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Posts Tagged ‘perfectionism’

Jo 17At first when the person phoning me told me her name, I thought it was someone else. But as I listened further, I was catapulted back to a time around thirty years ago when I worked as an assistant editor. Back then, this person had been one of my colleagues and we had spent many lunchtimes chatting together.

It was good to catch up with what had happened in her life, but also sad. Her husband had passed away and she herself has faced many health battles. But afterwards, as the memories swirled around in my brain, I began to feel quite sad for another reason. In that role, I learnt much about writing and editing. Back then, I had no idea I would become a writer many years later—but God knew. Yet instead of dwelling on these positives, I began to think how much better I could have done that job. Back then, I lacked confidence. Back then, I was afraid to say what I thought and unwilling at times to make good and necessary decisions. Yes, if I were given that role again, I decided, I would do things differently.

Around a week later, the phone rang again. This time, it was another work colleague from that exact same job! He had no idea our other colleague had called and we had a wonderful conversation, catching up on what had happened to us both since then. But again afterwards, I could not get the memories of that job out of my mind. While it was good to laugh along with this second caller about the mistakes I had made and how long it had taken to edit certain jobs, I found that sad feeling slowly creeping over me again. Back then, I was such a perfectionist. Back then, I did not know enough. If I had my time there again, I would work so much faster.

Eventually, as I reflected on all that regret, God enabled me to see things in a different and much healthier light. I had done my best in that role, after all, and the staff seemed sad when I left. I also grew emotionally and spiritually in that time. And God used that role to equip me not only for my next job but also for my whole writing journey. Back then, God had loved me and cared for me—mistakes and all!

And now, God is doing the exact same thing in this season of my life—and yours. It can be good to learn from the past, but God longs to pick us up and move us on too. Thousands of years ago, this is what God told the Israelites to do:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? Isaiah 43:18-19

The Apostle Paul also writes:

but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race … Philippians 3:13-14 New Living Translation

May God strengthen us all to forget those former things and, instead, grasp hold of what God has for us to do in this new season facing us in our world right now.

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Jo 12There we were, our youngest granddaughter and I, chilling out together on a beautiful, sunny day. She had come to visit, complete with her pink, plastic, three-wheeled scooter, so we decided to explore the nearby paths together. She is only three, so I was genuinely surprised at how well she could manage that little scooter of hers.

‘Wow, that’s excellent, Maxine!’ I told her. ‘You ride your scooter so well!’

‘I can only do my very best,’ she replied in a cute little matter-of-fact way.

‘Pardon?’ I said, taken aback.

‘I can only do my very best,’ she repeated in her most satisfied tone.

I was more than a little impressed. Where had she learnt such wisdom at her young age? From her parents? Her teachers at day care? One of her little friends? Some TV program? I could only guess—but I knew she hadn’t learnt it from me.

You see, I think I developed a rather warped idea of what doing one’s best meant as I grew up. I am sure my parents encouraged me to do just that in all sorts of things—keeping my room tidy, clearing the table after meals, doing homework, piano practice, choir practice and so many other areas of my life. But somewhere along the line, I managed to decide that doing my very best was not enough. Instead, I wanted to be the best. I needed to beat all those other children in my class when it came to those term exams. I had to come top. I had to be on that prize-winners’ list. And I needed to get that honours mark in practical music and theory exams too. In short, I became a bit of a perfectionist all round.

While I believe there are pluses in aiming high, even perhaps aiming for perfection, there are down sides too. We can become too hard on ourselves. We can become dissatisfied with our efforts. We may find ourselves unable to enjoy any of our excellent achievements. And we can also become far too hard on those around us, as we put our own expectations onto them. So what a joy to hear how our Maxine already seems to have grasped the concept of doing one’s very best and being content with that!

Some of you, like me, might have grown up with a parent who asserted that ‘if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well’. Yet, over the years, I have come to prefer the words of Paul in Colossians 3:23-24 so much more:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

I prefer these because I now know the Lord Paul talks about here. I have experienced his amazing heart of love, his grace, his forgiveness, his understanding. Yes, truly he deserves our very best. Yet, whatever happens, I know he will accept me. His yoke is easy and his burden is light, as the Lord himself has told us (Matthew 10:30)—and I know he will strengthen me and help me grow, as I seek to serve him.

Now that’s the best news any perfectionist can hear!

