My mind’s eye can see what I want. My heart knows what will make something look picture-perfect. Is this perfectionism or striving towards excellence?
Separating perfectionism from excellence:
Lately I have been seeking the answer to this question: “What is the difference between perfectionism, or striving towards excellence in my work?”
As I have churned this question over in my mind, like shells tumbling in the rolling tide, I have begun to see a clarifying difference that separates these two thoughts.
As I took a discovering look at myself, I realized, that there are times that the motive for my work stems from a deep-rooted need to gain value, acceptance and approval from others; while other times my work flows from a place of freedom and authenticity, rather than a stilted place waiting for critique.
As I saw two very different motivations and attitudes beneath my work, I realized that I had answered my own question.
Longing to belong propels perfectionism
Fear of what others think about me will always propel perfectionism forward; while the spiritual soul-need to live freely out of who I am, causes excellence to move me forward.
If my drive is to gain the voice of approval from others, then I am doing my work out of a mode of perfectionism. Behind perfectionism is a drive to work harder, appease others and to gain their approval. It is a longing to belong!
“Perfectionism is a roaring lion that must be fed.
The lion inside of us is fed by the endorsement of others.
We work harder to hear their applause
Bask in their words of approval
All the while, hoping we will be invited to the table of belonging.”
Linda Jane Dingeldein: Different by Design
Just the possibility that others will disapprove of me – creates such fear in me that must be fed by sacrificing more time, striving harder and accomplishing more. My life is lived for others, not for the pure delight of living out of my unique God-created self.
Perfectionism says; How will I appear to others. What will they think? While excellence says: I have offered up my true self, I already belong to God I am His Beloved, and in this I give my best. I don’t need an outside cheerleader; because I know that I am doing what matters most to me. I know that I am living authentically out of my true – self, and that is enough to spur me on towards excellence.
There is no character demoralization if I am working with excellence. Whereas the voice of perfectionism is always demoralizing me, telling me that what I do and who I am is never enough!
I can never do enough to keep the monster of perfectionism happy, consoled or content; it will always demand more. Perfectionism demands that I give my all, but in the end, it never satisfies.
Excellence is the champion in me that spurs me forward. It is what I get out of bed for each day. It is life-giving and not energy stripping, or shame inducing from the voices of others.
Excellence propels me forward to learn more; but not in-order-to achieve worth and value; but because I know it is the next right step in helping me become the best at living out of who I am and who God made me to be.
My realistic approach will move me ahead, not for validation; but because God has given to me strength and gifted me, so that I will praise Him in my work and with my time.
Perfectionism is a time eater, which fills me with longing and leaves me restless, always wondering if I have done enough to make others happy with me. It keeps me striving for more, as I clamor for the approval of others.
With excellence comes a sense of peace and rest, as I live freely out of my true-authentic self. The endless anxiety of gaining others approval is gone, and the joy of knowing that I am the Beloved of God is the loving banner that waves over me.
“Work with enthusiasm,
as though you were working for the Lord
rather than for people.”
Ephesians 6:7 NLT
Longing for worth through our work
How about you. Are you looking for worth, value and acceptance through your work? Are you exhausted as you strive to achieve some level of perfectionism that will endorse you among your peers?
When our longings are filled with a cavernous desire that needs to be filled with praise and validation from others, the root of perfectionism will grow wildly. The conscious, or unconscious drive behind our work will be rooted in a forceful need to gain the endorsement of others.
As women, we often strive harder just to hear confirmation that we are doing a job well done. I can tell you from personal experience, that the beast of perfectionism will steal your sleep, make you restless, and throw you into a whirlwind of discouragement, self-protection and possible depression.
When your work is challenged by others something rises up within you to protect and defend what you have worked so long and hard to achieve. Hearing others question your work can be recieved as a personal character assault; which will either make you rework what you have done, yet again, or cause you to second-guess yourself and lay the project completely aside; “just in case it’s not good enough.”
As you learn to work with excellence and not out of perfectionism, you will learn to offer up your best work, done in the time allotted. Remember, we often procrastinate because we are afraid of not doing a job that will please others or gain their approval.
As you work out of a place of excellence, it will become your desire to be a learner who receives valuable information and feedback from others. This is definitely a growth area for me, as it is easy to think others are being critical or condescending when they question or challenge my work!
As you learn to work out of excellence, a side-benefit may be that people are pleased with your work, but the applause and approval of others will no longer be the base motivation behind your work.
I believe that God desires us all to strive for excellence, without getting caught in the web of perfectionism.
