Are You a Perfectionist or Are You Simply Pursuing Excellence?

Have you ever been called a “perfectionist” and felt judged by others? Do you strive to do your best at everything you do—even when that requires extra work and dedication? Do you work in a field where perfectionism is encouraged or a must? These are good questions to ask yourself because they help you reflect on your personality, the type of work you do, and the environment you work in.

I have been called a “perfectionist” before because I strive to perform and produce results to the best of my ability in every area of my life. Having the “Maximizer” as my top strength on the StrengthsFinder Assessment, makes me a great candidate to tend to be a perfectionist. But I’m not. I simply strive for excellence. Maximizers, according to the StrengthsFinder Guide, “focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.”

In an effort to clarify and understand the difference between the terms better, I looked up both words in the dictionary, and here is what I found. Perfectionism: a personal standard, attitude, or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything else. Excellence: the fact of state of excelling, superiority, eminence. To excel (verb): to surpass others or be superior in some respect or area, do extremely well, to surpass, be superior to, to outdo.

The key words to watch for perfectionism are “demands perfection and rejects anything else.” In real life, nothing is perfect so struggling for perfection can be frustrating and exhausting. Having said that, there are certain functions that must be performed perfectly. Otherwise, there may be catastrophic results. For example, whenever you fly in an airplane, you may expect everything to be perfect with the plane before your airplane takes off. Otherwise, that may be your last flight. If you’re having an open-heart surgery or brain surgery, you would want—and even demand—perfectionism. You would expect the surgeon to do a perfect job on you. Otherwise, again, this may be your last trip to the hospital. Similarly, we all expect NASA to inspect their space ships and ensure everything is perfect before they launch astronauts into space. Otherwise, we have all seen the results from several trips gone catastrophic. In all cases, lives are at stake here.

The key words to watch for excellence are “to surpass, be superior to, and to outdo.” In times when every company wants to “outdo” their competition in the areas of customer service and the quality of their products, the pursuit of excellence is a must. An example of pursuing excellence is when preparing the company’s books. They must be done with excellence and strive for perfection to ensure everything is accounted for and that all stakeholders know the financial status of an organization—whether it’s public or private, for-profit or nonprofit. I used to tell my employees, both at the nonprofit and the bank where I oversaw Accounting and Finance, that “accounting is not approximate… the books need to be balanced to the penny.” In this example, there may still be errors that are found later but they can be fixed, and they would have been unintentional. Most of the time, when you pursue excellence, the books would turn out correct.

I encourage you to not be too worried about making things perfect and also don’t worry about what others say about you. Very few things need to be perfect. On the other hand, I encourage you to always pursue excellence. Be the best you can be and do your best at everything you set out to do. You will see the difference in your results—both in your business as well as your personal life. Leaders are not perfect but should strive for excellence. Let's remember God is the only one who is perfect and makes perfect things...