In one of the previous posts, we looked at the meaning of perfection and how this is detrimental to us. Following this post, I had a lot of feedback. And some of the questions were indeed very relevant. One reader asked me, if we do not want to be perfect, we will never get good at what we do. Therefore, how can not wanting to be perfect, go hand in hand with self-improvement? Brilliant question.
This is where we need to begin to realize the difference between perfection and excellence. Perfection, as we saw in the other post, comes about because we do not want to accept flaws within ourselves. The strive for being ‘perfect’ comes from non-acceptance, from fear, from the inability to see ourselves and external people, events and things as they are. We want things to be the way we see fit. Our framework is what matters. This is a sure shot path to frustration, irritation and full blown anger.
Excellence on the other hand, comes from a space of acceptance. We certainly want to get better. But we want to get better at a skill because we are naturally inclined towards it. We do not feel insecure in who we are. We simply recognize that our effort or the output could be much better and therefore we strive to get better at it. In excellence one compares with oneself. The need to get better is rooted in joy and not in shame. We want to get excellent at our skill because we feel a natural pull towards deeping ourselves and learning from others to sharpen ourselves. This is why people who strive for excellence are not people pleasers unlike perfectionists. They have themselves for comparison.
A good way to see whether you are a perfectionist or a person striving for excellence is in how you handle failure. Perfectionists usually take one of the three approaches: 1) frustration and anger at others who ‘failed them’ or at themselves, 2) sadness and depression for the failure or for people around us letting us down or 3) escapism by laughing it off or by suddenly jumping onto another project without talking about it or dwelling too much on the failure. All these three responses lack maturity and show that the perfectionist is someone who cannot accept failure.
A person striving for excellence handles failure in a much more mature way. This person bases one’s life on growth and not achievement. Therefore, failure is really a stepping stone to success. In fact, they see setbacks as an opportunity to learn and grow. This is because they do not fear other people’s comments or criticisms. They are firmly rooted in their own conviction. The conviction that everybody is imperfect and everybody is here to grow and learn. People of excellence are stoic about failure. They evaluate why they went wrong and come back with greater force to tackle it.
How can we begin to move towards excellence? Simple – acceptance. Take stock of your positive and negative qualities. I usually like to list it on a piece of paper. Then, understand where you need to go. What are your goals? Even if they are short-term. For instance, let’s say you want to improve your cooking skills. Then, take one dish, let’s say baking cookies. Bake once with the mindset of embarking on an experiment. Enjoy the process and genuinely take stock of the results. Many of us get so frustrated if the cookies don’t turn up well. Maturity is in facing this ‘failure’ and trying to ascertain why the cookies did not turn out well. Creating these feedback loops, help us improve the next time around. This leads to confidence. Once we know that we are okay, despite our failures, then we begin to get established in ourselves. We begin to enjoy the process of learning. We begin to base our life on growth as opposed to achievement. Again, because the process of learning is so much fun, all external comparisons drop off. This is the path of excellence.