I was fervently editing a project that had to be done before Christmas break. I had little time and a lot I wanted to do and it had to be perfect. Have you ever said that to yourself?
This has to be perfect.
Sensing my stress my former boss gently reminded me “Done + On Time = Perfect.”
I wrote it on a post-it and stuck in on the bottom of my computer but my brain could not wrap itself around the equation. It didn’t make sense to me. “No,” I thought, “that does not equal perfect at all.”
Many video editing projects later, I understand what my previous boss was trying to tell me that day. He wasn’t saying to not be excellent but he was saying that if I got stuck worrying about every little detail no one would ever even get the chance to see it. There comes a point when it is good enough (And if that statement just made you cringe on the inside then keep reading).
Many people never offer what is inside of them to the world because they are waiting for it to be perfect.
York St. John University defines perfectionism as “having unrealistic expectations and thinking and feeling negatively when those expectations are not met.” When people behave from a place of perfectionism they have negative self-talk, tend to procrastinate, and see things as all or nothing. One study found that those who believe others want them to perform perfectly have increased stress and burnout in the workplace.
It’s not bad to strive for excellence but operating from a place of perfectionism is not healthy and can prevent you from accomplishing the things that are important to you.
Before I go on any further I want to make it clear that there is a big difference between excellence and perfectionism. Excellence says, “I’m going to give my best” but perfectionism says, “No matter if I give my best it will never be good enough.” Excellence will keep you moving forward but perfectionism will keep you frozen in place.
Now that we cleared that up, here are two truths to come to terms with to help you overcome perfectionism:
1. It’s not going to be perfect and that’s okay
2. It’s not about you
No matter how hard you try it’s never going to be perfect. Ouch. I said it. I know that might not be what you want to hear but it’s the truth. I can look back at projects I spent months on and still find details that if given the chance I would change.
If you are a creative (which you are) you probably have high ideals of what you want your work to look like. It’s easy to look at other people’s work and compare yourself but people aren’t born doing things perfectly. They aren’t even great at it. What makes people great at something is that they have put lots of hours of work into it (hours that people are usually unaware of and don’t see).
There is a quote about Ira Glass that I feel expresses this perfectly.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good… And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work… It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.”
When you start out with any new endeavor whether it is writing a book, learning a new sport, or starting a business, there are going to be feelings of inadequacy. At the initial stage of learning it’s easy to get frustrated and feel that your efforts are not good. Don’t allow those negative feelings to stop you though. Be willing to make mistakes and be messy.
We often think that if something isn’t perfect it can’t be impactful but that’s not true. The many video projects I’ve worked on that I saw as imperfect have gone on to bless tons of people.
You have no idea how many people’s lives are going to be changed by what you imperfectly bring to the table.
The Bible is full of examples of God using what people offered even if it was just a humble start.
The boy who had only 5 loaves and 2 fish but it fed 5,000 (John 6).
The woman who had only a jar of oil but it paid an enormous debt (2 Kings 4:1-7).
Moses who had only a shepherd’s staff but it was used by God to part the Red Sea (Exodus 14:16).
David who had only a slingshot but it slayed a giant and brought victory (1 Samuel 17:50).
God will use what we bring to the table. And that brings us to the second point – It’s not about you, meaning it’s not about your image or what others think about you.
I think so many times we get stuck trying to be so perfect because we don’t want it to reflect poorly on us. We want to appear confident, and put together and talented to everyone around us, and we don’t want them to see less than that.
When we realize though that it’s not about us we will be released to freely express ourselves and allow God to use it.
“Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the LORD means safety.” – Proverbs 29:25 (NLT)
Your worth and value is not connected to how well you can perform. It is connected to the cross. God loves you regardless of your performance and this truth should free you to make mistakes and then try again.
If you are struggling with perfectionism and procrastinating on something God has called you to do, ask Him for help. Invite God into the process and allow Him to create with you. Ask Him what is holding you back and what you are fearful of. Commit your plans to Him and get started, there are people waiting for what you have to offer.
“Commit your actions to the LORD, and your plans will succeed.” – Proverbs 16:3