(Click here for Part 1.)
Hello. My name is Kerry, and I’m a perfectionist.
What does this mean? I don’t want to be seen as less than perfect. What’s the bad news? I’m so far from perfect I can’t see it with a telescope. What the good news? Let me rephrase. What’s the great news? The amazingly spectacular awesome life-changing news?
God sees me as perfect.
Imperfect me. All my flaws. All my sin. Through faith in a Savior who died in my place, I am seen by my God as spotless and new.
That’s the good news. That’s the Gospel.
What does that mean? Well, besides making it possible to have a personal relationship with an otherwise unreachable HOLY God, AND eternal life in Him, this means I can find rest from my perfectionism. (And so can you.)
The striving can be so tiring. The constant desire to do everything just right. The insatiable hunger to be better. The worries. The fear of failure. It’s a constant battle to prove – what, exactly? That we are worthy. That we are better than we actually are. That we are better than others. That we can do what we say we can do. That we aren’t a disappointment, to ourselves or others. That we are good enough. That others can accept us. That God can accept us.
So, have we proven it? Are we worthy? More bad news here. We aren’t. We will never attain perfection. Yes, more good news also follows. Christ is worthy, and He has made it possible for me, an unworthy sinner, to be forgiven, freed, in fellowship with God.
For the strivers like me out there, this should bring rest. Not power-nap rest, or 8-hour rest, or deep-tissue massage rest. True rest. Our strivings are stilled. Our hearts are at peace. We come to a full stop, knowing there is nothing else we should or can do. He has done it already. Just accept the gift.
Listening to the testimony of a woman getting baptized at my church, I was immensely blessed by her wording of this truth. She spoke of struggles similar to mine, and concluded with what God revealed to her:
“You don’t have to. I AM.”
Praise the Lord! He is everything. He has done it all. It is finished.
I can stop fighting a fight that’s already been won.
So, am I good enough?
To this, I can confidently say:
Christ is enough for me.
I’ve written how analyzing can be paralyzing. Perfectionism can be a similar paralytic.
As a perfectionist, I don’t want to do something if it will only be good, not great. When the bar is set at perfection, it’s often hard to even try. It can stop me before I get a chance to start.
It can also paralyze me before the task is complete. How? It’s hard to view the task as ever complete, because it can always be improved. I agonize over every detail, looking for imperfections to correct, never satisfied to call it “done.” A 400-word project turns into hours of rewrites and hand-wringing, wondering if anything else has been missed or could be more aptly phrased.
Yes, I have issues. For now, let’s focus less on this second issue and more on the “stop before we start” aspect. As I work to build a house for myself in the neighborhood of writing, it is this side-effect of perfectionism that threatens to destroy my cottage before the blueprints are dry. What if what I build turns out to be a disaster area? A money pit? Or, (perhaps worse) what if it’s ok, but not wonderful? The perfectionist in me trembles at the thought of being a good writer, not a great writer. Is it worth trying?
If I decide yes, I must face scary thought number two: Am I worthy? Once I break ground and start construction, can I call myself a resident of Writersville? How complete must my little cottage be to claim residence? Surely something must be done to earn this status. Do I need to prove myself worthy somehow? At what point am I good enough? What must be done before I can answer “What do you do?” with a confident, “I’m a writer.”
Is any of this resonating with you? Maybe you aren’t a perfectionist, but something else holds you back or paralyzes you. It may have nothing to do with writing either, but have an affect on some other aspect of your life. If you face similar struggles, I hope the rest of this post, and Part 2 to follow, help untie your knots, just as these truths have begun to loosen mine.
As I face these fears and ponder these perfectionistic tendencies, I have stumbled upon some encouraging words.
“The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” – Robert Cormier
This clashes a bit with my perfectionism. Is Cormier really claiming it’s ok to get it less than perfect? Yet, it’s true. Writing can always be improved, and that’s ok. If my wordsmith skills fail to turn a phrase properly, it has less consequence than the improper turn of a surgeon’s scalpel. What’s the big deal? I should accept the need for rewrites and the occasional bad idea. I should accept the fact that I won’t get it right every time and, the first time, I usually won’t. (I apologize to all perfectionistic brain surgeons reading this. I realize this is no help in your struggles.)
A quote from the King (of writing, not rock ‘n roll) helped cut through my insecurities of worth. In the blunt style he uses throughout On Writing, Stephen asks on page 235:
“Do you need someone to make you a paper badge with the word WRITER on it before you can believe you are one?”
