#17: Forget the 11 p.m. inspection.

If you walked into my kitchen right now, here is what you’d see:

  • A pot on the stove, full of veggie scraps waiting to be discarded
  • A pizza pan, also on the stove, waiting to be washed from last night’s dinner
  • Ten million baby bottle pieces, strewn across a drying mat
  • A dishwasher, half-full of clean dishes still waiting to be put away
  • A mixing bowl full of shredded chicken, cooling and waiting to go in the freezer
  • Expired coupons clipped to the fridge with a magnet
  • Alphabet magnets sticking out (just slightly) from under all the appliances
  • Discarded Cheerios waiting to be swept up
  • Laundry waiting to be carried to the basement: dish towels, bibs, and discarded baby socks
  • A Trader Joe’s bag holding Coke cans, waiting to be returned to the grocery store
  • And a sink overflowing with dirty dishes (waiting to be put in the dishwasher, once it’s been emptied)

I’m sitting at Starbucks right now for my Wednesday night writing session, but I’m mostly thinking about the mess in the kitchen.

I used to insist that the kitchen be clean before going to bed. I’d like to tell you this was because I like waking up to a clean kitchen; while I do, that wasn’t my motivation. I wanted the kitchen to be clean because otherwise, I felt like a failure. I’d lay in bed obsessing over the messy kitchen, the toys strewn across the living room, the laundry waiting to be put away, the toilet in desperate need of a scrub. I believed that the messy house downstairs was a sign I didn’t accomplish enough that day.

For the first few years of our marriage, here’s what would happen every night. (But full disclosure: this still happens far more often than I wish it did!) Around 10:00, Evan and I would finish watching our episode of Friends or Friday Night Lights. I would moan and groan about the dishes, and drag myself off the couch. Evan would ask, “Why don’t we take care of that tomorrow?” I’d moan and groan a little more, and he’d reluctantly join me. And I’d spend time when I could be sleeping or chatting with my husband frantically running around my house, trying to make it meet an arbitrary, self-imposed, and overwhelming standard.

For the majority of our married life so far, I have acted as though at 11 p.m., Martha Stewart herself was going to knock on my front door, ready to inspect my home. This 11 p.m. inspection is completely imaginary, and yet I let it dictate my mood, my attention, and my priorities almost every evening.

I hated the tape of “not good enough,” that was playing in my head. I imagine you hear that tape many nights, as well. But here is what I eventually learned, and what I want to tell you: You can stop the tape.

I tried to stop the tape by just believing the message it played and hustling to keep up. I believed the lie that my value as a homemaker could be found only in completing a Martha Stewart-esque task list every day. This is the approach I took for far too long, and the approach I still have to talk and pray my way out of most days.

Here’s a better way: Stop the tape by forgetting about the 11 p.m. inspection entirely. Stop believing the lie that someone is watching, waiting for the moment when your lack of productivity or your choice to rest will prove that you are not a good enough mom, wife, coworker, student, Christian, human being.

When I head off to clean the kitchen these days, I have a conversation with myself. Why am cleaning the kitchen right now? If the answer is, “because the mess is driving me crazy,” or “I’ll feel more at peace when I come down to a clean kitchen in the morning,” then fine. But if the answer is, “Because I should,” or “Because I think Evan will like me better if the kitchen is clean,” or “I haven’t done enough today,” then I stop. I turn myself right back around, and I leave the dishes for tomorrow when my heart is in a better place.

Of course, there are times when things need to get done. Leo will need a clean bottle at some point, and goodness knows I’ll want to be ready to make a cup of coffee in the morning. But unless I feel fairly assured that a task is good for our family and my heart in that moment, I’m willing to say no and let it wait until later.

Friends, there is no 11 p.m. inspection. Not of your kitchen, your calendar, your laundry baskets, or your email inbox. There is no 8 a.m. inspection of your morning quiet time and no Sunday evening inspection of your weekend fun. You can choose rest, you can choose self-care, you can choose relationships.

All month long, I’m sharing 31 ways to fight perfectionism, as part of the Write 31 Days challenge. We’re past the halfway point now! You can find all my posts in this series here (or by clicking the “31 Days” button at the top of this page). Tomorrow, I’ll share the surprising lessons I uncovered when I took a personality test. 

#16: Take yourself out of the running.

When did I become obsessed with being the best?

