Don’t Be a Perfectionist. Be Human.

By Tom Gilson Published on November 14, 2019

Yesterday I noticed a slight tear in a piece of clothing I bought two weeks ago. I thought about taking it back, even though some needle and thread would fix it just fine.

It got me thinking. I can almost remember when the world didn’t demand perfection — when we were grateful for what we had. When we didn’t return everything that wasn’t exactly the way we wanted. We’ve got higher-quality stuff now, but do we recognize what the pursuit of perfection has done to us?

The Dark Side

I’ll never forget seeing a cell phone ad in the 1990s with the slogan, “Never slow down.” As if that were an attractive idea. All the business books, say we have to be “quick,” “lean,” “agile.” That’s biz-speak for, “Hit the top or you’ll get buried on the bottom.” Those darts in that image above? They might just feel like they’re sticking in you — even if you do hit your targets. You can never relax.

God help me, though, if I ever think the next upgrade is going to make me a happier, more human person.

What’s behind that anxiety and overwork? It isn’t only our desire for perfection as consumers, but that’s a major piece of it. Systems often seem to have minds of their own, but this one is driven by our demand for good, fast, and cheap — three things that the conventional wisdom says can never be attained together. Yet Amazon has same-day delivery in some cities. It’s out-competing many of the rest, who haven’t stayed ahead, and they’re getting killed for it.

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And there doesn’t seem to be a thing we can do about it. The competitive spiral will keep on spinning — and keep us spinning, too — unless we all decide we’ll be happy reverting back to low quality again. We all know that ain’t gonna happen, though. Not unless we’re forced to it — which is a natural consequence of socialism, by the way, so if there’s any prescription for getting out of this mess, that’s not it.

The system will keep doing what it does. So is there any way out? In our jobs as producers, shippers, and sellers we could certainly feel stuck. We have to stay on top; we don’t want to be buried alive, after all.

You Can Still Decline to Participate, Though

Yet we can opt out of the worst of it. As Christians, we must.

First, we can learn to succeed without losing our humanity. I’m finding Michael Hyatt’s Free to Focus helpful on this. Did you know, for example, researchers have found that getting enough sleep actually increases productivity? It shouldn’t be much surprise: God knew what He was doing when He instituted the Sabbath.

Second, in our roles as consumers, we shouldn’t demand perfection of the people who work where we shop. Do you really have to send back your steak if it’s grilled medium instead of medium rare? Think in terms of friendliness while you’re at the restaurant, not just perfection.

Third, we should think of our things as tools, not things that will satisfy us at a deep level. That’s a trap. I like my iPhone as much as you do, and I certainly expect it to work, considering what I had to pay for it. God help me, though, if I ever think the next upgrade is going to make me a happier, more human person.

God has something better for us. He’ll give it to us if we’ll give Him priority. “Godliness is a means of great gain,” He says, “when accompanied by contentment” (1 Tim. 6:6, NASB). Choose contentment, with godliness. Having your humanity beats having perfection every time.


Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ and Critical Conversations: A Christian Parent’s Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens, and the lead editor of True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism.

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