Before I tell you a story, you need to know something about me.
I’m a Type-A people-pleaser with perfectionist tendencies. I have struggled with what I call “competency addiction.” That means I have wanted to make a good impression, especially around amazing women like you. But I have often feared that I am approximately one prepositional phrase away from making a fool of myself.
Then one day, it all went off the rails. That day, I lived a perfectionist’s worst nightmare. And it all happened on live radio.
It might have been the best thing that happened to me.
Here’s how it went down:
A widely broadcast radio host wanted to interview me about the book I had written. I would go live at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon. I was nervous, but excited. My perfectionist tendencies went into overdrive, so I was über-prepared. I had my responses ready. I had prayed the right prayers. I practiced out loud. I had even changed into actual clothes rather than wearing what I call my “writing costume” — my Smurfs T-shirt and drawstring pajama pants.
Everything was going just like I had planned until we were about ten minutes into the interview. That’s when the call-waiting beep interrupted the call. A few minutes later, the beeping began again. I apologized to the radio host, fumbled a bit, and then recovered well enough to answer the next question.
But then the doorbell rang. And then it rang again. And again. Then, it rang once more, in an apparent attempt to drive me to the ragged edge of my sanity. The person at my front door would. not. leave. The chimes of Big Ben echoed through the house like a death knell.
In a panic, I dove under my desk with my cordless phone — as if hiding could help. My face was the crimson shade of embarrassment, or perhaps more of a mortified gray. I can’t say for sure, because I was too busy praying that Jesus’ Second Coming would happen sometime before the next commercial break.
Just then, the radio host asked me a question. The silence on her end of the line was my cue to answer. But I had no idea what she had asked.
And I am not exaggerating when I tell you this: THE DOORBELL RANG AGAIN.
“I am so sorry,” my voice squeaked, as I curled tighter into a fetal position, “but can you repeat the question?”
And right then, we both started laughing. We laughed about the doorbell and the call-waiting beep and my acute case of Paralysis of the Voice Box. The irony was not lost on either of us: In that moment, I was being challenged to live out the message I had been asked to bring to her listeners.
My message was this . . .
Cut yourself some slack. Be you. Let go of your hyper-fussiness and live your actual life. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Live by the Principle of Good Enough, instead of rat-racing your way toward the A-plus. Because, let’s face it: Good enough is good enough.
If I was going to preach that message, I had to live it.
I had come to tell those radio listeners what I want to tell you today:
If we could have achieved perfection on our own, we wouldn’t have needed Jesus.
But we really do need Jesus. Oh, yes we do.
I need to know that again today. How about you?
In this age we’re living in, it’s so tempting to carefully edit, flawlessly filter, and meticulously manage your life. But people don’t want your perfection. They want your you-ness. Here’s what draws people to you: authenticity.
You want to know what turns people away? Your try-hard attempts to make it look like you’ve got it all together. Because if you’ve got it all together, then approximately no one can relate to you.
We need the real you. I need the real you. And if I’m going to live in freedom — out from under my desk — I need to be the real me.
If you’re like me, un-gospel thoughts tempt you every day to strive toward self-preservation and impression management. Let’s learn how to spot the danger signs in ourselves. And then, let’s preach the Principle of Good Enough to ourselves.
At the core, our desire for perfection isn’t about wanting to get it right. It’s about wanting to save face. It’s about fear. We’re afraid we’ll look incompetent. We’re afraid people will be repelled by our messiness. But more than our perfection, people want our realness. They want the real us, the messy us, so they know they’re not alone.
And more importantly, that’s who God wants. He wants the person He created, not the fiction we try to manufacture.
After that radio show, I heard from many listeners. I’ll give you one guess what their favorite part was. Yep, the part where it got messy.
That’s when I knew it for sure: Authenticity trumps perfection. Every time.
