Striving for Excellence vs. Perfection

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I recently received a kind note from a F1Y who got a job offer from one of the top firms. She was excited and thanked me for helping her to achieve "perfection" in her case preparation.

I was thrilled for her and appreciate the gratitude in the spirit it was given.

In thinking about the conversation, I realized that her use of the word "perfection" didn't sit well with me for some reason. After thinking about it for a few days, I realized why.

I prefer the concept of striving for "excellence" instead of aiming to achieve "perfection."

Excellence is about setting a high standard for yourself and focusing on getting as good as you can possibly be. It is ultimately inward focused.

It's about being as excellent as YOU can be.

It's your current ability vs. YOUR maximum potential.

The concept of perfection (at least the way I think about it) feels much more like an external standard. We are aiming to be "perfect" based on someone else's standard. It is you vs. an impossible to achieve standard.

This may seem like semantics -- arguing over subtle differences in words.

BUT like I've said on previous occasions, your words reveal your thinking, and your thinking dictates your actions. (Your thinking also determines how you feel emotionally about your actions.)

Let me give you an example.

Assume that you're an athlete at the Olympics.

If you strive for "excellence," break your own personal record by a HUGE amount and win a Silver medal, you're thrilled about your accomplishment.

Alternatively, let's say you're a "perfection" oriented person. At the Olympics you also break your personal record and when the competition ends, you discover you "lost gold" (a.k.a., won Silver). Under these circumstances, you will feel terrible about failing to be perfect.

Key Insight (worth writing down):

The problem with striving for perfection is no matter how much you accomplish, you will (I hypothesize) NEVER be happy.

I saw a lot of this addiction to perfection at McKinsey. I also saw it a lot when I spent a decade in Silicon Valley.

In Silicon Valley, for example, you see this perfectionism play out as follows:

If you sell a company for a $100 million, how do you know you didn't just get lucky?

If you sell two companies for $100 million each, you still didn't sell either for $1 billion.

If you are "only" a $1 billionaire, you're not as "perfect" as being a MULTI-billionaire.

If you have a Harvard undergrad degree, you still don't have a Harvard Law degree.

Striving for perfection is an incredibly slippery slope, because no accomplishment is ever enough.

As a guy with three daughters, I've started paying attention to perfectionism in women.

The entire American culture of being a woman (from my perspective) is heavily perfection-based. You see it in women's magazines.

Buy this product to look more beautiful / less blemished / attract a guy. In short, every product assumes you're flawed, and every product promises to get you closer to perfection.

I used to be an occasional reader of Cosmo Girl magazine -- before the magazine went out of business. When I told this to moms in my community, they were always puzzled and had a look of concern on their face…. basically as if I was some kind of freak.

But, once I explained why I read it, they just laughed.

So why did I used to read Cosmo Girl magazine?

ANSWER:

To know thy enemy

Whatever brainwashing society was going to inflict on my girls, I wanted to know it well so I could attempt to inoculate my girls from it.

So what problem did I have with Cosmo Girl magazine (and by extension, Cosmo magazine for adult women)?

It's the premise.

The premise = You are (very) flawed and that's a problem.

I found the entire thing disgusting.

Literally every page -- every ad, every article -- was laced with this presupposition. It's one thing to put this in front of adult women who can make their own choices, it's another thing entirely to put it in front of an impressionable 11-year-old girl.

Got pimples? We can fix that.

Don't know how to do your hair the right way? We can fix that too.

How to get boys to pay attention to you? We can fix that too.

Unless you know what the publisher or advertiser is doing, and why they are doing it, you will (after say 10 years of reading this stuff in one's formative years) assume you're hopelessly flawed.

What I try to teach my kids:

Yes, you are flawed (because EVERYBODY is flawed… NOBODY is perfect) and you're perfectly fine the way you are.

Yes, strive for excellence to see how good you can become at whatever you're striving for, but NEVER feel bad for not being perfect.

What's ironic is the more successful someone is, the more it seems they're likely to suffer from addiction to perfection.

When I was at Stanford, a survey of Stanford women showed that roughly 85% of Stanford women were unhappy with their bodies.

Here were some of the most accomplished women in the world -- future supreme court justices, nobel prize winners, contributors to society, and the amount of genuine concern (and energy) about not having a perfect body really surprised me.

At McKinsey, the open secret is a lot of McKinsey people are incredibly talented AND incredibly insecure (in their lack of perfection). Many even argue that McKinsey targets the over-achieving, highly insecure -- because they "need" the validation McKinsey provides.

This obviously isn't completely true, but neither is it completely false either.

