Anyway: or Confessions of a recovering perfectionist

If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.

Sitting on a leather sofa, sipping water and wiping tears, I presented her with my angsty questions. I looked at her proper grown-up mantel piece and knew that I was supposed to be grown up by now, in my mid-twenties.

She pulled her fingers through her hair, thought a bit, and then said it: “if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.”

I nodded, and then did a double-take – hang on…?

She smiled at me, recognising her former self in me.

“I did a medical placement in Africa,” she told me. “There are children dying of all kinds of preventable diseases. You’re used to Western facilities and protocols. You’ve got vaccinations, but they’re out of date, and the needles’ cleanliness is questionable. But there are children dying. What do you do?”

“You vaccinate them anyway,” I said.

She nodded.

If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.


I hate New Year’s Resolutions. I used to love them. I would make them all the time as a child and into my twenties – but now? Now I am tired of them.

Alece Ronzino has a great alternative to New Year Resolutions. Instead of a list or a new regime, pick one word to shape not what you do but the way that you do things. Just one thing to focus on, a guiding principle. Could I do this instead?

I looked at the other words people had chosen: ask, unashamed, freedom, hope, light – such soaring, majestic words. How can you choose a word knowing you’re setting yourself up for failure? I chickened out.

And then it hit me again.

If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.

What if I could just for once integrate my knowledge of God’s grace into my practice? What if I could just do things, try things, knowing that whether they succeed or fail it is still worth doing them?

Here is a tumble of my resolutions along these lines:

  • Do an online creative writing course knowing that I can’t really commit to these kinds of things because my health is unreliable. And sign up anyway.
  • Stop doing an online writing course, knowing that doesn’t disqualify me from writing, or even writing well.
  • Write the longer projects. Or start to write the longer projects. Set deadlines, meet them, miss them. Try to write them well. Write them badly. Freak out that I’m the moaniest, clumsiest, most heretical writer in the world. Have a small meltdown. And then do it anyway because an actual real-life mediocre blog post or book is still better than a Nobel Prize-winning imaginary one.
  • Start reading the Bible daily properly again and be more disciplined. Wrestle with the word, fall in love with the word. Don’t spend enough time on it, struggle with it. Keep reading it anyway.
  • Feel frustrated by the cuts that fall disproportionately on the sick, the disabled, the poor. Feel frustrated that I can’t give more time to activism. Write one letter every so often to my MP, knowing that it will only get answered after about three months, and even then with a dismissively slick party line. Write it anyway, because it’s important to speak even if you are not sure you will be heard.
  • Feel tired at the very thought of having to be thankful for things or keep a thankfulness journal. But want to do it anyway. And maybe end up doing it for three months instead of a full year, end up with 300 gifts instead of 1000. That’s okay. There’s freedom in the failure.
  • Remember that God doesn’t guarantee healing, and that His goodness is not contingent on whether or not I get better. Know that hope is sometimes more painful to carry than acceptance. Ask for healing anyway.

Do lots of things half-excellently instead of one thing brilliantly – because there are too many important things in life to indulge in excelling just at one thing. It is all a juggling act and we are people, not streamlined robots.

Life is an ever-changing sea and sometimes all you can do is keep afloat and that is achievement enough.

Do it anyway. Do it half-well, half-completed, limping and surrendered, leaning on others – because who can truly do any of these things on their own? We all fall, we all stumble, He is the only one who does not grow weary. He is the only one who will not slumber or sleep.

He is faithful and He will do it. His grace is sufficient. There are safety nets – no, not nets – there are everlasting arms to hold me when I trip, when I fall and fail. He knows the beginning and the end, He is the Alpha and the Omega, and He knows that I do not know the start and the finish, I am flailing in the middle. He is smiling as I cycle without stabilisers. He is good.


So here’s my One Word for 2013 which I present to you with a crazy grin and a little twirl: “Anyway”. It must be the least majestic, vague word that anyone has chosen. And it’s February – more than a month late for the exercise.

It’s perfect. It’s ridiculous. I’m gonna use it anyway.

Over to you:

  • What is your one word for 2013?
  • In which areas of your life do you need to speak the phrase, ‘if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly?’

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60 Responses to Anyway: or Confessions of a recovering perfectionist

  1. Janice 6th February, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    Tanya, this is so good. Your post is one of the few that has made me think that a One Word might be a good idea. It’s motivational.