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
When I was reading your story I realized something significant…I was holding my breath. Like you, I was experiencing the doorbell ringing and sympathetically I was panicking with you, and I would have been right there with you crawling under the desk. I so get this. God has been good to me as well (not quite in the same way your perfectionism unraveled), but He unraveled me too and I’m so thankful He did. He is also kind to remind me when I want to slip back into my old tendencies that, like you said, authenticity trumps perfection all the time. And If I could have done it on my own, then I certainly didn’t need Jesus to go through what He went through for me. Wonderful post…and yes, I’m breathing again lol.
Oh Bev, I’ll never forget that afternoon. I was definitely panicked. I’m glad you’re breathing again. That’s a good thing. LOL!
Julie Garmon says
Loved this! And I wanted to hide under my desk too. I SO identify! Just retweeted. 🙂
Hey Julie! Thanks for reading along and sharing. We appreciate it so much!
God told Joshua: “Be strong and of good courage…..Only be strong and very courageous. Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:6-7, 9. We are studying Dr David Jeremiah’s Book WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF? Facing Down Your Fears With Faith, in our bible study. It’s very exciting to know that the LORD your God is with you, yes you, you _________(fill in your name, and I will fill in my name) wherever you go. I think I will do spend some time with Him in His Word right now. Before I can clean up my mess, the God of Heaven and Earth wants to spend time with me. Now that is encouraging. However, I would be more encouraged if I could get my messy house in order.
Those are great verses for any one of us who doubt whether we can do what He has called us to do — which is pretty much all of us! And you’ve got your priorities set straight — go to God, before you take on the messes. Amen, Florence!
Hi Jennifer, The Good Enough Principle is worth adopting. I have struggled with perfection and the fear that if people got to know me, they wouldn’t like me. And sometimes they didn’t like the real me, so up the walls went. But you’re right, if we could have achieved perfection on our own, we wouldn’t have needed Jesus. Thank you for sharing this.
Oh, yes, Veronica. Do I ever “get” what you mean. I have been SUCH an approval addict. The first line of my book? “Hi. I’m Jennifer. I know, we’ve just met, but already a familiar anxiety is rising up inside my heart: I want you to like me.”
I have put so many walls up, over the years, and probably more than walls, I’ve worn masks. I’ve tried to be someone I’m not. I’m so over that. It’s exhausting, you know?
Just want you to know you’re not alone. And you are loved, just as you are.
Thanks Jennifer. Xox
Beautifully said! There is a certain girl in our town that I wish could hear this right now… along with her parents: “Authenticity trumps perfection.”
Hey Holly, Thanks for reading along. I am glad these words spoke to you.
Lynn D. Morrissey says
Jennifer what a fun way to start my day, although I know you were not laughing at the time. Something similar happens to me whenever I do a phone interview. Well, ok, not *that* bad, but goofy things happen. This reminded me suddenly of a big talk I gave for the USO to a large veterans group in Missouri. In those days, before I could type big letters on a computer and print them out in bold, I used to hand-print notes and bullet points onto index cards. And almost from the moment I arrived at the lectern, you guessed it….my hands slipped as I put the 3rd card to the back of the stack, and dropped the whole “pack.” Cards flew everywhere, and they were NOT numbered!!!!! I don’t need to go further, but suffice it to say I was mortified. But in that moment of vulnerability, the people were very forgiving, it got a good laugh, and I just spoke from the heart. A win-win. Sounds like you won over the heart of your interviewer and audience too! You have mine!
Oh Lynn! I think my heart skipped a few beats, just thinking about that! Isn’t that amazing, how something like that can actually work in favor of your message? People were probably like, “Oh, she’s just like me! She drops things, and loses her place, etc., etc.,” and then they were immediately more receptive to the message you were about to deliver. How did the talk end up going? Did you use your notecards, or just “wing it”?
Always a joy to have you reading along, Lynn. xo
Lynn D. Morrissey says
You make me smile. Well, yes, they were wonderful, and the talk went fine in the end. I was able to shuffle some of the cards into place, but I learned then and there to tell stories–rather than just recite the (more or less boring) facts about how the USO started (e.g., can you tell me the year, do you know the 6 organizations that merged to found this orgn’??), I told about the military families who came to the airport who had babies in tow and not a cent in their wallet, or about the young man who told the volunteer that the cookies she baked were just like his mom’s and how he had never been away from her before, or like the young soldier who said he was so hungry and without the USO he would have gone to bed hungry–AGAIN (they do NOT make a decent wage), or abuot how my volunteers and I wwatched as tearful families said good-bye during Desert Storm, agonizing as to whether it would be the last time? You are so right. God works it for good. It’s all good, Jennifer! Love you!!! And sometime I will tell you my funny USO cookie story!
