Giving Up On Perfect {Why I Need Your Help}

by | Jun 17, 2013 | Uncategorized


Above my desk, hangs a memory board holding a collection of train tickets for the London underground, a ticket to Westminster Abbey, a white ribbon memento from my brother’s funeral with gold letters declaring: Who I Am Makes a Difference, the blue tail feathers of a parrot once owned by an artist friend, a faded photo of myself at three years old standing over my birthday cake frosted white.

The centerpiece of the nostalgic collection is a crude water color of a solitary tree standing in water painted by my son several years ago; a study in brown. I’m drawn to its simplicity, the imperfections of splattered paint dots in white space, like rain spitting on my camera lens during a shoot.

It reminds me of a season dabbling in watercolors some years ago. When my children were in grade school and a new artist friend invited me to her tree house for weekly painting sessions in exchange for the price of conversation and mason jars full of water.

Drawn toward bleeding color and imprecise images is what moved me to the medium. The freedom of imperfection is the same thing I love about my son’s art.

It’s also what closed the lid on my paint palette several years ago.


I began to look at nature with an invisible frame around it, taking memory photos of the way clouds melt into the sky, the verdant hues of a copse under a canopy of cloud shade at high noon. Comparing the brush of God to pigment in a tube left my attempts at manipulation hollow.

But I don’t give up easily.

I enrolled in a workshop with a visiting artist offered through a local art store and took a few drawing lessons with a church friend in preparation. My drawing skills were lacking. I didn’t want to look foolish to the other artists.

At the end of the first day, I collected my paintbrushes; palette smeared with an array of vibrant colors, the beginning of my violet pansies and crawled into my mini-van. Instead of going home, I pulled into an empty parking lot at the edge of the Atlantic and wept.

I was humiliated by my own perfectionism.

Moments before, I sat in the back of the room, slumped over my art on the edge of tears. The artist leading the workshop bent over the table, looked in my eyes and told me that she could identify with my struggle.  Colors bleeding into a mud puddle on the page, it was a metaphor for my emotional state. In the end, my painting resting on the display easel for the class critique turned out to be mostly her work.

I felt like a fraud.

But I couldn’t put my finger on what it was that day that made me feel hollow and vulnerable. Until I read this recently:

Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because perfection doesn’t exist. It’s an unattainable goal. Perfectionism is more about perception than internal motivation, and there is no way to control perception, no matter how much time and energy we spend trying. ~Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

That fist in the gut? I realized I’m doing this now, when I write. My admission of a self-editing frenzy on Facebook the other day would have been more honestly stated, “I’m shackled by perfectionism, and it’s killing my creativity and sending me into the downward spiral of shame.”

Even the admission here feels a bit like a virgin standing up in front of the classroom naked. I want you to think I’ve got this figured out, that I’m confident and resilient. Instead of being stuck in regret and self-criticism, I’m cutting the string to the balloon of my perfectionism, letting the wind carry it where it will.  My hands are sore and calloused from holding it up in the changeable, uncertain winds of your perceptions.


The most beautiful art, your art and mine, comes from the unplanned splatters of imperfection that Jesus died for. He looks you in the eyes and says, “I identify with you.”

How do we let go of perfectionism?

Stop being so hard on yourself.

Remind yourself you are not alone in feeling inadequate.

Take your thoughts captive and submit them to Christ.

And then tell a friend to keep you accountable, like I just did right here with you.

Art, among all the tidy categories, most closely resembles what it is like to be human. To be alive. It is our nature to be imperfect. To have uncategorized feelings and emotions. To make or do things that don’t sometimes necessarily make sense. Art is all just perfectly imperfect. ~Nicholas Wilton, Founder of Artplane Method as quoted in Daring Greatly.

Linking with Laura, MichelleJen, Heather, Jennifer, and Emily.


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  1. Deidra

    I have paints and brushes and canvases, left over from a project a friend of mine spearheaded. I don’t paint. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. But those craft supplies keep whispering to me, and I keep telling them I have no idea what to do with them…not even where to begin. I’m reading your words, thinking I might open up that palette of paints and see what happens…

    • Shelly Miller

      I have to admit the whole time I was writing this, I had this desire to go pull out my paints again. I’m glad you were motivated. Let me know how it goes. What would you paint if there were no such thing as painters but just people who paint?

      • Deidra

        If there were just people who paint, I’d just paint and see what happened…

  2. kelli woodford

    This is was a raw one, wasn’t it, Shelly? You wrote it straight out of your heart and onto the screen, like that virgin standing naked – hoping for applause and not laughter.

