This is Better than Perfection

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Many of my students strive for perfection. In theory, there's nothing wrong with this PURSUIT.

However, in practice, many people associate validity and self worth with the attainment of perfection.

If you achieve perfection, you are a good, worthy human being.

If you "fail" to achieve perfection, you are somehow "less than" those you perceive to have achieved perfection.

I dislike this way of thinking for the simple reason that human beings are incapable of perfection. Because perfection is impossible to achieve, setting such a goal is not useful and often counter productive.

As an alternative, I prefer striving for excellence (which I've written about previously here). One very practical and concrete way to strive for excellence is to do as follows:

Instead of aiming for perfection, set a goal to set a "personal record" (or PR for short).

As the name suggests, you aim to best your previous best outcome.

What I like about this approach is that it's internally focused. You set the standard for yourself.

It's all focused on continual self-improvement. If you improve your skill level by a mere 1% each week, within a year you'll have improved over 50%.

(And yes, I recognize that if the 1% growth is compounded, the growth is much greater than just 50%.)

And then when you set a personal record, the victory is entirely yours and only meaningful to you. You're achieving for the audience of one -- you.

This is better than achieving so someone else can notice and approve of you -- which is often correlated with valuing the opinions of others over the opinion you have of yourself.

So in every endeavor in which you seek to improve, consider aiming for a new personal record -- rather than aiming for some notion of perfection. It is far more satisfying, far more achievable, and far more self-validating than the alternative.

 

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26 comments… add one
  • Robert May 20, 2015, 8:30 am

    I couldn’t agree more Victor. Perfection is not a smart goal. Your suggested approach is also really helpful in nudging us all to think about our own priorities and ambitions. I think all too often society encourages us to strive for achievements based on the achievements of others without providing us with the framework and support to identify our own values and goals.

  • Tobias May 20, 2015, 8:37 am

    Hi Victor,

    Thanks for this insight! I wonder what you think about the pursuit for example for a Noble price or an Oscar? This would be a pursuit of gaining other’s recognition, but I think it can be extremely satisfying.

    Thanks,

    Tobias

    • Victor Cheng May 21, 2015, 10:59 am

      Tobias,

      I think the people who set out to win a Nobel prize do not. Those who set out to change the world in their field, and do, are the ones who tend to win a Nobel. And those who do change the world don’t need a Nobel to tell them they did amazing work. The world changing is amazing enough.

      Don’t confuse goals versus by products of achieving goals.

      Victor

  • John Fillmon May 20, 2015, 8:47 am

    Hi Victor,
    Man wakes up every morning looking for ways to validate his/her self worth of life’s value for themselves through some form of “perfecting ways.”

    Yet, at what point does one’s “self validation” bring forth meaningful life purpose and valuable pursuits. Trying to chase perfection is like a dog chasing its tail; at first glamous or humorous, yet after a while, one looks on with folly – perfection, relative to what?

    Achievement (perfection is a by product) is how we have been created, yet to know the why’s before the how and to know the who before the what, can we begin to understand the end from the beginning life’s “in between pilgrimage.” Learning how to prioritize life’s value shall lend credence to better understanding life’s perfecting value and perfection in our life and in the life of others.

    Kindly,

    John

    • Victor Cheng May 21, 2015, 11:00 am

      Well said

  • Nicc May 20, 2015, 8:59 am

    Wonderful how you send out softer messages than what I can imagine that many who use your material hear in their heads.
    I loved the piece you wrote a few months ago on values and finding your own way. Wonderfully compassionate and thoughtful.

    • Victor Cheng May 21, 2015, 11:02 am

      Nicc,

      Thank you.

      Somethings I have learned the hard way – with much pain and suffering. Hoping that others can benefit without as much struggle.

      Victor

  • Pavel Hosa May 20, 2015, 9:32 am

    Victor,

    Achieving excellence does not guarantee success. I strive to keep things in balance – excellent work, family, friends, community, and health.

    Pavel

    • Victor Cheng May 21, 2015, 11:04 am

      Pavel,

      I totally agree. For me, the value of excellence is personal pride and satisfaction. I’m okay with being excellent and unsuccessful – but that’s a personal value of mine.

      Victor

  • Karthikan C May 20, 2015, 9:34 am

    Hi Victor,

    I am a third-year Chemical Engineering student from India. Not only am I an avid reader of your articles but also I have a serious interest in getting into the Consulting sector.

    I read a recent letter of yours in which you talk about how aiming for perfection should not be one’s priority. I completely agree with what you said. I don’t like the fact that we live in a world where one’s success is measured by their net worth, I would personally prefer if it were based on a person’s ability to give back t0 society.

    As you said in your article, perfection is not something that can be practically achieved and thus, having goals which aim to be perfect is redundant. I was inspired by how you compared setting a personal record vs achieving perfection and I’ve now decided to follow the same by improving my skills set by a certain percentage periodically.

    Thank you so much for consistently writing these nuggets of knowledge which keep inspiring people like me all across the world.