PS Also, I’d recorded a practice talk that I put on a cassette tape and played on the way to Columbia MO so my mother and I could listen on the drive. I wanted to get the words in my head, and Mother? She fell promptly asleep. Now what does THAT tell you?!
Betsy Cruz says
Oh Jennifer, you had me laughing because that is me to a “T.” A perfectionist and an “impression manager.” A friend of mine has a saying “This is perfect enough,” but “good enough” sounds better to me. I needed this last weekend when I served Tres Leches cake to 35 people at my son’s graduation party Saturday. I’ve made that cake more times than I can count, but Saturday, it had a HARD DENSE LAYER on the bottom. Couldn’t get through that cake with a fork. Good enough. 🙂
LOL! From a woman who routinely makes brick-hard brownies, let me just say, I completely empathize with you and your Tres Leches cake. 🙂
Thank you for sharing this story! My need to do it perfectly has kept me from even trying some things, like starting a blog, or starting writing my story which is one of God’s miracles and grace. I am so excited about being a reviewer for Amy Carroll’s new book about perfection, “Breaking up with Perfect”. I hope it helps me grow in this area of my life.
Amy’s book sounds amazing! Thanks for sharing, Mary. Have you started that blog yet? If not, what would it look like to take the first few steps today? Cheering you on, Mary!
thanks, even putting it out here is the first step. I am not sure where to even start or how. I truly feel overwhelmed when I think about doing it, yet the urge to do so won’t go away. For now I just share on the blogs of others. I will be sharing more about Amy’s book as I get into it. I would love to do more of that as I love to read.
That’s great, Mary.
Missy Robinson says
I see my sweet step daughter with the same perfectionist tendencies that I have. I’ll never forget the relief and wonder when we expressed to her that she didn’t have to be the best at everything. It’s such a good reminder to know that we need Jesus.
How old is your step-daughter? When my Lydia was in fourth grade, her teacher gave her a book entitled “Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days.” The point of the book: The only way to be perfect is to do nothing at all. And what kind of life would that be?
Missy Robinson says
This sounds like a great book. My step daughter is now eighteen and this happened at the beginning of her senior year in high school. She has been uber-successful and excelled in so much, yet felt inferior through the college admissions process where she compared herself with the elite of our nation.
I’m working to instill this in my nine-year-old daughter, as well. She gets so easily frustrated when things don’t turn out ‘perfectly.’ I appreciate your encouragement today!
So many of your points ring true of me. Thank you for so eloquently putting this into words.
You are welcome. 🙂
Julie Garmon says
You’re so welcome. And so share-worthy!
Crystal Pierre says
Thank you for sharing! This is me too in every way! Thankfully I’m getting better about it and learning God loves me in the midst of my mess. It seems the more I strive for perfection the more He lets things gets a little crazy to remind me to lean back on Him not on myself. There’s so much beauty in the choas we just need to stop worrying about what everyone thinks and take time to see it, well I do at least, learning every day. Such a reminder we need to preach the gospel to ourselves constantly.
Cheering you on as you to live inside of your “you-ness.” 🙂
Melinda Wilson says
Jennifer, God has blessed me today through your story. I am a fairly young (OK, mid-fifties) widow and I lost my husband suddenly four months ago with no advanced warning or medical problems. It has been a struggle trying to “organize the mess” and “be strong” for others while supporting our two adult sons emotionally, help one son run my husband’s business and try to be the godly grieving spouse at church and in public.
Thank you for relaying to me that I don’t have to be the perfectionist I am trying to be and what I have to offer others needs to be ME – who is Good Enough just as I am.
Also, thank you for your love of our Lord who always works everything for His Glory!!
