Perfection or Excellence?

Juliette Smith Advice, Business, Guilt, Individuals, Perfectionism Leave a Comment

Hands up if you’re a perfectionist. I am – or rather – I used to be.

I used to think my need for perfection came from my father. There are only a few professions where anything less than perfection is completely unacceptable. Pilots and Air Traffic Controllers for example, don’t have a lot of room for error in their work.  Dad enjoyed both professions!

However, I can’t really blame Dad for my perfectionism.  Although I remember him saying “I can’t make mistakes”, I also remember him saying “I will be proud of you, as long as you do your best”. He never actually asked me to be perfect. I’m the only one who’s ever done that and although, for the most part, I’ve mastered that constraining facet of my personality, occasionally it does re-emerge.

I noticed three mistakes in my newsletter last month after it had gone out. Shock, horror – my initial reaction was to feel mortified. I had failed to be perfect.

Our need to be perfect is connected to how we want others to see us – we want to be liked, respected, valued, loved…..the list goes on. However, rather than assume people will judge me by the mistakes I make, I have learned to assume they will see the good in what I do instead. This doesn’t mean no-one will be judging me (or my newsletter!). If they are, that’s their business. Worrying about it won’t help.

Isn’t being ok with a lack of perfection settling for mediocrity?

I’ve always been driven to achieve, however I now strive for excellence rather than perfection – not just in the results I aim for but in who I want to be en route to achieving them. By focusing on improving and making the most of the journey, I have gone on to achieve not only many of the goals I’ve striven for, but also things I had never even dreamed of. That’s been the prize for having the perfectionism and managing it rather than having it control me.

Perfectionism is often the cause of procrastination and even stagnation. So many people are afraid to make a change in their life for fear of failure and so do nothing different. They become comfortable in their discomfort. Do you want that to be true of you in 2015? I certainly don’t.

Once you risk failure and take a step forward, you give yourself an opportunity. Ask Kath Grainger whether she would agree it was worth risking failure when she decided to continue towards her dream of an Olympic gold medal in London. The key is to learn from mistakes not dwell on them. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” said Edison who, among other things, invented the electric light bulb.

These musings helped make my initial reaction to the imperfect newsletter a distant memory. My preferred stance (and generally one I take more readily these days) is that I’m not settling for mediocrity but I am striving for excellence. In doing so, I stick my head above the parapet, take risks, sometimes make mistakes and, dare I say it, fail occasionally.

Everything is an opportunity for growth

I see everything I do as an opportunity for learning and growth – whether it’s about the task at hand or my own personal development.

One of the typos in the newsletter was in a piece about a recent event we’d organised.  As I lamented this error with a colleague, she reminded me how successful the event had been. Who would remember the details of an article in a newsletter when they have their experience of a great occasion to remember? A good point for me to remember in the future. I’m probably more focused on my mistakes than anyone else.

Now, although I can smile at (most of!) my mistakes, I do still have that initial gut reaction – ouch – and moment of self-judgement when I realise what I’ve done, but it doesn’t last long. I see if it’s possible to correct my errors (and if necessary, apologise) and then just remind myself that at least I took action and had the courage to risk failure.

Most importantly I ask myself if I’ve done my best. For the most part the answer is yes.

Thanks Dad for your words of wisdom.

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