    You know me well enough to know that I trip over this perfectionism thing That I beat myself within an inch of my life on a regular basis for the smudges and the sticky and the ways I miss the mark. And so maybe I’m qualified to be the first to stand … slow clapping echoes all around and let you know how great an honor it is to read the beauty of your imperfect self DOING the daring greatly.

    A hushed and holy applause fills this house. Because you dared.

    • Shelly Miller

      I did Kelli. I read that section on perfectionism, closed my eyes and tears just puddled in an instant. And then that memory came back so I put it all out in a brain dump and then my computer shut down and I forgot to save it. So I resolved myself, I got it out, that was all that mattered. And to be honest, I was cheating on Sabbath, I don’t usually do that on Sabbath so I kinda felt like God was saying, “I’m jealous of your time.” And then, just as the sun was going down, it popped back up. Weird. Or maybe a direct message? But I love doing this Daring Greatly with you. It is probably the second book to impact my life in such a dramatic way and it’s so timely. Which is a whole nother discussion.

      • kelli woodford

        the fact that you just wrote “a whole nother” makes you that much cooler in my eyes. you know that, don’t you?

      • Holly


        this stepping out and exposing the truth of who you are? it rings with beauty, friend. It allows the uniqueness that has been infusing your soul all this time to pulse and breathe. If this is what Daring Greatly is doing for you than mighty things are yet to come, friend.

        So honored to be walking alongside you as you dare and discover.

  3. Megan Willome

    Dang it, Brene Brown is just everywhere right now!

    I totally get it. I abandoned an art class, too (a drawing one).

    Most days, I’m over perfectionism, but not today. Today I am struggling with an article that is not going well. I want it to be fantastic. It probably won’t be. It just needs to be good.

    • Shelly Miller

      I just read this quote in The Right to Write by Julia Cameron: “Making writing a big deal tends to make writing difficult.” I think that is what deadlines do for us as writers, they make it a big deal.

      • Megan Willome

        Actually, I find deadlines freeing. It means that it has to be done by such-and-such a date, no matter what. I just want my “no matter what” to be spectacular. Only later can I admit, “Yeah, that one was just so-so.”

  4. Mia

    Dear Shelly
    I think this is can be a problem of thinking that being perfect makes us somebody special in some cases like mine for instance! It is not something we can sort of “un” learn by following a few rules of conduct, but as we go to the only perfect One, He gives us the grace to overcome that lying monster!
    Much love XX

    • Shelly Miller

      Agreed Mia. Only in and through surrender to Jesus can we be truly free.

  5. Laura @ Pruning Princesses

    Funny how confessing to the unseen friends on the Internet can heal a place or motivate us to fight harder. When I was first diagnosed with diabetes at age 31 I hated, absolutely hated, my glucose meter because most of the time the number it spat out was too high and I felt like a failure. My husband had trouble remembering to hold me accountable to check my numbers. So I started, for 6 months, reporting weekly to my internet friends. They were the best accountability partners ever. I pray you have the same experience.

    • Shelly Miller

      Yes, we are good at keeping each other accountable from a distance aren’t we Laura? I love seeing you here btw, missed you around these parts.

  6. ro elliott

    I can’t relate to perfectionism with writing and art….but oh I know the grips of perfections in other area… I spent too much time self editing myself… And therefore those around me…God and I have been on the long road of healing….and I can say I am walking in so much more freedom… And I look forward to more to come. I applaud your courage to speak it out into the light here… He has great freedom for you because He longs for us all to walk in sweet joy and freedom in Him….blessings and flight to you as all the chains are cut loose .

    • Shelly Miller

      There is something about saying it out loud that disintegrates any hold it might have had in our lives. And I can tell that God has done some awesome transformation in you Ro, just since I’ve known you over the past year. Amazing.

  7. tinuviel

    I’m thankful, in God’s providence, you linked up ahead of me at Laura’s today, or I might have missed this. I’m with you in the battle against perfectionism (and in learning from Brene Brown’s words). May God set both of us captives free. Thank you for capturing the battle (and blooming trees!) so eloquently and beautifully. *Grace* be with you in our Lord Jesus Christ.

    (I’m indebted to the late Brennan Manning for really bringing home to me the way my striving for self-perfection quenches the joy of God’s grace embrace. I can’t quench grace, but I can keep myself from the delight of it and too often do so.)

    • Shelly Miller

      Thankful for God’s providence and yes, to freedom. I’m holding your hand, now let’s jump together shall we? Love Manning btw.

  8. Jean Wise

    so honest here tonight. Your words drew me in and I so identified with them. I wonder if part of this is false expectations and comparisons too. We see someone else’s published work, or masterpiece and want to do something just like they do RIGHT NOW. I wondered if you painted 10,000 hours like it has been said, how good you would be? I know when self doubt and discouragement hit me, it is a daily, even moment by moment reminder to be gentle with myself. good words tonight. You are making me think!