Beth Williams says
Prayers for strength for you and the family to carry on. May God bring peace and contentment to your lives. I pray God will bring friends around who will help you do life and grieve.
It is ok to be yourself. The world wants to see and authentic person. Go ahead and cry in church over a song or a memory.
Melinda Wilson says
Thank you for your sweet reply.
Praying for you tonight, that you would heap a boat-load of grace upon yourself, Melinda. xo
Beth Williams says
I am a people pleaser also. In the past I would go out of my way just to make people happy.
Now that I am older I want to be authentic. I love it when people are authentic, open and honest with me. I want to know the real, messy you. I want to do life with you–ALL of life the good, bad & ugly! Christ made us for community. To be iron sharpening friends with each other.
Yes I would have been with you under the desk wanting it all over!! Loved this post! Thanks for being so honest & open with us today!
Hello, fellow under-the-desk-dweller. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by today. I’m glad these words were an encouragement to you, Beth.
Kaitlin Evans says
Love it!!! Authenticity > perceived perfection
Mary Carver says
Love, love, love this. And I also love God’s sense of humor. 🙂
Thanks, Mary! Yeah, He’s a real comic, I’ll tell ya.
Autumn Macarthur says
What a wonderful blessing this post is! The story of that interview had me laughing even as I cringed for you.
This is also exactly what I needed for the hero and heroine of my current story. She’s a people pleaser perfectionist, with a need to look just right and try to help way more folk than she can manage, then resenting it. He’s more a Mr Darcy style superior perfectionist. Their story as they grow both in love and in the Lord will be fun to write.
And of course, as God always uses my writing to teach me whatever lessons He wants me to learn along with my characters, it’s exactly what I needed to hear for me, too. To start being more real with a whole lot of people in my life.
Prayers for everyone who commented. God is so good, and so active in our lives <3
Thanks for sharing, Autumn!
Jennifer, I loved this post. And as a people-pleaser with perfectionistic tendencies, I NEEDED to read this. Today. It’s so easy for me to require perfection of myself, rather than to accept good-enough. Thanks for the permission to be good enough, not perfect. God doesn’t require perfection of me, so neither should I. We’re all just works-in-progress anyway, aren’t we?
Thanks for sharing so candidly. It ministered to my heart!
Yep! Works in progress for sure. Thanks for being here today. Glad these words served your heart.
Becky Keife says
Oh, I felt the tension crawl up my neck with every word and imagined door bell ring. I would be your flustered twin sister hiding there right next to you. That’s pretty much how I felt the day my matron of honor called to make sure I knew that I had printed the WRONG DAY on my WEDDING INVITATIONS!! I mean, seriously?!?! Yes, I had spent a gazillion hours laboring over fonts and hand tying bows on all 150 invites, but somehow, EDITOR Becky missed that it said Sunday when we were getting married on a Friday!! Cue putting my tail between my legs and whipping up a cute postcard to alert all my guests of the error. Yep. God has a funny sense of humor in his pursuits to keep us humble and our eyes fixed on what really matters. (That was ten years ago and it still makes me cringe.) I LOVE the REAL YOU, Jennifer!! Thanks for giving the rest of us recovering people pleasing perfectionists the freedom to just be us, too.
Oh my goodness! LOL! What a great story, Becky. Soooo sorry you had to go through that. But I’ll tell you what … this is the great thing about being bloggers and writers. We can redeem every embarrassing moment in our lives by using it as an illustration in a blog post or blog comment. 🙂
Tyna Begley says
I see a fair amount of posts about just being who you are. I’d like to see a post or two about ‘what if your Important Someone doesn’t really like who you are’? How do you become comfy in your own skin when you’re pretty sure you’ve gotten it wrong again?
I’m so glad you reached out.
I have seen (and written) some posts like that here and on my own blog, and in my book. But I agree … we could always use more! Because the truth is, there really are people who don’t want the “real us.” They don’t want the authentic us. And when we are fully who we are, they don’t like it. It’s very, very painful, isn’t it? I have a sweet friend who is still waiting for her father to whisper three words he’s never said to her: “I love you.” And what if he never does?
