Listen: Katrina Roe chats with author Jo-Anne Berthelsen about overcoming perfectionism.
Despite topping her classes at school and being a classic over-achiever, Sydney-based novelist Jo-Anne Berthelsen spent much of her life riddled with self-doubt.
Perfectionism came hand-in-hand with insecurity.
It took years of allowing God to peel back the layers, until she had the confidence to accept herself just as she was.
It’s the topic of her latest book, Becoming Me: Finding my true self in God – a honest work that encourages others to let go of their masks and find God’s acceptance.
Peeling Back the Layers
In a chat with Hope 103.2’s Katrina Roe, Jo-Anne explained how the image of a Babushka doll on the front cover of Becoming Me, illustrates the way God has worked in her life.
“I’ve always loved these Russian Babushka dolls where you take off one layer and then there’s the next one and the next one, and to me that was just the perfect image of how I’ve sensed God taking the layers off in my own life,” she said.
“It’s about getting rid of the self-doubt and the perfectionism and the insecurity, and even the positive things like trying to be the ‘good girl’ or the achiever, and all of those images we like to present to the world.”
Insecurity as a Child
Many readers may identify with Jo-Anne’s story: one of insecurity from an early age.
“I was very happy to follow my sister, who was three years older than me. She was the leader, I was the follower. I was a thumb-sucker as a child, and so my happy place was curling up on the bed with a thumb in my mouth or in a corner, if there was any arguments at home.
“And I tried to achieve all through primary school. If I didn’t come top of my class, that to me was a failure, because I wanted to prove myself.
My parents would’ve been so proud of me whatever I had done at school, but I can clearly remember walking home with my report card in my hand, thinking, ‘wouldn’t it be terrible if I couldn’t tell my parents that I hadn’t come top of the class’. I set a high bar.”
Jo-Anne’s perfectionism meant she was so hard on herself, that she couldn’t properly enjoy her achievements.
“That’s something God had to work on in my life: the old perfectionist tendency,” she said. “And also the desire to be popular. Sometimes I think I did things just to draw attention to myself, because then people would admire me.
“There’s half of you wants to be out there, the other half just hides away.”
Trying to Win God’s Approval
Like many people do, Jo-Anne tried for years to ‘prove’ to God that she was good.
“I used to think to myself that if I went to church…surely God would be pleased with me.”
“My sister and I were sent to Sunday School. That’s what you did in those days, back in the ‘60s,” she said. “I used to think to myself that if I went to church on Sunday, surely God would be pleased with me, and I would have a good week or do well in this exam.
“It was like this bargaining with this God that you held in awe, who was high and holy. And that’s true and I’m glad of that, but I didn’t have a concept of this loving God who understood me totally and accepted me for who I was.”
It was when Jo-Anne was 15, at a school camp, that she says “God broke into her life”.
“I got a sense that God knew me, loved me and had a purpose for my life,” she said. “It totally turned my life around from that point onwards.”
From a Self-Doubter, to a Writer and Encourager
Writing is something Jo-Anne wanted to do all her life, but as someone who has struggled with insecurity, it took her many years to take the plunge.
But since her first book in 2004, she hasn’t looked back. Becoming Me is her eighth work; six of her works are novels while this is her second non-fiction publication. She’s hoping the new book will encourage others to discover God’s complete and unconditional love.
“I want people to go away knowing they are unique, known, valued and loved.”
“I really wanted to share this journey of God taking the layers off, and enabling me to step into the person that I was created to be, to use all the gifts I’d been given, to bless others in this world,” she said. “I really hope it will take others on the same journey.
“At the end of each chapter I’ve put four little reflection questions. So that readers can do their own journey and maybe journal their way through the book.
“I just want them to go away knowing they are unique, known, valued and loved. And that God has created them the way they are, for a purpose, in His image. And that they have ways to bless the world that are unique.”
For more info about Jo-Anne’s books or to request her as a speaker at an event, visit her website, jo-anneberthelsen.com.