenty of mistakes.  We were stressed out, we corrected, we back tracked, we worked as a team, we made adjustments, we were exhausted, we sought help, and several months later we finished.  It was a messy imperfect journey, but the result was a lovely farmhouse kitchen that I always wanted. If you want to hear and see more about it, check back next week for my latest blog.

God has given us grace and mercy not as a safety net, but as part of the process – we are created to need Him.  We are not perfect.  We will never be perfect on this side of eternity. He is calling us to be perfected.  In order for that perfecting to take place, we must immerse ourselves fully in the process – take risks, fail, be vulnerable, be childlike, talk, share, cry, pray, ask for forgiveness, break, work, push yourself, rest, live.

Can I be honest for a moment?

I haven’t been a big fan of any of my articles on this blog. I started it as a school project and it didn’t look or read as well I had hoped.  But I found that I enjoyed the process.  I loved dedicating time to personal reflection.  However, I wan’t sure if I would be able to actually share my blog with people.

Then I made a mistake.

I wrote a comment to a blogger I admire.

To my prideful horror, she followed my link, visited my blog, and paid me a complement on her own website.  I should have been ecstatic, only I didn’t think my blog was ready; it wasn’t good enough to “go live” and suddenly I was getting readers I wasn’t prepared for.

Not sure what perfection was suppose to look like…maybe I just wanted to see my work without feelings of insecurity.

So just what happened when I started sharing my blog? People liked it.  I found encouragement. My dad sent me nice emails about grammar mistakes that I thanked him for. Ultimately, putting my blog out there wasn’t a big, huge, scary thing after all. It was just one step forward in a direction I have always wanted to go.

There is value in striving for excellence, and developing a craft, but sometimes you simply put together what you can, close your eyes, and pray that it is good enough.

Here’s to grace…and trusting the process…and courage to fail.

And here’s to Haley Stewart – thank you for launching my blog for me.



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