We have all dealt with a perfectionist at some point or another in our lives, whether we realize it or not. I imagine there are some who don't even realize they themselves are perfectionist. Perfectionist, in my experience, mean well but have an expectation level that is almost always unattainable. Before I go any further, let's look to Merriam-Webster for a definition.
Perfectionism: a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.
The definition here describes an expectation level that is staggering and intimidating. So if this is what it means to be a perfectionist, why do some people struggle with it?
I won't claim to have a good answer to why. It makes zero sense that imperfect beings would expect perfection. I do know, though, what that struggle is like from personal experience.
It's disheartening, not only to me, but to those around me.
It's not that I expect those around me to be perfect, it's that I expect myself to be perfect at all times. But when I start tearing myself apart because of a mistake or two to those around me, it hurts them to hear me dissatisfied with my work. Especially when those around me believe I've done a good job.
If I take a test and score 96 points out of 100, I will tear myself down for those 4 points missed. I will look at why I missed those points and say to myself, "You knew this! How could you get this wrong?"
If I mistype something in a post on a social media site I will feel stupid and inferior. I talk myself into believing that those who read what I wrote will think less of me over a small mistake.
When I play music, regardless of where, and mess up even one note, I feel like the entire thing was a disaster. "I've been doing music long enough that I shouldn't be messing up…ever," I say to myself.
I over analyze everything I do and will tear it down when I'm not perfectly on point.
What's very sad about being a perfectionist is that everyone around me is blind to those small mistakes or, at the very least, do not view them as a big deal. Because to someone that doesn't struggle with perfectionism, getting a 96% on a test is awesome. It's a job well done. You should be proud of yourself and your hard work.
In the case of music, those that aren't musicians likely won't even notice the mistakes. And if they do, they understand that it's normal and human to be imperfect.
So what is the solution to overcoming perfectionism? I wish I could give you a 5 step "how to" but it's not that easy. I believe God calls us to strive for excellence in all that we do. To do things to the best of our ability. To not be satisfied with just getting by but to always be improving ourselves. But excellence is not perfection. Having the mindset and attitude that everything needs to be perfect or it's not good enough is unhealthy. I have to remind myself in everything I do that I need to give my best and that's all that anyone can ask for.
God is examining our heart, not our outward appearance. God isn't interested in me being perfect in all I do. He is interested in me giving my all and my best. As long as I'm doing life whole-heartedly, what more can I give?
If you struggle with perfectionism, I would encourage you to pray. To ask God to reveal truth in your life. To show you that your best, whole-hearted effort, is all He is asking for. That we will not obtain perfection until the day we are standing in His presence.
I like what Paul says in Philippians 3: 12-16:
"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained."
We cannot be perfect in this life but we can be excellent. Let's not confuse the two and set a bar that is not obtainable. Live each day with a whole-hearted effort and be satisfied in Christ.