Perfectionism makes everyone miserable, even if it works for a while.
An infamous perfectionist is college football coach Nick Saban. Coach Saban has six national championships and a 135–20 record. He made headlines when, still in the glow of winning one of those championship games, he said, “That game cost me a week of recruiting.” Having accomplished the ultimate goal of recruiting, Saban was distracted with getting back to doing recruiting.
You don’t have to be a high-profile coach to leave a trail of burned-out staffers in your wake. Perfectionism can impair regular life, too. Perfectionism can produce a critical husband, a demanding mother, a fretful professional. It can result in a mind that’s exhausted, emotions that are tanked, a brain that is fried. Its fruits are discontentment, fear, an absence of joy.
Perfectionism isn’t a thing; it’s a heart response to our circumstances. So, the question we should address in this post from our series on heart responses to our unique situations is, How should we understand perfectionism as a disruption of how God wants us to respond?
Perfectionism is the tendency to expect flawless performance from self and others, resulting in frustration at any sign of failure. Perfectionism demands immediate completion rather than acknowledging the process of growth. A perfectionist is unwilling to accept two truths that God says about all people: everyone is both limited as a human being and fallen as a sinner. In the end, perfectionism is the ongoing attempt to need Jesus less.
Perfectionism: Completion, Not Growth
We do not like to acknowledge the limits of our abilities. No one is born good at anything. We can’t talk, walk, or even scratch an itch. Growth is required. The more we grow, the greater the complexity of our skills—from basic motor skills to relational skills to profession-specific skills. We put forth honest effort before we know what we’re doing and make plenty of mistakes along the way. Mistakes are how we learn competence.
The design of God for humans to train in order to arrive at competency is apparent all over Scripture (Prov. 22:6, 29:17; Col. 3:21). Even Jesus, the Son of Man, had to grow in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52). He learned obedience by what He suffered (Heb. 5:8), and He was even being “made perfect” in the sense of being proven through practice (v. 9).