"Striving for perfection is the greatest stopper there is. It's your excuse to yourself for not doing anything. Instead, strive for excellence, doing your best." - Sir Laurence Olivier
Do you find yourself striving for perfection in everything you do? What is that like for you?
As someone who is fascinated by human behavior dynamics, I find the notion of perfectionism intriguing. According to Merriam-Webster, perfectionism is characterized by "a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable". Their medical definition adds, " the setting of unrealistically demanding goals accompanied by a disposition to regard failure to achieve them as unacceptable and a sign of personal worthlessness." As I reflect on this term, I appreciate the aims of excellence, mastery, and doing your best embedded in the pursuit of perfection. It is here where I would like to focus our attention.
So, if we know perfection is unattainable, why do we insist on striving for it? While a noble ambition, doesn't this only serve to perpetuate the deficit-thinking that infects our minds and inhibits our becoming our best selves? What if we let go of our perfectionist mindset and instead aspired to mastery and excellence? What would be different for you?
Striving for mastery, for excellence, feels more encouraging and congruent with becoming your best, while embracing where you already are on your journey. Your lens is upward, positive, focused on progress, and sustainable excellence on your path to mastery. There will be challenges on this road to excellence and mastery, however these "failures" are viewed as building blocks to success. They reflect your courage as you explore how to figure things out, and form the seeds of valuable learning and growth.
Perfectionism, on the other hand, feels like the cancer-causing agent to self-judgment, the need for comparison, and the"not good enough" mindset so prevalent in our society. By definition, when you adopt a perfectionist approach, your efforts will never will be good enough and the results unacceptable. Setbacks through the perfectionist lens often lead you to self-judgment, triggering the deficit-thinking mindset that constrains, discourages, and often stops you from moving forward. Once ignited, this toxicity tends to take over your mind, making it difficult to bring yourself back into balance and regain your focus.
I have found self-judgment to be the greatest inhibitor to becoming your best self. When you choose instead to accept yourself for who you are, both areas of strength and weakness, and become okay with both, you create the conditions for growth in your life. "I am not good enough" is then reframed to "what can I or we do to improve?". You develop a learning and growth approach to challenge which serves you as you strive for excellence and doing your best in all you do. You are able to self-manage, better maintain your internal balance and focus, which enables you to better serve yourself and others. This pursuit of excellence leads you to develop practices which form a framework for attaining mastery. Excellence then feels like the vehicle to mastery. Mastery feels like a micro-journey of self-discovery where your reward is more than the destination. As in life, it is in the journey where the true rewards manifest. In the toil, the learning, the figuring it out, you grow. You become a better version of yourself with each struggle you experience, learn from, and overcome.
What the perfectionist misses is an appreciation for the journey. The destination of perfection becomes an all or nothing proposition. You become so wrapped up in this unattainable outcome that you become blind to the blessings along the way. You become "me" focused, triggering the voice of "not good enough" when you inevitably fail to achieve perfection. This causes you stress, and shuts off access to the resources you do have, both within you and externally, to learn, grow, and deliver excellence.
Mastery invites you to meet yourself where you are and then asks, "What must I or we do to become excellent at this?" It also invites you to seek help from others so you may learn and grow, where the perfectionist likely does not see this as an option to move forward. To the perfectionist, not being able to figure it out on their own feels like failure. The perfectionist is more likely to operate from independence, wanting to be in control, where the person pursuing excellence and mastery is more willing to be vulnerable, thereby creating the space for interdependence with others on their journey.
What would be different for you if you reframed striving for perfection, to striving for excellence and mastery?
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