The Weight Of Being A Perfectionits
Can I share my most recent Facebook status with you? Now bear in mind that this appeared on my personal page. Generally, I tend to reserve the darker side of my human nature for those people who actually know me personally. At any rate, here it is just as I posted it earlier tonight. “Just found out I made an 85 on my first Marketing exam. Honestly? I’m bummed. Of the two tests I took on Tues I figured this would be the lower of the two but I was really hoping for better.”
I know. If you are anything like the precious people who commented in response to my post, you probably don’t see the big deal. Friends of mine quickly came to my rescue with words of encouragement and praise. “Awesome… you did extremely well… You have a grade to be proud of… You got this.” I appreciate the kind and gracious words. But to be honest? When I saw that 85 it might as well have been a F. I was devastated. Literally. I couldn’t wrap my mind around those 15 points that I missed. I replayed the test in my head, immediately trying to pinpoint the questions that I might have missed. I even closed out the page and reloaded it onto my computer in the hopes that I had looked at it wrong. Yeah. I know. Tragic. Pathetic. Even ridiculous. But that’s me. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am a perfectionist. Just like the dictionary so clearly points out, I have a “a propensity for being displeased with anything that is not perfect or does not meet extremely high standards.” Now, here’s the thing. That struggle only involves myself. I am very patient and full of grace when it comes to other people’s shortcomings. But when it comes to myself? I am a tyrant, a terrible taskmaster who allows no room for error, no margin for mistakes.
Yes, I understand that at its core perfectionism is perhaps the ultimate expression of pride. In essence, I am declaring through my own personal disgust that I am vastly superior. Yes, average might be good of for others. But me? Me??? I am and always will be above average. In fact, I am so convinced of that truth in my own mind that I need it to be validated by everyone who knows me. That’s the real reason the 85 hurts so much. In my heart I am afraid people will think of me as average. And average is only a step away from being less than average…
Perfectionism is also one of life’s greatest prisons. No matter what I do it’s never good enough. I can never measure up to the unrealistic standards that I have set for myself. Honestly? I could have made a 99 on that test and I still would have been more upset about the 1 point I missed than the 99 I got right. See, I have to be right. HAVE to be right. The thought of being wrong somehow makes me think that I am wrong. Yes, it sounds silly if your struggle lies in another area. But so much of my own sense of self-worth is tethered to being right. All the time. If I am wrong, it becomes a statement of my worth. It’s not an issue of getting an answer wrong. No! I am wrong.
Now, here’s my real point for today. In the past I would have shut down completely. COMPLETELY!!! I would have been tempted to withdraw from the class. If I can’t be perfect, than I just won’t do it. My thinking in years past? If I don’t try, I don’t have to face failure. I don’t have to admit my weaknesses and shortcomings. I don’t have to accept the fact that I’m not perfect. (That’s one of the main reasons I spent so many years as an alcoholic and addict. I was trying my best to silence the voice of perfectionism).
But fortunately, that was the past. Yes, all those old emotions and familiar thoughts rose to the surface when I first saw that 85. But this time there was a very marked difference in my response. See, Christ has been and is still doing a work in me. No, I’m not perfect. I have a long way to go obviously 😉 But I’m not who I used to be. 25 years ago I would have headed straight to the liquor store. Within 30 minutes I would have been drunk. But tonight something different happened. First of all, I heard God reassure me of His love. His love for me isn’t based on my ability to be perfect. He loves me even though I’m not perfect. Secondly, the Spirit reminded that who I am can never be measured by a score on a test. My worth comes from Him. It comes from being created in His image. It comes because He died for me when I was at my very worst. He declares that my life has worth. And therein, I find hope and encouragement. I find the strength to get up and try again. I am reminded that I don’t have to be perfect. Not at all. The only One who ever will be perfect has declared that He loves me and finds me valuable… even though I’m not perfect.
P.S. God made me purposely leave one mistake. Yes, it’s killing me…