It is also God’s desire and design, that as women, we learn to work with excellence. Whatever we do, we learn to do it for the glory of God and not for the admiration and approval of others.
As we learn to work with excellence, we will begin doing our work to please the Lord instead of other people.
The beauty of this is, that the harsh weight of wondering what others think about us, and about our work, is now completely lifted. We no longer are weighed down by having to strive harder to achieve the endorsement of others; now our work flows freely out of who we are, as the Beloved daughters of Jesus Christ. Because of Christ we are now free to live and work with authenticity!
We never need to gain God’s approval! Yet out of our deep love and adoration for Him, we strive for excellence – which now flows fully from a heart of gratitude and thanksgiving for all He has done for us.
The difference between perfectionism and excellence is that we already have God’s approval, it is not something we need to work harder, in-order-to-achieve. God already validates us!
“Through working with excellence our greatest desire will be,
to glorify God and seek to elevate Him!
Just by working with excellence we reflect the glory of God as we work out of our unique selves.”
Linda Jane Dingeldein: Different by Design
“…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
1 Corinthians 10:31 NLT
Lack leads to despondency and comparison
Proverbs 29:25 tells us that; “Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the LORD means safety.” How often do we grow discouraged, disappointed and even despondent when we look over the outcome of our work? When this happens, we need to ask our self; “Where are these feelings of discouragement coming from?”
Do these feelings of discouragement, disappointment and despondency come out of a place of fear that says: “I don’t know if my work is good enough.”
Do these feelings come from the fear that others will not see value or worth in me, because I have not done a job worthy of their standard of approval?
Do these feelings come from the fear that I will not be invited in, to sit at the table of belonging?
Or do these feelings come from measuring myself against the work of someone else?
If this is so, then the root of what I do, derives from the deep well of nit-picking, hair splitting, people-pleasing perfectionism.
Ladies, perfectionism is a quest that will never satisfy our souls; because perfectionism is a deep cavernous well that can never become full! No matter what we achieve, it will never be enough to pacify and fill the void that cries out for belonging, validation and worth.
For all of us who have ever worked for the approval and applause of others, I urge us to leave perfectionism behind for the opportunity that Christ offers us, to live with freedom and excellence out of our true selves.
When you work with excellence, you will be exchanging your anxiety and continual striving for the rest and peace that Christ offers. Anxiety is left behind when we learn to live out of authenticity.
Working with excellence will allow you to freely live out of your God-created uniqueness, and whatever you do, others will see Christ in you, the hope of glory. A woman who is: Different by Design!
“Work willingly at whatever you do,
as though you were working for the Lord
rather than for people.”
Colossians 3:23-24 NLT
Do you find yourself:
- Craving the praise of others?
- Putting pressure on yourself to achieve, so others will endorse you?
- Afraid that others will see your flaws through your imperfection?
- Being overly concerned with failure, making a mistake, missing the mark, not making the grade?
- Drawn to workaholism, obsessively doing something over-and-over again?
- Overly critical of the smallest mistake or flaw?
- Procrastinating or not finishing a project for fear of failing?
Which will you choose; continual striving for perfectionism to gain the endorsement of others, or working with excellence from the outflow of your unique, God-given design; from a true place of belonging to God?
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Show me God, when I am working out of a place of perfectionism, instead of excellence. I know that I don’t need to receive my approval from others, when my worth is solely found in You.
God, thank you that you never look at me with eyes of condemnation as though I have missed the mark. Thank you, that you look at me with eyes of love and acceptance. It is not by works of righteousness that I have done but according to Your mercy that You have saved and accepted me.
The value and worth that You give to me is not based upon anything I have ever done or will do; but is given to me, because of Your amazing, unconditional love.
When You look at me, you do not see failure, but a pearl of great price; whom You gave up all to redeem.
Forgive me God when I get defensive with my work, especially when others seem critical. I know that this stems from a desire to gain their approval of me or to feel like I belong.
Help me God, to live under Your standard of grace which leads to freedom and authenticity; and not under the restrictive standard that others set up for me, which leads to fear.
God, I pray that out of the riches of Your glory, that you would strengthen me with power through Your Spirit. In Jesus Name, Amen.
Prayer is taken from the following scripture references: (Psalm 139:23-24; Galatians 1:10; Romans 8:1; Titus 3:5-7; Proverbs 29:25; Colossians 3:23-24; Ephesians 3:16; Romans 3:24)
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Galatians 1:10 ESV
May our lives be a true reflection of the Lord Jesus Christ as we live and work from a heart of excellence.
Photography by Linda Jane Dingeldein: Different by Design
Gazing across the river from Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila Philippines