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How to Be Better Than Perfect: Perfectionism vs Pursuing Excellence

Perfectionism is on the rise among young adults but in the words of Voltaire, you can’t have the enemy of good in a position of power, so move aside Perfectionism, there’s a new Sheriff in town: Excellence.

Here’s the situation:  You have a project due and it’s going to be the best piece of work that’s ever been created. Mistakes? Not welcome. Faux pas? No merci. Errors? 404 not found. Your output is going to be impeccable…when you can finally force yourself to get started.

If this sounds familiar to you, then welcome to the Perfectionists Club!

Procrastination is just one of the many traits of Perfectionism that will hold you back from reaching your full potential, which is why we would like to formally introduce you to Perfectionism’s imperturbably tranquil and happy-go-lucky distant cousin, Excellence.

At first glance, Excellence and Perfectionism may seem quite similar, but they are fundamentally different mindsets. Let’s delve a little deeper into the differences between the two before we talk about how you can incorporate the pursuit of Excellence into your life so you can reach your greatest potential, get your work projects in on time and leave self-criticism in the dust.

What is Perfectionism?

The definition of Perfectionism is in its’ name – it’s the desire to be (or at least appear to be) perfect, and it’s all about reaching the end goal without making any mistakes. Whether you believe you are a Perfectionist or not, you will likely have some perfectionistic tendencies. Social pressure, social media and increasingly competitive work and college environments make it hard to avoid.

Perfectionists have high standards, and there is nothing wrong with that! For some people, having high standards motivates them to reach their peak performance, but there are some key differences between being a high-achiever and being a Perfectionist.

Focusing on the end goal

Perfectionists focus on the results, not the process, and do not see the value in the learning and growth that happens along the way.

Setting unrealistic standards

Perfectionism involves setting impossibly high standards which no matter how hard you push, you just won’t be able to achieve, because ‘perfect’ doesn’t exist.

Motivated by fear

Perfectionists see the fear of failure as a reason to reach their goals, instead of being driven by the desire to achieve them.

Prone to procrastination

As incongruous as it may seem, Perfectionists are prone to delaying – or not even starting a project at all – because they are worried about doing things imperfectly.

Being highly critical

Perfectionists have zero compassion for mistakes and can spot errors (both real and imagined) from a mile off.

Being defensive

Perfectionists are afraid of making mistakes and appearing imperfect, so they often respond to constructive criticism defensively instead of recognizing the value it may hold.

It’s challenging being a Perfectionist because you are constantly aiming for something that is simply not achievable – at least not without sacrificing your mental health and self-esteem. This futile fight for flawlessness has been linked to negative effects such as stress, anxiety, burnout and depression. But fear not! If you think you are a struggling Perfectionist, there is a healthy alternative…

What is Excellence?

While Perfectionism torments you and leads you astray, Excellence is here to cheer you on and keep you on track! Pursuing Excellence still means having high standards, but a single definitive goal is replaced with continuous improvement and forward momentum that will help you to be progressively excellent. It is a process-focused mindset that ensures you are always trying to do the right thing to be better, and if you slip up along the way? That’s okay! Mistakes are an essential part of growth.  

So, what does striving for Excellence look like?

Focusing on the process

Someone who is pursuing Excellence is focused on the work that goes into achieving an objective rather than just the outcome.

Setting achievable goals

Excellence is about setting challenging but realistic targets to achieve the task at hand and knowing that it’s okay to adjust your goals to suit your strengths.

Motivated by the desire to be better

Someone who strives for Excellence values self-improvement over achievement, and understands their efforts are separate from whether they achieve their goal or not.

Accepting mistakes

The pursuit of Excellence facilitates compassion for mistakes and sees them as opportunities for growth and improvement.  

Accepting criticism and advice

Someone who pursues Excellence welcomes constructive criticism as a means of becoming more excellent, leaving their self-esteem unharmed.

If you adopt the pursuit of Excellence as a mindset you can wave goodbye to self-criticism and say hello to self-satisfaction. Excellence is about striving to be the best you can be, knowing when good enough is good enough, and understanding that mistakes happen.

How to Start Pursuing Excellence

If you are a Perfectionist by default, then pursuing Excellence may not come naturally to you, but you can practice incorporating it into your life with 3 simple steps.

  1. Choose an upcoming task or activity that would usually send you into Perfectionism overdrive, like a big presentation for work.
  2. Next, make a list of everything that needs to happen for this project to come out perfectly, such as having 4 slides for each segment of the presentation, creating and including infographics for each of those segments, remembering all your talking points by heart, or making sure the presentation lasts at least 8 minutes.
  3. Now, out of this list, pick a few of these areas to let go of or be more flexible on. How about 3 slides instead of 4, and maybe only include a couple of infographics? We know this goes against instinct but just try it and see how you feel!

Setting and achieving these sorts of attainable goals will help you to embrace your limits, reap the rewards of accomplishment and you will enjoy the process infinitely more. Continue to practice these steps across different areas of your life and get comfortable with gradual improvement and continuous learning over time.

The best thing about pursuing Excellence is that there is no limit to what you can achieve, and that’s how to be better than perfect.  

Additional Resources

  • Create a winning resume that will pass applicant tracking systems and showcase your value as a future employee using our resume tips.
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