Excellence vs. Perfection
Where to draw the line for yourself between ‘excellence’ and ‘perfection,’ is a delicate topic for missionaries. All of you are striving to improve both your worthiness and personal growth and I do not want to accidently lower the bar for excellence. After all, Christ commanded us, “Be ye therefore perfect…” I have seen missionaries on both sides of the spectrum; mediocre efforts to improve or become so set on perfection that it is debilitating. I hope this article assists you to avoid perfectionism but embrace striving for excellence in your pursuit for growth and worthiness.
Our business model at Sunrise was very simple, we were a ‘Business centered Practice.’ The first priority for our existence was, “1 – Business,” meaning we did all in our power to operate profitably. We used honest and the best business management practices to administer our operation while producing deliverables, doing business development and doing employee development. The second priority for our existence was, “2 – our Practice,” meaning we were pure engineers or other technical specialists who loved our professions and did our work for the pure joy in our profession. It may be in their DNA, but many engineers are perfectionists when it comes to what they produce.
This set of priorities created remarkable business stability. If we did not follow our 1st priority, we were not profitable, we would eventually go out of business and then could not do our chosen professions that brought us so much satisfaction. If our Practice was our 1st priority, the pure desire to produce a perfect engineering product would govern regardless of how much money we lose. If we were a Business centered Business we would probably go make widgets and stop engineering when some widget fad paid more than engineering.
Occasionally our business model would not be followed on specific projects because engineers are generally passionate about making the perfect study, report, engineered set of drawings, contract documents, etc. (deliverables). Costs could be going out the roof while the engineer was still changing and improving his perfect deliverable. On a fixed fee contract this was devastating. When this happened, we realized our priorities were reversed and, as soon as practical, we would say, “What we have done is good enough.” This brought up the age old argument over excellence and perfection. We had done our best, the product was excellent but admittedly not perfect. At the same time, the client did not contract with us to produce a perfect deliverable. In the engineering business, perfectionism is disastrous but striving for excellence is essential to produce great deliverables and ultimately our survival.
I have observed that when missionaries either demand perfection of themselves or only make mediocre effort; they run into serious trouble. Missionaries who strive for excellence grow and improve.
Excellence is a quality of performance that surpasses ordinary standards. It is a moving target that is continuously pursued. It is simply doing your best and letting that be good enough while you move on to your next challenge. Consider the following quotes regarding excellence:
“Mediocrity will never do. You are capable of something better.” ― Gordon B. Hinckley
“I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep on doing so until the end.” ― Abraham Lincoln
Perfectionism, on the other hand, is destructive. Luckily, it is a learned behavior, meaning you can learn a different behavior. It involves your striving for flawlessness, striving to attain excessively high performance standards, you are overly critical with self-evaluations and you fear negative evaluations of others. Perfectionists are often depressed because you do not reach your self-imposed, impossible goals. You actually achieve less. If you do reach a goal, you immediately think it must not have been high enough, you set higher goals and vow to try harder next time. It wears you out.
When you think about it, perfectionism is a selfish mindset. It turns your thoughts about your life, your weaknesses and your concerns inward toward yourself. It keeps you from looking outward. It focuses your attention on what you are doing wrong rather than the positive things you are doing to follow the Savior. It encourages and rewards comparison and competition with others which breeds pride. As a perfectionist you feel you are never doing enough.
Actually, perfectionism pulls you away from the atonement. You strive to perfect yourself by your own efforts and merit. You are essentially telling the Savior you do not need him while you perfect yourself. But, Christ is the “…author and finisher of our faith…” (Heb 12: 2), and only through his grace and merciful gift of the atonement can we even begin to realize our potential and worth.
If the following sounds like you, you may in fact be a perfectionist:
· You feel what you accomplish is never quite good enough?
· You often put off turning in papers or projects, waiting to get them just right?
· You feel you must give more than 100 percent on everything you do or else you will be mediocre or even a failure?
· You feel reduced personal worth if you fail to achieve a goal or if your accomplishments are not perfect?
· You fear making a mistakes, criticism, rejection, and disapproval and avoid it by trying to be perfect?
· You overemphasis an endless list of “shoulds” at the sacrifice of your own wants and desires?
· You perceive success to come to others with minimal effort and stress on their part?”
You know what true excellence in your life looks like. It is stretching a little to do your best and then letting that be good enough. Striving for excellence in your life is called in the church, “enduring to the end,” and that is what is expected of us in mortality. Christ will perfect us; we do not have to attain perfection in all things ourselves.
20 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ…and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Nephi 31:20)
32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness…
33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ…ye become holy, without spot. (Moroni 10:32-22)
Striving for excellence brings growth while attempting perfection brings frustration, fatigue and depression. Each of you must personally make the decision of what to change, but in my experience, Elders often need to raise their sights for true excellence and Sisters often need to lower their aim from perfection to true excellence. As you find a healthy pursuit of excellence, remember my motto for my mission: “No regrets, no alibis, only excellence.”