Arguably the people with the greatest accomplishments are the MOST insecure -- in part because they are close enough to perfection to see it, but never close enough to reach it.

I am not immune.

When I left McKinsey to do my first (of many) startups, my first one failed (the second one too). I kept benchmarking my career success vs. my former peers.

Geez -- so and so sold his company for $300 million. I did not (and still haven't). Then my wife's former college roommate sold her company for $950 million. Geez, I'm nowhere close.

In my early days as an entrepreneur, I struggled quite a lot.

I built and maintained a financial model comparing my current earnings vs. what I'd be earning if I were still at McKinsey vs. what I would be earning if I were working at McDonalds.

(Sadly, McDonalds won in more months than I care to admit.)

Yes, this is what ex-McKinsey people do with their spare time and insecurities… we QUANTIFY how much of a loser we feel like. Some habits, even when wallowing in self pity, are hard to break!

Needless to say, those estimation skills came in handy... 🙂

Is striving for perfection really that bad?

YES, it is.

Let me explain why.

Perfectionism is an addiction. A perfectionist needs the "high" of achievement in order to feel good about himself.

Although addiction to achievement doesn't seem like that big of a deal, the problem comes when the perfectionist is willing to put achievement over and above everything else in life -- marriage, children, health (and for some, even the law).

The thought process of the perfectionist is to sacrifice (potentially everything) to achieve what's "missing," and once that has been achieved, to appreciate life at that point in time.

This is a fool's journey.

The accomplishment addict will never stop and will never be satisfied for more than a few brief moments.

If you think management consultants, who are hyper analytical, are immune from this, you are wrong.

Just ask Rajat Gupta -- the former head of McKinsey worldwide… who is now in prison for insider trading.

Why would someone who is on the board of Goldman Sachs and P&G, who is a personal advisor to Bill Gates AND Bill Clinton engage in insider trading?

The speculation is Rajat Gupta, who has an estimated net worth of $125M, was frustrated that he wasn't a billionaire.

Many of his (Wall Street) friends were billionaires and he thought he was just as smart (if not more so) than them… and wondered how come I'm not a billionaire yet?

Like I said earlier… any addiction, even to perfection, when taken to an extreme can be dangerous.

My key message in sharing all this is to make the following two points:

1) Success is getting what you strive for.

2) Happiness is appreciating what you got.

Never CONFUSE the two. They are INDEPENDENT.

Do you want to be successful? To be happy? or to be Both?

These are entirely distinct (but not mutually exclusive) paths.

Statistically speaking, in the United States once a person's income reaches the country-wide median income (around $50,000 USD for Americans), their level of happiness does not increase as income increases.

Translated, once you know you will not starve to death and die, more money does not equal more happiness.

Once again, the two are SEPARATE.

Success is achieved externally. Happiness is achieved internally (through introspection).

I mention this because I wish someone had explained this to me very early in life.

While I understood this idea intellectually, I never experienced it personally until very recently.

You see over the past year or so, I've been working through my emotional baggage and issues with a therapist. Yes, I am terribly flawed.

Until recently, I always saw this as a problem… something never to be admitted to and in my heart of hearts to be ashamed of.

And after a year of working through the therapeutic process, I'm for the first time in my life actually okay with my flaws and "failures."

There was a time in my life (most of it actually) where the thought of my even "admitting" that I had problems and was seeing a therapist was horrifying.

I would have feelings of shame and fear that I would lose the respect of others.

(And yes, I really hope my parents never read this article… obviously, I'm not 100% "cured" yet!)

I've decided to share this part of my life for two reasons.

1) It is what it is. I am what I am… and I am finally accepting this to be true and even appreciating it.

2) I wanted to share my experience with you and my other readers in the event anything I've said resonates with you.

I wish I'd had an emotionally healthy role model to learn from early in life. I never did. Although I'm not sure I'm 100% emotionally healthy, I am certain I'm emotionally healthier than before.

Through this introspective process, I've come to recognize a theme in my professional work.

I like helping the "underdog," and I like "leveling the playing field" for the audiences I serve -- small business owners and more recently, aspiring and new management consultants.

For many years, I was reluctant to admit to either for fear of embarrassment.

Four years ago, I was giving a keynote speech at a conference hosted by Fortune magazine. The Chief Marketing Officer for Dell wasn't able to give the keynote, and they asked me to step in as the keynote speaker.

The conference was geared towards mid-size companies -- companies that are a lot more lucrative to serve as consulting clients (than small businesses) because they can afford higher fees.

I was explaining the work I do and more importantly the size (or lack thereof) of the clients I serve to another speaker. His response has stuck with me all these years.

