Strive for excellence, don’t demand perfection

I used to believe that perfection was the goal in life. Everything had to be done just right with no room for error, no time for mistakes.

Maybe I’m getting older, or maybe just more experienced. I certainly have the gray hairs to prove it. Either way, one thing I’ve learned on my journey through life is the difference between excellence and perfection. While these two words seem so similar, they could not be more different. And understanding the difference between the two is critically important if we want to grow and move forward.

Excellence is achievable – perfection isn’t

Excellence is an attitude. When one chooses a life of excellence, one makes the choice to learn, to grow, and to get better every day. When seeking excellence, one embraces failure and learns from it. Mistakes are not used to demoralize and beat one’s self up. Mistakes are motivation to learn and get better for next time.

Perfection is an unattainable goal. No one is perfect. Everyone falls short and makes mistakes – celebrities, world leaders, our parents, even the Pope (see this video as an example, after which Pope Francis issued this apology, “Love makes us patient. So many times we lose patience, even me, and I apologize for yesterday’s bad example.”) Trying to live a life of perfection is an exercise in futility that leads to regular dissatisfaction with one’s performance, and, ultimately, being miserable and unhappy.

Excellence is a journey – perfection is a point in time

When one chooses excellence, one chooses to embark on a journey that will never end. We are always changing. None of us are the same person we were 10 years ago, 1 year ago, 1 week ago. We’ve even changed since yesterday. The people around us are always changing. Our circumstances are always changing. Our environment is always changing. As such, we are always learning. On the path to excellence, there is no end to learning and growth.

Perfection is a mythical destination. Perfection cannot be enjoyed because it is a moment in time. It is fleeting, here one moment, gone the next.

Learn and grow, and enjoy every single day

And therein lies the beauty of excellence. On the path of excellence, the journey is the reward. The goal is to learn and grow, and to enjoy every single day along the way.

I’ve found that the more time I spend on the path of excellence rather than seeking perfection, the more at ease I am with what happens day to day. I am more content. I am more accepting of myself and others. And best of all, I find myself enjoying each day more than the last.

(For a more in-depth reflection on the perils of perfectionism, check out this article – Why You Should Strive for Excellence, Not Perfection. It does a good job contrasting the benefits of setting high standards, i.e. excellence, versus perfection and its negative side effects.)