Excellence VS Perfection: 5 Basic Differences

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I have this “perfect” friend. He dresses immaculately, has a body that looks like it was chiseled by the gods and he is a superstar at work… but he’s also miserable. It’s painful to see, really. I mean, I don’t believe in perfection; but, my friend can’t live without it.  What he is striving for is not excellence, but rather perfection. And that is an unrealistic ideal and image he can’t possibly maintain. 

People have asked me what the difference is between excellence vs perfection. Many believe they are one in the same… that both will eventually lead to happiness. Well, I strive for excellence and typically succeed, which makes me happy; while my friend seems to be perfect on paper, but suffers for it emotionally and physically.

What Is Excellence?

Excellence is when you work hard at the things that matter to you. Excellence is a personal goal or act. It doesn’t matter to the world whether you are excellent or not. It’s something you decide. 

What Is Perfection? 

Perfection is when you try to fit some exterior idealized perception of what is the best in each situation. With perfectionism as your goal, your success is in the hands of others, and you set yourself up for failure. The milestones keep moving, so you never reach satisfaction.

I’ve noticed while on my personal quest for excellence that there are people, like my co-worker, who try to be perfect. The problem is that this sets the bar way too high, and you always end up falling short or failing. 

Perfectionists have blinkers on and don’t see the possibilities of life since they have already planned their “perfect” path. To them, there’s one way and one way only. While they may reach some measure of success, they are never satisfied with it because it’s not perfect. 

Someone who strives to be perfect loses touch with reality, becomes judgmental since they judge themselves so harshly, and demands a certain result and nothing else will satisfy them except that result. 

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Someone who strives to be perfect loses touch with reality.

Unlike the stoics who believed life is about duality and that we should accept the good with the bad, perfectionists won’t accept that sometimes things go wrong (and that it’s nobody’s fault). When a perfectionist fails (according to their goals), they blame the world and hold themselves accountable for the negative failure – instead of seeing it as an opportunity to learn. 

5 Basic Differences between Excellence and Perfectionism

There are a few basic differences that separate excellence and perfection. These differences can lead to happiness and personal satisfaction… but also run the risk of someone developing anxiety or unhappiness in life. If you notice these differences in your life, it’s time to start paying attention and create the life you will be most happy with

1. Straight Line Living

For those who chase perfectionism, there is only one way to get there. If any deviation happens, it leads to unhappiness and the feeling that they have failed. Life isn’t a straight line though, and sometimes we loop back over an event or lesson we need to learn. If you expect life to be linear and only follow a predetermined path, you will be disappointed. 

Life is organic, and it is filled with change. To succeed at this fluid game of life, we need to be flexible. Excellence is about being successful by adapting, pushing according to your abilities, ingenuity, and resources. When life takes a turn, you buckle up and weather the detour like a boss, because you know it’s not about being perfect—it’s about achieving success, by your standard. 

2. You View Failure as a Loss

Perfectionists have one Achilles heel—a deep and terrifying fear of failure. When you believe you should be perfect, failure is the absolute worst thing you can imagine. However, life is about failures and learning from them. Someone who strives for excellence knows that next time they can do better because they know better

Instead of seeing failure (such as not going to college) as negative, try seeing it as a positive, a guide to show you something you didn’t previously know. This is where excellence is born, in knowing how to move forward from failure. 

3. You’re so Defensive (You Want to Stop Reading)

If you are a passionate perfectionist, and perfection is your goal, you will probably have begun getting quite hot under the collar. You’ve thought up all sorts of reasons why any of what I’m saying is wrong. You’re ready to defend your view that perfection is the only way to do things because then things get done right, right? 

One aspect of perfection is that you’d rather argue than try to see an alternative viewpoint. Being defensive is not how we learn. Defensiveness is a form of fear, and it shows an unwillingness to embrace change and grow. 

Someone who strives for excellence knows that they aren’t always right, that they need to consider things, embrace different views, and grow to their full potential

4. You Can Only See the Destination 

When you are aiming for perfection, you’ve got your end goal all planned out. It needs to look, feel, taste, and smell exactly like you imagined, or it’s not perfect. However, there are many miles between the end goal and where you’re at. And, as I mentioned, it’s not a linear journey

Life is about the journey, not the destination—as some famous person said. Perfection will have you only look at the results instead of how you got there. What a huge loss of valuable information and discovery this is!

When you strive for excellence, you cherish the journey. It’s clear to you that it’s not about where you’re going but rather how you get there. 

5. You Criticize, Instead of Encouraging

When you are driven by perfection, you criticize. Whatever doesn’t look perfect to you has no value, including people. You end up judging people harshly, failing to show empathy and understanding. When things go wrong at work, you criticize other people (because you did everything perfectly, right?), make enemies, and lose friends. 

If excellence is what you hope for, then you understand that encouragement is much more valuable and carries more impact on life. Encourage someone and see how they rise to the plate, but criticize them and watch them strike out. 

Here’s a secret, though. If you chase perfection, you are equally harsh on yourself. You don’t tolerate ANY excuse for failure. Yet, you may have had a migraine when you attended the meeting you lost the tender bid at. It’s not your fault. But instead of learning, you criticize yourself, calling yourself stupid or lazy because you didn’t get the “golden success” you had envisioned. 

News flash: you’re human, you’re allowed to mess up as long as you learn from it, and that’s where excellence comes in. Fail, learn, fail, and learn better until success is reached

Final Thoughts on Excellence VS Perfectionism 

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to achieve perfection, but it can’t be a constant driving force in your life, or you will miss out on the whole point of living. Instead, striving for personal excellence is a much healthier way to live, and you will achieve better and more frequent success. 

Perfection is about catching the star that’s always out of reach – that goal that’s simply impossible to get to because you’re human. With a drive toward personal excellence, you will notice you are living among the stars and there’s success right within your grasp

Still, if this shift from perfection to excellence seems too difficult to you because your mind is totally fixed on this mage of “the perfect person” you’ve been conditioned to be… then perhaps you need to take a step back and reassess things. Check out our article containing motivational quotes and the benefits of the growth mindset to get started in a new direction.

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