Sometimes I think I was born with a magnifying glass in my hand, one through which I critically scrutinize everything I do and say and which relentlessly magnifies every imperfection.
I can attest, after a long exercise, that nothing can drain the mist of energy and joy from a person more than this ceaseless hunt for mistakes.
It could be perfectionism, fear of failure or an exaggerated tendency towards self-criticism and unrealistic expectations or an indigestible mixture of all these ingredients. In the end, however, regardless of the label I would pack its symptoms into, this habit comes out at the most inappropriate moments, so I’ve learned how to live with it. Frankly, I am still learning this every day, although sometimes it seems like progress is somewhere in the distant universe.
I remember the first article I wrote for the Signs of the Times Romania. Three and a half years ago I was invited to write, and although it should have joyful undertaking, my old enemy lurked around, ready to overshadow the beauty of a new journey. I knew very well that this must be the delayed answer to a long-standing prayer, in which writing as an occupation was a bright dream, stubbornly vivid even over the years during which life went in a different direction. However, after the invitation, instead of joy something else filled my mind: what if I couldn’t adapt to the rules of a format I hadn’t practiced before? What if I were to make a mistake, out of carelessness or ignorance, and become the target of hateful online comments? Maybe I didn’t even have the expertise of writing or maybe there wasn’t any journalistic fibre in me.
Looking back, it seems to me that the beginning was a blessed one and yet at that time I could only see it through a blurry lens. Neither by the tenth nor the hundredth article had the fear that everything I do is below par weakened its grip on me.
In fact, the path on which you decide to do everything perfectly is always stony—failures remain chiselled in memory, while successes fall apart quickly, and the feeling that everything could be done much better has a bitter and demotivating taste. And, of course, this is not just about writing.
I sometimes browse through my first written article, not for its form or message, but to relive the whole experience encapsulated in it. When I restrained the joy and restlessness of moulding something new, when I chose to look at what I already held in my hands rather than at what I may never have, the article seemed to write itself—as if, once I had freed myself from the pressure of not disappointing or thanking everyone, a new freedom had been unleashed, that of rendering the world, in its dull and luminescent colours, as received by my eyes and mind.
What I have learned so far is that mistakes are inevitable and, no matter how unbearable they may feel, they are better teachers than success. In fact, failure is good fuel for curiosity, empathy and, above all, humility. Failure helps me to look at people and their efforts from a different perspective, to silence critics who do not build up, and to grant more grace when faced with the unintended shortcomings of others.
Where the fear of failure drives the game, there is less and less room for new experiences, decisions drag on tiringly, while the mind feverishly analyses all the obstacles and unknowns that may arise along the way. I have discovered that an eternal competition, even with yourself, means fragmentation, unnecessary exhaustion, and especially the failure to see the big picture, while you are absorbed by the worry that one detail or another does not look impeccable.
Over time, perfectionists tend to devolve. This was one of the conclusions of an article I would have liked to have come across earlier which highlights various facets of perfectionism, including forms that distort religious experience.
According to specialists, the obsession to do things perfectly predisposes one to burnout, negative emotions and even to the dilution of conscientiousness and the entire accumulation of qualities that help a person to perform.
We do not find fulfilment in the work we do, but only in the One who created us and endowed us with gifts that allow us to lean toward certain activities rather than others, writes Elizabeth Elliot, emphasizing the need not to lose sight of the spiritual character of our work.
Even a pleasant job such as writing can become tedious at times, the Christian writer remarked, describing days without end in which it seemed to her that she had nothing to say or that everything had already been said. It is hard to believe that this confession belongs to the woman who for several years served the tribe that killed her husband, less than three years after her marriage, and who had a full life, as a writer, radio producer, traveling for the most part of her last years of life. Or maybe it’s not at all surprising that even the most gifted of our peers feel like they’re running out of resources, as long as we’re just clay pots, not just finite, but also inevitably cracked, which need to be refilled, beyond their reserves, from an inexhaustible Source. This is also the reason why I stay at my desk, so that I can see it daily, the verse that evokes the depth of God’s thoughts: Psalm 92:5.
When everything seems to have been said already, bland, monotonous or tangled, a desk, a screen, a window overlooking the mountains and a morning impregnated with prayer weave pieces of a bright dream, which the Author of the word dusts off, in His time—the dream of painting in words all the beauty of the Light that penetrates the shutters of our imperfection and fears.