"Victor, I get it. You have this stellar Fortune 500 background and you are willing to help the little guy and you aren't even the slightest bit embarrassed by it. That's so interesting," (in reference to the lack of my embarrassment… which of course implied I SHOULD be embarrassed by it).

I was too surprised by the remark to be offended -- but that's what I was… offended.

Along similar lines, about two years ago, I was reading a message board post about me written by an anonymous user… you know how snarky and mean anonymous posters can get. I'll never forget one criticism of me.

"If that Victor Cheng guy is so good, why in the hell would he be helping all of us get jobs. If he were really THAT good, he'd be CEO somewhere by now. He's a loser." (I edited out the 4-letter words that were used to describe me.)

Ouch!

I suppose at some level, it's true. If I really were "good enough" to be a Fortune 500 CEO, I probably would not be writing this right now. But, you know, I'm okay with it.

You see, the real reason I work with "underdogs" is because I get great personal satisfaction from doing so.

Of all the emails I get, my favorite one was from a young undergrad from Brown University (I think it was Brown). She had just gotten double offers from McKinsey and BCG.

She was raised by a single mother who earns $25,000 USD (very close to the U.S. poverty line) -- a mother who sacrificed enormously to be able to get her to Brown. The F1Y herself had worked hard and sacrificed for years to help create a better life for herself and for her mother.

As she explained, it was a HUGE deal for her (and her family) when she got two consulting job offers as a 21-year-old soon to be college graduate. Her first year compensation?

$90,000 USD -- nearly 4 TIMES what her mother earns in a year.

I was THRILLED for her.

I remember her closing lines were something like, "For years I wondered if all the work and hardship would ever pay off, thanks to your help, it did pay off. Thank you so much."

It was one of the most meaningful emails I received in my life. Up until that time, I thought I was just helping people out with a tough job interview.

After I received that email, I realized that I had just helped to change someone's life for the better. I never thought of it that way before. I've also never stopped thinking about it that way since that email.

THAT is why I do what I do.

In fact, not only am I not embarrassed by what I do and whom I do it for, I'm PROUD of helping others. It is the most psychologically rewarding work I've ever done in my life. And selfishly, it makes me happy.

So maybe if I were "better," I would be a CEO by now.

Maybe if I wanted more money, I'd serve the big clients who have a lot of it.

Maybe if I did those things, I'd be more "successful" (by someone else's definition).

But all of that just isn't me. I realize and appreciate this about myself… enough to speak openly about it.

I love what I do and who I do it for.

By traditional standards, I'm probably the farthest I've ever been from being perfect and "successful" (I am not a gazilionaire, a CEO of a public company, nor do I manage 500 employees), but I do strive for excellence in my work every day, I'm successful by my own standard, and I've never been happier.

Success vs. Happiness…. and Excellence vs. Perfection

Give it some thought as it applies to your life.

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131 comments… add one
  • Jamal Davis Dec 7, 2012, 3:52 am

    Hey Victor,

    I really appreciate your testimonial. I think everything you said resonated with me, especially because I was raised by a cash-strapped single mother. I often feel like the under dog and I’m just now learning to be happy and, maybe equally as important, allowing myself to be vulnerable.

    I think everything you do is incredibly dope. And I really hope I can offer you a testimonial of how LOMS helped me within the next two months.

    Thanks for everything,
    Jamal

  • VintageZ Dec 7, 2012, 3:53 am

    Dear Victor,

    Thank you for your wonderful message.

    I have been following your blog for over 2.5 years now, every since I started exploring the field of management consulting as a career option.

    Through this process of searching and applying to consulting firms, I stumbled upon your blog. My perception of your blog has evolved significantly since the early days.

    At the beginning, I felt that your blog was by far THE best resource on the internet to crack the consulting case interview process. As time went by however I still found myself visiting your blog and reading your posts. This was because, your blog was not only beneficial to cracking the case interview process, but also helped me perform better in the real world i.e. on the field. As more time went by, and I had grown from a novice to a professional in the field, I still found myself visiting your blog simply because of the various life lessons and other stories that you shared with your viewers.

    I would like to end by saying that you aren’t just helping people change their lives by helping them land a fantastic job, but you are also helping SHAPE people’s perceptions about life. In other words, you are not just an Advisor but a GURU.

    Good luck! And keep it up!

    Sincerely,
    VintageZ

    • Victor Cheng Dec 8, 2012, 1:33 am

      Thanks for your very kind words.

      -Victor

  • Sebastien Latapie Dec 7, 2012, 3:58 am

    Excellent post Victor. I strongly agree with the distinction you make between striving for perfection and excellence.

