On the surface, Excellence and Perfection seem to be the same word with some slight verbal gymnastics going on. The point of this Blog post is to emphasize the VERY important differences between these two words. In short, it comes down to MINDSET. Often, when we think Excellence, we think of a goal that we are striving towards and doing our best. On the contrary, when we think Perfection, we also think, “no mistakes; without error; don’t mess up.” Psychologists tell us that we embody our most dominant thoughts. Therefore, when we are thinking “don’t mess up” than we are more likely to actually mess up than if we are thinking “score this goal.” Negative self-talk and thought patterns lead to negative results.
When we have the mental attitude (mindset) of striving for a goal and putting forth our best effort without the fear of failure, than we are more likely to perform to our potential and succeed. This is Excellence! Striving for Excellence (not Perfection) is a key ingredient of GRIT. Gritty students and athletes are not so concerned about making mistakes (since they prefer learning and challenge over results), but focused, motivated and determined to get the positive result through their best performance possible. Even when a gritty person striving for excellence comes up short, they have learned and improved more than the perfectionist in the process.
Our “Family Mission” statement talks about being a family that Works Hard. In describing this virtue, we emphasize the importance of effort and learning over results. We also do what we can to encourage grit (determination, passion, courage). I think this mindset can be instilled at a very young age – and at the same time, I am still trying to embrace it. I understand how I can have a poor soccer game with very few mistakes and a good game with a lot of mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable in soccer and if I’m not making them than I am not being courageous or taking any risks (which is not good).
One small way you can apply this with your children is to celebrate the effort and not the results. For example, praise the 85% on the spelling test that they got after studying all night. Challenge your child to be courageous and play at a higher level when they are the best player on the team. Cheer on the virtues, effort, learning, grit and mindset that got the results (not just the results). This helps children strive for Excellence through the best means possible and not get caught up seeking Perfection.
Read below what Forbes contributor Margaret M. Perlis has to say:
Excellence vs. Perfection
“In general, gritty people don’t seek perfection, but instead strive for excellence. It may seem that these two have only subtle semantic distinctions; but in fact they are quite at odds. Perfection is excellence’s somewhat pernicious cousin. It is pedantic, binary, unforgiving and inflexible. Certainly there are times when “perfection” is necessary to establish standards, like in performance athletics such as diving and gymnastics. But in general, perfection is someone else’s perception of an ideal, and pursuing it is like chasing a hallucination. Anxiety, low self-esteem, obsessive compulsive disorder, substance abuse, and clinical depression are only a few of the conditions ascribed to “perfectionism.” To be clear, those are ominous barriers to success.
Excellence is an attitude, not an endgame. The word excellence is derived from the Greek word Arete which is bound with the notion of fulfillment of purpose or function and is closely associated with virtue. It is far more forgiving, allowing and embracing failure and vulnerability on the ongoing quest for improvement. It allows for disappointment, and prioritizes progress over perfection. Like excellence, grit is an attitude about, to paraphrase Tennyson…seeking, striving, finding, and never yielding.
Are there any others you’d add? By definition, passion is critical, but what role do you think it plays? I am sure that Duckworth will continue to explore and share the distinctions in the years to come, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.” – Margaret M. Perlis at Forbes.com
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