    You know, the idea “Do everything as unto the Lord” has been something that I think has skewed my ideas of what sorts of things are worth doing. I can see that it means to do it for God, not for man, but I always put on it the pressure of “Do it to the utmost of your ability because you are doing it for God and you shouldn’t give him the crap you toss out, but only the things you’ve really worked at.” But that means that if I have a blog, it must be a perfect blog. Not one I toss a post at every month or so. If I stay at home my house should be kept perfect, because why would I do it for God if it wasn’t? I should mother perfectly. And wife perfectly. Because why offer God something that is half done? And it’s not humanly possible to do all these things. But of course that’s not what God wants. He wants me to blog out of love for him, clean out of love for him, mother and wife out of love for him. And that encompasses so much grace.

    This is a bit of a ramble, but your post reminded me of this idea that I’ve been mulling over for a while now and trying to combat my perfectionist tendancies. So I love Anyway. I may adopt it myself! 🙂

    • Tanya 8th February, 2013 at 10:02 am #

      Yes. You’re right – I can totally see how the verse about working for The Lord can end up being a watertight apologetic for perfectionism. Gosh – that’s so oppressive. And yet I don’t think yiu’re the only one to think it – even now I’m thinking, well what does that bit in Colossians mean?

      I went back there to look today – so here are some random thoughts.

      Colossians is all about how Jesus is central to everything – col 1 is a gush of praise for Jesus, the image of the invisible God, the one who is at the centre of the universe and holds all things together. Col 3 and 4 are about outworking that truth in everyday life – in church contexts, singing psalms hymns, spiritual songs, (Col 3:17 has similar language – whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in name of The Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the father. ) ie keep Jesus at the centre of everything in your practice, to reflect the truth that He already is at the centre of everything in reality.

      Then Paul turns to domestic life, and how putting Christ centrally works out in everyday practice. I notice 3:11 his declaration of the truth that there is no inferiority or hierarchy – a remarkable statement in such a patriarchal society – there is no Greek or Jew, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free but Christ is all, and in all – again – all about seeing Christ as central.

      But what does this mean? Does it mean slaves stop working for their masters, marriages are ended…? No – it is about working for harmonious relationships so that Christ will be honoured – wives submit to husbands, husbands do not be harsh with wives; children obey your parents, parents do not provoke your children. And then the slaves and masters bit – slaves obey your masters, masters be fair and just to your slaves. Slaves – don’t be inauthentic – just being people-pleasers but work with sincerity of heart; work for God, not for men. I actually really like the way that this gives back power to those who were so powerless. Their work is not insignificant, though they are the lowest in society – it is meaningful because God sees it, He will reward them even if noone else notices their hard work; they will receive an inheritance – not a wage- they will be treated as first-born children by God; they are not beholden to their employers and their identity is not defined by what their boss does or does not see – because God sees it all. They are serving Jesus, not their boss.

      The masters are to be just and fair, knowing that they have a master in heaven. They may call themselves masters on earth, but they are no higher than their employees – they are all servants of Christ Jesus.

      I think that so often the image of God is unhelpful in this regard – as an unreasonable boss rather than loving parent. But this says the opposite – that God isn’t like those unreasonable bosses that the slaves have to deal with, that He sees and will award an inheritance. Does it make a difference to see this command in the context of giving power and dignity back to the slaves who had no affirmation, no status or value in society? The command to work well, to do things wholeheartedly, is because God is interested in everything we do, rather than having to achieve a standard of perfection. (He knows how we are made. He remembers that we are dust).

      So – yes – I love the way you put it – to do those things that society does not value, to do them into God, to do them out of love, in love, knowing that He sees you and values those things, redeems those things, gives them eternal significance.

      Sorry – that was a bit long! I hope it made sense! I enjoyed the excursion into Colossians, at any rate…! 🙂

      • Mark Allman 8th February, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

        Tanya! A post inside a post. 🙂

      • Liz Eph 11th February, 2013 at 10:07 am #

        I love Colossians. I love the fact that paul is so practical. He gives the spiritual guidelines, then thinks of situations where he knows we’ll be tempted to let our guard down and revert to a default setting of our old ways and make excuses for ourselves doing it to boot – in the home, under a dominant boss etc. I sort of read it as even if you don’t feel like serving, or being thoughtful or doing the job – do it anyway, like you said in your post.

      • Janice 11th February, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

        Thanks, Tanya! I often wonder where ideas come from like working for God = perfectionism. I love your writing about Colossians. It’s beautiful to me that often, when something feels burdensome that when we really look at the gospel it is good news. It’s freeing and life giving instead of stifling. (I did read this DAYS ago, but hubby and I have both been sick and have been doing nothing much but sleeping and doing the bare minimum required for caring for children – all of which are healthy (yay!) and energetic (yawn). So I’ve been meaning to comment for several days.)

