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The Myth of Effortless Perfection

By August 13, 20116 Comments

This week I attended the Willow Creek Association’s Global Leadership Summit, and I will confess that I began the conference with a skeptical attitude. Lately I’ve found myself re-evaluating a lot of the leadership rhetoric that so pervades the evangelical church, wondering how much of it is even based on Christ. That is a post for another day, but suffice it to say that I arrived a little leery.

To my surprise and delight, the Summit exceeded all my expectations. It was phenomenal and I highly recommend it to everyone. Each year the Summit is broadcast all over the world so it is actually quite accessible to anyone. It is also remarkably unique in its speaker line-up. We heard from pastors, a psychologist, a mayor, a college president, an entrepreneurial expert, the Washington, DC school superintendent, and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee who works among the poor in Egypt. It was like drinking from a fire hydrant, but it was also humbling and inspiring.

That said, I’m going to devote the next few blog posts to some of the conference highlights. I wish I had room to share everything I learned, but these nuggets of wisdom should be a terrific glimpse.

Today I want to start with a speaker from my own home town of Charlotte, NC, Steven Furtick. Although I don’t know Steven personally we have numerous mutual friends and I have heard him speak several times. He is like lightning in a bottle, and he is an exceptionally gifted preacher.

He talked about a number of things during his session at the Summit, but he said one thing that particularly stood out to me. It was only a side note–not even the main point–but it’s worth repeating. What he said was this:

“One of the reasons we struggle with insecurity is that we compare our behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.”

I don’t know about you, but comparison is one of the chief robbers of my joy. I can feel so confident in my writing or my personal accomplishments, only to be utterly deflated when I hear about someone younger who is more successful.

I also find myself incredibly discouraged when I reach my goals more slowly than I had hoped, only to watch others surge ahead with ease and poise. It can be disheartening to say the least.

Shortly after I graduated from college, my school released a study describing a pressure felt by female students to achieve  “effortless perfection.” This term referred to students who, in addition to being brilliant and academically elite, were also thin, beautiful, and always well-dressed. What’s more, they seemed to do it all without breaking a sweat. Effortless perfection.

As far as I’m concerned, that idea is from the devil. It’s a lie. It’s a con. Not only is no one perfect, but no one can look perfect without some elbow grease. No woman wakes up in the morning with her hair perfectly coiffed and her make-up looking just so. Honestly, I don’t even KNOW how to apply make-up the way some women do. That kind of ability takes time, practice and skill.

Don’t be conned by the lie of effortless perfect. Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel. Don’t compare your first-thing-in-the-morning face to the women who have been airbrushed in magazines or who spent an hour getting ready in the morning. Don’t compare the unglamorous craziness of raising a family to the selected pictures you see on facebook or mommy blogs.

Comparison will steal your joy and it will threaten your motivation. It convinces you that you’re a failure, which makes you all the more likely to give up. Don’t let it. See through the deception and trust God. He doesn’t need a perfectly put together woman to accomplish His work. In fact, those efforts only get in the way. You serve a God whose power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9), so fix your eyes not on what is seen but what is unseen (2 Cor. 4:18). God has you right where He wants you to be.


  • Nibal says:

    Amen and well said. It has taken me a long time to realize this and try to remind myself every day of this truth. Lysa TerKeurst said something similar about women judging everybody else’s outsides against the knowledge of our own insides. And yes, we undercut our own joy in this way.

  • mama jaja says:


  • Carol says:

    “Comparison is the root of insecurity.” I heard this quotation many years ago when I was raising my children. It has been an important reminder to me countless times not to go into that mindset of comparing (with a greater or lesser success rate 🙂 I must confess).

  • Emily Gidcumb says:

    Anything effortless has to be a myth right??

  • I attended the Summit a couple of years ago. I walked in the doors of Willow Creek with a bit of an attitude: I’m not a big fan of mega-church leader culture, which Willow has helped to create in evangelicalism.

    Like you, I ended up dumping that chip on my shoulder within a short time after I arrived there. Sure, there was some of that Captain Of My Own Ship Organizational bravado, but there was also a surprising amount of humility in some of the speakers. I don’t think anyone present in 2009 will ever forget hearing Compassion International’s Wess Stafford share his personal story about the abuse he endured at a missions boarding school in Africa.

    I’m glad the experience at the Summit was positive for you, too.

  • Lyndsey says:

    Fabulous insights. I spent four years attending daily chapels at an evangelical college and did not hear this message once. As comparing Facebook and LinkedIn profiles steadily exerts its influence over my generation, I think my we could stand to hear a sermon or two based on envy, comparison and insecurity.



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