I have been studying to take the GRE – a big, scary test that is necessary for getting into grad school. I am also looking at Ph.D. programs – the next logical career step for me. I am completely anxious about what I will do if I don’t get into a program. And I’m anxious about what I will do if I DO get into a program as well.
The GRE includes verbal reasoning, writing, and quantitive reasoning. Quantitive reasoning is a fancy way of saying math skills. I don’t really have any math skills. This is very apparent as I ‘review’ different math concepts (reviewing is a strong word because you can’t really review something you never knew to begin with). The more I study, the more insecure I become about my abilities.
I don’t know how you are, but I am VERY aware of my shortcomings, flaws, and mistakes. When I miss the mark, I carry that around with me for a while. I beat myself up over little things, too, because I don’t allow myself a margin of error. Forgetting something. Skipping the gym. Eating food that is bad for me. Losing something. Not cleaning well enough. Burning dinner. You get the idea.
As a result, I feel like I’m always striving to be better, and yet I am constantly falling short.
When I start to feel really down with all my shortcomings and failures, I can go to the opposite extreme. I throw my hands up and say, “I guess this is just the way I am. There’s nothing I can do about it so why try.”
I want to do it perfectly or I don’t want to do it at all. And, trust me, I have plenty of really great reasons explaining why I am just not going to try.
Does anyone else feel me on this?
Okay, so let’s agree that neither of these extremes is a great place to camp out. Perfectionism brings a roller-coaster of anxiety, stress, self-deprivation, and ego-centrism. Giving excuses for not trying creates a passive attitude of letting life happen to us, rather than purposefully engaging with life in a meaningful way. Both are traps.
I’m what you might call a recovering performance-based perfectionist.
And I think Paul may have been in the same situation.
In Philippians 3, Paul writes:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
I normally think of Paul as someone who had everything figured out. Yes, he suffered in this life, but his suffering was for Christ and came with a conscientious decision to preach Christ to the world, no matter what. He writes with such conviction and confidence and seems so firmly established in his calling, that I just assume he didn’t have these petty issues that I struggle with. Paul clearly didn’t feel that way about himself, though, and didn’t really want others to see him as having “arrived” either. In fact, he gives us all the freedom to be less than perfect. Yes, he was striving to be Christ-like. No, he had not fully arrived. He recognized that perfection was not the goal, perseverance was. So, rather than throwing up his hands when he met opposition, he pressed on, striving for holiness daily.
That’s how I want to live. Pressing forward. Acknowledging my shortcomings, but not controlled by them. Persevering. I want to live somewhere between perfection and excuse. I want to live by grace.