    It was also very refreshing to get some insight about your personal life and your emotional life. I don’t think there is any shame in admitting your flaws and the real reasons why you choose to do something, if anything else it makes you more relatable and builds a stronger relationship between the reader and (you) the author.

    I’m still in my hunt to land a job in Consulting, but can only attest to how helpful all of your resources have been. Keep it up!

  • Firas Dec 7, 2012, 4:01 am

    Victor,
    I have been receiving and reading every one of your emails since more than 2 years. I must say this one is my favorite. Partially because it applies to me to a large extent.
    I always strive for perfection and I”m never content with whatever I achieve. I also have that feeling that I am willing to scarifice everything and anything for what I want to achieve.. and I have done that before.
    Thanks for this great highly impactful post. Always looking forward for your next email.

  • Kenneth Lai Dec 7, 2012, 4:08 am

    Living in a world close to 7 billion population sure puts a tremendous societal pressure on an individual, especially when what we do is seen as unpopular/irrelevant to others; myself not excluded.

    Fortunately, the world doesn’t end when that happens; we’re still breathing, living a healthy life and can still perform a-ok, albeit not to the fullest, but hey we’re here and still standing.

    You humility has certainly impressed me. Hope to hear more inspiring stories!

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Rob Dec 7, 2012, 4:10 am

    Victor
    I have been following your posts for about a year now (during which I have succeeded in gaining an Assoc role at a top firm – thank you)

    But never before has your post cut through to me personally like your email today. To realise someone else as I do battles with the false pursuit of career perfection is hugely enlightening since it helps me realise “I am not alone” and that it is indeed fools gold.

    Now to take the lesson to heart… That’s the hard bit

    Best regards
    Rob

    • Victor Cheng Dec 8, 2012, 1:35 am

      “Now to take the lesson to heart… That’s the hard bit” — I TOTALLY agree. Half the reason I write what I do is to remind myself to DO what I think.

      Ideas are easy, habits are much harder.

      -Victor

  • Mani Dec 7, 2012, 5:16 am

    Thanks Victor. I really liked reading that.

  • Sartaj Dec 7, 2012, 5:18 am

    Victor,

    It seems you’ve found PURPOSE in life, which is more important all external sources of (temporary satisfaction) – material success and perfection. I guess we all are on a journey to search for that single purpose in life. As Winston Churchill once said:

    “The fortunate people in the world are those whose work is also their pleasure.”

    Thank you for a riveting email.

    • Victor Cheng Dec 8, 2012, 1:35 am

      You’re welcome!

      -Victor

  • Maximus Dec 7, 2012, 5:22 am

    Victor, appreciate the work you do and this article is excellent, not perfect :). I’m a perfectionist and you’re right it’s about success and not happiness. I just took the TOEFL and received 108/120 and was dissapointed as I aimed at 116. But hey, 108 is really good and if I’m comparing myself to myselft it’s not bad. This is the first shot and I may have many more if I want. I wanted to apply to HBS sometime ago, receive a job at McKinsey (this is how I got to know this website) because those instituations seemed “perfect”, but they’re certainly not. I admired McKinsey until I read about their consultants playing a pivotal in Enron’s collapse by instilling perfectionistic corporate culture… well, thanks one more time. I’ll definitely share this article with my peers.
    Best of luck,
    Maximus

    • Victor Cheng Dec 8, 2012, 1:39 am

      Maximus,

      Congratulate yourself for what you’ve accomplished so far AND keep on improving to see how far you can go. Good luck!

      -Victor

  • Jan Trybenekr Dec 7, 2012, 5:38 am

    Dear Victor,

    thank you for this great article full of self-reflection, humility and willingness to help other people with similar symptoms and tendencies make right decisions already at the beginning of their professional careers.

    I have been following your blog since the first days I got interested in management consulting. Honestly, this article has been the one the most impressive and valuable for me so far, therefore I have decided to share some of my thoughts regarding this topic.

    I have been a typical perfectionist you are writing about for many years of my life, collecting best grades and extracurricular achievements and placing success and top performance above everything else, until this habit started to turn heavily against me and hamper my progress and efforts.

    As a result, I was forced to undergo a painful personal transformation that is still in progress, but I am deeply grateful for nowadays.

    I am gradually moving my focus from perfection to vulnerability, from problem-solving to creating and from the celebration of successes to the celebration of every single moment, trying to be happy all the time, appreciating fully what I have.

    Although I have finally decided to get involved in social entrepreneurship and not in management consulting after the end of my studies as it is the area I feel I can create a bigger impact, I certainly do not plan to stop reading your e-mails I am subscribed to. I enjoy them now even more as I have understood that they are usually more than recommendations for aspiring consultants and provide the readers with REAL education covering various aspects of life.

