I’ve always been a goal-setter, go-getter, and high-achiever. It’s never enough for me to get things done — I need to do them to the best of my ability. And if anything remotely competitive is involved, I need to win. Up to this point in my life, most people would say I’ve been pretty successful at that.
That mindset and work ethic has enabled me to win a collegiate national championship in tennis, graduate college with a 4.0 GPA, achieve All-American and Academic All-American status, and get into freelance photography and writing.
Yet if you asked me what I think of all I’ve accomplished in my life so far, I’d probably tell you I could have done more. I could have done better. I didn’t perform to the level I know I’m capable of.
I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and I give everything I have to the challenge in front of me, but trying my best doesn’t take away the desire to better, to do more, to be the best.
Perfectionists struggle because enough is never enough. We can always do more. We can always do better. When we reach one goal, we immediately have our sights set on the next. We don’t settle, but keep pushing and pushing onward. Forward is the only way.
As an athlete, I was always told if I’m not going forward I’m going backward, so I never wanted to be complacent. But being a perfectionist is also a huge temptation because it doesn’t allow us to bask in the joy of each moment. We’re constantly focused on what could be better, instead of focusing on the gift of what we have right in front of us.
I have learned several useful tips to balance my desire for more with finding joy in the present moment. For recovering perfectionists like myself, these are some habits that might help ground us in gratitude and trust.
I’ve found that most perfectionists also struggle with pride, and I’m no exception. It’s a temptation that I fight daily. I think of myself too often, which makes me focus on what I am accomplishing, rather than having a servant’s heart with an eye for recognizing those in need around me. Getting involved in volunteer service helps me stay centered on other people, especially those in need. Those relationships bring me back to what’s most important.
Make time to give thanks. God gives each of us exactly what we need in each moment. Maybe it’s not what we want, but it’s what we need to grow into the people we are created to be. Whether we think it’s a positive or negative experience, thank God for it. Once we start thanking God for what He gives us, we’ll increasingly notice all the ways He provides for us every day, which will dwarf all that we think is missing in our lives. Never underestimate the power of a grateful heart.
This is a tough one for me. With my “work hard and you’ll be successful” mindset, I grew up thinking that if I put my heart and soul into something, I should achieve what I’m striving for. But that doesn’t always happen. I go back to Mother Teresa’s quote often: “God doesn’t require us to be successful, only faithful.” It reminds me that success is not an indicator of our worth or goodness — winning is not what’s truly important here on Earth. This is countercultural, but it’s true. The more we learn to accept all as coming from God, the more we can accept losses, setbacks, and misfortunes as gifts. Failure invites us to trust God in new ways.
Cultivate a habit of prayer
I’ve found that the times when I’m hardest on myself and down in the dumps — feeling like I’m not doing enough or good enough — are (not coincidentally) those times when I’ve pushed a regular practice of reflection or prayer to the back-burner. My busy schedule and full life become my excuse for why I neglect my interior life. When I forget to return to prayer and quiet time with God, I also forget who I am, fundamentally: a child of God, who is a loving Father. When I forget this, I think I should or can do everything on my own, which is a trap.
Remember: I can’t do it all
If you’re an overachiever and recovering perfectionist like myself, sometimes this is really hard to admit. But humility is a must if we want to overcome perfectionism. We are human. We fail. But we rise, day after day. We cannot do it all, especially by ourselves, and there’s a lot of beauty and freedom in surrender. Until we recognize our need to rely on God more than ourselves, we will always feel pressure to succeed and prove to ourselves, or others, that we are worthy of value. But we’re already worth everything.