    • Victor Cheng May 21, 2015, 11:05 am

      Karthikan,

      Thanks for your kind words. I’m always amazed how small the world feels online.

      Victor

  • Ardeshir May 20, 2015, 9:56 am

    Hi Victor,

    Thank you for the newsletter and sharing your expertise with us. I am one of the receiver of your newsletter and I always find them valuable and useful. Having different opinion for you last newsletter gave me this opportunity to thank you.
    In my opinion, some part of goals setting and celebrating achieving our goals are coming from receiving complement from others. Then although I may achieve my goals, unless part of those goals, are not valuable in eyes of others, I may not reach the 100% satisfaction.

    Best Regards,
    Ardeshir Razmyar

    • Victor Cheng May 21, 2015, 11:08 am

      Ardeshir,

      We each have our own values. I’m a big proponent of deciding your own values for yourself. You have clarity on your values and goals. Best wishes in achieving them.

      Victor

  • Luke May 20, 2015, 10:33 am

    I just read the book “How Champions Think” by Dr. Bon Rotella and that is exactly the same sentiment he gave. Champions strive to be better than anyone previous to them but don’t let that cloud their incremental improvement and process. Thanks again for the wise words Victor.

    • Victor Cheng May 21, 2015, 11:06 am

      Luke,

      The other thing about champions is when you’re the best, there is nobody else to beat other than yourselves. Market leaders best their own best. They set their own standard.

      Victor

  • Evan May 20, 2015, 12:40 pm

    Hey Victor, AWESOME insight!!

    TRUE MASTERY

    You hit the nail on the head + perfect timing for me!

    Thank you for helping me discover this within myself.

    Evan

  • Damilola Kasim May 20, 2015, 1:05 pm

    Hi Victor,

    It’s my first time responding to your advices and tips. I got to hear of your case interview tips through my wife who aspires to become a development consultant(social/educational).

    We are both studying postgraduate courses in petroleum production engineering and public administration respectively at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen UK.

    I write in response to your recent article on “This is Better than Perfection” as it particularly concerns me and my ordeal so far on the course. Coincidentally, I was revising for my resit exams when your mail came in; reading your comments on self-improvement and “personal record” truly got me thinking more positively about bouncing back towards completing my degree. Since suffering my setbacks, I have recognized my flaws and acknowledged that there is always a first time(at failing) and it’s ok to take two steps back and three steps forward!

    Looking forward to sharing my success story in the near future.

    Thanks for the countless tips and guides!

    Best Wishes,

    Damilola.

  • Dee May 20, 2015, 2:53 pm

    Thank you for sharing a much needed message, Victor. This resonates deeply with me, especially as I’m fighting a lot of self-doubt in the process of trying to break into the big 3 after an engineering PhD.
    PS: I’ve been a keen follower of your posts&emails for 2+ years now, you’re my career guru!

  • Brandon May 20, 2015, 6:56 pm

    Our family’s definition of An Audience of One.

    https://rhemashope.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/all-i-see/

  • Anh May 20, 2015, 11:32 pm

    Hi Victor,

    Usually, I’m just a silent reader of your emails. However, today’s email was particularly empowering, especially for someone like me who’s having troubles regaining enthusiasm after a setback in the job hunt. As always, thank you!

    • Victor Cheng May 21, 2015, 11:10 am

      Anh,

      You are welcome.

      Remember with each setback there is a lesson hidden within the setback. It’s a gift, but it’s usually hidden in “crap” so to speak (lol). You’re much more likely to notice the gift by persevering and looking for it, then by avoiding the setback.

      I wish you the best in persevering towards your goals.

      Victor

  • nisa May 21, 2015, 12:57 am

    Hi Victor,

    Thanks. Perfect post somehow came in a perfect time!
    1% progress each day is totally achievable!

    Thank you! Will set that in mind.

  • L May 21, 2015, 7:37 am

    What a perfect time to read this. I’m taking some time off this pm for my 3rd flying lesson and it’s sooo hard. I mean I wanted a challenge, it’s all the things I’m bad at so I was never aiming for perfection. But still I was going through what was covered last time and how I haven’t ‘got’ that and what I’ve been told I’m expecting to cover today (really don’t get that!) . Thinking about the number of lessons and where expected to be at in relation to the text book and others and how at point x I’ll go solo (can’t imagine that!) and point y fly here and argggh was only causing stress and self criticism. But now, actually if I control x a little more confidently than last time, perform y a little more smoothly, get less confused about z than last time..it’s progress 🙂 Thank you

    • Victor Cheng May 21, 2015, 11:11 am

      L,

      Progress over Perfection.

      Good words to live by.

      Victor

  • Jane May 21, 2015, 11:56 am

    1 % every day… Very interesting!
    I will use it to my work out plan.
    Start from running 30 minutes a day, and build up 30 sec every day!

  • Lenore May 21, 2015, 12:47 pm

    Perfect timing. Perfection has always been my downfall. Improvement is absolutely achievable and a self-esteem booster.

    Thank you.

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