John had wanted to be a sheriff. He easily passed the mandatory intelligence and personality tests but kept failing the physical. His strength was good but he was unable to pass the running test. He had to run a certain number of laps under a certain time. He would ready himself to go out to a track and run the test on his own. Stopwatch in hand, he’d take off at a fast clip determined to do well. He finished his first laps well under the
time he needed to pass the timed test. But about three quarters of the way along he’d be badly out of breath. He would push hard just to try and complete the distance. But finally despite his determined drive to finish, he would be forced to stop, too exhausted to take another step. He felt like a failure. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t even complete the distance. Then he’d get mad at himself for being so incompetent. It would
be months after feeling so devastated before he’d be ready to rally himself to try again. Then he’d repeat what happened before and again feel undone. This was an ongoing pattern in his life in several areas. And yet John was an intelligent and physically fit young man.

This pattern continued for John until he began therapy and realized how he was setting himself up. He began to
compassionately explore his own story. He set his goals so high each time he began running that he set himself up for a fall. For John to run any slower than a “decent” pace felt wrong and lazy. How could he tolerate being “less than.” He had to do his absolute best. Anything less wasn’t worth doing at all. So of course when John wasn’t even able to complete the needed distance much less completing it in the required time, his sense of failure was total. For John, it was not only failing to become a sheriff, it was about his failure as a person, as a human being.

In talking about how he felt and what he was thinking, John realized how terribly hard he was on himself. But on the other hand, how could he settle for being second rate? This was his dilemma. It took John time to recognize that we need goals in our lives to aspire toward. But that’s not perfectionism. Perfectionism is about mentally and emotionally beating ourselves up when we don’t reach our goals, and reach them perfectly, and reach them now. As John came to understand what was happening, he began the process of re-evaluating what his goals were and how he could work toward them.

A few months later, John was again at the track. He began his run but not at the clip he had always insisted on before. It was a measured and paced gait and slower that he had allowed himself before. This time he was fine with it. He kept to his pace. And for the first time since John had begun applying to become a sheriff, he finished the distance. Our healing takes many forms in our life. We need only to learn to treasure the healing of our heart.

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  • F. Michael Montgomery
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    Santa Rosa, CA 95404-3907

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