The E of Living Imperfectly: Aiming For Excellence Rather Than Perfection #atozchallenge

Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence. I am not remotely interested in just being good – Vince Lombardi, legendary football coach of the Green Bay Packers.

E Challenge letterVince Lombardi is heralded as a great coach and motivator who has strong views on winning and achieving success. True it is he took the Packers to a Super Bowl win but has he got it right with this quote? And would it work for everyone?

I stumbled upon this quote a couple of days ago and it really resonated.  Then I began mulling it over and I have to respectfully disagree with Mr Lombardi.

In our formative years we are taught that to strive for something less than perfection is somehow substandard. We grow up with the notion that the aim of everything we do, from our deportment, manners, fashion, education and relationships is perfection. Unless we have reconciled our position in relation to perfection in our teenage years, we end up taking this concept into adulthood and into the workforce. And we tie ourselves in knots in our attempts to reach that goal.

If Mr Lombardi were still with us today, I would ask him why is he coaching others to strive for something which he himself acknowledges is impossible? Why is it not enough to aim for and reach excellence? This seems to be a tacit acknowledgement that humans can never reach a target. Instead of making the target realistic and hitting it, the target is over inflated so that some perceived lesser standard is reached.

This is not only bunkum, it is dangerous as many a parent has subsequently found out.

Michal J Fox got it right when he said:

Michael J Fox excellence





The Oxford Dictionary defines excellence as ” the quality of being outstanding or extremely good”. Perfection on the other hand connotes the concept of being flawless.

And yet, we so often confuse excellence with perfection. Business and academia often subscribes to the notion that if something is less than perfect then you haven’t done your best.  A lot of businesses and consultants proudly proclaim that their product or service is better because it is the product of perfection. And how could we be disappointed with perfection?

We need to be careful not only of the marketing hyperbole but also our own self talk. Often what we are really striving for is to be extremely good or outstanding, rather than to be flawless. But like Mr Lombardi, we tend to raise our own bar artificially high, thinking that’s what we need to do our best.  To further demonstrate the incongruity that this creates, take the grading system for universities in this country. Universities generally grade students on a scale from Fail to High Distinction. The grades that you can achieve are:

  1. Fail – less than 50%
  2. Pass – 50-64%
  3. Credit – 65-74%
  4. Distinction – 75-84%
  5. High Distinction – 85%-100%

There is no grade called Perfect for 100%. You reach 100%, you will get the same grade just like all the students who achieved excellence. The difference may be in the percentage, but I have yet to see an academic who has awarded a perfect score on any assessment based on subjective criteria.

Aiming to do our best and for excellence keeps it real. Anything more and we sacrifice our humanness. And we need to remember that it is more than acceptable to be human. Indeed, my very best friends are.

PS. To my fellow A to Zers, I am running really behind on responding to your comments and commenting on your blogs due to a crushing work and academic load. I am hoping to catch up in the next couple of days. I beg your indulgence until then.


About the curtain raiserhttp://raisingthecurtain.netI have spent my life in offices. For now I am putting that behind me and preparing for the second act. Middle age didn't come with acceptable signposts so I am making my own through my writing. A journey shared is more fun than going it solo.

13 thoughts on “The E of Living Imperfectly: Aiming For Excellence Rather Than Perfection #atozchallenge

  1. We are but human, you are right. Striving for perfection can take it’s toll, my eldest can vouch for that as she has OCD and has always strived for excellence in everything she does. As long as we don’t lose sight of who we are, what our capabilities are, we can’t go wrong..can we.. Another interesting post, which you are continually putting out for us to read…so yes perfection reached lovely. x

  2. There are two ways of looking at this. On the one hand, goals must be achievable. Perfection is not only beyond what is achievable, it is often not even definable, given there is frequently a subjective element to it. On that basis, aiming for perfection is futile. On the other hand, having achieved a goal, unless there is another, even higher, there is nowhere to go but down. Whilst accepting that 100% is an unachievable score, it is highly motivating to see how close to it one can get.

  3. It’s funny how sometimes you don’t even realize where the frustration comes from, or how failure is defined. We really our setting ourselves up if perfection is the goal, with no indication of how short we can fall to still be excellent.

  4. Great post. I would not quibble too much with Lombardi’s words and I do very much like Fox’s. Lombardi was huge on execution. He felt if his team could execute the right play, they would win, so they practiced the famous Green Bay sweep endlessly. So, I take his words as a motivational ploy rather than pearls of wisdom. With that said, I think Fox is correct as well. We should strive to do the very best we can at anything we are asked. We owe that to ourselves. I have always told my kids, if you worked your hardest a did pretty good, that is OK as you tried.

    And, perfection is the enemy of the good. So, if you wait for everything to be perfect, you may have missed the best time to act. A good example is a college was complimented on its curving sidewalks that seemed to mimic the best way to walk between classes. When asked, the Chancellor said, we did not build them initially on purpose, as we wanted to see how the kids got to their various classes. Once the grass became worn with their foot paths, we laid the sidewalks. In other words, when the renovated campus was opened, it was not perfect as it had no sidewalks.

    I hope you catch up on your work. All the best, BTG

  5. Excellent post – well thought out and expressed. I try to teach my grandkids the difference between “play” where you simply enjoy and “doing your best” where you’ve committed to something and should give your best effort. As long as you’ve given your best effort, you’ve lived up to your commitment. As for me, I wish I had been gentler on myself in my career – I often worked myself to exhaustion and stress trying to make things perfect, when often “good enough” would have sufficed for that particular project.

    No worries on communication and visiting. Only sorry to hear you are swamped. Take care of yourself!!

  6. One of my favorite quotes is derived from a Voltaire quote: “Perfectionism is the enemy of done.” Whenever I strive to make something perfect, I try to remember this. Better to finish something that’s shy of perfection than to never finish it at all!

  7. Excellence is more than good enough for me. In fact, I often manage to find contentment in Good and Very Good. I am much less flustered now. And that feels sooo good. 🙂

  8. My method of visiting fellow A-Zers’ blogs is to open the sign-up list and click at random. Kismet indeed that this morning, I clicked on yours. Excellent post–I really needed to read this.

  9. Thought provoking post. I try for excellence but know there is always room for improvement. As for perfection…I am not interested in it. There is no beauty in perfection.

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