Perfectionism vs. Excellence

Y'all are the sweetest blog friends EVER! I loved reading all of your comments about Buddy. In fact, you've downright SPOILED me with your comments lately! I'm feeling very loved. THANK YOU!

My mind is swirling with thoughts on perfectionism vs. excellence as I enter into my busy season. One is a gift; the other, a curse. I'd love to flesh that out in writing, but with some beauty mixed in. And since it's card season, I'll just go ahead and sprinkle in some of my designs!

When I was new to town a few months ago, a sweet local blogger reached out and invited me to lunch. We sat for hours and covered a lot of ground, but what I remember most was her response to my struggle with perfectionism. {I'm pretty honest and open about it because I think speaking your struggle out loud is half the battle!}

I told her about the humorous ways God was exposing and loosening my grip on perfection....from the fleas to the fact that every single new thing I ordered for the house arrived broken, scratched, dented and imperfect. {No joke!} I told her that I longed to be free of perfectionism, but was scared of letting go because it serves me so well in my work. {A meticulous eye for detail + obsessive photo editing + endless tweaking = great cards, right? Isn't that why people pay me?}. Her response was something like this:
There's nothing wrong with your spirit of excellence. That's a gift from God. But the Enemy takes your spirit of excellence and twists it into perfectionism. 
Isn't that TRUE and GOOD? It means I don't have to toss the spirit of excellence out with perfectionism and start making sloppy cards. God has given me a detailed, meticulous eye for a reason. The key is to use it well {for things are worthy of excellence...things that glorify God, not myself} and to know when and where to draw the line.

The hard part for me is knowing where to draw the line. Because as a {recovering} perfectionist, the hardest thing in the world for me to do is lower the high expectations I have of myself. {You perfectionists know exactly what I mean, don't you!}

When I design a card, I have a hard time knowing when enough is enough. I sometimes work longer on a single design than it would take most of you to run to Texas and back! I enhance an image in Photoshop as if it were a piece of fine art. I tweak font colors ever so slightly, forgetting that most people can't even see such subtleties. I try countless font combinations...as if there's only one magic combo. And don't even get me started on spacing! Oh, the difference one click of the mouse makes! {Wink!}

In the nine years I've been designing Christmas cards, I've struggled with perfectionism and have called it "excellence." I know it started it out as a pursuit of excellence, but perfectionism whispers the lie that you need to do more. It's never satisfied.

So I'd start the tweaking process on an already well-tweaked design. Not because anyone else asked me to, and not because it needed tweaking, but because my perfectionistic desires could never be satisfied. {And there, my friends, is the trap of perfectionism.}

There's a fine line between the spirit of excellence and the spirit of perfectionism. They often mimic each other, but with very different consequences. One way to distinguish between the two is to take an honest look at your heart and your life.

What are the motives of your heart? {It's so often the approval of others for me...trying to get from many what I only need from One.} What is being sacrificed? Perfectionism is a demanding, never-satisfied boss, so something is always being sacrificed. {For me, it was my health, family and friendships...the most important things.}

When I surveyed my heart and life this week, I knew I had to send an honest email to my clients. It was risky. Here I was telling them after they had reserved a spot that I wasn't able to provide multiple rounds of proofs and designs from scratch as I had in years past. I was going to stick to the designs on my website and trust that the hours of creativity I had poured into each of them was excellent enough. I didn't know what the response would be. Maybe a massive fall out? I was prepared for that.

But you know what happened? Only three people withdrew their orders. All for very good reasons. I wasn't hurt a bit. Actually, I feel more FREE than I ever have...free to design beautiful cards, but with boundaries that will help me keep things in perspective.

Back to the motives of my heart. Something dawned on me while writing to my clients this week: when I lived in Houston, I was desperate for an escape from the crazy, busy vibe of the city...especially during the holiday season. Hiding out in my studio for 12 hours a day felt cozy and safe. My busy season gave me the perfect excuse to isolate and withdraw. It was my self-constructed coping mechanism.

