The Perfectionist In Me
I recently read a feature story in Graphic Design USA called, “100 People to Watch” in the creative industry. Each profile would list out each “person to watch” and their favorite font, favorite color, favorite gadget, etc. and the last two questions were “What is your biggest strength?” and “What is your biggest weakness?” As I read the profiles of these graphic designers, creative directors and artists I began to realize a trend develop among the answers to those last two questions. The answers that repeatedly presented themselves were that of “perfectionism” for strengths and “perfectionism” for weaknesses as well. As a graphic designer myself, and knowing my perfectionist tendencies, I couldn’t help but notice the shackles the creative industry has placed on itself. Some might call perfectionism a strength, some might excuse it as striving to be the very best you can be, others might claim it makes them extremely good at their job. Maybe its true–but what are we sacrificing on our way to perfectionism? Family? Friends? Purpose?
Excellence vs. Perfectionism
The disillusion I have had with perfectionism is that it’s the same as excellence, but in battling that conflict in my own life, I’ve come to the realization that they are most definitely not. Here is a list of what I’ve found to be very distinct differences between excellence and perfectionism:
1. Excellence saves time, perfectionism drains time.
When you’re a perfectionist like me, sometimes the tiniest details take precedence over major projects getting completed. Excellence has a triage mindset of, “what is most important in this situation?” rather than the perfectionist mindset of, “Everything is important in this situation.” As a designer I have a hard time deciding when a project is finished and when its time to move on. Perfectionism never lets you complete something and dwells in a constant state of critique. Excellence critiques, corrects, and moves on.
2. Being excellent draws attention to God, perfectionism draws attention to yourself.
Being a perfectionist draws attention to yourself and your own selfish desires. Perfectionism is having the, “my way or the highway’ mentality. Let me be the first to say that I am the poster child for that mindset. And I hate it. Excellence is placing value on the purpose, working as hard as you can towards that, but being OK if it doesn’t happen exactly as you envisioned it.
3. Perfectionism breads anxiety, fear, panic, and sensitivity while excellence creates assurance and maturity.
Brene Brown, Ph.D and LMSW, a well-known author discusses the dangers of pursuing perfection in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection.”  Brown believes that “Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” Excellence isn’t easy either. Choosing to pursue excellence won’t be void of fear or anxiety most likely, but that fear and anxiety in the light of assurance in God and a faith He will complete His work in you….creates a whole different mindset.
4. Perfectionism values only the result, excellence values the process as well as the result.
How many times do we have a one track mind? We want to get from point A to point B, exactly as we’ve planned and call it a day. Excellence doesn’t sacrifice relationships during the process and doesn’t forgo interactions with others all in the name of finishing a project.
5. Perfectionism tends to tell people that the job they do determines their worth, pursuing excellence says failure does not affect who you are.
Why do I want everything to be perfect? I haven’t quite grasped the separation of my worth and the job I do. Excellence says whatever the outcome, you are still valuable! Perfectionism says failure is not an option, and if it does happen, you might as well give up. Perfectionism is works based — meaning you are bound to mess up eventually. Excellence says you will mess up — and that’s totally OK.
6. Excellence is freeing, perfectionism is enslaving.
Or psychologist and well known speaker Harriet Braiker says it another way: “Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.” You will not achieve perfection. Those words were hard to type. But its true. There is one person in all of humanity who achieved perfection and that’s the only person who ever will. That’s not an excuse to give up on being excellent, but I’d say it is a great argument for the sake of trying to attain perfection. We aren’t God. We still are called to follow in Jesus’ steps, pursuing excellence, but. Excellence isn’t perfection. Perfection enslaves and demoralizes. Excellence frees you from fear of failure and from selfish ambitions. It motivates you and most likely those around you as well.
God uses our excellence to bring glory to His name. Matthew 5:16 “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” There is opportunity to glorify God’s name with what we do. It’s tempting that in pursuing a perfect God we long for perfection, but on your quest for excellence, don’t let perfectionism take over.
Do you see perfectionism taking over your life? In what areas of your life does perfectionism tend to pop up the most? Is it ruining relationships, work, and even taking precedence over the purpose of what you are working towards? Comment below and share!