Perfectionism vs Excellence

Perfectionism vs Excellence

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“Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.”
Harriet Braiker

Are you a perfectionist? Or do you strive for excellence?

If you think these are the same thing, I’m afraid you’re mistaken. They may be related, but they are the opposite sides of the same coin. In fact they are so antagonistic towards one another that the best way to achieve excellence is by not demanding perfection. So, let’s understand the big differences between the two.

Perfectionism is focused on “doing the thing ‘right’”, how things APPEAR, and if OTHERS think it’s done right.

Excellence is about “doing the right thing”. It is focused on the REASON for a task, and the RESULTS for it to be a success.

Perfectionism is a thief of time, draining your energy like a blood-sucking vampire. It bullies and criticises you, and demands unachievable outcomes – since whatever you do is never good enough. It makes you try to live up to some illusion that doesn’t exist. Perfection is always out of reach.

The pursuit of excellence keeps you focused on what matters, fills you with energy and can act as your cheerleader. There is no damage to self-esteem, like that found in perfectionism. Perfectionism diminishes your productivity, your efficiency and effectiveness, and worse still, damages your peace of heart and mind. On the other side, productivity is built into the pursuit of excellence.

Often perfectionists will not complete things, not start things, or not even take things on at all, for fear of not being able to do it perfectly. Perfectionism often causes procrastination. Fear of being unable to deliver to some unachievable standard often causes them to completely avoid doing what needs to be done. Perfectionists are terrified of making a mistake, and consequently find themselves stressed, anxious, and desperately focused on not failing. They maintain unrealistic expectations of themselves and of others and will often micromanage, causing undue stress on themselves and others.

Excellence focuses your attention on what’s right and working well, rather than what’s not working – and this keeps your attention on the positives and how things could be even better. Excellence is limitless and progressive, since you can always reach for greater and greater excellence. Whereas perfection can never be achieved.

Success is really based on taking the right action and getting the feedback to improve and not on getting things totally right every time.

One example of excellence in action is the popular business-building methodology of Lean Startup – which takes a quick, cheap and simple trial and error approach without wasting time or resources. This provides consumer feedback and other great benefits during the product development phase, so that startups have a better chance of success without requiring high levels of funding, complex business plans, or the perfect final product.

Develop active excellence by using the Pareto Principle. (Live the 80/20 Rule) When you know that 20% of your effort produces 80% of your results, this liberates you to focus on each 20% that makes the difference. But take this further! If it took you 1 hour to do 1 thing ‘perfectly’, in that 1 hour, you could get 5 things done to 80% of perfection. Achieving 5 things to an excellent level will lead to greater success than doing 1 thing perfectly. Take dynamic action for excellence, rather than painstaking inaction for perfection. Embrace what’s ‘good enough’ to succeed!

Understand the damage that perfectionism does, and the benefits of aiming for excellence, then ask yourself where perfectionism has taken hold in your life or business. It might be a trait of yourself, a partner, a child or an employee. Deal with it at all levels, and nurture an ethos of excellence instead. Accept that nobody’s perfect. Accept that excellence is a process and a direction, rather than an end point.

There’s no fear attached to excellence; anyone can do it, and it’s realistic.To achieve the success you want in all aspects of your life, I invite you to focus on excellence. This way, your results will always be great – and you can always aim for even better!

So remember – you don’t have to always do things right – as long as you always do the right thing. Life is much more rewarding and enjoyable this way!

So to all you “perfectionists” reading this, has this post changed your thinking? If it has,get in touch below and tell me!

If you know a perfectionist – please do share this with them. It could just change their life.

If the above topic, or indeed any of my blogs are of interest to you, then contact me and let’s talk! Drop me an email at

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add a comment
  1. Excellent Post! I will be sharing this with my perfectionist friends.

  2. Ahhh, such a fine line I walk, Marc. I strive for excellence in all that I do, but sometimes it’s clouded by the perfectionism, the naysaying, the doubt, the focus on what is wrong, not right. I really like your take on this and I see things a lot clearer: excellence is moving forward, not an end product. Great post!

