The pitfalls of perfectionism

By Robert J. Tamasy


Engaging in work, parenting, personal hobbies or some other activity, there are two extremes for how we do what we do. We can adopt the “good enough is…good enough” mindset, trying to get by with a relative minimum of effort. Or we can choose a very different approach, that of perfectionism, a fixation on attempting to do things exactly right.

Many of us probably fall somewhere in between, but recently I heard about a famous golfer who realized that the best way to master his skills was to adopt a simple approach. The late Ben Hogan is regarded as one of the greatest golfers of all-time, competing from the 1930s through the mid-1950s. In his book, Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, he explained one “secret” to his success:

He said, “…I had stopped trying to do a great many things perfectly because it had become clear in my mind that this ambitious over-thoroughness was neither possible or advisable, nor even necessary. All that is really required to play good golf is to execute properly a relatively small number of true fundamental movements.”

Consider that: Recognizing that as Hogan had discovered, that perfection is “neither possible or advisable or even necessary,” we can free ourselves from a lot of unnecessary stress. Instead, we can achieve success in our chosen pursuits simply by determining to “execute properly a relatively small number of true fundamental movements.”

In a broader sense, this principle relates well to a desire to be as 2 Corinthians 5:20 describes it, “Christ’s ambassadors.” When we make a commitment to follow Jesus Christ, that means representing Him not only in our homes and churches, but also in our communities and especially, where we work. What are the relatively small number of true fundamental movements necessary for doing that? Let me suggest just several that the Bible provides for us:

Put God first. Typically, people work for themselves, or for their company, or their customers. However, in the Scriptures we are admonished, Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23).

Pursue excellence. When we realize we are serving God first, and then our clients and customers, we understand this requires our very best. “Not bad” is not good enough. Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men” (Proverbs 22:29).

Work with integrity. Business is often transacted with legally binding documents, but we should be known as people who commit to do what we promise, even when it is not convenient. It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows” (Proverbs 20:25).

Serve in humility. We are certain to stand out in the workplace when other people see we are willing to put their needs ahead of even our own. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

Reflection/Discussion Questions

  1. How would you describe your typical approach? Do you choose to do just enough to get by, the basic requirements, or do you strive to perform everything perfectly, or somewhere in between?
  2. What do you think of golfer Hogan’s idea to “execute properly a relatively small number of true fundamental movements?” How might this philosophy change the way you approach the way you work, or other aspects of your life?
  3. In what ways could the pursuit of perfectionism result in our failure or inability to perform at our best?
  4. When viewed from a spiritual perspective, which of the biblical principles cited – if any – seem most significant for you? Are there any others that you can think of?

NOTE: If you have a Bible and would like to read more, consider the following passages: Psalm 37:3-6; Proverbs 16:3,9; Ecclesiastes 9:10; Acts 17:28; 1 Corinthians 3:9

© 2022. Robert J. Tamasy has written Marketplace Ambassadors: CBMC’s Continuing Legacy of Evangelism and Discipleship; Business at Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace; Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart, coauthored with Ken Johnson; and The Heart of Mentoring, coauthored with David A. Stoddard. Bob’s biweekly blog is: