Perfectionism affects more than 80 percent of the human population, leading to depression and feelings of low self-worth. Pastor Dan Ferguson has written a book to help others, like his own family, find the fine line between excellence and perfectionism in today's society.
Dan Ferguson, former pastor of Pratt's First United Methodist Church and current Methodist past in Douglass, Kansas, knows a thing or two about perfectionism. It is something he and other members of his immediate family have struggled with for years. On Tuesday he shared his insights into this common personality trait in which a person strives for flawlessness and high standards while critically self-evaluating performance, at the Pratt Public Library. Ferguson recently published a book with Page Publishing, called Grace's Mirror, offering sound Biblical and psychological advice for those who are perfectionists.
"Perfectionism cuts a wide swath in our culture," Ferguson said. "One study discovered that 84 percent admitted to having perfectionistic tendencies. Excellence is a worthy goal, but we often go far enough to expect perfection and, consequently, pay a high price for it."
For Ferguson, who spoke to more than 30 individuals February 13 at the Pratt library, the problem really hit home when his then 6-year-old daughter came home from school and tearfully told him she did not deserve to watch television with the family that night.
"My wife and I looked in her backpack and she had a stack of papers about an inch-thick of her schoolwork," he said. "We found only two mistakes in all of that work, but she was convinced she had failed."
At that point, Ferguson, a former chemical engineer, secondary school teacher before becoming a pastor, began to put some of his training in counseling (bachelor's degree in religion and philosophy from Friends University in Wichita, and doctorate in pastoral counseling from Graduate Theological Foundation) to work, writing a book that would help others like himself and his family to overcome the tremendous societal pressure to be successful.
"My daughter was not alone," he said. "Different people have different experiences with perfectionism, and much of it dates back to our Puritan ancestors who came to America to maintain a pure and perfect society. Our culture continually makes a plea for excellence and it powerfully influences the way we think about ourselves."
Though most of his recently published book was written 25 years ago, Ferguson said the problem hasn't changed much through the years.
"I updated the manuscript with examples from years and years of counseling, always changing names to protect identity," he said. "The way to heal from perfectionism is to allow Christ to live within us."
Ferguson said one of his favorite quotes is from author C. S. Lewis who said that humans should quit worrying about mistakes and realize that God is slowly making us perfect in his own image, but the final result won't be realized until we reach heaven.
Ferguson said it was best to set expectations at a reachable level, and his family, who were all very supportive of his book, have learned along with him how to distinguish the fine line between between excellence and perfectionism.
"Lower the bar to a height you can clear and you will be much happier," he said.
Grace's Mirror, published by Page Publishing Company, can be purchased online through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play and iTunes. Ferguson, also an avid sports fan, is working on a second book, a sports biography with a message of unity for today's world of division and exclusion. He currently pastors the Douglass United Methodist Church and lives in Wichita.