Ok. I get it. I suppose I can call myself a writer if my work has not reached the best-seller lists and Kerry Nenn is not a household name. I suppose I can write even if my work is less than perfect. I can do my best, and continue to strive to do better. While everything I write will not be great, I will keep practicing and improving my craft. I suppose I can do all of this if I never accomplish more than the blogging and freelancing I am doing this week.
With these thoughts in mind, my desire is to no longer fear failure, imperfection, or unworthiness. These are unwelcome guests in my home, and I have decided to evict them. As I work on building and improving my writer’s cottage, I confidently say:
I am a good writer, hoping to some day be a great writer.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
Where are you on this spectrum? Fly by the seat of your pants? Or are you at the other end, with me? How can you know where you fall?
Which would be your response to the following question:
“Want to take a trip to Ireland?”
“Sure! Sounds great! Let’s go!”
“Maybe. Sounds fun, but when would we go? How long will the trip be? Where will we stay? Is that the best option for a destination? There are a lot of other places I want to see. Who will be going on the trip? Should we invite anyone else? How many people would be good to travel with? How do we decide whom to invite? Will anyone’s feelings be hurt if they aren’t invited? How much will it cost? Will the time and financial commitment interfere with other things I want to do? What’s it like in Ireland? Is it safe? Easy to get around? Would a guided tour be better, or plan it our ourselves? What are my options? If I don’t go to Ireland, what could I do instead? Exploring castles sounds fun, and seeing Kerry County. But, it will cost a lot of money, and involve leaving the country…passports, flights, yadda yadda. I don’t know if I want to go or not. I can’t decide.”
It’s crazy, isn’t it? The process involved for me to make a decision is often mind-boggling. From selecting dishes, to planning vacations, to choosing a house, to picking a restaurant for Friday night dinner, I usually travel hundreds of thought miles before reaching a destination. What’s even crazier is that my wanderings often don’t end up at a destination at all. I must analyze, weigh each alternative, look at every angle, list the pros and cons, deliberate, debate, doubt and second-guess, until I’ve exhausted every option and exhausted myself (and those around me, I’m sure.) The result: a state of indecision, trapped in the mesh of the myriad possibilities I’ve created in my mind, playing out various scenarios, trying to think through everything thoroughly.
The result: Analysis Paralysis.
Afraid of making a bad decision, it’s hard to make any decision at all. So immersed in analysis, I’m frozen in place.
Whatever I choose, I’ll have to live with forever. So serious. (See previous post.)
So afraid of regret, I end up with regret over my inability to decide. How ridiculous is that?
Anyone out there in cyberspace relate to this? Or are you all chilling down at the other end of the spectrum? Foot-loose and fancy-free? Making decisions willy-nilly. Anything goes. Just goin’ with the flow. Jumping at any opportunity. No scale must be tipped in a lengthy decision-making process. There is no scale.
I sometimes envy you. How can it be so easy for you? I sometimes dislike you. How can you simply say yes, without considering the consequences?
I suppose my cautious, over-thinking, planning, analyzing mind has saved me from some bad decisions. I suppose it has also made (what should be) easy decisions difficult, and given me grief. I suppose I have analyzed this topic enough to know a happy medium must exist that would be good to find. Or, perhaps not. Maybe I need to be this way to balance out all of you Yes-men out there. Someone has to keep things in order.
Are you stuck in Analysis Paralysis too? I wish I could help get you unstuck, but I think in the process we’d both come unglued. I will simply pass along what I have learned so far.
- Most of the things I agonize over won’t matter 100 years from now. We need to remember that. Many of the decisions that paralyze me won’t even matter 10 years from now. It would be good to remember that too. Dare I say a lot won’t even matter one year from now? Good to consider.
- We are missing out on the freedom we don’t see we have. We are so afraid of making the wrong choice, we may not see there is no single right one. Many times, there are multiple good choices. It’s ok. Just pick one. Even if it turns out there might have been a better one, it’s still a good one, not bad.
- No decision is a decision too.
If you are my polar opposite, I have but one request. On second thought, make that two.
1. Be patient with those of us who take a bit longer to come to conclusions.
2. Please help me decide when I should end this article.
Is here good?
Maybe there is a bit more to discuss.
Perhaps I’ve said my piece.