Meet Colleen Carroll Campbell, the author of The Heart of Perfection + Giveaway

Let's welcome award-winning author, former presidential speechwriter & mother of 4, Colleen Carroll Campbell to Just Commonly today!

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Colleen Carroll Campbell is an award-winning author, print and broadcast journalist, and former presidential speechwriter. Her books include her critically acclaimed journalistic study, The New Faithful, and spiritual memoir, My Sisters the Saints, which won two national awards and has been published in five languages. Colleen has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Christianity Today, America, and National Review, and she has appeared on CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, ABC News, PBS, NPR, and EWTN, where she hosted her own television and radio shows for eight years. A former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and editorial writer and op-ed columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Colleen is the recipient of two honorary doctorates and numerous other awards for her work. She speaks to audiences across North America and Europe and lives in St. Louis with her husband and their four children, whom she homeschools. Visit her online at

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*Author Photo Credits:  © Amber Montgomery

Interview with Colleen

Hi Colleen! Welcome to Just Commonly! Before we get started, can you tell us a bit about you, especially for those readers that haven’t met you yet?
Sure, I’m an author, TV and print journalist, former presidential speechwriter, wife, and homeschooling mom of four. My books include The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (2002), My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir (2012), and my latest, The Heart of Perfection: How the Saints Taught Me to Trade My Dream of Perfect for God’s, debuting this month. My passion as a writer is connecting today’s readers with the spiritual wisdom of those who went before us, and sharing my own stories and struggles so we all feel less alone. I’m glad to join you here!
Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming release, The Heart of Perfection: How the Saints Taught Me to Trade My Dream of Perfect for God's?
The Heart of Perfection weaves stories of my own struggles against control, comparison and impossible expectations with those of seven recovering perfectionist saints who show us how to pursue a new kind of perfection: freedom in Christ. Drawing on Scripture, the grace-based wisdom of the ex-perfectionist holy people and tales of my own trial-and-error experiments in applying that wisdom to my life, The Heart of Perfection invites readers not to squelch our hard-wired desires for excellence but to allow God to purify and redirect them into His dream of perfect for us. 

How did this book come about? What was your inspiration?
Well, the short is answer is that I became a mother. And overnight, it seemed, all of those perfectionist tendencies that seemed to help me in my professional life, and occasionally complicated my personal life, spelled serious trouble for my life as a mother. I was forced to confront the roots of everything from my unrealistic expectations for myself and others to my habits of harshness and hurry, and I gradually discovered that they sprang from lies I had believed about who I had to be to be worthy of God’s love. I realized my real problem wasn’t just perfectionism; it was spiritual perfectionism.

I turned to Scripture and the canonized saints for answers, saints who had waged this same struggle against excessive self-reliance and faulty images of God. And I discovered a solution to the perfectionist trap that’s too rarely discussed in our culture today: that our longing for perfection isn’t the problem. God gave us that longing; it’s a longing for Him. The problem is when we substitute our ideas and timelines for God’s and forget that Jesus came to save us because we cannot save ourselves.

The saints brought that message home to me through the stories of their own messy, meandering journeys out of the perfectionist trap. So I decided to write a book that wove together their journeys and mine, a book that explored the differences between God’s idea of perfect and ours. 

Did it take long for this book to come to fruition?   
If you count the year that I spent toying with ideas and tinkering with a speech on this topic that eventually became my first chapter, then it took four years. The period of intense, focused writing was closer to three. 

When it comes to The Heart of Perfection, do you have a target audience in mind when writing the book?  
I’m aiming for Christians and seekers who recognize they have a problem with perfectionism, as well as the many believers who think – as I once did — that perfectionism is someone else’s problem, that if they know better than to say out loud that they can earn God’s love, they’re fine.

So much of the battle against spiritual perfectionism is recognizing the sneaky ways it manifests in our lives, distorts our relationships and distances us from God. The Heart of Perfection explores those ways in depth and in down-to-earth, real-life detail. That’s where I think it can be particularly helpful to stealth perfectionists like I once was, those who don’t yet see how insidiously this spiritual toxin is infecting their lives or who wonder how they can ever break free of the compare-and-despair cycle.

The great thing about Scripture and the saints is that we don’t have to make up the answers; we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can learn from the Word of God and from those who fought this battle before us, and that’s what I hope The Heart of Perfection helps readers do.

What are some of your favorite works from the Saints that have influenced this book?  
The Heart of Perfection actually includes a substantial reading list at the back of the book that highlights all of the works that I found particularly helpful. But here are a few highlights: St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul; Joseph F. Schmidt, FSC’s Everything Is Grace and Walking the Little Way of Thérèse of Lisieux; Frances de Sales and Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction (edited by Wendy Wright and Joseph Power); The Rule of St Benedict; The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius; and the many books on Ignatian discernment by Timothy Gallagher, OMV. And there are others! But those are favorites. 

When it comes to perfection, what is one personal example that you struggled with through your journey towards writing this book?
Time constraints are a constant struggle. I’m homeschooling four children ages nine down to five — the kids were even younger when I started this book — and finding time to write is always a challenge. My husband, John, has been a great support and the flexible work schedule that he carved out to help me find time to write was a lifesaver. Still, the perfectionist workaholic in me would always like to tinker a little longer with that sentence and sweat a few more hours over that chapter. Taking breaks can be tough, and wrenching myself out of hyper-focused writing-on-deadline mode back into the happy chaos of kids-everywhere home mode was a challenge many days.