        I am looking forward to how Anyway plays out throughout the rest of your year.

        • Tanya 12th February, 2013 at 10:07 am #

          Thank you for this! And I hope you get fully better soon…. Much love x

  2. Mark Allman 6th February, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

    You said “What if I could just do things, try things, knowing that whether they succeed or fail it is still worth doing them?” Success or failure should never be a measure of the worth of doing something I believe. We should all feel free to fail.

    One thing we do know and that is if we don’t step out and attempt then we will not do.

    The real life post resonate the most I think.

    Tanya… You do things well even if you think not. Regardless. Do it ANYWAY.

    • Tanya 8th February, 2013 at 8:15 am #

      Thank you 🙂

  3. Helen Murray 6th February, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

    PS Just read Joy’s comment and wanted to add that I haven’t plucked up the courage to write about my word yet! I’m not quite sure what it means to me yet, though I am sure that it’s the right word.
    Maybe I should write the post anyway. Inspired. 🙂

    • Tanya 8th February, 2013 at 8:14 am #

      You should definitely write it anyway.
      Or not write it till you’re more comfortable with it. Even though it’s late and others are writing now. Delay it anyway.
      One of the two options! 😉

  4. John Jordan 6th February, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    So much of what you have said, rings true for me Tanya. I too have been a slave to perfectionism, (a condition not helped by being trained in plans work where absolute accuracy and neatness are essential).
    I think your word is inspired. To coin a phrase that my late father would have used, “You can only do what you can do.”
    I need to remember that, “if something is worth doing, it is worth doing badly,” in practically all areas of my life. (Other than plans work of course).
    The penny dropped for me when I was a Street Pastor. Faced with unfamiliar, and sometimes urgent matters, I just had to react immediately; sometimes really well, but sometimes not so well. When reflecting after a shift. I told myself that I had done as well as I could, and that this was better than not doing anything.
    My word is, “perspective.”

    • Tanya 8th February, 2013 at 8:12 am #

      Thank you, John!

      I like your word too – it sounds like it could go in lots of different ways!

  5. Helen Murray 6th February, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    This is lovely. Exactly what I need to hear. I nearly didn’t choose a word this year because I thought I might get it wrong. I nearly chose patience, courage, determined, safe. Eventually I chose ‘Heal’ because there are so many ways that I could do with healing. Physical, emotional, spiritual. I’m quite sure that God has something in mind that I haven’t even thought of.
    As for the things that I should maybe learn to do badly; most things. Sometimes I’m like a rabbit in the headlights living in fear of getting it wrong. Maybe best not to start than to make a fool of myself. What’s the use of trying if someone’s said it already and said it better than I might?
    So. I completely love your ‘anyway’.
    Thank you.

    • Tanya 8th February, 2013 at 8:11 am #

      I’m so glad!

      Your comment has reminded me just how paralysing the fear of failure can be. And yes – I totally relate to ‘what if someone’s said it before and better?’

      Sending you a high-five and a hug xx

  6. Joy Lenton 6th February, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    Terrific, Tanya. Well said! As a recovering perfectionist myself (who God is slowly reforming) I echo your thoughts here. My latest post also discusses the “freedom in failure” aspect. Surely it is better to have lived and loved messily and imperfectly than never to have lived and loved at all? Despite feeling like you are doing things ‘anyway’, this is written with verve, wit and insight that hits home to and greatly blesses your readers. Way to go, girl! Looking forward to hearing how ‘anyway’ is implemented in your life in the year ahead.
    PS: You are far from late with your One Word 2013 as I only made mine (‘Come’) public in early February. The important thing is hearing from God for ourselves and not worrying about timing.

    • Tanya 8th February, 2013 at 8:10 am #

      I’ve just been reading your latest posts… Paying that God will walk with you and nurture you as you come to Him this year!

      And here’s to living messily! 🙂

  7. Alice 6th February, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

    I see your crazy grin and twirl and applaud! LOVE this. Perfectionism is just pretendism really isn’t it?

    Anyway. Perfect(ish).

    • Tanya 7th February, 2013 at 9:37 am #

      Thank you! Perfectionism as pretendism. Love it! Thanks for clapping along with me!

  8. Karmen White 6th February, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

    buy the boots ANYWAY 🙂

    • Karmen White 6th February, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

      oh….and word for 2013 is ‘wait’.

      • Tanya 7th February, 2013 at 9:36 am #

        I like that word – because good things come to those who.. and God renews strength for those who…

        Praying for you as you live in the in-between.

    • Tanya 7th February, 2013 at 9:34 am #

      I’d forgotten that! Hurray – already doing my ‘one word’! 🙂

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