by Emily Conrad

I’m preparing to attend a conference this weekend. Because it’s a professional event, I (and I’m sure most of the other attendees) feel some pressure to be prepared. I want to have just the right things to say to introduce my work. I want to wear clothes that make a good impression. I want to be in the right place at the right time, to know where I’m going and have it all together.

Various meetings, interviews, and even casual get-togethers can have the same effect on me. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

It sometimes even gets to the point where I have to hold myself back lest I look too prepared.

For example, in anticipation of a job interview, I once considered buying a new padfolio in which to carry my resumes and notepaper. Okay, no big deal (except that I had a perfectly nice padfolio to begin with…). Then, I saw a nice, large purse for sale at the same store. How perfectly a new padfolio would fit inside! It’d look great walking up to the restaurant table where the interview would take place. But then I hesitated. Maybe together the new padfolio and the new purse would look like I was trying too hard. Determining that would be the case, I didn’t get either.

The trials of being a perfectionist.

As I prepared for this weekend’s conference, I polled two of my friends about what they’re going to wear. Somewhere in the conversation, I joked that my concern about clothes was superficial.

It was a joke because we obviously have to wear something, and since it is a professional conference, I had to think beyond the bounds of my go-to jeans and sleeveless T-shirts. Clothing choices are going to take some thought and effort.

However, one of my friends (Jerusha Agen of the Fear Warrior blog—check it out if you haven’t!) pointed out how it’s true that clothing is superficial. It’s the inward traits that matter.

I replied that I’d been praying about the conference longer than I’d been prepping my wardrobe for it, but after some reflection, I’m not sure that’s really true. Or, at least, inward preparation hasn’t been as much of a priority as it ought to be in relation to my efforts to make a good outward impression.

I don’t remember much of what people wore at the last conference I attended. I remember maybe three or four outfits of the hundreds I saw and I doubt many people remember mine, despite all the care each of us put into our clothing.

Instead, I remember people who were kind to me. I remember someone noticing me and striking up a conversation. I remember encouragers and listening ears and the fellow volunteers who made my short volunteer shift a joy.

Clothes are necessary. Being able to talk about my work is necessary. Finding my way around is necessary. But none of that is primary, and giving these things more thought and time than they deserve adds stress to preparing for a big event.

Regardless of any outward preparation, I cannot make my dreams come true. I could study and study and still draw a blank when someone asks me what my book is about. My sister, who watched me spill on myself two or three times over the weekend, can attest to how easily I could spill a macchiato all over my carefully picked outfit. I could get lost on the college campus where the conference will happen.

God alone is in control of all these variables and thousands more I haven’t thought of. Ultimately, He and not my preparation determines what happens. Happily, I know from the Bible and from my own experience and from the testimonies of others that I can trust Him. So, in trust, I’m better off caring about what He cares about, and more than He cares if I choose the skirt or the dress pants, He cares about the people who are attending–me and others.

In preparing for events, whether they’re conferences, interviews, family gatherings, or coffee dates with friends, the two most important commandments are still the two most important commandments: love God, and love others.

When we put our focus there first, we step off the stressful tightrope walk between looking perfect and not-too-perfect (and even I can admit, that’s a ridiculous tightrope to be on in the first place). We spend more time asking God what He wants for us at this event and less time focusing on what we need to do or achieve to “make it.” We’ll pass our free time encouraging those who need it instead of fretting over if we’ll forget our perfect memorized pitch when the moment comes.

And all of that sounds like a much more relaxing, encouraging, and rewarding conference than the one runaway perfectionism would have me prepare for. Thankfully, it’s not too late for me or for you. Jesus is always standing right next to us, holding out His hand to help us down off that tightrope of outward preparation. With His help, we can prepare in the ways that matter most.

How do you keep yourself calm and on track as your prepare for big events? And if you’re going to be at Northwestern Christian Writer’s Conference this weekend, be sure to let me know!

Nervous about a big event? Try putting the focus back where it belongs-on loving God and others via @emilyrconrad