    Thank you a lot for all of them and keep up your EXCELLENT work!

    Jan

    • Victor Cheng Dec 8, 2012, 1:41 am

      Jan,

      I’m honored that you would share you story. It sounds like you’re undergoing a self transformation. I wish you the best of luck with that.

      -Victor

  • Student Dec 7, 2012, 5:40 am

    Hi Victor,

    Thank you for sharing you personal struggles with us. I’m sure it connects with all of us as we constantly strive to meet what society defines as as success and perfection. Which reinforces what you say about perfection / success being external.

    On several points, though, I do have some deviants from your thoughts – just to play the devil’s advocate.

    Even though money is not correlated after a threshold with happiness, I wonder if prestige is. For example, the economist just came out with a recent article that says prestige is associated with longer lives and stronger health (http://www.economist.com/node/21552539). I wonder if prestige is at all associated with our happiness. Although a gloomy thought, from personal experience, I think I tend to notice that I am at least less insecure with prestige. Of course there are schools of thought that counter this such as the Happiness Hypothesis. What are your thoughts?

    In regards to Cosmo, I feel that it’s just a writing style – in terms of presenting a problem (PAR structure) to hook in the reader. I do think, though, it has damaging effects like you suggested. It’s also great that you mentioned issues regarding women since I think this is a huge area that needs to be improved as more women enter the workforce.

    Finally, I’m not sure if perfection is how I would describe the addiction to constantly achieve… since I don’t think there is a “perfect standard” since it changes depending on the area (Silicon Valley versus Wall Street). Rather, I think it’s uncurbed ambition dictated by what one sees in the real world and greed to constantly want more. People tend to never be satisfied and always strive for more even though they have already achieved much. It’s not having an limit on your desires that leaves you constantly unsatisfied. But I think the concept we talk about is the same, just semantics.

    Aside from that, I wanted to thank you for helping me land a great job offer before graduation at one of the biggest consulting firms and helping me realize my American dream. Like the mother your described, I come from a low-income family. Being about to receive a great offer really makes me appreciate not only people like you who contribute and help others but also just life and humanity as a whole.

    Finally, I’d like to end with a video which I think you will enjoy and aligns well with what you’re saying. Enjoy!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtSE4rglxbY

    • Victor Cheng Dec 8, 2012, 2:00 am

      The prestige hypothesis you mentioned is interesting. Here’s another interesting study.

      When people are given the choice of

      1) earning $100,000 USD when all of their friends earn $50,000 USD

      2) earning $250,000 USD when all of their friends earn $1 million USD,

      something like 80% of people pick option #1 — higher prestige (and relative income), lower income on an absolute basis.

      The problem with striving for prestige is the problem of attenuation. Whatever prestige you achieve, at some point you get used to it. When I got into Stanford as a teenager, I was thrilled. Today, I barely think about it as a big deal (though clearly it is something to be proud of) — I’m too used to it.

      I think this is related to the unending ambition you mentioned previously. If ambition has no ends, then what’s the point?

      Although though I don’t know any billionaires directly, I’m familiar with a few indirectly. I group them into two categories:

      1) Those who do what they’re passionate about and their net worth is a BYPRODUCT of his intrinsic motivation — I put Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs in this category.

      2) Those who have unending financial ambition (most likely in an attempt to use money to attempt to fill some emotional need… which of course is an illusion). I put Larry Ellison, a few Wall Streeters, Jeffrey Skilling, Rajat Gupta (arguably).

      Few people resent billionaires in the former category, a lot resent those in the latter. Although I find it difficult to explain why, I think there’s something going on here that’s important.

      -Victor

  • Z Dec 7, 2012, 6:55 am

    Hi Victor,

    One of the best emails I’ve gotten from you so far. I agree with your points 100 percent. And keep doing your thing. You’re helping to change countless graduate lifes with your interview prep material.

    It certainly helped me.

    All best,

    Z

  • Rudy Mazzalovo Dec 7, 2012, 6:59 am

    Dear Victor, thanks for sharing these aspects of your personal life. You must be proud of all the help you offer to the caseinterview community. I would like you to be aware that you are not “just” helping case interviewers or FFY. I am myself a senior manager in strategy working for a leading Fortune Global 500 company and I read every single post you send us to find all the inspiration and the “coaching” I need to progress in my career and life. And your strategy frameworks and career guidelines still apply to me. I wish I can find a way to thank you with something else than just words one day. All the best.