    • Shelly Miller

      Yes, I think you are on to something Jean regarding comparison and false expectations. They go hand in hand perhaps. But really, this isn’t about experience as much as our need to control perception, as if we can even do that right?

  9. Theresa @ Heavenly Glimpses

    Oh, I’ve been there. I have put myself out there in front of an audience and then balled my eyes out the rest of the day because it was not perfect somehow. Art can feel so vulnerable. Perfectionism does stifle creativity. I don’t know how many times I’ve shut down and limited my possibilities. Shelly, like you I need permission to be imperfect. Thank you for your honesty.

    • Shelly Miller

      Theresa, love seeing you here, its been a while friend. I think we all want approval and acceptance, its part of our human nature and a hard area to let go of as well. And I also think that it is in the community of trusted friends who are authentic that we learn to embrace our imperfections.

  10. Glenda Childers

    Enjoy this season of letting go of perfectionism.


  11. pastordt

    Oh, yeah. That bugaboo just messes with our minds something fierce. Praying you can And me, too.

  12. celeste

    I beat myself up a lot…like today for example. Replaying last evenings conversation, repeating in my mind my words over and over and coming up short. Feeling inadequate, far from a confident adult and telling myself that next time I will get it right and maybe they will like me, like what I have to say.
    I of course remind myself that this type of thinking is rooted in pride but it doesn’t end there.
    Why do we want people to think we have it all together?

    • Shelly Miller

      Oh my, I do this too Celeste. We are so hard on ourselves aren’t we? I love hearing from you btw, how have you been? We need an e-chat soon.

      And I think that we all struggle with shame based messages that have to do with why we want to control perceptions. You would enjoy Daring Greatly. It’s rockin’ my world.

  13. Amy Hunt

    When people tell me “you’re too hard on yourself,” or “don’t be too hard on yourself,” it hurts. It’s like they’ve just kicked me in the gut and I feel shamed for being so hard on myself. It’s like they’re saying, “duh, Amy! Just stop!” And, the truth is . . . it’s not that easy. This wrestle with self is grace — He wants to draw us to Him through it. We can’t just muster the energy or make up our mind to stop. But we can take it to Him. The raw, real mess of who we are. And we can seek what He thinks of us nonetheless. What He has to say to us in response to our perfection seeking is different for each of us; He’s so personal and has very specific purposes for each of us of why He allows us to go through this self-banter and complex life. I’m with you on this journey as I go through my own.

    • Shelly Miller

      I know Amy, I don’t like hearing it either but it is usually what I need to hear so I get perspective. And yes, I agree, the way He speaks to us and cultivates the healing process is different for all of us, for sure. Glad to be walking this road with you.

  14. Sally Wallace

    Amazing insights – and I love the Brene Brown quote.

  15. Michelle DeRusha

    I am living proof that perfection can be overcome, Shelly. Perfectionism is woven into my fabric, but I’ve come a long way in freeing myself from its tyranny. Still miles to go … but progress nonetheless!

    • Shelly Miller

      Thanks for the encouragement Michelle. I’ve truly let go in so many areas of my life, the one that comes to mind easily is keeping my house perfect/clean. I could care less anymore. But every once in a while it shows up in places I didn’t notice, like the writing. Bleh. I’m ready to be free from that tyranny.

  16. Nancy Ruegg

    Honesty begets freedom. Now that you’ve put your perfectionism on display, as an example of something you’d like to get rid of, it will no longer be as powerful as before. I want to believe that for you–and for me, too! So, with you, I say, “Perfectionism? You are unwelcome here! The only perfect One is Jesus. I am not, cannot be, perfect. Here and now, I will quit trying!” (Now, I better find that sister who will hold me accountable–especially when guests are due to arrive!)

    • Shelly Miller

      Yes, that is why I wrote it and shared it here. Because I also know that every single one of us deals with perfectionism to some degree. Some are just better at identifying it for what it is. Glad to be leaping into freedom with you. Let’s hold each other accountable Nancy.

      • Nancy Ruegg

        Thank you, Shelly!

  17. soulstops

    Thank you, Shelly…I am a recovering perfectionist so I can relate…day by day, moment by moment, by God’s grace, I am learning to let go of control, and hold onto His grace instead…blessings to you 🙂

    • Shelly Miller

      It is daily isn’t it? Just when I think I’ve conquered an area, He says, “Okay, now for the next one.” Glad to see you here Dolly, so glad you stopped by.

  18. Laura Boggess

    ‘The most beautiful art, your art and mine, comes from the unplanned splatters of imperfection that Jesus died for. He looks you in the eyes and says, “I identify with you.”’