Did it start the first time my parents applauded me for reciting every word of Beauty and the Beast? Was it in 3rd grade, when our class raced to see who could be first to memorize all their multiplication facts? Is it simply a product of that typical first-born mentality? I don’t know. By the time high school rolled around, and the pursuit of scholarships and test scores and college acceptance was in full-swing, my desire to be the best had long-ago solidified.

By this point, most of you know that I am a little bit obsessed with podcasts. For the most part, they are entertaining, informative, and sometimes encouraging. But on a few rare occasions, they have also been completely, totally perspective-shifting. One such podcast episode was episode 47 of The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey. Jamie interviewed Jess Connolly, who is one of my favorite people to follow on-line. She is honest and forthcoming about her struggles and is great at noticing and celebrating what God’s up to in her life (or so it seems from a distance).

On this particular episode, Jess shared a phrase that was becoming her personal mantra. She said that she repeats it to herself when comparison, competition, and life threaten to overwhelm. The phrase is, “I am taking myself out of the running.”

If she was disappointed with her mothering, she’d think, “I am taking myself out of the running to be the best mom.” In business, “I am taking myself out of the running for most successful company.” On social media, “I am taking myself out of the running for the most likes and comments.”

I immediately knew that I needed this phrase in my life and my heart, and I’ve been saying it ever since.

I often need to be reminded that I’m not competing against anyone, including myself. I don’t need to be better than you or even a better version of myself. When I take myself out of the running, whatever I manage to eek out on any given day is more than enough. I don’t need to meet a self-imposed, imaginary benchmark. And there’s freedom in that.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed–or indeed only one.” –Luke 10:41-42

I am setting out to do my best on any given day, and I’ve given myself permission to embrace the ebbs and flows in what that looks like. On a day when Ian requires an extra dose of patience, the laundry will need to sit unfolded. When I’m determined to finish a writing or scrapbooking project, Leo may need to play by himself for a little longer than normal. If I’m going to cook dinner and maintain my sanity, Ian may need to watch a show. I am learning to accept this give and take.

Over time, I’ve grown comfortable sharing some of my shortcomings with others. I’ll happily share that I’m not very good at managing impulse spending, I can not wake up early to save my life, I almost never mop my floors, and I never learned how to ride a bike. But sharing those things out loud didn’t change the fact that internally, each of them still felt like failure.

I still feel that way sometimes, but most days, I remind myself that when it comes to being the most frugal, waking up the earliest, or keeping the cleanest house, I am choosing to never enter the race.

Over time, with lots of self-compassion and help from Jesus, maybe I will actually get better at saving or cleaning. Maybe one day I’ll even learn to ride a bike without training wheels. But maybe not. For the first time, I’m learning to be ok with the “maybe not.”

I have taken myself out of the running.

“I imagine that God…puts his hand on my head, on my heart, on my savage insecurities, and as he does it, he thinks thankful thoughts about me. In my best moments, when I calm down and listen closely, God says, “I didn’t ask you to become new and improved today. That wasn’t the goal. You were broken down and strange yesterday, and you still are today, and the only one freaked out about it is you.” –Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines

All month long, I’m sharing 31 ways to fight perfectionism, as part of the Write 31 Days challenge. You can find all my posts in this series here (or by clicking the “31 Days” button at the top of this page). 

#15: Expect rescue instead of punishment.

I grew up in Sunday school. I spent a lot of time sitting in front of flannel boards and illustrate Bibles; I watched a lot of Veggie Tales, and I listened to Adventures in Odyssey on the radio. As a result, I often think I know a Bible story well. I think I understand God and the way he works—both in Scripture and in my life. But over time, my faith is evolving and as that happens, my understanding of these Bible stories changes as well.

For awhile, I fought this evolution. (Sometimes I still do.) To embrace a new way of thinking is to concede that the previous way may have been wrong or incomplete, and if there’s one thing my perfectionist self can’t stand, it’s admitting I was wrong about something.

But now, I am learning to appreciate and even love this transition. Slowly, the lens through which I view God is changing, moving from restriction and fear toward freedom and love. It’s been happening for years now, but I’m still amazed by the moments I can actually notice Jesus making things new for me as I read Scripture.

One story that’s changed for me is that of Jonah and the whale.

This is one of those stories that gets used a lot in Sunday school (why?!), and I’d venture to guess that even if you’ve never cracked open a Bible, you are probably familiar with it.

Here’s the deal: God asked Jonah to go to Ninevah, but Jonah hated the Ninevites too much to ever share God’s Word with them. He deliberately disobeyed God and was angry and ashamed, so during a storm, he begged a ship’s crew to throw him overboard and let him drown. “I’ve messed up,” he told them, “and this is the only way to fix it.” And he wasn’t wrong; he had indeed messed up. Big time. He couldn’t handle the guilt, and the crew threw him overboard as he requested.

