What Mary Poppins Didn't Teach Me
I grew up thinking perfectionism was an accomplishment. You’ve seen Mary Poppins, right? She was never short on grace, whether referring to the way she tidied up the nursery, dressed, completed spontaneous errands, spoke to adults, or loved on Jane & Michael. Her tape measure even identified her as being practically perfect in every way—with a British accent (#bonus). I wanted want to be just like her. Mary Poppins is my girl. However, I do have to remind myself she is a fictitious character for a big reason.
Here’s how I’ve always viewed perfectionism: Perfectionism = perfect, and perfect = joy. However, I’m finally wrapping my mind around the fact that perfect differs as much from perfectionism as cupcakes differ from Brussel sprouts. Reality looks more like this: Perfectionism = shame, and shame = failure. So we’re trying for one thing and ending up with the complete opposite, fueling our shame and depleting our reservoir of self-worth.
Even though we know perfect people do not exist, perfectionism gives us this crazy idea that we can sneak around that hurdle if we just try hard enough. Suddenly, we don’t want to accomplish for the sake of bettering ourselves and benefitting others. We want to accomplish so we can accomplish and feel the high of perfect for two tiny seconds. Perfectio
nism hands us the fatal motive of handling our own self-worth. Our motives matter. They craft our character, which aligns our actions. If our motive is to be perfect, people will see our struggle because we will never ever get there. Not after two promotions or fifty workouts. Everyone may not see it, but the people close to us will, without a doubt.
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown is wowing my brain right now. She compares perfectionism with healthy striving by saying, “Healthy striving is self-focused. How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused. What will they think? Perfectionism is a hustle.” (129) I had never considered the consequence of perfectionism. It was this extreme focus of Well I wish I wasn’t so set on getting all this stuff done, but this stuff has to get done so I don’t have a choice. There was no middle ground—no balance—certainly no question of motive. Meeting goals meant pushing myself from every side. Pushing ourselves to become better is important—but asking ourselves why we do what we do is imperative. Do we push ourselves to grow a personal interest or passion? Do we do it so we can turn around and pour into people? Because really, if our time spent is for the benefit of our spirt and the spirit of others, we won’t be so concerned with perfect—because people don’t need us to be perfect. People need us to be honest. People need us to be gracious with ourselves or they won’t expect grace from us.
I cannot get over the number of conversations Blake & I have had over this. I can get so wound up over a day that didn’t feel productive enough or a goal that wasn’t reached. Shame rises, unworthiness begins to take over, & I say, I JUST WANT TO BE PERFECT. And he says, but you’re not. You were never meant to be. And I
yell say, HOW IS THIS SO EASY FOR YOU???
But that’s just it. If we could reach perfection, we would have no need for a savior. We wouldn’t be given the opportunity to seek wise friends or a community to stand by us and remind us our worth is not in what we do but in who we are. And who we are is who we believe in and the character of our hearts.
The importance of our day isn’t the checklist of what we do. It’s the sub-checklist of why we’re doing what we do. That speaks a much higher volume of the person each of us longs to be.