    Oh, my goodness, how true this is. It takes such courage to step out of that place where I know I’ll do well–to let my lack show. Thing is, there is so much lacking, unless I step into it, my life becomes so small. Thanks for sharing this piece of your heart, Shelly. Our Jennifer Lee has a lot to say about perfectionism (she may be writing a book about it :)). Wise words here.

    • Shelly Miller

      You are so right Laura, our lives can become so small and boxed in if we only stay in the areas where we are comfortable. And yes, can’t wait to read that book by Jennifer Lee, its gonna be good.

  19. Melissa

    I agree with Nancy except I would have said that confession begets freedom! I’m hoping you’ll have a life free from shame beginning today!

    • Shelly Miller

      Yes, I agree. Thank you.


    “Take your thoughts captive and submit them to Christ…” How hard it is to remember truth is not created by the way we feel! We are made complete in Him and His love…that is our truth!! Thanks for such a creative piece to remind us of that!!

    • jeslbates

      LOVE how you articulated this, Sarah! “How hard it is to remember truth is not created by the way we feel!”

    • Shelly Miller

      Oh yes, you have hit the nail on the head here Sarah, so true. And I’ve struggled to separate my feelings from the truth most of my life. I’m getting better but still learning.

  21. jeslbates

    I have struggled with perfectionism all my life, and have tragically noticed that I have already passed on that particular tendency to my 5 year old son. As I journey with Jesus to learn who I am IN HIM, and gain a new sense of security and acceptance from my loving Creator, to Whom I am a priceless work of art, I am finding my drive for perfectionism wane. As Michelle said, such a long way to go, but imperfect progress is progress nonetheless!

    Your post makes me want to try my hand at art, which I have never had the courage to do because of exactly what you describe here, just to test the boundaries of imperfection, of abstract, of the creativity of the Living Creator and just… See what happens. I will keep you posted if I do!

    Thank you for sharing your heart. Brene Brown is on my reading list and I just might have to move her up in the queue!

    • Shelly Miller

      I know what you mean Jessica, about passing it on to your son. I worry about what I’ve passed on unintentionally to my kids but I also know that God uses it all for our redemption, for the unique way he has called each of us. Nothing is lost in God’s economy. You really must try your hand at art and do get that book, its a life changer. If you do paint, let me know.

  22. Ashley Tolins Larkin

    Thank you for your words, friend. I am right here on the journey with you. Come far, long ways to go. Bless you for your honesty and for sharing your in-process — that seems such a part of the healing. Speaking honest that it is there. Not living in the shadows of perception and fears of judgment, but letting it out…like the true artist you are.

    • Shelly Miller

      I think confession is good, it releases any grip the enemy has on us by keeping it secret. I am committed to wholehearted living which means being vulnerable and taking risks. It’s definitely worth it.

  23. rachel lee

    i am a complete and total perfectionist. this is something that i have been trying to change about myself for years…ironically, to become more perfect in my own eyes, and in the eyes of God. learning to let go, to BE art and let Him lead.

    beautiful words, dear friend.

    • Shelly Miller

      Trying to change . . . that is what keeps me stuck. You would enjoy Daring Greatly Rachel, it’s such a great book. I thought your recent post was full of freedom btw, I heard it in your words.

  24. Janis Van Keuren

    Perfectionism–oooh, you hit the nail on the head for me. I’ve struggled with it my whole life long. It’s the reason my hospitality has been limited. I just never felt like I could get it perfect enough–the house, the meal–to have people over. And yet, when I could break out of those bonds, I found joy. I really like the quote on perfection. Going to pin it near my computer desk. Just where I need it by my writing. Maybe in the kitchen, too.
    Thank you,

    • Shelly Miller

      Janis, you may like the book from which I got that quote, Daring Greatly. It’s transforming my life. So lovely to meet a fellow Arizonian.

      • Janis Van Keuren

        Thank you, Shelly. I will check out the book! Thanks for stopping by my place. Arizona has been my home for the last 19 years~Tucson. I’m actually a California native, and love the beauty there as well~along with family.

  25. Kathy Schwanke

    Perfectionism is self-destructive. Yes. I think that happened to me.

    It’s a windy road to freedom.

    And the thought of standing naked is far worse after having lived a few years past being a virgin. :0/ (I winced when I read that.) I have often wanted to crawl in a hole listening to the perfectionistic inner self-critic. It puts a whole new twist on ‘like a virgin’ for me. 🙂

    But the gift of God has been to let me fall. Because He knows when I fall into the arms of His love I learn to trust Him instead of relying on me.

    Glad I landed here.

  26. Emily Wierenga

    oh girl, i struggle with this too, all of the time. i totally get it. totally. you are perfect in my eyes. and i would love to see your art sometime.

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