But now that we live in the country, I don't feel a need to isolate and withdraw. Our life here is intentionally slow, so we don't need a retreat or an escape. If anything, I desire to reach out...to go to a Bible study where I don't know a soul, to have lunch with someone who might be a kindred spirit, to invite a family to dinner, to engage more fully in life. I want to be available.

Life is precious. We all know that, but how easily we forget. Funny, but I just might have to thank Buddy for the reminder. He's in no hurry for me to get to work and doesn't give a flip about how perfectly I design each card.

I head out to the barn each morning with intention of loving on him, walking the property with him, feeding him and saying goodbye so that I can get to work on cards. But one look from his puppy dog eyes, and I can't help but linger. Thanks to Buddy, I'm slowing way down. And I like it!

I don't know what your particular struggles are, but if perfectionism is one of them, join the club. It's not all bad. We can embrace our spirit of excellence and use it for good things! But first, let's get honest with ourselves. It's risky at first, but here's the deal: people see your perfectionism even if you don't. So don't worry about making them think less of you. The truth is, they will likely love you all the more for being honest about your struggles. And remember: grace abounds!

Happy Friday, sweet friends! 
P.S. If perfectionism is the furthest thing from your mind as you assess your heart, you might enjoy what another local blog friend of mine has to say here. I'd never peg her for a perfectionist, but I loved her take on it.

P.P.S. Tonight I'm going to my 15th reunion at Vanderbilt. I never would've imagined that I'd actually live here 15 years after graduation. Houston was going to be my forever hometown, remember? Dreaming big will make crazy things happen! Can't wait to hear the stories of others' lives. I'm sure most of them are filled with the unexpected.


  1. '...the perfect excuse to isolate and withdraw...my self-constructed coping mechanism'...
    That could be me...but I have lived in the boonies for years...Thanks for giving me something to think about!
    Your cards are beautiful! A little tweaking here and there and changing the font a few times to get the right one does make the difference! I love the curly/calligraphy font you use and have been looking for it for one of my own projects ['word' pillows]. May I ask what it is?

    Please keep being a 'first rate version' of yourself!

    Have a great weekend!

    1. I'm not sure which font you're talking about, but one of my favorite sources for great looking fonts is Veer. {You have to pay for great fonts, but it's worth it if you're using them repeatedly.} I also like Studipos and designer Ale Paul. Crystal Kluge is another great designer (her font is the swirly one in the "let your light shine" design).

  2. As a First Born, Type-A, perfectionist type...I appreciate your post! Excellence vs. Perfectionism has been a battle for me over many years. I even try exchanging the word 'perfect' for 'excellent' in all communication.

    This is the first time I have seen your cards...LOVE THEM! Following your blog for the last few weeks has been really great. Perhaps inspiring me to meet my 2012 goal of posting to my blog more this year than last. It often seems an overwhelming task, especially the longer I go between updates. I always feel as though I need to fill the gap between posts. Guess I could simply post something recent just to get going and backfill later! Thanks for the inspiration!!

    Have a day full of acknowledged blessings!

  3. Linsey,
    Although I am most probably old enough to be your mother you always seem to speak to my heart.:) Thank you for a lovely post.

  4. Hey Linsey! Im Susan. I am new to the world of blogging... but I have been following your blog for about 2 weeks now and I love it!! My friends and family have be telling me for years to create a blog and I have finally done it! This morning actually was my first post! :) As I have been trying to set up my blog today my own curse of perfectionism set in...and then I read your post. THANK YOU!!! It made me start thinking about the things in my life that I love...my family, my dogs, my rustic farmhouse furniture...and realized that all that surrounds me is imperfect and yet they are what I love most. So Im taking a deep breathe going to get a glass of tea and dive back in to my "imperfectly beautiful under construction blog" !!

  5. Way to go, perfectionism is so exhausting! I for one have had to learn how to "let go" of many things since having my 2 year old, and will have to do so even more as I"m due with #2 in a few weeks. And you know what, it feels so liberating, like I can breathe easier! And to be brutally honest, I don't think people like perfectionists!