    • Victor Cheng Dec 8, 2012, 2:01 am

      Rudy,

      Thanks for your kind words. Of all the ways one can say thank you, the way with words is the most meaningful. Thank you!

      -Victor

  • P Dec 7, 2012, 7:34 am

    Victor,

    Thanks a lot for your inspiring mail!

    Personally, I do take perfection as a stimulus to be excellent. In other words, striving for excellence is a mean to get a little closer to perfection.

    There is one point I would like to mention: to me perfection is to be found in the platonic world of ideas. Now, ideas are extreme generalizations of instances. This links directly with the difference between “operational excellence” or incremental innovation, vs. breakthrough ideas, being a visionary etc. In my opinion the difference is that with the incremental approach you want to reach (and perhaps exceed) your target by confirming the same instantiation, while with breakthrough you move to a generalization i.e. you aim at a platonic world. As a concrete example, in music, i always strive to play “music” not my specific instrument. So it is the overall message that is important to me, not fact that I can play exceeding expectations.

    Sorry for the dense answer, hope it could take the discussion further. It is certainly a quite interesting topic!

    And, you are right: perfection “consumes” you! We have to watch out!
    All the best,
    P.

  • Gaurav Dec 7, 2012, 7:46 am

    Very insightful, and a life learning
    Thanks Victor

  • Krish Dec 7, 2012, 7:52 am

    Good Article. I wish my manager who had worked earlier in McKinsey would read this wonderful news!

  • XZ Dec 7, 2012, 8:18 am

    Hi Victor,

    “When a dog bites you for no reason, you often walk away and forget about it because you know the dog must have its own problems. This happens with people as well, when someone bites you for no reason, it is often their own problems that make them so pissed-off, and you should never doubt yourself because of them!” — I came across these words earlier today, and I hope they can help you as well 🙂

    • Victor Cheng Dec 8, 2012, 2:03 am

      XZ,

      A great quote. So true!

      -Victor

  • WL Dec 7, 2012, 9:01 am

    Hi Victor

    I am not in consulting line but I enjoy reading your blog as it offers new perspectives on life. I’d like to let you know that your sharing and advice are useful in many ways- sometimes as timely reminder, other time they highlight options in life. I especially like your honesty and the courage to be vulnerable and live your life… It certainly has and will continue to make an impact to people around you…. Thanks much for sharing and I wish you a fulfiling year ahead

  • Kyle Dec 7, 2012, 9:21 am

    Thank you for your message today, Victor. I believe I needed to see it today, and I admire you for your willingness to share it with us.

    I hope the support and thanks you get from commenters and readers has convinced you that you should never be ashamed of wanting to help people. It may not be a desire that’s positively correlated with net worth, but life is about more than that, and I think this is the key to really living it. God bless you, Victor.

    Thanks again,
    Kyle

    PS – My brother is now an FFY at BCG, thanks in part to your resources. My family is incredibly grateful.

    • Victor Cheng Dec 8, 2012, 2:04 am

      Kyle – Thanks for sharing your point of view and you and your family are quite welcome. – Victor

  • Arulmani Balasubramanian Dec 7, 2012, 9:40 am

    A very insightful article! Thanks Victor!

  • Kenny Bell Dec 7, 2012, 9:41 am

    Hi Victor,

    This is a thought provoking post and I enjoyed the whole thing.

    For a long time, I was confused why Rajat Gupta would do such a shameful thing.

    Your post clarified me and thank you for your insightful posts.

    I really do appreciate it,

    Thanks,
    Kenny

  • G Dec 7, 2012, 10:37 am

    Completely agree.
    Perfection is a just a perception. It doesn’t exist. Whatever one thinks is perfect can be made better. Thus, striving for perfection is futile. Instead, one should compete with himself in his pursuit of excellence.

    Thanks Victor. You made me believe in this more.

    • Victor Cheng Dec 8, 2012, 2:07 am

      The idea you picked up on also has implications for business strategy. Most companies (and their CEO’s) have an intense desire to “beat” the competition. Invariably this often leads to the company doing what the competitor does — only better.

      The more strategic approach is to do something DIFFERENT than your competitors.

      In short, market leaders compete against themselves. Followers often end up following the market leader and wonder why they can’t lead the market.

      Following someone else isn’t leading. It’s just copying.

      -Victor

  • Leonardo Dec 7, 2012, 11:00 am

    Victor,

    This article really made grow my admiration for you!

    Congratulations if you reached this point! Many people are trying their best to find their calling in life. You just found yours!

    “What others think of you is none of your business.” – Paulo Coelho.

    • Victor Cheng Dec 8, 2012, 2:08 am

      Leonardo,

      LOL… great Coelho quote!

