A couple of years ago, a friend who coached high school track told me about a girl who stopped being able to high jump.  Despite having performed beautifully the previous year, the girl became convinced that she couldn't, and completely psyched herself out.

I have thought of that girl several times over the last couple of months.  I did reasonably well academically in the fall, and it messed with my mind this semester. Perfectionism is eating my brain, and chasing me through my days.  Zombie Perfectionism.  It's horrible.  It's not even inflated expectations-- high expectations are good, they demonstrate belief in one's capacity.  The zombies don't say, "you must get an A!"  Perfectionism for me is nasty, hissing, low expectations.  "That was a fluke.  You can't possibly do well again.  Everyone's going to see that you're not good enough."    

My closest friends are freakishly, alarmingly, shockingly smart.  Really.  And I love that about them, I love learning from them.  I'm bright enough, but my IQ (as West Wing's Josh once claimed) doesn't break the bank. There's a part of me that looked at going back to school as a chance to play in the big leagues, to prove that I belong around those really smart people.  That's when the Perfectionism Zombies took over.  They ate my love of learning (do you know how much I love new ideas and new books and beautiful words?), they devoured my self-esteem, and they ripped the holy crap out of my reliance on God.

I have one more week of class, 3 more assignments to finish.  I've done fine, but not great.  Strangely, I've also done less.  Not less work (although maybe fewer total pages have been written), but less balanced-life-stuff.  Less joy, less dusting and ironing, less prayer.  I'm starting to notice that when I do laundry, pay attention to loved ones, sew a little, the perfectionism abates.  When I round out my life, my worth doesn't hinge on how well I'm doing that one thing.

So here I am, learning for the bazillionth time to be a whole person, and to rest with God instead of darting off on my own.  It's damn hard to turn things over to God when I'm spending all that energy doing it MYSELF.  It's so, so, so hard to trust that I'm good enough without being perfect.  But I think I have to pick between trying to be perfect at something, or letting God make me whole.  I'd rather be whole.

For the moment.


  1. Di, hang in there my friend. I used to tell people I was one IQ point below genius level. When in fact I have no Idea what my level is. I work in a realm where an IQ point can knock a worthy student out of services as an adult. So pray for me as I tackle a project at work this week which some people think should be perfect. I shall try my bestest to sneak in a few imperfections, well I may just screw up without trying. Hope and peace be with you.

  2. Oh, yes. I have been here. I've also had a wretched combination of high expectations of myself and the utter dread that I have no ability to meet them(perfectly of course) but I need to anyway or I'm worthless and a failure as a human being. I just finished reading Monica Ramirez Basco's "Never Good Enough"--which I found helpful. I also recently saw this cartoon which resonated: http://www.savagechickens.com/2012/05/harsh.html


"So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."
-Saint Molly Ivins