Do you ever feel that everything has to be perfect before you are ready to show any of your work, or before you can take any kind of action?
While having some perfectionist tendencies can sometimes be helpful in helping us strive towards a better standard, it can often be problematic as well.
Sometimes we can build up an unrealistic expectation of what we should be or what our work should look like. Consequently, we may feel that we need to live up to that ideal version in our heads before we allow others to see.
When the reality doesn’t quite align with this image we’ve developed, we can end up burying our talents or fear taking hold of potential opportunities that may come our way in case we fail in other people’s eyes.
How can we overcome this perfectionism trap? Read on below.
How perfectionism can lead to procrastination
Often, we can be our own worst critic, never feeling that our work is good enough. Sometimes we can be so afraid to fail, or to make one wrong step. We wait for all of the conditions to be exactly right in order to take any form of action. We can be constantly second guessing ourselves and our every action.
As a result, we end up putting things off indefinitely, waiting for the most opportune or auspicious moment. When we wait too long however, the moment can pass us by. Someone less wavering with more courage and confidence can come along and swoop in before us. We can end up missing out on life’s opportunities.
That’s not to say that you don’t aspire to have your work to a high standard or to keep working towards this. I’m not advocating being mediocre or sub-standard. It is important to make sure the quality of your work is up to scratch and not to submit something that would fall short on every level.
However, we can end up spending years at first base where we are never able to progress beyond that early stage. That can also prevent us from being creative in other areas or trying other ideas because we feel we need to get this one right first.
Ecclesiastes 11:4 says:
“Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” (NIV)
I like the Good News translation of this however, as it really brings out the idea of waiting for things to be perfect:
“If you wait until the wind and the weather are just right, you will never plant anything and never harvest anything.” (GNB)
If we wait for the perfect weather conditions, we won’t ever plant any seeds out of fear that they’ll be blown away, or that they won’t sprout, or that they might fall by the wayside, or that the birds might steal them. And we won’t harvest our crops out of fear that the rain might come. But we can’t control the wind or the rain, and we can’t let them control us.
Sometimes we simply have to venture out and get our feet wet even if it means dealing with the possibility of failing, because standing still and doing nothing is failing as well.
Below are 3 biblical ways to overcome the perfectionism trap:
1. Overcoming perfectionism means walking by faith
When we feel that we need to be completely sure of everything, and to eliminate any sense of uncertainty, that means that it no longer becomes a step of faith.
Of course, that is not to say that we should rush quickly into a decision. We still need to pray about it and use our wisdom and discernment. We also need to do the proper research and due diligence.
However, after having taken all the other steps, if we are still wanting an absolute confirmation that the thing is going to work and not fail, then we are trusting in our own efforts. At that point we begin to lean on our own understanding and believe that we are the ones completely in control of our own future.
Ecclesiastes 11:5-6 says
“As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.
Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.”
We sometimes need to take a risk and then leave the rest in God’s hands, trusting that he will work things out for us.
Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.”
2. Overcoming perfectionism means not trusting in ourselves
Related to the above is the idea that whatever we do, we must realise that only with God can our plans ultimately be successful and bear fruit.
Psalm 127:1 talks about the futility of our efforts apart from God. It says:
“Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labour in vain.” (NIV)
In 1 Corinthians 3:6-8, St Paul also tells us:
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (NIV)
When we believe that things are in our own hands, that’s when we will feel burdened. We’ll believe we need everything in place before we can act. Once we realise that it is God who establishes our plans, we can walk in the knowledge that even though things may not be perfect, we have someone bigger than ourselves. Our future is not dependent on us alone and therefore we can step out in faith.
Ultimately, we are only co-workers and stewards of God’s work. It is not something we own ourselves. Therefore, we can let go of trying to control everything and leave it in God’s hands.
3. Overcoming perfectionism requires taking small steps
Ecclesiastes 11:1 says:
“Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return.”
The more familiar reading of this verse comes from the New King James version:
“Cast your bread upon the waters, For you will find it after many days.”
When we realise that things are not dependent on us, it gives us the freedom to be more creative and to try different things. We never know what might bring us a return.
We often end up waiting around for the perfect job, relationship, looking for the perfect church etc. Sometimes we need to take smaller steps towards something to build up towards that. These smaller steps can also help us train towards the bigger opportunity.
I wrote in this article how we need to sometimes take small steps first that can lead to greater opportunities.
Think of it like professional tennis players like Roger Federer. Throughout the year he will play many of the smaller competitions. He doesn’t wait only for the Grand Slam tournaments where he hopes to win the biggest prize. If he were to do that, he would put himself under immense pressure and would not have built up to that tournament. Along the way, Federer suffers many defeats, both in the small tournaments and even at the Grand Slam level. However, history remembers him as the greatest tennis player of all time. We also tend to remember his wins rather than his losses.
When we’ve tried different things a few times, the pressure isn’t only on that one thing that we must get absolutely right. That frees us up to be less perfectionist about it.
We don’t always know where these smaller steps will lead. However, in faith, we can take them and sow our seed, even with the possibility of failure. Romans 8:28 tells us that
“in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Do you ever hold off on plans or fear doing something because you feel you aren’t ready yet? Before you can act, do you need things to be perfect or just right? How do you overcome perfectionism?
Let me know by leaving your comments in the section below. Also, please share if you found this article useful.
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Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology. He also has a degree in Law and was called to the Bar. Robert previously taught religious studies and was a theology lecturer. He is an artist, musician and writer, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel. You can follow him below.
This Post Has 5 Comments
R Christian Bohlen19 Jan 2019
I like the scriptures you selected. Very insightful. Great nugget to ponder this weekend! You are inspired, my friend!
Anita Ojeda23 Jan 2019
I think I forget #2 all too often! I’m a co-worker, not the boss! Thank you for this thoughtful and meaningful reminder that perfectionism CAN be overcome (and it’s vital to overcome it!).
Carissa D23 Jan 2019
I agree, those verses well well chosen. A very encouraging post. Thank you!
April24 Jan 2019
I used to be a mixture of some perfectionism and then some don’t really care. It always depended on the “what” I was working on. I learned many lessons the hard way to really grasp that as long as I’m willing, God takes care of the rest. I of course still want thinks to be done to the best I can motto but when I start stressing then that’s my signal!! God never wants us to stress.
Patricia G.11 Mar 2019
Robert, I really struggle with perfectionism, because it seems sometimes my best efforts aren’t good enough and I feel frustrated with myself. However, when I let God take control and trust Him , I find that I actually do my best work.