The Perils of Perfectionism
What is the difference between being a perfectionist and simply wanting to excel at whatever you do? It is a tough question. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be the best. Excellence in anything is something to be admired and respected. The difficulty arises when we began to ask the question “Who defines what excellence or success means in our lives?” Too often we allow our culture to set dentitions or goals for us, standards that can be too high or unrealistic. Take for example the standard what does it mean to be a good parent? Some might feel that this means you need to have a certain size house, take certain type vacations, have your kids enrolled in only the best schools etc… Only if you are accomplishing these things can you be considered an excellent parent. Or look at the standards many people have regarding their appearance. They might say, “In order to excel in life, I need to look a certain way!” That means I need to be a certain weight, have certain features in my face (naturally or surgically), the right clothes, accessories, jewelry etc… The problem is that the standards that our culture so seductively impart upon us are unrealistic. They are set by commercial entities that want to sell us something, not by someone who is concerned with our personal wellbeing. Living up to these expectations can often drive us, manipulate us, or compel us to extremes that are very unhealthy or destructive to us and those whom we are in relationship with. This is when perfectionism sets in. We no longer are striving to be the best at something, instead we are consumed with reaching a goal that we will never attain. Since we often connect our identity or self-esteem to the achievement of these goals, this pursuit can often lead to deflated lives filled with depression, unhappiness, or loneliness.
For most of us, either we or people we know have fallen into this trap. One of the greatest blessings that we have of being in relationship with God is that we no longer need to be slaves to the false ideals and goals that are placed on us. We can allow God to determine what it means to be excellent. We can allow God to guide us so that we are pursuing healthy, even lofty goals, yet without having to sacrifice our own identities, families, or friends. This is but one of the things that we refer to when we claim that Jesus can set us free from the world that binds us. Freedom really can be found in God. True freedom, that lets us be who we were created to be.
“So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Cor. 5:16-17).”