You know the rest of the story, right? God sends a whale, the whale eats Jonah, Jonah hangs out in the whale’s belly before being spit out onto shore, at which point he decides to obey God’s original orders after all.

All this time, I thought God sent the whale to punish Jonah. What a terrifying, harsh, and strange way to punish someone for their poor choices: let them get eaten alive by a giant sea creature?! Of course, the whale eventually spits Jonah out and he survives, but I assumed that God just changed His mind and decided to be merciful later.

The truth is, Jonah had a death wish. He was in such a pit of despair that he would not allow himself to be rescued by human hands, so God got creative (as he often does). He had a different plan for Jonah, and it didn’t involve his death. Our mistakes never disqualify us from God’s love or from his ability to use us for his purposes, and so he is willing to go to great lengths to rope us back in to the family. Jumping off that boat should have been the end for Jonah, but God wasn’t finished with the story. He would have done anything to redeem Jonah’s story, so he sent a whale.

God would do anything to redeem my story, so centuries later, he sent His Son.

In my own life, things have happened and I wrote them off as punishment. All the while, God meant them for mercy. A weird experience at youth group one night? I thought it was God punishing me for not reading my Bible enough, but I think it was a merciful reminder that Christianity doesn’t fit in a box. A bad break-up? Not punishment for making poor choices in the relationship, but God clearing the way for much better opportunities and teaching me to trust him. A job loss? Not punishment for idolizing my job, but an opportunity for God to blow us out of the water by the ways he provided moving forward.

Perfectionism sometimes leads me to live like Jonah, believing that my mistakes are the one factor that defines my standing with God. I am both blinded and paralyzed by this incorrect view of myself, and in those moments, I am hopeless. We lose hope when we forget that God is on our side, not our opponent. I expect nothing but punishment, forgetting that as my friend Rebekah pointed out, Jesus already handled it for me.

What I know now is that his goal is always grace and mercy and Glory and Love. That’s why Scripture tells us he’s working all together for good.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who live him, who have been called according to his purpose.” –Romans 8:28

That whale? It was not Jonah’s enemy or an opponent, not Jonah’s final chapter or punishment. That whale was a second chance. It was mercy.

It was rescue.

An earlier version of this post can be found here.

 All month long, I’m sharing 31 ways to fight perfectionism, as part of the Write 31 Days challenge. You can find all my posts in this series here (or by clicking the “31 Days” button at the top of this page). Tomorrow, I’ll share a personal mantra that has been a game-changer in my fight against impossible expectations.

#14: Let your batteries die.

My MacBook recently turned three. My husband tells me this is basically ancient in laptop years, but this little machine is still going strong and chugging along. But recently, the power cord was looking a little sad; it had admittedly seen better days. Where the cord meets the battery pack, the wires had started to split and fray. One afternoon, I grabbed some washi tape and wrapped it up. That seemed to do the trick…for awhile, anyway, until Evan and I decided we had a better solution. (Have you heard of Sugru? I need this stuff in bulk.)

When I tried to remove the washi tape, all the wires began to rip. We tried plugging the cord into my laptop, but it would only charge intermittently, and whether it was working or not, it began to heat up so intensely that it hurt to touch.

Because Evan and I are very observant and intelligent people, we decided it was probably time to retire that power cord, lest we blow up my laptop or electrocute one of our children.


As we waited for a new power cord to come in the mail, I watched the battery bar on my desktop creep down toward 0%. And for a few days, while I waited for Prime Shipping to come through, I left my laptop–totally dead and useless–under an armchair in our living room.

I learned two things in the meantime.

First of all, sometimes, a “better” solution is actually not helpful. That washi tape was working just fine, but we let our pursuit of better and best mess with what was already good.

This is certainly true when I evaluate my to-do list at the end of most days. Regardless of how much has been accomplished, I always wish for more and better: cleaner counters, one more load of laundry, another chapter in my book. I wonder if I also do this in my parenting, my marriage, and my calling.

Recently, I had a guest post published on Coffee + Crumbs. I submitted the post back in the spring and learned it was accepted in May, but it wasn’t until last week that the post was actually published. And can I just tell you how badly I wanted to go back and change that post? I wanted to tweak and edit, to reword and revise. But I had to let it go. As writers or creatives, we can’t edit into perpetuity. At some point, we have to declare, “Good enough,” and move on. The same is true of our schedules, our parenting, our homes.

