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Pushing Past Fear

Pushing Past Fear By Battling Perfectionism

“A perfectionist is not someone who is perfect; it is someone who is miserable, because they can’t get it right.”
Ken Davis

Perfectionism is a miserable black hole in your soul that will dry up your God-given dream.

I know from hard experience.

I have re-written a ten minute talk  more than 23 times. That’s not an exaggeration and could be on the conservative end.  All for two pages of text, at best.  The talk was fine after the first re-write.  But I couldn’t accept that.

I have avoided essential phone calls and emails, because I didn’t feel like I could express my thoughts perfectly.

I have missed essential deadlines because I believed the lie anything less than full, unbridled perfectionism is lazy.

Hi, my name is Bill, and I am a Christ follower who struggles with perfectionism.

Here’s a recent scene.

Eight weeks ago in Franklin, TN.  I am sitting at a round table in a large church auditorium.  Jody is sitting in front of me, and we were surrounded by about 200 other creatives at the Recreate 2011 conference.  Ken Davis takes the stage to talk to us.  I first heard Ken speak at a preaching and teaching conference in Chicago some 15 years ago and found him to be the most gifted  and effective speaker I had ever encountered.  Ken Davis is a gifted comedian, a master storyteller, and one of  the most sought after inspirational and motivational speakers in the country.

In his opening comments, Ken said, “A perfectionist is not someone who is perfect; it is someone who is miserable, because they can’t get it right.”

I felt like someone had punched me in the gut.  I heard the air rush from my lungs and out my mouth in a loud sigh.  I saw my wife’s back move – subtly – recognizing what she has watched me do for decades.

I felt sick. I felt shame.  I felt tears well up.

Ken Davis, a speaker, a business man and a spiritual influencer who I admired, knew about perfectionism.  He knew about it first hand.  He knew the fear, shame and frustration.  Yet, he had found ways to thrive despite living with this soul sucking liar of perfectionism.  At that moment came these feelings…

I felt hope.  I felt understood.  I felt known.

I can thrive as well.  I am determined to battle and defeat my perfectionism.  Because God has called me to be so much more.

Perfectionism isn’t a personality trait.  It’s a habit.  Perfectionism is not who you  are.  It’s a coping mechanism that counters the work of  pushing past fear.

Pushing past fear and banishing perfectionism is now the biggest personal battle that I fight.  It’s the one thing that will derail my pursuit of the life God designed for me. I know that I have a black belt in researching and planning without ever executing.  I have had to find actionable steps that help me to accomplish the work I was made to carry out.

Here are three steps that I am going to take in the next 30 minutes to battle perfectionism.  Why don’t you tackle them with me?

  1. Ship Something Now
    You have a thought code embedded in your brain that avoids completing the task and “shipping it.”  The code is faulty.  It is built on lies. How do you debug any program?  You break it.  Take a deliberate action that is antithetical to what you have done.  Send that email.   (The fact that you are reading this post is proof of my commitment to this procedure.)
  2. Create Momentum
    Find a small “win” on your to do list that you can complete quickly.  Allow yourself to enjoy the feeling of completion, so that you will want to feel it again.  Some of productivity experts will tell you to tackle the biggest, hairiest items first.  Too many productivity experts live in their parent’s basement.
  3. Change the Game by Learning to Fail Faster
    Mistakes are not the problem.  Being paralyzed is the problem.  Re-frame in your own mind how you relate to mistakes. Don’t think of them as something to be avoided. Mistakes are opportunities.  I learned to be an effective speaker by doing it wrong enough times that I finally started to get it right.  (My apologies to everyone who was part of my learning curve.  Thank you for your kind patience.)

If you are a hard-core perfectionists reading this post, you just seized up.

“What if I don’t do these three steps perfectly?  Or, God forbid, not in order.”

You are OK.  Relapses happen in recovery.

It’s part of the process.  Don’t allow relapses into perfectionism dissuade you from your chosen course.

So, how about you?  Where is perfectionism holding you back?  What moves are you finding effective in your wrestling with perfectionism?


About Bill Todd

Bill Todd is a spiritual director and speaker living in Franklin TN. He is patiently loved by Jody Todd, and their children Kaleigh, Hannah, and Liam.


8 thoughts on “Pushing Past Fear By Battling Perfectionism

  1. As always my friend you made me think…dang you.

    Perfectionism holds me back in freeing up my extra time. I will overwork something to the point that I use up an hour that could be dedicated somewhere else, to perfect something that was really great already.

    Good lessons for the day.

    Posted by Joseph | March 24, 2011, 12:14 pm
  2. Bill,

    How amazing that the blog my talk inspired, has in turn inspired me. I needed this today. No more re writes! I have to tape a theater release tomorrow. I can’t do it perfectly…. but if I let go….. I can do it well. Thanks for reminding me to practice what I preach!!!

    Posted by Ken | March 24, 2011, 1:24 pm
    • Ken, I saw you roughly 15 years ago at the Willow Creek teaching and preaching conference. You blew my thinking up then with your teaching about effective speaking. Can’t wait to see what comes of the Fully Alive movie project.

      Posted by Bill Todd | March 24, 2011, 7:10 pm
  3. Great post, Bill!! Thanks so much!!

    Posted by randyelrod | March 24, 2011, 2:08 pm
  4. Nice work, Bill. I’m going to look forward to hearing from you on a regular basis.

    Posted by DVD | March 24, 2011, 3:51 pm

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