I ran across a quote a few weeks ago that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. Strive for excellence, not perfection. This intriguing phrase was uttered by H. Jackson Brown Jr. It took me awhile, but I realized why this is bothering me. Because I’m a perfectionist. In everything.
Quadrupling my blog traffic in six months isn’t good enough. It’s not where the big bloggers are at.
Losing 25 pounds isn’t enough. I still have 50 to go! (My weight has bounced between 135 and 230 not once, but twice, during my adult life. Right now I’m somewhere in between). You can see I’m laying it out honestly for this post! haha.
I’ve had perfectionistic tendencies since I was a kid. In high school, I had a checklist that had to complete everyday. Every check done. One of those was to eat less than 500 calories a day. Yes, I had (have?) an eating disorder. You would be surprised how many days I got those checks done.
But now I have to wonder…is my striving for perfection setting me back? Is THAT what causes me to lose motivation some days and throw in the towel? To just set down the computer and eat what I want?
So I did one of the things I excel at. I dug into the research. Here’s how and why I’m going to strive for excellence, not perfection. For today at least. Because today is the only day I can truly change.
“Perfection: a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable” by Merriam-Webster. As a lifelong perfectionist, I can attest that sounds like an extremely accurate definition to me!
Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is the pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough- that we should try harder.~ Julia Cameron
So, what is excellence? Our old friend Merriam-Webster says that excellence is the quality of being “superior, very good of its kind.”
So, perfection is a disposition, while excellence is a quality. Excellence is a journey, not a destination.
A couple of quotes that I liked about excellence that sum it up better than I can. Though the following quote is often attributed to Aristotle, it is not by him. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.” Will Durant, philosopher, said this in a treatise on Aristotle. The fundamental principal might be Aristotle’s, that magnificent quote is by Durant.
Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude. ~Ralph Marston
The Problem with Perfection
• Perfection is impossible, thus you are in an eternal state of failure. And nothing limits the desire to try again more than a big failure. Now, imagine living with failure day in and day out. Or if you’re a perfectionist, just look at your daily life. Knowing you are constantly “not good enough.” How motivated do you feel now to try to reach yet another impossible goal? Motivation and inspiration are almost impossible to maintain under these circumstances.
• Wanting to be perfect limits new opportunities. The perfectionist worries about failure. And in their minds, anything less than perfect is failure. So why tackle something new that you are bound to be less than perfect at?
• Perfection has a tendency to be future-focused. Things will be better when I’ve achieved this goal, done that perfectly. The problem is we can only influence today. All the good intentions in the world for tomorrow don’t have an actual affect on the outcome.
• Excellence vs perfection example. Perfection is all-or-nothing. If one part isn’t perfect, the whole thing is worthless. At least in the eyes of a perfectionist. Excellence allows for areas of non-perfection. Say in a big project, one area is lacking. The perfectionist takes this as a sign the whole project is lacking. The person striving for excellence: acknowledges the areas that are great and sees an area that needs improvement.
Action Steps: How to Achieve Excellence in Your Life
We’ve come to the clear conclusion that striving for perfection has some negatives. But how do you achieve excellence in your life?
“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.” ~Colin Powell
Read, read, read. Never stop learning. Every single day (or every single week), take an action to increase your knowledge. On my weekly planner, every single week, I have to: learn more about blogging, learn more about photography, and learn more about design. Some weeks I really don’t want to. But I always strive for more.
Ask for feedback. The best athletes have coaches to tell them both what they’re doing wrong and what they’re doing right. At work, show interest in annual performance reviews. Or if your job doesn’t do those, schedule an appointment with the boss. Sit down and seriously ask what needs to be improved. In my case, I poll my readers semi-annually to see what they like and what needs done better.
Be present-focused. Focus on what you can improve today, what you can learn today, what you can achieve today. Yes, it’s okay to have future goals and milestones! That’s a good thing. But being focused only on them means you lose today. And today is the only day you have to make progress. I wrote an article “How to Be Your Best Self” that hits upon this concept…that we have to change our behavior today.
Keep the order right in your mind. Strive for excellence and success will follow. Don’t worry about the end goal- the success- right now. Worry about exceeding where you were before.
Share your knowledge. Not only is the right thing to do, hearing what other people don’t know can help pinpoint areas that you are still weak in. It reminds me of trouble-shooting code. If you can’t figure out what the problem is, you pull out a rubber ducky (yes, seriously) and explain the problem, step-by-step to the rubber ducky. Most of the time, you’ll find yourself explaining to the rubber ducky exactly how to solve the problem.
It’s the same thing teaching someone else. You’ll be amazed by what you know. And you’ll also learn exactly what you don’t know…new areas to exceed!
Mistakes and criticism are not failure. They’re a to-do list of things to improve.
Comment below! What has been your experience with perfection and/or excellence?