My son loaned me this very small book, and I haven’t returned it because…well, it found its way to my bookshelf and I reference it frequently, and okay, you got me. I guess I’ve stolen it from him. It’s THE UNDERACHIEVER’S MANIFESTO, The Guide to Accomplishing Little and Feeling Great. I don’t know who you are, but in the event you are a perfectionist — or like me, a perfectionist who is not very good at it, which means you have to try even harder — I highly recommend Dr. Ray Bennett’s little book. A snippet from the intro reads “We’ve been brainwashed over many years to believe that striving for success is essential to our well-being.”
That’s all I want to do…my best. The problem is I don’t really know what my best is, and so I push, I work, I expend energy, effort and brain power. When I meet with failure, I try harder. And therein lies my problem. Maybe what I accomplished back there was my best, and perhaps I should quit striving to top it. Perhaps I should be satisfied. For the sake of my own well-being perhaps I should be satisfied and content.
One chapter in the book is all about the dangerous addiction of achievement. Following that chapter you’ll find The Ten Principles of Underachievement. Principle number 7 — “Perfect is the enemy of good.” Shocking, right?
Not to spiritualize a book that’s absolutely good enough — I am struck by how these principles relate to my Christian life.
Years ago I heard a sermon by Chuck Swindoll where he shouted in his own always kind very encouraging voice, “If you are a perfectionist…REPENT!” I took it personally and then rationalized my way out of repenting.
Well, Geez, Chuck, I’m just trying to do what the Bible says in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” Bible Hub cross references that with Leviticus 19:2 “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.'” Holy equals perfect, doesn’t it? (Aside note, I believe this verse to be a statement of what is, not a command to work for holiness. It is beautiful foreshadowing that under the blood of the Lamb…holy and righteous we’ll stand. But we overachievers take verses like this as a call to work harder, or die trying.)
The Bible says no one is good but God, no one is perfect except our Father in Heaven. Surely scripture does not contradict itself, but we, the readers, are prone to misunderstand…perhaps led astray by the interpreter or our favorite preacher/teacher. Either way, I’m not perfect, I’m far from perfectly holy, but I want to be. So I’ve spend much of my life trying to reach the unreachable star. This was my quest…no matter how hopeless.Wait, it’s an amazing song, but in this case it’s not good for my well-being.
The Underachiever’s Manifesto is not totally without a nod to religion. In Dr. Bennett’s chapter on Faith, he writes, “Would that underachievement were its own religion, holding as it does the keys to contentment, happiness, and a well-balanced life.”
Apostasy? I mean, as a Christian I hold to the belief that in Christ alone we find contentment. Hm, correction– in Christ alone we are content when we agree with and rest in God’s will.
Everlasting contentment I get. However, as a guest on earth I’m not brash enough to claim to be content in all circumstances. Unlike the Apostle Paul, whether imprisoned, beaten half to death, shipwrecked, stoned (not that kind of stoned), insulted, mocked, discriminated against, penniless, hungry — still, he was content. I haven’t experienced most of those, but content in hard circumstances? Content when my feelings get hurt? Me? No, not so much. Paul? Always. Always content. Alas, tiny difference between me and Paul. Maybe he wasn’t an overachiever, but if he was I’ll bet he got over it thanks to the Blinding Light on the Damascus Road.
If I were more like Jesus, I know I could hack all manner of adversity and in the midst of it give glory where glory is due. Or if the people I live with on this planet were more like Jesus I could be content, always. Which is easy to say, because if we were all like Jesus there would be none of the above nonsense. There would be no violence, no bullying, no insults, no discrimination, no misunderstanding or hurt feelings, no need for prisons. Everyone would treat each other the way they wanted to be treated. Ah yes, utopia. Heaven.
And that brings me back to perfectionism in faith. The overachievers in religion are all about living lives worthy of God’s attention and striving to live more worthily than others. But here’s the enlightening part — by not striving to be better than someone else, I’m freed up to be my best self.
We all know the story about the farmer who had such a large harvest he planned to tear down his barn and build a bigger one. He was an overachiever and an under-giver, which didn’t work out for him. If you recall, he died in his sleep dreaming up plans for a huge barn where he could hoard his crops. Before falling asleep he said to himself:
“Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ 21 So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:19-21
The writer of Ecclesiastes laments, “All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?” Eccl. 1:2-3
Lighten up, relax and enjoy, and be generous.
Underachieving is not an excuse to be lazy. Beware.
How long, O sluggard, will you lie there?
when will you rise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the arms to rest—
11 Then poverty will come upon you like a robber…
Never once does Dr. Bennett equate underachieving with doing nothing. “It’s about the right effort at the right time, in the right place.” Overachievers of the world…REPENT! Underachievers of the world unite! Lead the way. Bring me (us) into your fold.
Already I sense myself a step closer to fulfilling the reason for which I was created…to love God and enjoy this world, this life, all things and people. And while I learn to appreciate every gift from a phenomenal Creator may I continually be inspired to love my neighbor and serve people in need. This, according to my calling, and not striving for anything more.
10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Go buy this book. Under achieve with the best of ’em. Accomplish a little and feel great.
Disclaimer: there are natural born underachievers in the world. They don’t strive for it, and yet somehow they are perfectly good at it. One of them is my knight in shining armor.