Perfectionism was the sin, which threatened to overtake me. It was a destructive force attempting to thwart any hope for a peaceful life. The lie whispered from the pit of hell and heralded as truth in our western culture caught me as a youngster.
You’re not good enough to be loved. Try harder. Strive for perfection. Don’t let anyone see your imperfections. Cover up. Hide the mistakes. Maybe if you work hard enough you will be worthy of love.
I wanted so much to be good enough. But up through my college years, I never felt it. And when I didn’t feel good enough, I usually gave up for fear of utter failure. If I wasn’t going to be able to be perfect at something I would rather not try at all. For failing would surely disqualify me for being unworthy of love.
Here’s my secret: The lesson of the ridiculously oversized eraser.
After successfully earning a BS in Accounting, I was (surprising to me) hired as an entry-level internal auditor for a prestigious company based on the west coast of Florida. I was shocked, thrilled and terrified all at the same time. This was one big adventure I wasn’t going to miss!
(A secret side note: I only graduated with an Accounting degree because of my dad’s strong encouragement. Once I hit the ‘weed out’ accounting class in which I would be lucky to earn a C grade, I called my dad to let him know I would be changing my major. “Why?”, he asked, and my response, “Accounting is too hard. I can’t do it.” To this, my dad appropriately responded, “I didn’t raise you to be a quitter! You can do it. Keep working hard, and do your best.”)
Standard issue for every newbie auditor, besides a mechanical pencil, was a gigantic eraser. How ironic! The girl who strived for perfection and feared anything remotely imperfect was to have in her possession at all times a tool for correcting mistakes.
Because I didn’t believe I was good enough for this audit position with this particular company, I was constantly striving to create perfectly articulated audit work papers hoping to achieve the acceptance and praise of my superiors. I was pretty sure sooner or later someone would realize they had made the job offer to me by mistake. It was an exhausting way to live.
Gratefully, I had favor with most of my co-workers, but one supervisor enjoyed more than the standard teasing newbies were bound to endure. He was a bully, and he smelled weakness in me. My slow & deliberate work habits annoyed him to no end. Everything I did took too long, and no matter how I labored over my work papers they were never to his liking. He was the one asking how on earth I could have passed the screening process.
On one particular audit, the bully was my direct supervisor. And on one particular day, after chastising me for my choice of work apparel, he threw my work papers on the desk toward me with a command, “Do it over!” I pulled out a new sheet of audit work paper to which he screamed, “No! Get out your eraser. Erase the entire paper and start over!”
I did as I was told as I tried desperately to hold back the tears. Tears would definitely mar the quality of my work papers. I could feel the heat on my face – a mixture of anger and embarrassment. All my deepest fears were about to be exposed. I wasn’t good enough. He, the bully, was going to prove the farce right here on the job in front of the client and all my colleagues.
Yet, I did it. With trembling hands, tears welled up in my eyes, and my insides on the verge of erupting into a full on run to the door, I erased my entire paper using the tool which would help to set me free from the bondage of perfectionism.
You see previously, if I made a mistake on my paper I would crumple it up and completely recreate the paper. To erase a part of my paper would mean others would see I had made a mistake. Others would know I had gotten my work wrong because eraser marks tell the truth.
Though I felt completely humiliated by this experience, I needed it. I needed to experience the amazing freedom of being able to take an oversized eraser to the mistakes on my paper. For my own well-being, I needed to learn to accept my own lack of perfection. I needed to be able to overcome my desire to have an appearance of perfection.
Eventually, I was called in by HR to testify of my painful experiences of working for the bully. I told the truth. Others did too. About a year after I had accepted what seemed to be ‘the perfect job’, I resigned my position. This seemingly prestigious company did not offer a healthy work environment.
Though this first year out of college was pretty painful, I learned some extremely important life lessons. I had taken a giant step in overcoming perfectionism. Also, I had managed a few small steps in seeing my own self-worth, which I was learning was not tied to perfect performance.
With my chin up and my highly valued ridiculously oversized eraser tucked in my briefcase I moved onto another internal audit job. I moved on with my life. And over time God used the lessons from my ridiculously oversized eraser to teach me more about His grace!
Eyes on Jesus… we’re shining!