The Difference Between Excellence and Perfection: Unlocking Freedom

India_ByGrace_NGO_TaraShupe_Photography_003.jpg

"I'm a perfectionist," I used to respond, when they asked me my greatest weakness.  I knew this was an attribute they were looking for, so I always went in armed with that answer. It was just too easy.

My greatest weakness? Are you kidding me? "Well, I recently realized that I have a lot of pride – that many of my actions have been driven by seeking achievement in the eyes of others. Also, I am working on self-discipline because sometimes I feel out of control. And yes, I'm a very passionate person but that also means I have a high capacity for emotion, so if I'm not careful, those will drive instead of reason and rationality."

I'd love to see their reaction to that. "Okkk….well, Emily, Moon, right?" 

Scribbles note – "De-friend from LinkedIn."

"Thanks Emily. We'll give you a call."

Points to the door.

So yeah, I kept it to…"I'm a perfectionist." Smile, wink. Ahhhh look at me I am just so perfect – it tears me up inside, really!!

Gross.

Here's the thing, though – I really am a perfectionist. That is true. And recently, I realized – that's not a good thing. In fact, it can actually tear your life apart. 

Let me repeat – the pursuit of perfection can tear your life apart. I was internally shredding my heart, and I had no idea.

"Well, I'm not perfect. No one is." That's easy to say, but do you really believe that?

Signs that you may be pursuing perfection without even realizing it:

  • How do you treat yourself when you mess up or make a mistake in front of others? I used to bully myself mercilessly – "How could you be so dumb, how could you have said that, you are such an idiot, you should have never stepped up, why do you even try?"
  • Are there things that you enjoy that you want to try or do, but you won't because you're afraid you'll fail or look dumb?
  • Are there things you want to say in a meeting or group, but you're afraid you'll misspeak or sound stupid?
  • How do you respond to feedback or correction? Do you shut down and spit something nasty back, or do you listen, absorb and internalize, looking for the truth in what they are saying? 

This last one is perhaps the most important. Because accepting correction requires understanding that we are not perfect and are always in the process of refinement. Oooh  and the real killer – is accepting that yes, I may have made a mistake.

When someone is revealing a blind spot to you – do you want to stay in this illusion that there's nothing to change about yourself and that you're perfect – OR – do you want to become a better person – of higher character, of greater self-awareness?

I read a quote from The Refined Woman – "The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off." Haha – ok, so true though!

That sting you feel when someone corrects you – that's ok. Let it sting. Like hydrogen peroxide on a fresh wound. Watch the bubbles. Breathe in the burn - it's burning your pride so that something more beautiful can grow. Something more like Christ.

If he loves you…he's going to refine you. So breathe in that burnnnnn.

Here's the thing about perfection. It is under a ruthless commander called Pride – and if you're not vigilant, you'll end up serving it all of your life. Perfection is a result of wanting to maintain your status in the eyes of others, of never looking bad and never experiencing failure. And it is straightjacket that will choke the life out of you. I know – I lived that. And now, just now, at 27 (respective) years of age, I'm starting to 1) realize it and 2) break that.

No more perfection. Instead – I'm going for excellence.

Wait…what's the difference?! Great question!! I wondered that too. 

"Thank you, Lord, for the internet," I say every time Bre sends me a meme – and also in this example, because I found an incredible answer to that question.

Marc Winn stated the difference between the two beautifully:

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

I think what Winn is getting at is that it all comes down to a matter of the heart. Excellence is the result of a lot of "behind the scenes." It's finishing off that seam that you don't notice on the outside, it's practicing for hours before showing up to play. 

Excellence is a culmination of your habits. Do you put in the work when others aren't watching? BECAUSE – if you are pursuing excellence, you are not working to be watched. Being watched is simply an after-effect that often comes in tandem with an individual who is pursuing excellence. It's about motives. Are you doing this work to honor God (excellence)? Or are you doing it to honor yourself (perfection)?

Let's break it down further:

The-difference-between-excellence-and-perfection

There is so much freedom in excellence. Like Sherri (part of our Ghana team!) says, "Life motto: It's not about meeeeeee." Hahah – how freeing is that? It's. Not. About. Me.

  • That comment you want to say? It's not about you! It's about what God can speak through you.
  • That business you want to start? It's not about you! It's about how God can bring blessing and hope to people through you.
  • The dance class you want to take? OK – that one might be about you. JK. But in all seriousness, I think sometimes God just wants to break off some chains on us so that we get to experience his JOY!

God wants to set us free so that we are able to live and love life the way that he intended. Not tip-toeing through life wondering if we are safe and loved. Freaking wear heels and stomp all the way down those hardwood floors, you know?! 

Ok think back for a second to high school gym class or summer camp. I know, I know. Some of us have blocked this out. But pull it up for a second. Bear with me.

Do you remember capture the flag? Maybe you were a runner. I was typically a guarder, skirting the line between the two teams. I'd look at that dividing line, usually chalked in white, and it would stare back at me. Taunting me. So I'd stick one foot over, look around. Safe? Cool. Then I'd run over a couple paces. And then run back – flirting with danger, but who are we kidding – not daring enough to really take the risk. Why? I was too afraid of jail. I didn't want to get captured. 

I used to admire the "runners" – typically the most fit guys. OKKKK not because of that. What I admired was their courage. They just – went for it.  

There's not a runner on the field that didn't at some point get captured and taken to jail. 

But guess who got the flag and brought the victory for the team?

The runners. 

What I'm saying is this – if you were called to run – run. If you were called to guard – guard. BUT – if you were called to run – don't guard. Don't sit in safety, dipping only a toe over the line when you know you should be sprinting.

Yep, you might get captured. You might sit in jail for a second. But guess what?? IT MIGHT NOT BE AS BAD AS YOU THOUGHT. You might have a second to pause, and think what you could do differently. How could you change your strategy? To be sharper, faster, stronger, stealthier? 

Jail is never fun. Guarders from the opposite team are usually milling around, looking at you, smirking. 

But here's what's important - you went for it. God made you to be a runner and you ran.

What I've learned this past year so strongly is that grace can fill all of those gaps of inadequacy or failure, every last one of them. God is so good that way. And God is honored with excellence – not perfection.

Until next time, 

Emily