What if we are fully us, and our friends don’t approve?
What if we wear our real on the outside, and we get laughed at?
What if we make a mistake in public, and we are ashamed?
Those are all real scenarios that we face every day. I believe the best answer to all of that is finding our truest identity in Christ. I believe that the answer lies in knowing who approves of us, even if no one else does. The answer is Jesus, who declared us preapproved before we were even born, before he set the world in motion, before the beginning of the beginning. He’s always loved and approved of us. While we are here on this earth, we will face all kinds of criticism and backlash and second-guessing from people we love — from people whose love and approval we seek. We will live in the company of people who don’t like who we are, and sometimes that person is the one looking in the mirror at us every morning. But God is saying to each of us: “I love you just as you are, not as you think you ought to be. I love you just as you are, not who your Important Someone wants you to be.” That is the rock-solid truth of the gospel — that we were worth dying for. That we are loved, as-is. That God made us on purpose, for a purpose, and that He doesn’t look down from Heaven, scratch his chin and say: “Oops! Looks like I made a mistake with that one!”
When we remember that we are fully loved, we’re able to live for the approval of God alone, rather than the approval of people. We are able to “clear the bleachers,” so to speak, and live solely for an Audience of One.
All of that is my heart’s cry. It’s the way I want to live. But it is so.very.hard. That’s why we’ve got to remind ourselves, and remind each other, who we really are IN CHRIST. Because in the end, that’s the only thing that really matters.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Tyna. We really appreciate you, and as I consider future posts that I write for (in)courage, I will keep this particular comment close to heart. It means a lot that you shared your feedback with us. xo
Caryn Jenkins Christensen says
Oh Jennifer! I love your honesty…I really do. Our front door is clear glass and more than once, I’ve ducked down on the floor so as not to be seen by a door-to-door salesperson who refuses to leave! Your story tickled me, although I can tell you were mortified at the time. I just love how God takes our foibles, fears and faults and uses them to make us more relatable 🙂 Love you sistah <3
You’re a hoot! I love you, CJC!
Caryn Jenkins Christensen says
LOL! Love u too JDL 🙂
Carol Weimer Apgar says
Oh my did I need this today!
Michele Morin says
Agony. Absolute agony, but then you recovered and God is enough — even for that horror. I will remember this story for a loooong time.
Martha Orlando says
Such a difficult lesson for the perfectionist to learn, but one which is of utmost necessity. People need to see that someone of faith has messy parts of their lives. I try to do that with my blog and know I need to do it more and more. For all of us fall short of God’s glory, don’t we, yet we are all loved by Him in an incomparable way? Share, share, and share again! We will never be perfect until God perfects us in His time. Blessings, Jennifer!
Nancy Ruegg says
I, too, have been one of those people always striving for the A+. Thank you, Jennifer, for reminding us that the messy moments help us to authentic, and that’s the kind of person God can really use–not one who’s wrapped up in perfectionism. The effort to always be perfect is time-consuming, energy-depleting, and self-focused. I DON’T want to be that way! Lord, help me embrace the Principle of Good Enough.
Jocelyn Maisha Tyree says
I’m so grateful for this post because I realize that I might not be a Type A personality but I am a perfectionist and a people pleaser. I put up the persona of who I want people to see and a lot of times that is not who I am or who I want to be. I do love God and I’m grateful for Jesus Christ who saved and redeemed me, as well as the Holy Spirit who has been given to me as an internal GUIDE to direct me. Yet at times I just don’t get it right and I feel horrible as if all is lost.
THANK YOU SO MUCH for allowing the Lord to show you these truths,and having the guts to share with others! I can’t tell you how much reading this has helped me as I awaken to another day of overwhelming “pressure to please” syndrome! God Bless you and all of our sisters struggling with feelings of not measuring up to unattainable standards!
Thank you for sharing your story. Your honesty is a breath of fresh air. Gods perfect timing once again! I really needed this today! I have a tendency try to earn my “A+” from God. But I know that it’s not what I have done but it’s what Jesus has done for me.