We desire to be the perfect friend, perfect parent, perfect student, perfect athlete, and the list continues through different roles and environments we engage in. Perfection, though, is just as unattainable as it is tempting. That being said, we still find ourselves acting with perfectionistic behaviors because perfectionism invades our thoughts and feelings rapidly and without grace. We reason that perfection is something positive and praiseworthy. Though the thoughts of perfection are satisfying, the process of trying to reach it is draining. Depleting. Soul crushing.

The goal of perfection doesn’t acknowledge that some things are out of our control. Our attempts to control everything in our environment, or even most things, can lead to us feeling overwhelmed and as if we have failed. This in turn leads to a cycle of trying to control and correct these “failures,” which can ultimately result in us feeling self-judgment or shame. Another outcome could contribute to avoidance and procrastination of our responsibilities and desires because we feel as though we can’t do them perfectly. If we can’t perform perfectly, we decide to not do anything at all. Either of these pathways is not effective and not sustainable in living a life that is full of grace, rest, and connection.

The hard distinction to make is if we are striving for perfection or if we are striving for progress. Progress encourages us to make room for mistakes, errors, creativity, and the “grey” areas of our lives, while perfection focuses on the errors and personalizes them. Here are a few ways to check which *goal you are headed towards:

  1. Ask yourself, “Is failure acceptable?” Failure and mistakes are a large part of learning and are nearly inevitable for us as human beings. If in answering this question, you decide that failure is not an option, you may be leaning toward perfection instead of progress.
  2. Is your focus on growth and improvement? If the answer is “yes,” you are in a progress mindset. When our focus becomes on judgment and flaws, we are being critical in a way that doesn’t encourage compassion.
  3. Are you looking to your people for support or affirmation and acceptance? A support system of people we trust and are encouraged to help us make progress and reach our goals. If we don’t feel safe enough to share, though, or need their affirmation that we are “perfect,” it is not effective or connecting.
  4. You don’t have to be perfect and you can’t be, but you can be wholly and unapologetically you and that is and always will be enough.

“What people are craving isn’t perfection. People aren’t longing to be impressed; they’re longing to feel like they’re home. If you create a space full of love and character and creativity and soul, they’ll take off their shoes and curl up with gratitude and rest, no matter how small, no matter how undone, no matter how odd.” – Shauna Niequist

Author Shauna Niequist discusses perfection in several of her works, including “Present Over Perfect” and “Bittersweet.”