When I am obsessed with being better, I fail to be grateful for the good.

The second thing is this: When I’m obsessing over productivity, multi-tasking, and to-do lists, I’m probably battling perfectionism.

When my battery died, I was forced to stop immediately responding to every red notification icon. I relinquished my need for productivity. I stopped multi-tasking (so much). At first, I felt anxious, but eventually, I felt free.

So, when you find yourself so obsessed with “better” that you are unable to appreciate the good in your life, or when you find that your inner perfectionist has returned to worship at the altar of accomplishment, consider letting your batteries die.

“The biggest deception of our digital age may be the lie that says we can be omni-competent, omni-informed, and omni-present. We cannot be any of these things. We must choose our absence, our inability, and our ignorance–and choose wisely. The sooner we embrace this finitude, the sooner we can be free.” –Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy

All month long, I’m sharing 31 ways to fight perfectionism, as part of the Write 31 Days challenge. You can find all my posts in this series here (or by clicking the “31 Days” button at the top of this page). Tomorrow, I’ll share how I got the story of Jonah and the whale all wrong.

#13: Practice saying, “I need…”

In college, my friend Ellen told me that despite being a type-A, high-achieving first born, I had middle child syndrome. She argued I was too flexible, too willing to let other people have their way, and that instead of always trying to be a peacemaker, I should express my own needs and opinions. I totally dismissed her at the time, but lately I’ve come to realize she’s right.

In When Harry Met Sally, Harry insists only two kinds of women exist in the world: high-maintenance and low-maintenance. Sally, of course, doesn’t realize that ordering her salad dressing on the side makes her high-maintenance (at least as far as Harry is concerned).

I’m afraid of being high-maintenance.


One of the most challenging parts of being a stay-at-home mom is the constant drain of my energy reserves. I am an extreme introvert, and I need lots of alone time to recharge. Even when I was working full-time, I spent hours by myself: writing emails, assembling volunteer gifts, organizing classrooms, reading over curriculum. My schedule was packed and I crossed more off my to-do list, but it didn’t feel as depleting as caring for these two little boys. Now, all my energy is going outward, and there is rarely a moment of calm until after Ian’s in bed at the end of the day.

Meanwhile, we are approaching our second Michigan winter. I am looking ahead to gray days with little sunlight, and I am remembering how anxious and blue I felt on many days last year. With a newborn in tow, I didn’t often venture out into the 30 (or 20, or 10) degree weather. The lack of “me time” and the winter collided into a perfect storm of…exhaustion.

The truth is, I know how to cope with these issues, but I often choose not to. Last year, I dragged my feet before finally buying a therapy lamp to combat the dreary days. I kept thinking, do I really NEED it? I don’t have Seasonal Affective Disorder, so it’s probably not necessary. I started taking an omega-3 vitamin because I read it can help us HSP-types, but I felt silly admitting that to someone. It feels selfish to go out for coffee, take a longer shower, or schedule a haircut. I keep trying to write-off and dismiss many of the needs I feel, but I know I won’t be able to thrive this winter if something doesn’t change.

I think we perfectionists sometimes make up the story that people think we’re needy or a pain to be around, and mature or responsible people just get over it and suck it up. I’ve convinced myself that a better mother could deal with Ian’s noise without needing extra alone time. A happier person wouldn’t need a therapy lamp or more sunshine to make it through winter. And I often think I wouldn’t have any of these issues if only I was more grateful for my circumstances.

I don’t know where this tendency comes from. I didn’t grow up with parents who told me to “suck it up” or ignored my needs; I have a husband who serves and takes care of me generously. I feel like a toddler who can’t articulate what she needs, and I hate resenting others when my needs aren’t being met. I don’t know why I’m like this, but I do know I’m sick of it. There’s certainly no joy in this cycle.

Reading Present Over Perfect helped me realize that my prayer life follows this same pattern. I pray for healing for the sick and freedom for the oppressed. I pray for Evan’s success at work and favor with coworkers, and I pray for Ian & Leo’s development and future relationships. I pray for all sorts of things…but not for myself. The only prayers I pray for me, personally, are prayers of confession and prayers of gratitude, but rarely prayers of supplication.

This fear of being high-maintenance took root in impossible expectations and the shame I’ve felt over not living up to them. I think, none of this would be an issue if I were more grateful, mature, and flexible. And I am better off not letting anyone else know that these issues exist.

