Excellence vs. Perfectionism

Posted: January 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

I come from a family of people who pursue excellence. I guess it is in my DNA, which is why I’m so passionate about it. My dad instilled this value into me from birth. People used to misunderstand his pursuit of excellence and think he was a perfectionist because he was constantly asking for higher quality. One of his favorite things to say was, “We have the technology.” In other words, “Yes we can. Nothing stands in our way.” His father was also a tireless pursuer of excellence, but in very different ways. He was a preacher who used no notes when he preached and dressed perfectly except for his tie, which was just a tad eschew. He did this purposefully. It was an expression of his belief that things are much more beautiful when they are slightly flawed; that flaws are not our enemy. Maybe it was his small artistic way of preaching a beautiful gospel of mercy and grace. Even my great great grandfather who came over from Italy was a pursuer of excellence. His pursuit led him to invent the paint to create colored light bulbs at the Sylvania light bulb company where he worked.

Now there are those of us who want to be excellent, but struggle on the side of perfectionism that really keeps us from excellence. If I was still a perfectionist, I’d never be writing this blog. What if I made a mistake or said something wrong? That would be catastrophic to a perfectionist. However, there was a time when I had major perfectionistic tendencies, as so many firstborns do. At the zenith of my perfectionism, I was a full blown anorexic and didn’t even realize it. Thank God, I was able to gain freedom from this tyrant called, “perfectionism.”

It was Dr. Kevin Leman in his Birth Order Book and Rory Noland in his Heart of the Artist book, who first articulated for me the concept of excellence vs. perfectionism. Here are some thoughts I have put together in a cohesive chart. See if you can recognize yourself in this.

Excellence vs. Perfectionism Chart

Leman talks about “frustrated perfectionists.” They cannot have everything perfect, so they let everything go. They look far from perfectionistic, but inside, they are longing for something so much better. They reason, “If I can’t be perfect, why even try?” If I am not the most amazing in my field, what good is my contribution?

The ironic thing about a perfectionistic attitude is that it is self-sabotaging. With a perfectionistic attitude, your gifts are stunted because it paralyzes you so that you cannot move forward in growth. You see, mistakes must be made in order for growth to happen. If you are not patient with yourself in making natural mistakes, you will never grow or move past your mistakes. You will find that the people who achieve the most do not have a perfectionistic attitude, though others may perceive them as such. Those who are not Pursuers of Excellence or Perfectionists are often slaves to mediocrity. I don’t know anyone who knowingly celebrates mediocrity except for humorists on TV and despair.com. Mediocrity is funny, except when it happens to you. We can fail in our pursuit of excellence. That is part of the process. But when we know it is in our power to improve and we choose laziness– that is mediocrity. I hope you are not in the rut of full blown mediocrity. Probably not likely if you are reading this post. More likely you are dealing with seeds of perfectionism. You want to be excellent, but your behaviors are sending you reeling into a sea of mediocrity… the last place you want to be. I hope this post helps you see where you are getting tripped up on your road of excellence.

Where do you find yourself struggling with seeds of perfectionism?

  1. I struggle with perfectionism in many areas, and I’m learning to let go. I have portfolios full of artwork I never thought ‘done’ enough to frame or sell or show. I recently entered a drawing into an art show, even though I saw areas I still wanted to work on. But I had to get it in by the deadline, and in the past my perfectionism would have made me miss the show. I did it. It is not mediocre, but it is not perfect either. I can accept excellent in exchange for perfect. Great post!

  2. […] Posts & Pages The Elusive Will of GodExcellence vs. Perfectionism Topical […]

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