Jumping Off The Perfectionist Train

-let's jump off the perfectionist train before it takes us to Crazy Town.-

I shared in another post about Jennifer Dukes Lee’s book “The Happiness Dare” which is coming out on August 2nd, and about the different styles of happiness she identifies.

In the second half of the book she goes on to look at principles that are important for helping us find happiness, whatever our happiness style.  One of these is “The Principle of Good Enough”- the idea that by constantly striving for perfection we rob ourselves of happiness and put ourselves under unnecessary pressure.

I have seen this happen in my own life, even in one of the areas that brings me most happiness.  I think the quote in the picture above sums it up.  I was definitely on that perfectionist train and heading fast for Crazy Town before I finally jumped off (or possibly fell off, but at least I escaped!)

Music has always brought me happiness, however the year I spent at music college was one of the most unhappy of my life.  There were difficult personal circumstances which didn’t help, but really it was the atmosphere of relentless pressure, harsh criticism and hostility, plus the fact that every friendship was marred by rivalry and competition which really pushed me to the edge.

I had never had much confidence- music was probably the only thing I had any confidence in- but what little I had was quickly stripped away, leaving me with a deep sense of inadequacy.  Performance, which had always been a joy, became a source of stress and anxiety.

We were driven to ever higher standards, and I certainly worked, and tried as hard as I could.  I practiced scales so much that year that even now, years later, when I get stressed I feel my fingers automatically moving in those familiar patterns!

We had to attend performance classes and play in front of around 50 other students who then had a free-for-all to give feedback, which was usually brutal.  It felt like facing the judges on the X Factor!  There were days when I went home with my whole body aching, just from the stress of it all.

I can’t claim that I had a close relationship with God at the time, but sometimes I would pray just to get through the day.  There was a Christian Union at the college and I considered going as I thought it might help, but I never made it.  I found out where the group met and I stood at the end of the corridor and watched as people entered the room.  There were only about 8 of them, but no-one I knew, and, try as I might, I could not pluck up the courage to go in.

I think the moment when I finally saw the light came one day in my clarinet lesson when I was told to go and practice one bar of music over and over again for two hours so that I could get it right.  It was about five seconds worth of music that I was being asked to practice repeatedly for two hours!

That was when I began to realise where the perfectionist train was heading.  I could spend two hours getting that bar of music perfect, but when I had done that there were several other bars to work on, and even once that piece was perfect, there were only going to be other more difficult pieces of music to learn.  It was as if I could see the future laid out in front of me, an endless striving for perfection that was never going to be attainable.  I was never going to feel good enough, and this was not what I wanted my life to be.  It was never going to make me happy.

So I jumped… or I fell… I’m still not sure.

Either way, it was painful, and I felt like a failure and a quitter, but it was still better than allowing myself to be carried to a place that I knew was not healthy, and I’m just glad I got off when I did.

Over the next few years I completed my music degree in a different place where the pressure was much less and people were much friendlier, and gradually I learned to find happiness in music again.

More importantly I got my priorities sorted.  Music had become my identity, and it was only by having that stripped away that I realised that what I really needed was God- that my value, my worth and my identity needed to come from him alone.

Honestly, there are still times when I climb back on the perfectionist train and travel a couple of stops, but I am learning, and I am much quicker to jump back off again.

If you’re on that train, I urge you to do the same.  It is not the way to happiness.  It truly does rob us of happiness because, when we’re seeking it in achievement or success or other people’s opinions, it is fragile.  We may find it for a moment, but it will never last.

But when we find it in God, it is eternal and it is absolutely secure.  That’s the journey I want to be on.

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.  Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ.”  (Philippians 3:7-9)

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”  (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Find out more about “The Happiness Dare here.

          purposefulfaith.com        Holly Barrett

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20 thoughts on “Jumping Off The Perfectionist Train

  1. I think I have seen you on the perfectionist train before. Were you sitting toward the back by yourself??? I only say that to let you know that you were not alone. When I was younger I spent way too much time on the perfectionist train. It’s like the train was moving too fast and I could never jump off in time. As I have gotten older, I am learning to release my thoughts and striving toward perfectionism to God. We are only made perfect because we choose God as our Lord and Savior.

    I am on the Happiness Dare launch team too. I am loving how the book is speaking so loudly to me of who I am and who I can be in Christ. Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, definitely! At the back, by myself-that was me! So glad I got off, and that you have too. It’s not always easy to release it to God, but it leads to much greater happiness.
      I’m glad you’re enjoying the book too.

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  2. Oh Carly, this is beautiful. Beautiful how God pursued you into happiness. I’m so sorry you had to go through the pain of it all, but so glad you can now say this: “But when we find it in God, it is eternal and it is absolutely secure. That’s the journey I want to be on.” And I am joining you on that journey too…and a journey it is, isn’t it? Not an overnight happening, that’s for sure! But a journey bringing us more and more joy in the LORD.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks Carly! I love this verse “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” It sums up how we all need to prioritize our lives!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Carly, wow. That sounds like an extreme amount of pressure. When perfectionism causes us to lose our love for passions (and things that bring joy) God’s given us, there’s something wrong. I’m so glad you realized it and jumped off that perfectionist train.

    I’ve ridden that train as well, but it was more in trying to perfect myself. Yeah, I know. There’s no way to make myself perfect. Jesus is the only One who can perfect me. And it won’t be this side of heaven. 😉 Thanks for the reminder to not buy any more tickets for that train. Thank goodness for God’s grace!

    I’m so glad I was your neighbor at #RaRaLinkUp today. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jeanne. It was a lot of pressure. I’m not the sort of person who copes well in that sort of environment anyway, but I certainly wasn’t equipped at all to deal with it back then.
      It took me a while to realise but I’m glad I did!
      I’m so glad that God loves and accepts us as we are rather than looking for us to reach certain standards to earn it!

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  5. Carly, thank you for visiting my blog and for leaving your great comment on my article about contentment.

    I’m so glad you got off the perfectionist train, as it is a train to nowhere happy. You may have felt like a failure and a quitter, but you weren’t. Just because we start on one path, it doesn’t mean we have to finish on it.

    Sometimes, things we love can turn into burdens if there is too much stress involved with them. Awhile back, I was writing a classic film blog, but eventually, the burden of reviewing films sucked the joy out of watching them. I had to step away, and when I did, the joy of watching returned. Like you with your music.

    Blessings,
    Patti @ Embracing Home

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Patti. It is definitely not good when things we love become burdens. I’m glad you managed to step away from the pressure to review and that you found joy in watching films again.

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  6. These words by Richard Rohr came to me just before I read your post. I am comforted that in my King James Bible, when Jesus speaks of perfect the footnote references that in the Greek translation the word perfect has more to do with complete, whole, which we only get through union with Jesus Christs.
    “The path of union is different than the path of perfection. Perfection gives the impression that by effort I can achieve wholeness separate from God, from anyone else, or from connection to the Whole. It appeals to our individualism and our ego. It’s amazing how much of Christian history sent us on a self-defeating course toward private perfection. Union is instead about forgiveness, integration, patience, and compassion. The experience of union creates a very different kind of person.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the quote. Thanks for sharing. That is an important difference. Trying to find perfection by ourselves is certainly self-defeating but we can find wholeness through union with Christ.

      Like

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