Worth Doing Badly: Letter to a Young Perfectionist

Dear Perfectionist,

We need to talk. Your anxiety is getting out of hand. Sometimes it presses you into frenetic service, spurring you in the side until you wear yourself out on the altar of "His Excellency." Sometimes, no doubt out of self-preservation, you perform the anatomically challenging task of stuffing your fingers in your ears and hands over your eyes, so that you can pretend there is no amazing feat to achieve. You vacillate between stressed-out striving and overwhelmed evasion of responsibility.  It seems hard for you to do the slow and steady, day-in, day-out, diligent but imperfect stuff of life. I get it. It can be hard for me too. 

Why is that? Is it because you think that whatever you do should be perfect? Or is it that you think if you can't get everything done, you haven't achieved anything? (Remember how yesterday you worked hard for eight straight hours and said, "I didn't really get anything done today."?) Or do you think that if what you do doesn't result in epic impact, you must have done it poorly? I wonder if these thoughts came from something you heard from a teacher or parent growing up:

If a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing right. 

Now, that's not a terrible thing to say. In fact, it can be really helpful if you understand "right" to apply your level of engagement with your task. As far back as 1746, parents were telling their kids this same phrase to encourage them to be intentional about their life and fully engaged even in the simple things. That's great, as far as it goes.

But somewhere along the line, you (or we) have swapped effort for impact. We have exchanged excellent attempts with excellent achievements. And if "doing something right" equals "getting perfect results" (which, let's face it, for us perfectionists it quite often does), then you're always going to struggle with anxiety and escapism because results, most of the time in life, are not in your control. 

I know you struggle to believe in God, and I understand that. The way people have described him to you as the Divine Perfectionist, the Smiter God who punishes people for the slightest mis-step, I can see why that heavenly burden would be too heavy for you to carry on earth.

But would you believe it if I told you that God is actually most generous to me in the midst of my imperfection? Would you believe it if I told you that what God wants most out of you is not results but...you? Would you believe it if I told you that having a relationship with God isn't predicated on how good you are, but on how good, loving and generous God is?  Would you believe it if I told you that he promises not to waste the effort you expend in service to the flourishing of his world, regardless of the results you see today, tomorrow, or in ten years? 

I hope you will believe it--not because it will make you more perfect. But because it will free you to do things at a human pace. It will free you to do things out of love and gratitude, not because your identity is on the line. It will free you to do things without obvious impact, just because it's the right thing to do. It'll free you to simply try, even when you're not confident you'll succeed. 

As G.K. Chesterton once said, "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

May you experience the God whose grace invites you to simply be with him, even (especially) when your not perfect. 

Your fellow recovering perfectionist,