To cope — and do so joyfully, not grudgingly — I found myself continually returning to the lessons I was learning from the recovering perfectionist saints. Like me, many of them struggled to learn how to savor the present moment, surrender to Jesus what they didn’t have time to fix or perfect right away, and give thanks for the demanding commitments that made their lives a delicate balancing act. Saint Benedict of Nursia and his biblical rules for work-life balance were particularly valuable in this regard. I couldn’t have written this book on the recovering perfectionist saints were it not for the lessons they taught me in the very act of researching and writing it. That itself made the work a gift. 

Is there a favorite excerpt in this book that you’d like to share?  
The first third of my first chapter is online at the book’s page on Amazon*, and that’s probably as good an introduction as any. 

Let’s chat a bit more about you. How different do you find writing a book versus a journalist piece?  
I love books. After I won a Novak Journalism Fellowship in 2000 that allowed me to take a year off of my job at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to write my first book, The New Faithful, I never looked back. I returned briefly to the newspaper before my book was published, and went on to anchor TV and radio shows and write op-ed columns, but books remained my passion. I love burying myself in interviews or in the library stacks to learn about a new topic, then dreaming of the ways I can make those treasures come alive for readers who don’t have the time or inclination to do that legwork themselves. I love brainstorming and outlining and exploring new ideas without the pressure of a daily deadline or a stingy word count bearing down on me. I love losing myself in a topic and chasing answers to my questions wherever they lead. I’ve enjoyed all the different types of writing I’ve done, but books are my favorite, hands down. 

What about speaking versus writing? Do you write like you speak or speak like you write?
I used to speak like I wrote. Then I worked as a presidential speechwriter in the White House and learned the importance of writing for the ear. I think that skill has improved my writing style as well as my speeches, because it has made my prose more conversational, accessible and honest. I speak widely and I always use a text — I’m a writer, after all — but I think the two styles have blended more in recent years. Now I think the voice you hear onstage at my speeches sounds almost identical to the one you read in the pages of my books.

Do you have a preference for one over the other? 
I love them both — and reading, too, of course. My Dad, who also loved to write and give speeches, had a saying: Reading makes the full man; speaking makes the ready man; writing makes the exact man (or woman!). It’s true. The three complement each other. And after months or years hunkered down in solitude with my laptop, there’s nothing like getting out on the road to hear how my words connect with readers. It’s a shot in the arm and the feedback is invaluable. 

Would we be seeing more writing from you? What’s next for you and what other works can your fans expect?
Yes, definitely — more books and speeches, which is really where I feel called to invest my time these days. I’m toying with an idea for my next (non-fiction) book that I’m not quite ready to unveil yet, but I think it has the makings of an exciting project. I’m hoping to start on it soon so there won’t be quite so many years between books as there have been in the past! Right now, though, I’m focused on sharing the liberating message of the recovering perfectionist saints and planning to spend this year speaking widely about The Heart of Perfection.

THANK YOU, Colleen for stopping in on Just Commonly for this interview.  

Readers, be sure to scroll down for a chance to win a copy of The Heart of Perfection!

ABOUT THE Heart of Perfection

Title:  The Heart of Perfection: How the Saints Taught me to Trade My Dream of Perfect for God's
Author: Colleen Carroll Campbell
Publisher: Howard Books
Release Date:  May 21, 2019
Genre: Christian Living - Non Fiction
Links*: Amazon l Goodreads l Book Depository l CBD  l Itunes

An award-winning author, former presidential speechwriter, and mother of four weaves stories of her own struggles against comparison and impossible expectations with those of seven ex-perfectionist saints (and one heretic) who show us how to pursue a new kind of perfection: freedom in Christ.

Spiritual perfectionism—an obsession with flawlessness rooted in the belief that we can earn God’s love—is the most dangerous form of perfectionism because so many of us mistake it for virtue, or deny that it afflicts us at all. Its toxic cycle of pride, sin, shame, blame, and despair distorts our vision, dulls our faith, and leads us to view others through the same hypercritical lens we think God is using to view us.

As a lifelong overachiever who drafted her first résumé in sixth grade and spell-checked her high-school boyfriend’s love letters, Colleen Carroll Campbell knows something about the perfectionist trap. But it was only after she became a mother that she started to see how insidiously perfectionism had infected her spiritual life, how lethal it could be to her happiness and her family, and how disproportionately it afflicts the people working hardest to serve God.

In the ruins of her own perfectionist mistakes, Colleen dug into Scripture and the lives of the canonized saints for answers. She discovered to her surprise that many holy men and women she once saw as encouraging her perfectionism were, in fact, recovering perfectionists. And their grace-fueled victory over this malady—not perfectionist striving—was the key to their heroic virtue and contagious joy.

In The Heart of Perfection, Colleen weaves the stories and wisdom of these saints with Scripture and beautifully crafted tales of her own trial-and-error experiments in applying that wisdom to her life. She introduces us to such saints as Jane de Chantal, a single mother who conquered her impatience only after her ex-perfectionist friend Saint Francis de Sales convinced her to trade punishing prayer regimens for the tougher discipline of showing gentleness to rude in-laws, rowdy kids, and herself. Colleen describes the battle against obsessive guilt that turned timid people-pleaser Alphonsus Liguori into a fearless defender of God’s mercy; the discernment rules that helped Ignatius of Loyola overcome crippling discouragement and distraction; the concern for reputation that almost cost the world the radical witness of Francis of Assisi; and the biblical work-life balance that Benedict of Nursia pioneered after years of driving himself and others too hard—and without surrendering his holy zeal.

Gorgeously written and deeply insightful, Colleen Carroll Campbell’s The Heart of Perfection shows that the solution to perfectionism is not to squelch our hard-wired desires for excellence but to allow God to purify and redirect them, by swapping the chains of control and comparison for pursuit of a new kind of perfection: the freedom of the children of God.



Many thanks to the publisher, Howard Books of Simon & Schuster for gifting 1 winner a release copy of The Heart of Perfection (US Only)

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