The Difference Between Perfection and a Healthy Pursuit of Excellence

If you don't achieve an important goal, do you feel like a failure as a human being?

Are you driven to get to the top and when you do, your accomplishments never seem to be enough for you?

Do you feel that you need to earn respect and self-esteem from others?

When it comes to high achievers, I find that there's a very fine line between the pursuit of perfection and a healthy pursuit of excellence. The pursuit of perfection is a slippery slope. I know when I was in that mindset, I was easily irritated and annoyed because not only did I apply these perfectionist standards to myself, but to all the other people around me. This pursuit would consume me emotionally and turned up the volume of my self-critical, judgemental voice. Though I was "successful" on the outside, on the inside I still didn't feel it was enough. I also believed that I needed to always be strong and "in control" of my emotions and that admitting my weaknesses or asking for help wasn't acceptable because people would think less of me. Perhaps you can relate.

You don't need to feel like a victim to your success. You can be just as effective, if not more, with a more forgiving attitude towards your achievements reflect on you as a person. It takes a simple mindset shift from pursuing perfection to that of excellence.

Here are some tips to shift from perfectionism to that of excellence:

Give yourself credit

Oftentimes, perfectionists are driven to secretly feel a bit better than the rest (guilty as charged!). Although this does wonders for short-term productivity, the disadvantage to this is that it feels like your self-satisfaction is on the line if you don't do all that is asked of you down to a T. Is doing everything perfectly worth feeling this way? Is continuously giving 110 percent sustainable? How is doing so affecting your health, social life, and general happiness? If you feel like you are losing yourself because every fiber of your being is dedicated to perfection, give yourself credit on the effort, rather than the result. Get the feedback you need to refine your efforts, but your efforts aren't worthless if you don't reach the end goal you were shooting for.

Monitor your successes

Perfectionism results from the endless loop of feeling like you haven't done enough. The antidote to this toxic thinking is to bask in how far you've come. For example, when I look at my resume and feel the weight of what I've accomplished, it soothes any feelings of not achieving enough. You can feel this awesomeness anytime! Realize that right now, you are making the impact that you've been wanting to make all along. Where were you a year ago? 6 months ago? 3 months ago? Write down what you have achieved since then. Then take it all in -- I give you permission to bask in it!

Stay true to your own path

Perfectionism comes from external comparison, whereas excellence is satisfaction of achievement that comes from within, no matter what you've done. Guilt, overwhelm, and frustration enter the picture when you're merrily doing your own thing and then you see someone else doing something that you think you could have been doing. This happens because we've convinced ourselves that we want to pursue the goal that everyone else is after. Thinking this way takes your awareness off of the good stuff that you've got going for you right now. Instead, come from an attitude of creation rather than competition. What do you want to create for yourself right now? Releasing yourself from the competition will ensure that you are on a path of personal excellence unique to you, rather than perfection that conforms to an ideal standard.

It is possible to experience freedom from a perfectionism mindset. Engaging with an excellence-oriented mindset ensures that you're not like the frog in that infamous math problem (if a frog jumps halfway across the log every time, will it ever reach the other end?). You'll feel like you're pursuing a path that feels good and true to yourself with less internal pressure. The result: less striving and chasing and more confidence and satisfaction.

Now I'd like to hear from you! What do you do to go from perfectionism to a pursuit of excellence? Tell me in the comments below, I want to know!

Catherine Chen, Ph.D., is a Health Coach who believes that you are important, no matter what you achieve. She works with high-achievers to move past the guilt, frustration, and overwhelm that prevents you from living a life of passion and purpose. If you liked this article, sign up to get updates and tips to find your personal awesome at