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Pursuing Excellence versus Perfection

[June 9, 2021] by Kathy Scott, PhD, and Bridget Sarikas

We all want to do a great job and be viewed favorably, personally and professionally. Too often, however, we let perfectionism get in the way of achieving excellence and our true potential. This is a topic worth exploring because of the crippling effect the pursuit of perfectionism can have on us.

Our Potential is Not Fixed

We each have many yet-unrealized qualities or abilities that we are capable of developing over time. These can lead to future success or usefulness. These unrealized assets are our potential, and no matter our age, background, genetics, or experiences, we all have it. Our potential cannot be known at any one point in time, nor is it fixed. Rather, our potential is developed through effort, help from others, and more effort over the days and years. In other words – we are a work-in-progress!

The Invisible Pressure of Perfection

Now let’s look at perfectionism. Perfectionism is a mindset, or set of beliefs, that results in striving for the appearance of flawlessness in our actions, physical appearance, and/or performance. It is a mindset that has destructive forms expressed in high personal standards that are accompanied by a disparity between the real and the ideal. An individual strives for perfection to relieve their feelings of inadequacy – feeling they are not enough, they are deficient.

Perfectionism is an effort to live up to someone else’s standard, adopting it as our own, sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly. Sound familiar? The unintended effect from living out of this mindset is to stifle our own creativity and learning – our potential. When we have an outward focus that is looking for validation from others in every moment, look or comment, we are living out of our fear. Ugh! Too often what we’re really trying to prove when we do this is that we’re more special, superior, or endowed than the next person. It’s a comparative approach with a goal of being seen as better or more valuable than others. Quite frankly – this pursuit of perfection is exhausting and destructive to our well-being.

Consider the perfectionist mindset and its impact on your daily health and future potential:

  • Are you all caught up in proving yourself?

  • Do you define your success as succeeding in other’s eyes?

  • Do you fear exposing your deficiencies?

  • Do you surround yourself with people who bolster your ego rather than challenge you to grow and improve?

Be certain that when you act out of this mindset, you are giving away your power and potential to others. This is not healthy living. It’s time to take back that power and pursue another way!

Pursuing Excellence

Pursuing excellence is letting go of the perfectionist mindset and replacing it with new beliefs that see success as stretching, accepting challenges, putting effort into developing new skills, knowing that learning includes setback and recalibrations along the way. Pursuing excellence is not a project of inflated pride. It is a process of learning, overcoming, confronting short comings and getting better -- with determination.

How many times have you not tried to do something meaningful or important because you feared you would try and fail? Reaching our full potential requires effort regardless of the degree of talent, gifts, smarts, or abilities we have. Our efforts ignite our talent and abilities. And yes, there will be setbacks and failures along the way, as this is all part of the learning and stretching process. When this happens, it’s time to learn what we can from the experience and keep on going. Having an “aha moment?” We hope so!

Invest in Healthy Choices

It is so tempting to try to create a world in which we appear to have it all together, hiding our inadequacies. Just check the ubiquitous social media profiles to see this in spades. It is not uncommon to feel seduced by the invisible pressure of personal and professional perfection and allow ourselves to present as an expression of someone else’s expectations. This leaves us feeling like an imposter – empty, guilty, not enough. So resist the urge!!

It’s time to give up pursuing the appearance of perfection and replace this approach with the pursuit of excellence – taking on new challenges, stretching, exploring, learning, asking more questions, getting help, building our strengths, persevering. It’s time to invest our energy into healthy choices that boost our potential. We’re worth it!

Titter Time:

I am not perfect, but I am a limited edition.” ~ Author Unknown

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