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P1030888Our new granddaughter is the best dressed little lady in town right now. As well as being given so many gorgeous new clothes and cute accessories, she has inherited a veritable wardrobe of amazing outfits from her cousins. Some have never been worn—after all, how many Size 0000 suits can a girl wear before she graduates to Size 000? So … does our little Maxine really need the jumper I am knitting her? Of course she doesn’t—yet her mother still wants me to finish it. It’s nice to have some things that have been made with love, I am told. Besides, it matches the little pram blanket I have already knitted for her.

Yes, these items have been created with love—but that does not mean they are without mistakes! Having finished the blanket while lying on my back recuperating from an operation, I can see I must have still been recovering from that anaesthetic as well, judging by all those glaring mistakes! However, our daughter assures me she can’t see them and doesn’t care anyway. That is comforting—but I still know those mistakes are there.

As for the little jumper, what excuse can I give for sewing up the side seam inside out?! Could that anaesthetic still be lurking around?? And is there any need for me, with an ample supply of little white buttons at my disposal, to sew on three the same and one that is slightly different? Again, I am assured no one will notice and, if they do, will not care. But again, I will see it.

This whole experience has caused me to reflect not only on my silliness and lack of dexterity but also on my failures in general. As a child, I hated to own up to having made a mistake. I was far too proud and too much of a perfectionist for that. And this mindset was slow to leave me in my adult years—and possibly one of the reasons God, I am sure with a wry smile, called me to be a writer. Once a book has been released, an author is in such a vulnerable position. Some readers are going to love our little offering, while others will hate it. Some are going to look past those inevitable mistakes, while others will point out every single one, which can be handy so these can be rectified in the next print run but also just a tad deflating. With seven books published now, I am fast learning those two indispensable qualities for any author—a sensitive heart and the hide of an elephant! And I know God has worked miracles in my life in this regard, enabling me not to be devastated when I mess things up.

But I’m so glad God looks past my mistakes and, even more importantly, forgives me when I deliberately choose the wrong path. I’m so glad that, as far as God’s concerned, it’s not about performance but about belief in Jesus—that it’s not about law but all about grace. I’m so glad God sees and knows the real me and accepts me, flaws and all.

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:13-14

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If there’s one thing I have a slight reputation for, it is being a bit of a workaholic. Now I don’t always see that, but I must admit that when I get my teeth into a job, I do like to finish it. Why leave things half done? Why not have the satisfaction of seeing a job completed and knowing you have done your best? Not that I’m a perfectionist or anything – but that’s another label altogether!

I’ve discovered in my writing journey in particular, that being a workaholic can come in very handy at times. In the past few weeks, I have been working on re-editing not one but two of my manuscripts. A potential publisher suggested both needed quite extensive revision, which caused my heart to sink at first. But then my fighting spirit cut in – for a while at least – and I decided I would do it, come what may! I managed to knock over one revision, but not far into the next, I received various forms from the publisher to complete, which took me many hours all up. Now I knew this information was needed, yet I found I wasn’t quite in the right headspace for such tasks. My mind was still in my novel, trying to work out how to put the required changes in place. By this time, I had again become well and truly embroiled in the lives of my characters, wanting to do justice to them and not mess around too much with their thoughts or words or emotions. So I began grumbling. Were these changes really necessary? Would my potential readers care – or even notice – if I left things as they were?

Right at that point, an even worse thought snuck up on me. What if I do all this work and one of these manuscripts or – horror of horrors – maybe even both are rejected by my potential publisher? What about all the hours I will have wasted, not to mention the emotional energy expended, trying to work out how to put things better?

And then I read Colossians 3:23-24:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for men, since you know that you will receive and inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Straight away, this made a big difference to my attitude. You see, these words caused me to step back and remind myself of the bigger picture. I believe God called me to write – and I believe God can touch people’s lives through my books. In essence, I am not working for any particular potential publisher or any editor. I am working for the Lord. And that changes my perspective entirely.

But these words and the timing of my reading them also reminded me that God knows about all this editing and is right in it with me. And one special, delicious little touch that shows me this is that the novel I am editing is entitled – wait for it – The Inheritance! Now I know Paul is talking in this verse about our heavenly inheritance. Nevertheless, I like to think these words are a lovely, gentle, humorous promise from God about my own novel as well.

What do you think? Do these words of Paul’s change your attitude to work?

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