Are you a perfectionist? Leonardo Da Vinci – the Steve Jobs of the Renaissance, battled with perfectionism. Da Vinci was born out of wedlock in 1452. His mother was a peasant, the father a wealthy landlord and notary. Though never formally educated, with his insatiable curiosity, patience, and keen observation skill, he mastered every subject of interest.
He dreamed of inventions hundreds of years ahead of their time. He drew each one in his notebooks – ideas for the helicopter, parachute, armored vehicles, and underwater diving suit. All these he carefully drew, engineering them with CAD-like perfection. But, as far as we know, none of his inventions ever came to be.
He also dissected human cadavers and drew the body’s different organs, including the heart and brain. He discovered the mechanics of how the heart pumps blood through the body. His research was hundreds of years ahead of its time. But he never published any of his notebooks. No one ever benefited from his out-of-the-box thinking.
Leonardo’s real superpower was as a painter. But he was notoriously slow and left most of his paintings unfinished, his most famous being the Mona Lisa and then The Last Supper. Wealthy patrons would hire him to paint, but he got distracted and neglected his work. He developed this reputation, and many were reluctant to hire him. When it was time to work, sometimes Leonardo would climb the scaffolding and stare for a long time. Then take out his brush, apply one or two strokes, and then walk away.
Da Vinci carried his paintings around for years and years. They say he took out the Mona Lisa on his deathbed to make a few more additional strokes.
Leonardo was a perfectionist. He had difficulty starting and finishing. He lived in his head most of the time, wrestling with ideas. He could never let it go and move on with life. Famously, Leonardo said, “A work of art is never finished. It is only abandoned.”
I think many Christians battle with perfectionism. As they stand back and look at the painting of their life that’s in progress, all they see are the mistakes. A voice inside says, “Messed up. Messed up. I can’t believe you can’t stay in the lines. Look at the work you have to do. You’re so behind.” When it comes to our relationship with Christ, perfectionism can zap our joy and peace, and place a heavy burden of guilt on our shoulders.
Check this definition out. It’s right out of David Seamonds great book, Healing for Damaged Emotions.
Perfectionism is a constant and all-pervading feeling of never quite measuring up, never quite being or doing enough to please ourselves, others, and especially God.