Let me start this blog by saying I don’t feel like writing this. Perfectionism is something deeply ingrained into my psyche, something I act upon naturally. Without thinking, I am a perfectionist. However, I know it’s wrong, so bear with me as I try to unlearn it.
I know I can never be perfect, which makes being a perfectionist quite the rabbit chase. But what’s wrong with doing a good job, or better yet, a great job? Shouldn’t I strive for excellence, as close to perfect as I can be?
I used to think there was nothing wrong with that, until I discovered I was indirectly hurting my friends.
Rewind about ten years ago. I was in production on Ultrakids 2. I had recently learned how to use After Effects, a hobby that turned into my current career. Every Sunday, I would gather my friends to act in my movie project, while I directed, wrote, shot, and produced my soon-to-be masterpiece (which was crap). When things eventually spiraled out of my control, I had temper tantrums. I wrecked my relationship with some of my actors, yelling at them when they refused to cooperate.
Perfectionism says getting things done is first priority, because only then will everyone be happy. I figured if I created a great movie, all would be forgiven. Ultrakids premiered later that year at my church’s winter retreat. Everything was okay. No thunderous applause. No congratulatory remarks for the year of work I had invested in the film. In hindsight, I realized fourteen-year-old Josh wasn’t trying to make a great film. He was seeking acceptance/approval. He was trying to show his friends and family that he was actually good at something.
Perfectionism says you’ll only be loved if you work for it, because deep down inside, you’re really not worth anything. I know that God loves me no matter what, but a voice in my head tells me that God will love me just a little bit more if I do this right.
The truth is, God’s love for me doesn’t change. There’s nothing I can do to surprise Him, to shock Him, or separate myself from His love. He’s God, and I’m not. His mercies are new every morning. My inner pride may try to come up with reasons why I deserve God’s grace, and unfortunately in my warped mind, they sometimes make sense. However, when I try to justify grace, I subconsciously tell God that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross wasn’t enough. When I think I deserve grace, it prevents me from fully receiving it or giving it. And that’s a problem.
Six years after the Ultrakids incident, I was in production on Prebirth: The Eternal War. History repeated itself. I got into a bad fight with one of my crew members. Then, fast forward another two years. I found myself getting into conflict with my teammates during Heartsick, my most recent short film. I started noticing a pattern and needed to break out of it. Making movies wasn’t worth ruining my relationships.
It helps to look at my passion in light of eternity. When everyone I know is dead, I doubt anyone will care about my short films in heaven. Or the other place. But hopefully heaven. Heck, I doubt anyone cares about my short films a few months after they premiere. If heaven is real, the only things that matter in this life are the things that are eternal. God and people. To prioritize anything else is, frankly, stupid. Yet I do it all the time. This is my unlearning process.
I also like to ask myself this question: if I was a character in a movie, what would I want that character to do given this current situation? This applies to so much more than perfectionism, but I’ll give an example. Say I went to see a movie about an aspiring filmmaker who did whatever it took to be the greatest. He eventually went to Sundance and won a bunch of awards, losing a bunch of his closest relationships in the process. Woohoo. What a crappy movie that would be, right? Yet I live it out all the time. Still unlearning.
I wrote this earlier, but I’ll write it again because I’m still unlearning it. God’s love for me doesn’t change. Do I really believe that? I’m so used to earning acceptance and love through my accomplishments. I’m so prideful that even when I try to be humble, I rely on my own mental strength and cunning to change my arrogant attitude. Maybe the first step to receiving grace is to humble myself and ask for help. Because I can’t do it on my own. It’s in my sin nature, stuck to me like dragon skin.
Someone once shared a great quote with me that I’ll paraphrase. I’m not a Christian because I’m strong and have everything together. I’m a Christian because I’m weak and in dire need of a savior. In time, I pray I’ll unlearn my drive to be perfect and wholly surrender to a life defined by God’s mercy and grace. I hear it’s a lot better anyway.
Romans 3:20-24 (NIV)
“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”