Do You Strive for Excellence or Perfection?

Motivation resides within us so do our expectations. In this article, we explore the effects that perfection can have on our motivation and how striving for optimalism is one alternative.

Earlier this month, Managing Mindspaces shared a tool that can help you find motivation. This tool, Mindspaces Motivational Wheel, contains six areas: Internal Drive, Focus & Attention, Energy & Action, Time & Dedication, Ability and Talent and Vision & Desire. To be motivated, a person needs each of these areas fulfilled or known to carry forward with the task at hand.

Suppose within the area of Vision & Desire, there is some element of perfectionism. What, if anything, changes in your motivation?

Before we address that question, I want to share a quote with you.


Perfectionists are focused on personal integrity and can be wise, discerning and inspiring in their quest for the truth. They also tend to disassociate themselves from their flaws or what they believe are flaws (such as negative emotions) and can become hypocritical and hyper-critical of others, seeking the illusion of virtue to hide their own vices. The greatest fear of Perfectionists is to be flawed and their ultimate goal is perfection.” – Daniels and Pierce

In my understanding of perfectionism, there are varying levels of severity to the point the condition (see APA definition) is debilitating and alienates the individual from those around them. For our purposes, I’m speaking to those readers who have “perfectionist self-presentation” recognized by not only high standards and promoting them, but avoiding activities which they are not perfect at while also hiding imperfections.

If your vision has a flavor of these perfectionist indicators, perhaps you’re placing higher standards on not one, but all of the motivational wheel areas? You increase your focus and scrutiny, you give more time of yourself, you rely on greater ability or expertise, you expend more energy, but to what end?


Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D wrote a book called, “The Pursuit of Perfect.” A great resource for anyone looking to understand how to stop chasing perfection in order to live a happier life. And in that book, there is one particular diagram to describe the perfectionist’s vision for a journey. The perfectionist, according to the book, expects life to be a straight line. This means, on any path, for any purpose the “right” answer is from point A to point B.

Source: The Pursuit of Perfect by Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D.
Source: The Pursuit of Perfect by Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D.

Comparatively, a person who is a Optimalist or one that seeks an optimal, best and most-favored outcome in a set of circumstances, expects the journey to be a winding, even messy path. With this expectation, there is a kinder, more gentle approach to any task that requires the individual to let go of outcome.


I can’t help but wonder, when we recognize our motivation is drenched in a perfect outcome, how this impacts the journey. What if, instead, we seek an Optimal outcome? Well, I suppose:

  • Our internal drive would be more realistic, expecting challenges;
  • Our energy would be better managed and with some in reserve for hurdles along the way and we could laugh about problems afterwards;
  • Our time would slightly less, since the standard we’re striving for is less than an ideal of perfect and
  • Our attention and ability would be flexible to make decisions along the way as to what’s important and who or what do we need to get the job done. We could admit to what worked and what required course correcting.

In every journey, you have a choice for excellence or perfection. Which path will you choose?

Email me at for career questions you have or if you would like a PDF copy of this blog post.

Curious to try 20 self-discovery strategies and exercises for your career direction?
Join others who now see their strengths, weaknesses, drivers and values in a new way with this self-guided DIY resource. If you liked this post, you’ll love my book, “Finding Passion: A Self-Discovery Approach for Navigating Career Crossroads” to help you ask the tough questions you’ve been avoiding and rediscover what you really want in your career. Available on Amazon.

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