In our increasingly competitive world, perfectionism is on the rise. At a time when winning creates so much social value and attention, the desire to attain perfection is a natural consequence. Perfection, by definition, requires a hyper-focus on eliminating mistakes and errors. To compete without flaws is perceived as a means to ensure victory.
But it is well-documented that the pursuit of perfection can get in the way of achievement. The desire to be perfect can delay work, increase pressure and stress, and encourage those who seek it to avoid situations where they might fail. Because perfection takes dead aim at successful outcomes, disappointment is commonplace and confidence suffers as a result.
The alternative to perfectionism is to strive for excellence. If perfection is an obstacle course, excellence is a masterful dance. The pathway toward excellence focuses on learning and process over mistakes and outcomes. The pursuit of excellence presumes errors and missteps will happen in the course of getting better. As opposed to victory, excellence holds improvement as the sole judge of achievement.
When we pursue excellence, we commit to reaching our full potential through creative effort, intelligent execution, and risk-taking. Playing it safe to avoid mistakes never enters the mind, as every error is a teaching moment full of possibility. In the imperfection of seeking excellence, we learn how to learn. The best among us reject the demands of perfection and replace them with the pursuit of excellence. As Durant’s paraphrase of Aristotle reminds us, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”