Last summer, I wrote about how one of the reasons vacations are good for me and my relationships is that they force me to say “I need…” At the time, I wrote,

“Don’t get me wrong: independence has its upside, obviously, as does sometimes putting the needs of others before my own. But as an approval-seeking, codependent, recovering perfectionist, I have to ask myself where my desire for independence is coming from. Do I simply enjoy the feeling of taking care of myself? Or is that that I want to appear selfless and flexible so that others will think better of me? I recognize how silly some of this sounds because–hello–I’m a human being, and no one would expect me to not be hungry or thirsty or tired once in awhile. Still, like always, it’s the simple things that trip me up.”

When I am afraid of bringing my needs to other people, I eventually grow afraid of bringing my needs before God. I believe God is intimately concerned with our living abundantly, walking into our callings with enthusiasm and confidence and a sense of fulfillment. That’s His business, because He is infinite and infinitely concerned with even the minute details of our lives. Understanding this helps me to think less in terms of “maintenance” and more in terms of owning the way God has wired my mind, body, and soul.

So, I continue to practice saying, “I need…” It’s one of the ways I learn to rely less on my own striving and more on the people and Savior who love me.

“One of the greatest barriers to connection is the cultural importance we place on ‘going it alone.’ Somehow we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into “those who offer help” and “those who need help.” The truth is that we are both.”― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

All month long, I’m sharing 31 ways to fight perfectionism, as part of the Write 31 Days challenge. You can find all my posts in this series here (or by clicking the “31 Days” button at the top of this page). Tomorrow, I’ll share what I learned when my batteries died…like, really died.

#12: Teach a child to make mistakes.

I have been sitting in front of this blank screen, trying to recall my earliest memory of having made a mistake. (I don’t mean mistakes like offending someone or lying, but just…messing up. Getting something wrong. Being off my game, just slightly.) I’m not exactly sure, but I’ve kept quite a catalogue over the years. I have been mining those memories, trying to pinpoint the moment when I began to fear mistakes and failure.

  • The time I mixed up a rule while playing a board game, and my opponent said, “You are a cheater.” I think that was the moment I began to believe that a mistake was equivalent to a character flaw.
  • The time when writing my spelling words 3 times each in the fifth grade, when I dotted every “i” with a heart, and my teacher made me write the letter “i” 50 times.
  • The third grade recess pant-wetting incident.
  • That time at the mall when I stepped on the hem of my long denim skirt, exposing my little girl underwear to the crowd nearby.
  • That time in high school when I tried to merge too late, and the truck didn’t see me.
  • That one time during my internship when I was teaching a math lesson and suddenly could not remember the answer to 7×9, not to save my life.
  • The countless times I fell while rollerblading, when I missed shots in basketball, when I let my car go too long before changing the oil, when I let the meat in the fridge go bad.

I don’t know, guys. There are a lot of mistakes.

I used to think I was the only person in the world experiencing this daily, frequent barrage of small errors and missteps.

Sometimes, when my perfectionism and achiever-self is getting the better of me, Evan will jokingly call me “99.3”. This is a reference to the one time I complained to him that my final grade in a college course was a 99.3, not 100, because I had missed one question on one quiz one time.

I’ve begun to realize over time the number of activities and opportunities I have sat out of or missed out on because I was too afraid of failure. I admit that this is the primary reason I never learned to ride a bike. Yes, I have terrible balance and equilibrium issues, but at some point I grew embarrassed by the number of times I fell of the bike.

I am not good at letting go mistakes, and I am not good at confronting the possibility of failure.


My first (and only) year teaching, my students and I wrote a class pledge instead of rules, and one of the tenants of our pledge was, “I can make mistakes.” One of our classroom mantras was, “Mistakes are an opportunity to learn.”

I wanted to create a culture when we celebrated mistakes, because they meant something new was learned. Yet, I usually locked myself in my office at the end of every school day and cried. I cried over every lesson that didn’t go as planned, every activity I didn’t scaffold well, every less-than-positive interaction with students. I cried over the behavior I couldn’t control, the instructional methods I felt stifled by, the less-than-perfect performance evaluations.

I wonder if my students could tell that while I talked about the value of mistakes, I didn’t believe any of it.

Sometimes, lessons are learned in lightning-flash, lightbulb moments. But more often in my life, the truth is revealed through a slow-but-steady, tortoise-like process. I learn through one million conversations, through stories and articles read, through experiences collected, through questions asked and ideas pondered over time. And I’d be lying if I said to you that I am ok with my mistakes all the time; I’m just not. I sobbed in bed the other night, feeling horribly guilty and ashamed about the way I yelled at Ian earlier that day.

