August 19th, 2012 at 8:12 am (Psychology)
As someone subject to perfectionist tendencies, I enjoyed reading this article on Excellence vs. Perfection. The former is defined by its focus on process, while the latter focuses on results.
While the article highlights perfectionism’s negative impact on self-esteem, I couldn’t help also noticing that the excellence-focused path just seemed a lot less stressful.
“The pursuer of excellence sets realistic but challenging goals that are clear and specific whereas the perfectionist set unreasonable demands or expectations.”
This goes beyond just setting realistic goals for a single task — but also to time management and prioritization: how many tasks can you realistically accept? If you are constantly striving to do or complete more than you realistically can, and unsatisfied until they are all done “properly”, are you setting yourself up for unremitting stress and, ultimately, burnout?
“The pursuer of excellence would examine the situation and make decisions about what is most important to do, where they can set limits by saying “no,” and when they can delegate.”
An excellence-seeker can accept criticism and suggestions, since they aid in the process of improvement. A perfectionist instead sees them as challenges or reminders that they have not reached their goal.
The article also encourages us to slow down and to be patient in our pursuit of excellence.
“The pursuer of excellence finds enjoyment and satisfaction in the pursuit of goals whereas the perfectionist is usually unhappy or dissatisfied. When goals or risks are challenging and achievable and are not attached to the self-concept they can be fun to pursue.”
Overall, this was a welcome perspective. I’m already predisposed to value the process of learning or acquiring skills over the end result. (So far this has worked quite well with my violin practicing, possibly because I’m not aiming for any kind of recital or skill level but instead simply to improve over time.) But it’s easy to get sidetracked by evaluations and grades in a school setting, or deliverables and publications at work. Here then is a nice reminder!