Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

April 22, 2013

I think if I had another life, I’d be a critic.

I could be a food critic because I love food.  Or a film critic.  That sounds like a good gig.  I already eat, watch movies, and criticize things, so it would make sense to just go ahead and get paid for it.

But above everything I like to critique, there is one thing I have habitually criticized for most of my life.

Myself.

Yes, I am a relentless self-critic and a lifelong perfectionist.  And not only will I never get paid to be a critic of myself, being a self-critic is something I’m finally trying to let go of.

A Critic to Beat All Others

A couple of months ago I revealed how gut-wrenching it was to finally let my manuscript of Life After Art be edited.  As my editor sifted through my words with a fine toothed comb, I felt embarrassed that someone would find so many mistakes.  After all, I don’t like anyone to see my work until it’s “finished” and preferably “perfect.”

In one excerpt, which was ironically cut, I anticipated that there would be some people who would be truly critical of the book (which has happened a few times over the last couple of weeks.)  But I explained that no matter how critical anyone could be of the book, no one could possibly as critical of me or my work as I am.

I am glad that excerpt was cut, but it revealed that being such an over-the-top self-critic is actually a crutch and a weakness.  I have realized that I have used self-criticism to try shield me from the criticism of others.  No other critics can hurt me if they can’t be as hard on me as I can be on myself.

Not Called to Perfection

The thing that I’ve realized about being such a tough self-critic…

…is that it doesn’t work.  

No matter how much I try to anesthetize myself with self-criticism, critique from others still stings.

Besides that, extreme perfectionism and self-critique just steals the joy out of what we are doing.  It takes away the satisfaction we are meant to feel when we have accomplished something, or it steals our confidence just because we see someone else who is doing “better.”

We are not called to do perfect work.  God doesn’t hold us to that standard.  We are called to do good work, even excellent work.  But perfect work?  No, not on the list.  If we are holding ourselves to standards of perfection, then we are missing out on the work God has entrusted to us.

Critiques or Connections

I’ve had a little revelation the last couple of days.

Today, I’m glad that the book, this blog, and everything I do is not perfect.  I have never taught a perfect art lesson, given a perfect sermon, written a perfect blog post or painted a perfect picture.  They all have flaws, little rough edges and ragged corners that haven’t been sanded smooth.  Sometimes, those rough edges snag someone.  My work is not glossy products, engineered from steel and glass and cut with lasers and computers.

No, the things of my life are made by hand, not by machines; with my mind, not a microchip.  And it is actually in the imperfections, the weaknesses, the rough edges that I as the writer and you as the reader are connected in our humanity.  If everything I made was polished and glossy and perfect, then they would just be inanimate products.

But the imperfect, chipped, rough things I offer to you are not just products.  They are me.  You can criticize if you want.  It’s okay.  But I also invite you to be joined in our shared imperfections.

Are you escaping the trap of self-criticism and perfectionism?  Tell us how you feel about that.

10 responses to Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

  1. Oh, have you tried vlogging? I keep doing my “welcome to our channel” vlog over and over trying for perfection. I lost track of how many times I re-did it and don’t even like my remake enough to post it, although I did improve at looking at the camera throughout the whole thing. It’s still a work in progress.

  2. Love this post, Matt! Later this week I am guest posting for someone where I take a great thought from your book and expand on it. The post is about being a recovering perfectionist too. So much of what you say here resonates with me. Love this “No, the things of my life are made by hand, not by machines; with my mind, not a microchip. And it is actually in the imperfections, the weaknesses, the rough edges that I as the writer and you as the reader are connected in our humanity.” So very true.

  3. Your post reminds me of my own journey through perfectionism. I’ve got many roads ahead still to travel, but today I realize how valuable my imperfect self is…it allows me to connect with others.

  4. For me, perfection is frequently a roadblock to starting at all – if I can’t do it _ALL_ and _PERFECTLY_, then I’d rather just not do any of it. So I’m learning to break things down into smaller chunks – I can do _one_ load of laundry or tidy one room of the house. I don’t have to write a whole book, I need to write this paragraph, etc. When the focus is on the smaller (and very surmountable) sub-task, then the larger task gets that much closer to being done.

    I’m also learning to be ok with not getting it _all_ done. I’ll make a list of things I need to do, prioritize it, and get as much done as I can. The rest of the stuff will just have to wait, and that’s ok.

    • I’ve had that problem a lot as well. According to my mom, I took longer than usual to learn to walk because I hated falling so much. I would go all over the room holding on to furniture, but I refused to let go of anything until I really mastered walking. I think I’ve been that way ever since.

  5. One look back at the train wreck I call my life and I am disabused of any notion of perfection.

    I know who and what I am. A REAL sinner who desperately needs a REAL Savior.

  6. I keep coming back to this post and reading it again. I’m a recovering perfectionist. Although, not always the recovering part. It has hindered me so much because I feel that if I’m not perfect at something, then it’s a failure. But this post was a reminder that we can’t be perfect, we’re not called to be perfect. And how freeing that really is. Thank you for the reminder!