      -Victor

  • Zack Dec 7, 2012, 11:01 am

    Hi Victor – thank you for sharing your experiences. I think I have had the similar struggles as yourself and your readers, and your post deeply resonates with me.

    I also grew up in a household with a single mother and very limited means. But, thankfully, she was overflowing with love that more than compensated for our financial circumstance.

    I have always strived to improve our circumstance and be a role model for my younger siblings. I set huge goals. In college I strove for perfection. I did really well until the yearning for perfection paralyzed my progress. I am currently trying to regain my footing and I am close to being back on track.

    More than anything, my failures have taught me the lessons you echoed in your post: strive to be the best person I can be, strive for excellence and continual growth, and pursue my passion (something I truly enjoy not what I think will make me look the best compared to my peers.)

    So, however far I reach as measured by important sounding titles, I will be truly happy as long as I adhere to these values.

    I read your posts because they are filled with wisdom, life lessons, and career advice. They have helped me in life and my career.

    Thank you for all your hard work; you truly help the underdogs and provide advice to people who may not have access to it otherwise.

    P.S. I have a question regarding consulting recruiting: I am a senior in college with great internship experiences on my résumé, but i don’t have a job offer. I will be speaking to a principal at one of the MBBs in a couple weeks. How should I prepare to maximize the conversation? Are these firms still recruiting for full-time candidates? Should I try to get her to plug me in the recruiting process or should I just try to build the relationship to open up future opportunities?

    Thank you for your time!

    • Zack Dec 7, 2012, 11:06 am

      I typed my email incorrectly in the last post. It is correct for this one.

      • Victor Cheng Dec 8, 2012, 2:25 am

        Zack,

        Thanks for you note. In response to your questions, the short answer is to focus on building the relationship — asking for advice (how did they get started, tips for the recruiting process, describe a day in the life, why consulting vs banking vs industry in their case) but not a job.

        If they like you, they will offer to help you. Be prepared for an impromptu case to test your skills. This is often given so your potential recommender can feel comfortable that you won’t bomb the interview and make them look bad.

        -Victor

        • Bill Jan 5, 2013, 12:06 pm

          Thanks Victor – the call was rescheduled several times and it will be next week. Your advice is very helpful and I’ll let you know how it goes.

          Thanks for everything you do, you really help people achieve the American Dream!

  • Andy Dec 7, 2012, 11:30 am

    Hi Victor,

    You couldn’t have said it better. I’ve always learned that nobody is perfect. So, it’s the thing in life one has to accept…the same goes into business etc.
    It’s a pleasure to read you articles/response. Thanks.

  • Chris Dec 7, 2012, 11:34 am

    Victor,

    It is evident that this article is the culmination of a very cathartic process for you. I greatly appreciate the words and completely agree. I believe that you exposed one of the great lies of life – money, success, acclaim, etc. bring happiness. The reality is happiness can only be found in contentment. Why do we enjoy success? Because at the very moment we reach our goal, we are completely content with what we have. However, as soon as we set a new goal, we are found wanting. Just like you, I’m not saying setting goals is a problem, but believing that you will only be happy when you have reached a certain place sets you up for a life mostly void of satisfaction.

    For me, there are practical ways to increase my contentment with my life. First, it is very important that I consciously pursue thankfulness. All of us can find things to be thankful for – even if it’s just that we live in a period in of time where the masses have access to economic mobility. Along the same lines, humility is key to being content. Excessive pride or self-importance creates a sense of entitlement, which obviously is the antithesis of contentment. I firmly believe that humility is key to love. This is perfectly demonstrated in your work Victor. When your view of self diminishes, you are able to deeply care about the success and well-being of others. At that point, your pursuit of excellence has far more meaning. It’s no longer a burden, but a delight.

    Again, thank you for this article. It’s so easy to get caught up in who we’re not instead of being content who we are.

    Chris

    • Victor Cheng Dec 8, 2012, 2:27 am

      Chris,

      I agree with your point on gratitude. I personally have a hard time doing this. A great exercise I’ve done before (but unfortunately not very consistently) is to start every day by thinking of 5 things you’re grateful for that day.

      -Victor

  • William Dec 7, 2012, 12:00 pm

    Hi Victor,

    Thank you so much for this honest, brave and insightful article.

    It’s very encouraging for someone in a similar situation.

    Thanks again!

  • Aboud Dec 7, 2012, 12:59 pm

    “If you have a Harvard undergrad degree, you still don’t have a Harvard Law degree.”

    Golden!

    Such an inspiring post.

