Perfection vs. Excellence

Health & Wellness

Image by Jimmy Marble via @jimmymarble

In many ways, Wit & Delight is a public diary. Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time reading the wellness pieces I’ve written over the years, and I’ll be the first to admit that some have aged better than others. I remember writing a couple of pieces, mainly the ones where I felt as if I was making sweeping statements about the way life “is,” knowing in the back of my mind that any kind of broad, black and white statement is most often misguided. It’s a way we try to find some kind of peace in a world that is very, very gray.

The post I’m sharing below, “It’s OK to Not Have Your Shit Together,” was written when I started my journey to reframe my thinking around achieving perfection. In many ways, I still subscribe by this mindset, especially as I’ve come to understand where perfectionism is just about idealization and control. What I’ve learned over the past couple of years is that working toward a perfect outcome often gets confused with excellence.

When we strive for perfection, our standards continue to stay just out of reach, even when we’ve achieved our original goal. When you pursue excellence, you get the feeling of accomplishment and confidence that compounds on itself and gives you a boost of energy to move on to the next thing.

See how they are different?

Here are a few examples:

Perfection: The result is elusive, requires work to maintain, or continues to shift out of reach. It requires more work with no payoff. You often feel let down, a sense of shame, or a sense of defeat when you accomplish the original goal. It creates a sense of tension, pointing toward where you fell short, and leaves you looking for where you went wrong.

Excellence: The result is clear and achievable. You feel a sense of accomplishment. That feeling creates confidence and energy to keep improving. It creates momentum, pointing toward the next actionable step, and leaves you looking for where you can improve.

This realization couldn’t have come without breaking up with the idea of always being put together. In the chaos that arises from embracing my tendency to be a bit of a tornado—constantly losing things and making mistakes hourly—I’ve come to learn perfection is something I do for others, and excellence is something I do for myself.

In the chaos that arises from embracing my tendency to be a bit of a tornado—constantly losing things and making mistakes hourly—I’ve come to learn perfection is something I do for others, and excellence is something I do for myself.

I hope you enjoy the essay and it can bring some kind of movement in your journey toward breaking up with perfectionism.


There have been a series of small (and medium-sized) mishaps and mistakes on my part over the past few days. Dropping the ball on social engagements, misplacing my keys multiple times in one day, a lost iWatch, one Nike shoe gone rogue, a forgotten suitcase, a misplaced prescription refill. I can rationalize why it’s happening: I’m working more, I’m traveling more, I’m sleeping less, and we’ve been living remotely for the past 75 days. Even so, I’m enjoying my work, I truly don’t mind the travel, I don’t necessarily feel tired, we have a great living situation with my in-laws, and a drama-free general contractor.

And yet, there are warning signs.

Lately, those small mistakes feel like little stones pelting my sense of self-worth. The littlest misstep is followed by a swift conclusion that if I don’t have my shit together, I will never accomplish any of my goals. My small successes? Just dumb luck. It’s not rational, but man it feels so true when I forget to drop off the mortgage check for the third day in a row.

Last weekend, Joe and I stopped at the house to show our friends the renovation progress. As we were locking up, I couldn’t find my purse. It took a good five minutes of looking in the same place twice, only to find it was sitting on top of a stack of empty boxes, right in plain sight. Joe was sitting in the car waiting for me, and as I walked toward him I felt ashamed that I couldn’t find my purse…yet again. I wasn’t afraid of his reaction, I was afraid of being a burden. I got into the car and apologized for being so disorganized, so all over the place, for being a burden. All over a stupid PURSE.

He turned to me, unfazed and said, “I really don’t mind when you’re like this. It makes you human.” At that moment, I realized I was actively trying to hide parts of myself from the person I love most.

Sometimes we let our egos drive interactions with others. In projecting the best versions of ourselves, we think people will see us as we desire. I think that’s a reason it’s so hard to see ourselves clearly, and it’s so easy for us to see others for the traits they don’t see in themselves.

Sometimes we let our egos drive interactions with others. In projecting the best versions of ourselves, we think people will see us as we desire. I think that’s a reason it’s so hard to see ourselves clearly, and it’s so easy for us to see others for the traits they don’t see in themselves.

So, I’m going to not try so desperately to act like I have my shit together.

When I misplace my hotel key tomorrow (a likely scenario), I’m not going to stress about it. I will acknowledge these things are harder for me (a person with anxiety and ADHD), and recognize that even after all the reading and the therapy, I have to fight my own internal shame and stigma associated with the disability. I’m not going to apologize for who I am, and instead, let people get to know the side of me I wrestle with the most. Because as hard as I try to get my shit together, I am who I am: a scatterbrained but well-intentioned grown-ass woman. And that’s enough to do all the things I want to do in my lifetime.

BY Kate Arends - September 10, 2019

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  1. Perfection vs. Excellence – Business Blog

    September 10th, 2019 at 2:11 pm

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