  6. So glad to see you back here blogging! I enjoy seeing all of your beautiful pictures and reading about the story of your new life in Franklin.

    I, too, struggle with perfectionism. I like to keep everything perfectly organized. God's been working on me since the day I got married (13 years)-- it's been quite a journey. Some days I'm so relaxed about clutter I don't even recognize myself (I even let things get cluttered once in awhile). It doesn't last long, though...after a day or two of clutter the perfectionist monster rears its head and goes crazy at the disorganization of it all! It's a process. :)

    I love your message that the pursuit of excellence is one thing and perfectionism is another. I'll try to remember that!

  7. I wish I knew the secret to letting perfectionism go. I do thing it always stems from the need for approval, to feel validated and worthy, all those things you so eloquently wrote about in your post. I was much more of a perfectionist when I was in college, especially about my school work. I drove myself crazy. A lot of that stemmed from wanting to make my parents proud, but also, if I'm being honest, I felt I had something to prove to myself and my peers. All that focus and energy on perfect grades didn't always stem from a good place. But I don't think I'd do anything differently because it taught me a very valuable lesson early in life. By the time i began my career I was already less driven, my priorities in life had shifted and the bulk of my energy and focus was put into relationships and living versus achieving demanding professional goals and that is how it has remained. Now and then I see bits of my old perfectionism resurface, usually with house related projects, and if I'm honest, usually because I know I will be judged by others via the blog. If I didn't blog about my home i think I'd be a bit more easy going about the decision making process. Anyway, this is getting too long winded. Self reflection via commenting. Ah! I'm glad life in the country has allowed you the chance for so much self reflection and I thank you for sharing it here!! xo

  8. Hi, Linsey ~
    First of all, thanks for sharing all those beautiful cards! I enjoyed reading this post as I am a perfectionist. Yes, I admit it. I like to please others, and owning my own business / shop....it gets tiring and very stressful. I'm learning to let little things go more and more, but not easy. I'm really working on it.....

  9. Yes, yes, exactly, yep, me too, agree totally. It is like you wrote this post to me. To know when and where to draw the line... this is so true. I appreciate you sharing you heart like this so much. Need to read and reread this one!! These cards are all so beautiful! Love them! xo

  10. I lurrrvv this. And, first let me stop and say i had no idea you created such beautiful cards...they are magical! well, you know me, and my struggle is to find the perfection in the "doing"--in wearing a thousand hats in two half seconds and not asking for help because that is just how we as woman live, rahter survive these days. learning to step back and realize that perfection is just a dangling carrot and that freedom is found in the glory of using our talents not being defined by them.
    love this post and your heart. xoox

  11. This is one of my favorite posts of yours! Very inspirational for those of us with this.

    Perfectionism is something I wish all the time that I could undo in myself for certain things. While it serves me well in some areas, it becomes a huge flaw in other areas. Things will just "bother" me if not done perfectly. I spend so much time trying to make things perfect. I would love to know your ways of coping with perfectionism in your home. It's the worst for me in my home. I've let go of my car being always clean and perfect looking but I have the hardest time with my home. I wish I could let things go. How do you do it? Having two little girls has certainly taught me to let go a little but perfectionism still has a firm grasp on me.

  12. I so love reading how God is working in your life. You are sharing Him with us every time you write. Thanks, my sweet friend, for being real.

  13. love reading your words today....such a fine line for us recovering perfectionist when it comes to the whole excellence vs. perfectionism.

    there with you, friend. it does feel great to have the grip loosen after so many years, right?

    How are you doing with the blogging thing? I'm in a lull......

  14. We should be friends. I was in town for my husband's 10 year Vandy reunion last weekend (last year was mine - I robbed the cradle). We live in Memphis but I grew up in Nashville, 2 miles from campus, in Green Hills. I, too, am obsessed with Franklin and it is where I would look to live on a little bit of land if we ever headed that way (in Memphis now). Love your blog!


"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one." ~ C.S. Lewis

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