Proudly perfectionistic

target-with-three-arrows-300x240I am a perfectionist, and this is not a confession.

I am a proud perfectionist!

I’m certainly not claiming to be perfect. We all know there’s a difference between being perfect and being a perfectionist.

What I can’t understand is why our culture seems overwhelmingly opposed to perfectionism. Why is it viewed as a weakness?

If your goal is not perfection, what is it? Imperfection?

I think we’re wrong to disparage perfectionistic tendencies. Excellence results from such dispositions. Perhaps compromises in the quality of American products and services would be reversed if we returned to viewing perfectionism as a virtue instead of a vice.

But we’re not only wrong about perfectionism. We’re also hypocritical. While we claim that we don’t like perfectionists, our actions say otherwise.

When choosing which doctor will be performing your brain surgery, do you consider his perfectionistic tendencies a strength or a weakness?

I don’t know about you, but when I’m traveling through the air going 400 mph at 40,000 feet in an aluminum tube, I like to think of my pilot as a perfectionist.

I’ve never contracted to have a house built, but if I ever do I’ll be shopping for a builder with perfectionistic tendencies.

I want my car manufacturer to aim for perfection when designing it (especially the steering and brakes). Nice to have that quality in a mechanic, too.

When you’re out celebrating that special occasion with that special someone and paying $80 for a $35 meal, don’t you want a perfectionist preparing your dish?

Have you ever read a book in which neither the author nor the editor had perfectionistic tendencies? You were distracted by the errors on every page, weren’t you?

[I found 2 errors in this blog on the 17th time I read it prior to posting]

I live in a reality of contradictions. I know I’ll never be perfect, but that doesn’t mean I can’t strive for perfection.

Matthew 5:48.



10 responses to “Proudly perfectionistic

  • Andy Winters

    I have heard it said, “Strive for perfection, knowing you can never achieve it.” Maybe it depends on your point of view whether that is motivational or not. In any case, one other area where I think choosing a perfectionist comes into play is in our choice of a Savior. Some want a “savior” who is just another man with beneficial philosophies. Some choose themselves. But in view of eternity, I not only want a Savior who is a perfectionist, but who himself is perfect!

  • shambaam

    I have found my perfectionism to be more of a weakness than a strength, because it builds up unrealistic expectations and I can get incredibly, destructively frustrated if I don’t meet them. For example, it’s not worth it to spend several days in a bad mood because of one minor spelling error in the tens of thousands of words I was responsible for editing each week when I was working at a newspaper.

    My perfectionism,however, is a constant reminder of my shortcomings and that ultimately, I am helpless and in need of a Savior. I’ll never be perfect, but He is, thankfully!

    Even surgeons and pilots make mistakes. Probably more than we want to know. The best ones could probably tell you what they could’ve done better after every surgery or flight. My expectations are that safeguards are in place to prevent the truly devastating mistakes.

    In a recent sermon I heard, the pastor said to “strive for excellence, not perfection.” I have found those words to be incredibly freeing.

    Striving for perfection is not necessarily a bad thing. Thinking you’ve attained it, on the other hand, is. 🙂

    • afalston

      Agreed! I think “perfectionism,” as we usually use the word, is definitely detrimental. It puts the focus on me and not on God, where it needs to be. It makes me conscious of my own inadequacies and causes me to berate myself for them instead of putting my eyes on the Savior Who cleansed me from them. Grace allows me to strive to love others despite my shortcomings. It allows me to accept their shortcomings and still value them as people made in the image of God and whom are worthy of my love and respect. Perfectionism demands that I be perfect before I accept myself and that others be perfect before I accept them (at least “perfectionism” as the term is usually used).

    • Jeffrey E. Miller

      I did find this distinction helpful, from the psychology journals: “Normal perfectionists pursue perfection without compromising their self-esteem, and derive pleasure from their efforts. Neurotic perfectionists strive for unrealistic goals and consistently feel dissatisfied when they cannot reach them.”

  • Jeffrey E. Miller

    What would be the difference between a person who strives for excellence and a person who strives for perfection if both know they’ll never fully achieve their goals? Or, if I’m not demoralized when my attempts at perfection fail, is there any harm in keeping it as my goal?

  • afalston

    I think a lot depends on what our idea of “perfect” is. I think if I am striving for perfection, then I am striving to love perfectly. I am striving to serve my Father perfectly. I’m not striving to look perfect to people. Col 3:23

  • The Devotional Guy

    Based on previous comments and my own experiences, striving for perfection seems to have a powerful impact relationally. When you invest the time and effort to get it absolutely perfect (like the pilot, surgeon, or writer) you build credibility and trust. This is a good thing. You are demonstrating that you genuinely care; like when you plan out that perfect date with the one you love versus just chunking some flowers at her. Although we know that mistakes happen, we’re not flying on an airline whose planes routinely disappear or going to a doctor who is repeatedly inconsiderate of our time. Conversely, when a parent chides a child for only getting a 99 on a big test, something just ain’t right. If you’re a believer, getting it perfectly right surely pleases the Father. (Cain vs. Abel?) A writer proofreading his work 17 times before publishing it is demonstrating good stewardship. Someone proofreading their response to a blogpost 17 times before posting it—like I just did—might need professional help.

  • Jeffrey E. Miller

    Ha! Professional help. Couldn’t agree more.

  • mattmorton149

    Good thoughts, Jeff! I agree that the Scripture holds up “completion” or “perfection” as our ultimate goal. That said, many perfectionists hold themselves and others to impossibly high standards and have a hard time with forgiveness. I say that as a person still recovering from that particular malady. For example, it’s one thing to strive for a perfect test score, but it’s another to communicate to one’s friends or kids that anything less than 100 makes that person second-rate. There’s also the danger of believing, even in a subtle way, that God loves us more when we’re all put-together and perfect. It’s a hidden form of works-based theology, rather than recognizing that we strive to become mature but that those who know Jesus can experience His forgiveness when we fall short, and we can extend that to others.

    In other words, I think your ideas are correct, but I think the word “perfectionism” has connotations that go beyond simply striving for the best. Everybody has met the “perfectionistic” little league coach who yells at the kids who aren’t as naturally athletic, or the parent who berates a child for missing one question out of 20 (instead of praising the 19 he got correct). All that to say, there’s a balance to be found here, and the Scripture provides it, I think. 🙂

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