The difference between perfectionism and the pursuit of excellence is confusing and ambiguous.
Both are characterised by:
- Striving to improve and get better
- Setting a high-performance standard for oneself
- Critical self-evaluation of areas for improvement and growth
At what point, therefore, does a healthy pursuit of excellence become a drive for perfectionism?
Brene Brown in Dare to Lead wonderfully captures the distinction:
Perfectionism is NOT striving for excellence, or about self-improvement. It’s about trying to earn approval.
Brene goes on to share a simple, yet incredibly powerful frame to distinguish perfectionism and excellence:
Healthy striving is self-focused, “How can I improve?”
While perfectionism is other-focused. “What will people think?”
It’s a hustle. The belief that if I look and do everything perfectly, I will avoid and minimise the painful feelings of blame, judgement, and shame.
I love the simplicity of this distinction as a tool for reflection as to whether I am truly pursuing excellence (which I would like to believe), or whether my behaviour is a result of a lack of self-worth as I try to avoid shame, judgement, or feeling insignificant.
When I’m pushing myself to improve and get better, I’ve started reflecting if I’m being driven by what other people will think.
It’s been a fantastic way to identify where my ego is hustling me and where I need to do some deeper reflections about how I feel about myself.