Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

Posted on Posted in Leadership Development, Spiritual Formation

Hi.

My name is Guy — and I’m a recovering perfectionist.

It’s been approximately 12 years since my then new bride called me out on my condition — primarily because I was beginning to impose it on her, and our young marriage. (Thanks Hunny!)

It probably took me another year or two to fully understand and embrace my imperfect reality of constantly striving to be perfect — at which point I officially entered into unofficial recovery.

I began to consciously tell myself that it was OK to not be the best, to not be perfect in everything I said and did.

But at some level I struggled to believe that this was really true — and all the more that God was OK with this kind of thinking.

I wanted to give God my best — and I thought that meant perfection.

But what I’ve learned over the course of the past decade is that trying our best — and thoroughly enjoying the experiences we get to have — is what God desires for us.

That seeing ourselves as a forever work-in-progress — and being content with that reality — is what God desires for us.

That being able to celebrate the gifts, talents, and successes of others is important in my ongoing recovery process.

And as a recovering perfectionist, I believe God also wants me to help others who struggle to give themselves the grace and space to make mistakes, to struggle, to fail — to be anything but perfect.

I was reminded of this fact last night as I watched my eldest son struggle through a skills test at his first ever golf clinic.

He’s enjoyed the past four weeks — making new friends, learning new skills, and participating in a new activity.

But last night — the final gathering for this five-week clinic — they tested the junior golfers on what they had been learning. And for my junior golfer, things did not go as he would have hoped.

And I began to see in him his own early struggles with perfectionism.

As a dad, a bogey golfer (on my good days), a pastor, and a recovering perfectionist — my heart hurt for my boy.

I tried to encourage him as he was struggling his way through the different skill tests — but that only seemed to make matters worse.

So I took the remainder of the hour to consider how best I could help him — through his current struggle — as well as those struggles that are inevitable to follow.

As he left the green, his coaches, and his little golfing buddies at the end of the hour — walking towards me with his head hung low — I got up and met him with a hug.

As we walked to the car and made our way home, I encourage him for doing his best.

I told him I was proud of him for trying something new.

I shared with him the improvements I had observed from the first day to the last.

I reminded him that he was new to the game of golf — and shouldn’t expect to be awesome.

I shared with him some of my own struggles with the game of golf — and the desire to be awesome (or perfect).

I also told him that he didn’t have to play golf he didn’t want to. That I simply wanted him to be happy and enjoy life right now. But I also said that if he did want to continue to play, he needed to learn to be OK with slow, steady improvements. And that his improvements would come through lots and lots of practice.

I’m sure I said a lot more than I needed to. And truthfully, I’m not sure how much stuck.

But the conversation served as a good reminder to this recovering perfectionist.

And as I sit here in my office, on this quiet summer morning, I’m struck by how many of our students could probably benefit from conversations and reminders like this one — especially as they are in the midst of such a formative season of life.

 

  • brettbyford

    So true. Your blog reminds me of a line from East of Eden, which
    says, “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” The
    pressure of perfection makes it impossible for many of us to relax and
    be good.

    Improvement in anything involves failure (i.e. coming
    face to face with your imperfection), and I can confess that the fear of
    my imperfection has limited my improvement in certain areas. I’m
    reminded of Epictus who said, “If you want to improve, be content to be
    thought foolish and stupid.” Having my imperfection seen by others (and
    thus being thought of as foolish, stupid, etc.) has scared me to stay
    in the boat too often. Lately I’ve been encouraged by Peter’s
    life and how little his imperfection seemed to discourage him from
    taking risks and speaking up. Literally weeks after denying Christ, he
    stood up first and and preached Good News to thousands of people on
    Pentecost. He seemed so in touch with both his brokenness and his
    belovedness and I believe that’s what liberated him from the prison of
    perfectionism.

    Thanks for sharing, Guy. It really resonated
    with me. Especially this line: “…trying our best—and thoroughly
    enjoying the experiences we get to have—is what God desires for us.”