Yesterday marked the half way mark for my month-long challenge to write every day. So, of course, I didn’t feel like writing today.
I was tired, grumpy after a long weekend of travel, and altogether uninspired. The words I wrote about motivation two days ago had slipped away and seemed irrelevant. Why was I doing this again?
So I took some time to look through the journal I’m using for my year-long challenge to write more days than less. At least once each month there is an entry where I blubber about my lack of success and dissatisfaction with my progress.
Here is one from March 30:
“Once again I was not successful in writing more days than less this month. I can think of plenty of excuses, but the only judge listening is myself—and I don’t think I’m a fair judge.”
This is especially funny when I’m looking at a journal that already contains more entries than my journal from last year. I am definitely not an impartial judge, I am far too close to the subject.
After scanning through pages of self-criticism, I realized how it is possible to be over-concerned with self-improvement. I am never content with myself where I am, and I have a constant list of things I would like to work on. I want to do more sewing projects, cook more creative meals, exercise more often, spend more time outside, try to learn another language, read the giant pile of books next to my bed, and then read the ones I have on a separate list on my phone. More more more. This is the American Dream. And it is exhausting.
Some people don’t ever self-evaluate and actually need to, but I over-evaluate and need to cut back. This mindset causes other common problems like desperation for affirmation, deep fear of rejection, and perfectionism. If I’m being kind to myself I will admit that I’m less of a perfectionist than I was five years ago, because my confidence grew and my need to prove myself declined.
For those of you who can relate—we shouldn’t blindly accept perfectionism as part of our personalities. Being a perfectionist is not who I am, and that is a radical realization of God’s presence in my life. Perfectionism is a learned quality, not innate or natural.
I believe God loves us as we are, Christ died on the cross for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8), and we are freely given grace and forgiveness (Ephesians 1:3-14). Those things inspire us to pursue a life that is a better reflection of Christ, but they do not require us to prove that we deserve Christ’s love.
While reading through my journal entries, I also found days where I managed to defend myself and accept this kind of radical grace. I found this bit of inspiration from an entry in February:
“I can’t do everything I would like. The attempt is noble, and we should never give up on growth. However, there is a difference between seeking success as a necessity and seeking growth in opportunities. It is a balance between trying to prove or improve oneself. One is done out of pressure-filled expectation, the other is forgiving and accepting of any result.”
I have to be careful with all these challenges I give myself, remembering they are not efforts to prove myself or chores that I must do begrudgingly. Growth is important and necessary in our lives, but it shouldn’t be surrounded by a fear of failure or pressure to measure up. I love God, and I want to commit to pursuing a life that is a reflection of God’s grace. I love writing, and I want to commit to give it my best even when I don’t feel like it. The effort of trying counts more than the results. We can never be perfect, and we don’t have to be.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2
Perfectionism and over-concern with self-improvement are aspects of this world. God gives us the opportunity to redefine our efforts and renew our mindset to one of grace. Only in that way do we realize that God is the only kind of good, acceptable, perfection we need.
Do you struggle with constantly wanting to improve?
How do you handle it?