Still, some of my proudest parenting moments have been those when Ian catches me in the midst of a mistake and offers me the same encouragement I’ve offered him in the past. Maybe the truth is getting through after all! I am reminded that the best hope I have of raising children comfortable with failure is to be a parent comfortable with failure.

Slowly, slowly, slowly, I am learning to actually live like I believe this idea that I know—intellectually—to be true. I’m really not there yet. But teaching helped. And parenting helps.

I set out to be a teacher, but as usual, it’s the children in my life who are teaching me.

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.” —Neil Gaiman

All month long, I’m sharing 31 ways to fight perfectionism, as part of the Write 31 Days challenge. You can find all my posts in this series here (or by clicking the “31 Days” button at the top of this page). Tomorrow, I’ll share why the words “I need…” have become an essential part of my vocabulary.

#11: Take the compliment.

When Evan and I joined our first connect group in Orlando, our friends JP and Teresa were engaged and in the middle of that chaotic, wonderful phase that is wedding planning. Not long before their wedding, the girls in our group—barely friends, still just getting to know one another—threw her a tiny, low-key bachelorette party. I don’t even remember what we did that night, except that it involved adding frozen raspberries to our glasses of champagne, which I recommend very highly, if you’ve never tried it.

At any rate, I have learned a great many things from Teresa over the years: I have learned about faith, about forgiveness, about family, about supporting my husband, about generosity, about ministry, and about kindness. Teresa also taught me how to take a compliment.


At this little party, I handed off my gift. Know this: I am terrible at wrapping gifts. It is an area of ineptitude I have learned to accept; there’s a running joke in my family that it’s very hard to tell if a three year-old or I wrapped a gift. I normally just throw things into gift bags, but if by chance I DO wrap a gift, I try to draw attention away from the smooshed, wonky corners by doing some kind of pretty bow or embellishment on top.

I remember what this package looked like, because the moment was so impactful for me: brown kraft paper, with a garland of little purple and pink butterflies layered across the top of the box.

Teresa looked at it and said, “This is so cute!” and I immediately started to explain why it wasn’t cute. I forget what I said, exactly, but one of my go-to compliment-deflectors.

“Oh, I didn’t come up with that idea! I just stole it from Pinterest.”

“Oh gosh, just don’t pay too much attention to the back.”

“Anyone could do it, really. It’s nothing special.”

And Teresa looked me right in the eye, put her hand on my arm, and said, “No, Lindsey. This is great. You are great. Take the compliment.”

I don’t know how I responded in that moment, but I have thought about it so many times since.

Sometimes we kid ourselves into deflecting compliments because we think doing so communicates humility, but that’s not really what’s happening in that moment. I am not being humble; I’m being insecure.

I deflect the compliment, disparage my work or my effort, or try to imply that someone else could have done it better; I think I do this for several reasons.

First of all, I am usually disappointed with my own efforts. For the perfectionist in me, no matter of effort or expertise will satisfy my impossible standards. This is insecurity masquerading as high expectations.

Secondly, I am afraid you’re actually noticing the ways my effort doesn’t live up to the hype. My thought is, “I better go ahead and point out the mistake, the flaws, the imperfections, lest someone else think I don’t notice.” At the same time, I am living in the wreckage of the future, anticipating all the ways I am likely to let you down one day. This is insecurity masquerading as humility.

I have a friend who does a lot of work in the public eye, once as a pastor and now as a writer, podcaster, and social justice advocate. He gets a lot of compliments, random strangers on the internet and friends thanking him or complimenting him for his work. And I’ve noticed that whether on Facebook or Twitter or in person, he often responds with the same phrase: “That is really kind. Thank you.” This is someone who has learned to take a compliment. His statement doesn’t denigrate nor puff-up the work that he’s doing. He acknowledges the other person’s effort in making the compliment and expresses genuine gratitude…and then he moves on.

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” —C.S. Lewis

So, take the compliment, friends. Don’t feel the need to believe that the inherent flaws in your offering make it unworthy of the recipient or the praise. It becomes easier to take the compliment when we remember that we offer our contributions to the world NOT so that we will be loved, but so that others will feel loved.

All month long, I’m sharing 31 ways to fight perfectionism, as part of the Write 31 Days challenge. You can find all my posts in this series here (or by clicking the “31 Days” button at the top of this page). Tomorrow, I’ll share what happens when I try to teach kids to make mistakes.