4 Ways to Strive for Progress Over Perfection

I am a recovering perfectionist.

I don't mean that I must have every dish washed and towel folded or I won't be able to sleep at night. I am the type of perfectionist that tries against all odds to create a perfect little life, the fairytale kind.

A perfect marriage, well behaved kids, lasting friendships, the perfect house, the fairytale kind. You know, the kind you see through the screen of someone’s Facebook profile.


It was Christmas Eve and our two boys, ages 2 and 3 at the time, were sleeping soundly. They were finally the perfect age for Christmas traditions. They reluctantly fell asleep that night dreaming of Santa coming in to leave them special gifts from the list they had sent him weeks ago. 

Surrounded by plastic parts, my husband Eric and I worked to put together the surprises that Santa would be leaving the boys under the tree. 

I had been planning this night for weeks, dreaming of it in my mind. The perfect night of drinking apple cider while the children slept soundly in their beds, wrapping presents with my husband decked out in our matching Christmas pajamas, singing carols softly as we positioned everything perfectly under the tree at just the right angle. Seriously. Crazy huh?

Honestly, I had been dreaming of this night since I was a little girl hiding under my covers as my dad and step mom fought and yelled at each other many Christmas Eve nights before. I had holes in my heart and believed that I could fill those holes with new memories, perfect ones with my perfect little family.

But we all know that this is a fantasy.

A perfect family with the perfect life isn’t real. Pushing for that type of reality is an unattainable dream that is doomed. Each moment that passed by that night ten years ago, each little thing that didn’t play out just like I had envisioned, and Eric’s not perfect responses to my idea of the perfect Christmas quickly sent me into a panic.

A crying, fitful panic.

I was losing control yet again because the perfect life that I was trying to create to fill the holes in my heart wasn’t becoming a reality. 

As Eric’s pained words landed on my ears declaring that he couldn’t live like this anymore, I knew I had to change and get some help to learn how to live a happy, joy filled imperfect life.

Otherwise, I was doomed to loose everything precious to me. In all honesty, I spent most of that Christmas in bed, crying and desperate to understand how my life had turned out like this. Fearful that I might lose my husband and my boys.

But mostly, fearful of the journey I was about to embark on. I knew that it was going to be painful. But my family meant too much for me to not give it my all. It was time I learned how to let go of the expectations of a life that wasn't real and the perfectionism that was bound to destroy me.

The next day I started making phone calls through a shaky voice and scheduled an appointment with my first counselor. This would be the start to my journey of progress over perfection. 

That Christmas Eve was ten years ago and I am still a work in progress if I am being completely honest with you (which I always strive to be). I am learning through hard work each day that we can overcome perfectionism and strive for a life filled with joy by mastering these four approaches to progress over perfection

Embrace the mess

Life is messy. Plain and simple. We best lean into the mess and learn to enjoy it. 

When my boys were still little they shared a bedroom. They were both great nappers so when they didn’t come out of their room after a couple of hours of napping one afternoon, I assumed they were still sleeping. It had been a hard morning of building forts outside and they had went out cold as soon as I shut their bedroom door. But when I heard soft giggling coming from their room, I knew they were up to something.

Boys will be boys.

I peeked in their room and noticed that they were both in Gage’s crib with their heads down giggling softly. I walked up to the crib and discovered the cause of the giggling. They were covered from head to toe with colored marker.

When I say covered, I mean covered. From.head.to.toe. They had stripped off their clothes, both only left in a diaper. And they had went to town drawing all over one another. My little artists. Talk about messy.

Their giggles, big eyes, and overwhelming cuteness taught me in that moment that a joy filled life is covered in messy.

Let go of the picture perfect day

Before this progress over perfection life, I would plan ahead every detail of a family function or outing.

What pictures would I take, how would I dress the boys, and what perfect memories would we make? I would even purchase the perfect scrapbook decorating kit for the page I would create to document the day. (this was back in the day before smartphones, Facebook and Instagram).

Friend, I once spent a full day on one page of my son’s first year scrapbook. I was stuck on making it just right. It had to be perfect. One full day on one page. Seriously. 

On a road trip through the Grand Canyon, my camera batteries died.

I couldn’t take a picture of my family standing in front of the glorious backdrop of the majestic canyons behind us. I literally felt my body start to sweat. Panic set in that I wouldn’t have documentation of this special day.

Eric took hold of me by the shoulders, looked into my eyes, and said “you are missing it.” And he was right. I was missing the moment because I was obsessing about not being able to document it.

I was missing my boys’ squeals, I was missing out on God’s architecture, and I was missing out on standing next to my family soaking in the site of what was before us.

Don’t miss the joy filled moments with the ones you love because you just might miss it for good. 

Make mistakes

Part of focusing on progress over perfection insists that we make mistakes.

How many times have we not tried something new, chased a dream, made a change, because we feared failure?

Part of me was so afraid to let go of the perfect life I was working to create because I was afraid of failing. I have learned that the joy in our lives is found mostly in the mistakes along the way. The stubbed toes, the skinned knees.

Success isn’t measured by how many times we succeed but by how many times we fail and get back up again. Be willing to fall down and watch yourself grow and succeed more than you ever dreamed possible. 

stop the comparisons

I was scrolling through Instagram the other night before I fell asleep and within minutes I felt my confidence plummet. All of a sudden my house wasn't decorated pretty enough, my kids weren't rockstar athletes, and my marriage was falling apart because I didn't have an endless stream of selfies with my husband in my newsfeed.

What?! That is how fast the comparison demon can set in and take over my logical thinking.

Comparison is the biggest thief of joy. It holds us captive and whispers lies. And the saddest part of all, we listen.

I have to remind myself daily to not compare my behind the scenes to someone else's highlight reel. We don't know what is going on in their lives behind the perfect persona they are working so hard to create. Just like they don't know what is amiss in ours.

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Take it from this recovering perfectionist that striving for the picture perfect life strips us of our joy. We miss the best of life by trying to create the best. Although I am still on this journey that started over ten years ago, I am committed to striving for progress over perfection.