  3. Neelanshu says

    Hey, Your post really helped to change my mindset. However, I must share it with you that the feeling to become a perfectionist can never be dropped completely, which is nothing but another sort of a perfectionist idea! Yeah it’s true that it can dropped to a far extent.

  4. singgih pn says

    Excelent post there

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  6. Hi Marc

    Great post. I’m a perfectionist and its exhausting. I’m constantly reading up on improving flaws in my character. Thank you. This post has altered my thinking for the better. I actually feel light now and i’m smiling.

  7. sir it is great information you given in it but is it possible to tell me the exact difference by given two to three examples

  8. HasanAbuMusa says

    How to!!?? That is my question, How to get rid of being a perfectionist, how to transform my self?

    • Pattricia Celline Tjamalla says

      You have to know your real worth is not concluded by your performances or what people have to say, because those 2 aspects will always be unstable , then cannot be a exact measurement ever. Your real worth is that you are worthy because God makes you so-In HIS image. I have struggling with being “perfect” myself and finally finding out there is no such thing as “perfection” and i can never achieve this “perfection” line because it doesn’t exist. I AM WHAT GOD SAYS WHO IAM;Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you (Isaiah 43:4) THE ONLY STABLE DESCRIPTION OF WHO I AM FROM THE ONE WHO HAS RIGHT TO DESCRIBE ME. To know who you are you have to know your creator, my creator Jesus, is awesome and i am awesome like HIM

  9. Joshua Lai says

    Thanks for giving us some tips on how to reform from being a perfectionist. I am 25 years old now, and I realized that worldview of mine has done more harm than good. It’s really difficult to change a bad habit when I have always held onto the negativity till recently, but I am trying to stretch myself further. I still have to live for another half a century hopefully.

  10. Awesome article! Looking at myself, I can see my reaction to criticism as a good litmus test for which side of the coin I’m on. The more I stray towards perfectionism, the harder it is for me to take criticism since it threatens the false image I’m trying to promote and shines light on things I don’t want (anyone) to see. The more I strive for excellence, the more I welcome criticism since it points out things I can improve. The next time I feel offended by criticism, I’ll try to remember to look within for the perfectionism that is probably to blame.

  11. Thank you, so liberating to know and walk in the difference.

  12. Debbie Bodington says

    I truly enjoyed this version of explaniation, it has helped me alot. I will share it with my daughter who is a perfectionist, she has a final paper to hand up for her bachelors degree and she is afraid to do it since she expect so much of herself. Thank you.

  13. You know, I’ve been trying to be perfect in all aspects of my life all this time. This article makes me question if I really understand what Perfection is, if I really want Perfection. I think Perfection kills improvement.

    I studied integration in High School and there used to be this thing ‘tends to infinity’, It tends to infinity but never reaches it. Perfection, I’ve began to feel it that. It tends to be prefect, but never reaches there.

    On the other hand Excellence, I feel also tends to infinity but I’m not focussing on reaching infinity but getting a step closer to it. It’s more about how I can get a little better at something rather than focussing on when will I get there.

    I don’t know. I feel Perfection and Excellence are very related. I feel they are the same thing but different things. They are two different processes or mindsets.

    I started going to High School when Multi touch in the phones and 1 Ghz processors in phones were a big thing. Steve Jobs naturally became my idol. I wanted to be a perfectionist just like him, I still do.
    But I also feel he was seeking excellence and not perfection. Like how Apple comes out with an improved iPhone every year. If he was a perfectionist there would have been just one iPhone( or none at all).

    I feel Excellence is a quest for Perfection as much as Perfection is, but more realistic and attainable.

    Please feel free to add to it and if you have any insights please share.


  14. An excellent post indeed, the question(what is the difference between perfection & excellence) that had lingered in my mind for quiet sometime now has very well been answered by you thru this post. Albeit while going thru this post my mind bumped onto another question, so if this person really sees himself as great story teller yet isn’t working towards it or is working at snails pace towards it with clouds of doubts swaying him left to right and vice versa; what is it that he is working towards ? Perfection or Excellence? What is it that is keeping him awake all night yet with no solid outcome end of the day?

