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Perfectionism Versus Excellence

One of the great impediments to personal growth and leadership is perfectionism. Perfectionism is an extreme, obsessive dependence on always having to be perfect to see ourselves as worthy and valuable. Perfectionism causes us to cross the line and become dependent upon it.

Perfection versus excellence

Perfectionism manifests itself in two different types of unhealthy behaviors. On the one hand, it can cause us to avoid taking healthy risks, so necessary in personal growth. We can develop such a fear of failure that we act out our fear in avoidance, procrastination, isolation, enabling, numbing and negative attitudes. We are afraid to take healthy risks, because to do so jeopardizes being perfect.

The other behaviors are equally destructive and are exhibited through blaming, excuses and rationalization. While we may be willing to take healthy risks, we view failure as the fault of someone or something else, or we deny there even was a failure. This causes us to see ourselves as having 0% responsibility for failures, and thus miss any opportunity for learning and growth. This mindset wastes tremendous mental and emotional energy and is an exhausting way to live.

Excellence does just the opposite; it leaves room for growth. Excellence is a commitment to bring my best in every area of life, knowing in advance I am going to occasionally miss the mark. Whereas perfectionism is driven by fear and an attitude of self-protection, excellence is driven by humility and a mindset of personal growth.

A commitment to excellence is freeing because it allows me to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone without fear of what other people might think. It frees me to focus on progress, not perfection.

What is more, excellence for me today is mediocrity for me tomorrow. That is a good thing and part of what makes excellence so liberating. It frees me to measure myself by what is possible for me instead of measuring myself by other people or some arbitrary standard. This is why a mindset of excellence is the catalyst for continuous learning. This is where real growth takes place.

How can we be free of perfectionism? It begins by embracing excellence and accepting failure as a normal part of personal growth. Here are a few tips to make progress:

  • Accept that you are not perfect, and that is okay.

  • Focus on progress, not perfection.

  • Embrace excellence in every area of life.

  • Seek to take healthy risks and frame them as opportunities to grow.

  • Take 100% Responsibility when you fall short.

  • Learn from your shortcomings and take another risk.


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