  15. Good stuff definitely food for thought

  16. I expect my surgeons, my pharmacist, my bank, constuction firms, architects, police, EMT and firemen to strive for perfection….any of these industries (and many more) that are not aiming for perfection could cause GREAT damage if being satisfied with 80% success. If this is the way the majority of people settle to get through their workday, it’s no wonder there is so much mediocrity out there.

    • Your surgeon is in a practice, have you ever thought why they call it that? You seem like the type that has their own standard for things and perceives them as perfect. That mentality right there can at times blind you from seeing things from a different perspective and realizing the fact that there could be alternative ways of achieving something. Open your eyes, NO ONE IS PERFECT, if they were, we wouldn’t live in such a messed up society.

    • mrgilbe1 says

      Absolutely not. Imagine if your surgeon took 12 hours over a 2 hour operation, because they needed to get everything just right? You’d be exposed to far more risk and others wouldn’t be treated. Imagine if a detective didn’t start an investigation until they were confident of every last detail of their plan? By then the evidence and the perpetrator would be long gone. Excellence is achieved by knowing what’s vital, what’s important and what’s merely nice to have. It’s also about having processes such as crosschecks in place to catch mistakes when high quality is needed.

  17. I am still in school the approach helped me cover my weak topics and at same time kept my strong ones at a satisfying level

  18. I really needed this! Thanks for writing.

  19. Great post!

    I like the Pareto Principle – not focusing on one thing to make it ‘perfect’, but rather focus on 5 things with ‘excellence’ attitude, and It will give much more results in any areas.

  20. Isaiah AFOLAYAN says

    Thank you for this post. Best ever…

  21. I realize that the perfectionist will always crash people”s life and when I”m in grade 9 My friend tend that “you must work” until my friends complain and angry so that I change to be a perfectionist in grade 10 I tried to change my life to be perfectionist and I think it would be going be the better place in fact that my progress will decrease. But this time I tried to be excellence because it always keep in the positive things. But I hope in the next generation I tried to depend on excellence

  22. This is just brilliant
    This is so true

    Perfectionism is not the same as Excellence
    Thank you for sharing

    Permission to share to my network

    I promise to quote you.

  23. This is exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you so much for sharing!

  24. I really would love to have more examples. I guess I am a perfectionist or at least I strive to do my best in all things. I know for sure I am not perfect and i am at peace when I have done my best even if it’s nit perfect. My goal thought is for things to be done in excellence. I do tend to micromanage.

    I’m not sure how to rget ally change this. What day you?

  25. I really would love to have more examples. I guess I am a perfectionist or at least I strive to do my best in all things. I know for sure I am not perfect and i am at peace when I have done my best even if it’s nit perfect. My goal thought is for things to be done in excellence. I do tend to micromanage.

    I’m not sure how to really change this. What say you?
    Great article but would like more examples.

  26. Required to do a paper on excellence and I was of the opinion that perfection and excellence was one in the same. However in writing this paper I see now that excellence is what I want to strive for perfection is what I was burdened with. This really opened my eyes because the subject in which I am striving to achieve excellence is Bible study. And there are many verses in the Bible requiring excellence and I misunderstood that God expected us to be perfect but instead I see that he wants us to keep striving. Excellent sounds like much more fun than perfection now I have a different outlook on writing this paper thank you for your insights.

    • This was a great post and it spoke directly to me. I didn’t recognize I was and have been operating in a spirit of perfectionism. I am a new business owner and currently working a video to post on my social media platforms thanking people for liking my page and following me. I worked on that one video for about 4 hours trying to make sure it was perfect and no blunders or mix up up words and I finally said, forget it!! I’ll start over tomorrow. Then a thought came to my mind that I’d actually heard in church about trying to be perfect and excellent. So just thought do a little reading about it and I found your article and even though I see it was written many years ago, it is the best by far that I have read! Thank you! And yes, it has changed my way of thinking.

  27. GREAT POST!!!

  28. Great help for me as one who “strives” for perfection, ending up more of being tired, frustrated, and joyless. Now I understand that it’s more important to focus on the right things to do, it’s okay to commit a mistake, just continue to improve. How I wish I learned this much earlier, but hey…now I can start improving, starting with my mindset.
    Now I’m free from the all the paralyzing, accusing thoughts, now replaced with thoughts of how to improve, be better, and growth. God bless!

  29. Marc, you have hit the perfectionist nail on the head! I am a perfectionist and it is true that sometimes I do not start things because I am afraid I cannot do it to perfection! I think you may have changed my thinking. Thank you.

  30. Thanks for making me think the other way. I have delayed many things waiting for that perfect time, that perfect skill etc. as i finished ready the post, felt light at heart. now it is time to find ways to steer away from the long cultivated habit of perfection.Cheers.

  31. inspired me and reinforced my life’e philosophy what I have been practicing over 40 years of my academic medical career

  32. Thank you, Marc. You really helped me clarify these two concepts that I’ve never questioned before.


  33. It’s a brilliant description of the difference between the two, but what I really want to grasp is HOW you reduce perfectionism in oneself to be able to perceive and enjoy excellence.

  34. Michael Guzder says

    I am doing a Ted X talk on this topic today . I do believe that running after Perfection is like trying to catch a shadow. Never going to get it . It’s that imaginary pot of gold at the end of the mythical rainbow!
    We are all imperfect beings in an imperfect world and we are full of flaws and that’s fine because we are human . The quicker we learn to accept the fact the better . I strive for excellence and hell with perfection !

  35. Prof.Col P. S. Bajaj says

    Perfectionism is a disease and involves lot of subjectivity. Perfection is a dead end , beyond which no improvement is envisaged. If there is no improvement to take place in an activity or a project, it means we are not on learning curve. Hence no further development will take place, which is against the principle of journey to excellence. This mind set is opposite to the path for excellence, which believes that you Climb the Mount Everest and climb further! If a boss tries to make his subordinate perfect as per his specifications and when that subordinate while working for another boss, who tries to make him perfect to his parameters, will get confused and may become inefficient and ineffective. Therefore we all should strive for excellence and not for perfection.

  36. An Individual says

    I find this comparison transcending. With complete honesty, I was not aware of the difference. As a matter of fact, I’t never occurred to me really think about what perfectionism is, just that it was good. Though It made a lot of sense why after reading your explanation Marc Winn, that perfectionism is not a good approach. If I understood correctly, excellence or perfectionism is an approach that is taken when mentally preparing oneself to commit to an activity. Excellence is having a mental approach of getting an activity done regardless of how the results look. Perfectionism is trying to get something done the right way, while dreading the thought of messing up or doing it wrong, to someone else’s standards that is.

  37. I definitely want to thank you for this article because it definitely hit home. There has been many instances where I’ve been literally terrified of doing something because I think I will not be able to achieve perfection. I do not want to just do things right, I want them to be perfect in any sense possible. This article has definitely opened up my mind on how things should work, and why I’ve been struggling with trying to be “perfect. For years I just assumed I was just a little over the top on my way of thinking, but it is a relief that I am not the only one that is facing this issue.

  38. Ugochukwu Iyeh says

    Such a great explanation. I often struggle with the difference and where to draw the fine line when it comes to the two. I know perfection is unattainable but yet because of my desire to do the right thing, the ‘right’ way, I struggle sometimes with just doing some things at all. I’ll continue to work on myself. Thank you for your insight on this dilemma.

  39. Amazing

  40. jake mcbreak says

    This article is excellent but not perfect. There is some overstatement, such as with excellence, there is no damage to self-esteem. Well, there could be some damage even if one is striving for excellence and fails enough. In addition, there is some rank speculation in the comments as well as gratuitous self-absorption.

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