  • Bill Dec 7, 2012, 1:44 pm

    Hi Victor,

    Wonderful email! A lot of it resonated with me. I too come from a single parent low income family, and I’d often felt like the “underdog”. Most importantly, I did not have an emotionally healthy role model growing up. I’ve been puzzled by the problem of obtaining happiness for some time now. Luckily, your email solves a large part of that puzzle. I have come to realize the perfectionism in my own thinking — the thought that I was very flawed, inadequate, and surely shame that come with it. I was loosely aware of this, but you message really helped to crystallize the concept. Indeed, everyone is flawed and there is no reason to be ashamed. The first step to be happy for me is to accept who I am. Then appreciate what I already have obtained in life. And to strive for excellence, to be the best that I can be and want to be.

    Victor, you have helped yet another “underdog”.

    Thank you very much,
    Bill

    • Victor Cheng Dec 8, 2012, 2:28 am

      Bill – You’re quite welcome. -Victor

  • Kamil Dec 7, 2012, 3:24 pm

    Victor,
    Well done as usual. I’ve been lurking here for some but this message really made me come out to tell you how much I appreciate your insights and would like to show gratitude for the fact that you continuously share with us, readers, those gems of wisdom of yours. Thank you!
    As for the today’s point I cannot agree more. I would say the moment you discover that happiness comes from within and it depends only on you whether you’re happy is the most liberating moment of life. It feels like getting unshackled.
    To finish up, let me just have one request concerning your posts: “Keep ’em coming, please” (but not too often either 🙂
    Cheers!

  • Karen Dec 7, 2012, 4:23 pm

    I read almost all your posts and always find little golden nuggets of wisdom. Quite often, and more so in the last few months, your posts make me reflect on what it means to live life well, which is really, what wisdom means. These wisdom-posts are infinitely more valuable than any piece of skill-building advice you have given because wisdom affects every life decision, and a life is so much more than just a career. When you understand what it means to live life well, have the insight to know how to do it and have the will/discipline to execute on that insight, you’ve hit the jackpot. At the end of the day, that is what everyone, billionaire or not, is striving for. It’s just that everyone has a different idea of the means to get there.

    Because a life-lived-well is personal and unique to each individual, part of acheiving it requires that you stop caring about what other people think, so much easier said than done that it has become a cliche. I think most people are shackled by their fear of judgement from others, and that fear forms the foundation for the decisions that they make. People, especially those driven by the desire for acheivement, want to be respected, envied and admired by others, and will make decisions based on that desire. Ironically, when you stop making decisions that feed that desire, you very quickly become the object of everyone’s respect, envy and admiration. Why? Because people see that you are released from the need to please others, and have that true confidence and freedom to pursue what your purpose in life is; and nestled in the most intimate part of people’s insecurities, that is also what they want.

    These questions are an excellent barometer to tell what you fear and worship, which are two things that directs people’s decision-making:

    1. What are the things in your life, that if you lost, would make life not worth living?

    2. When you have free time and/or during the moments before you drift off to sleep, where do your thoughts go?

    Many thanks for sharing your thoughts and being authentic and vulnerable in the process!

    Kind Regards,

    Karen

    • Victor Cheng Dec 8, 2012, 2:32 am

      Karen,

      You ask several great question.

      I love your point on “I think most people are shackled by their fear of judgement from others, and that fear forms the foundation for the decisions that they make. ”

      The problem with this (among the points you already mention) is if you’re degrees of freedom are restricted only to that which others expect, you’ll rarely take risks or do anything innovative or different.

      As you said, once you let go of everyone else’s expectations, it suddenly becomes very easy to do more interesting things — which others admire/envy. It’s a false envy because in reality anybody can do the equivalent in their own life if they just give themselves permission to do so.

      -Victor

  • Kristen Dec 7, 2012, 6:14 pm

    Thanks for this post, Victor. I feel like I’m in an Al Anon group, except I’m recovering from perfection. I graduated from Princeton 12 years ago and am still plagued with comparing myself with other people’s success. Your distinction between excellence and perfection is a truly helpful way of sorting out why I’m doing something – is it to do the best that I can do, or is it to win approval? I will keep using this to set my perfection-addicted Ivy League head straight 🙂

    Hearing that other people, even ones who are much more ‘successful’ than I, are still comparing themselves unfavorably to the bigger fish above them is a huge relief! It’s also a bit comic, albeit in a tragic way. I hope we can all get off the hamster wheel and find the kind of satisfaction you’re talking about.

    Thanks for being so open.

    • Victor Cheng Dec 8, 2012, 2:35 am

      Kristen — LOL… I know what you mean. (My name is Victor and I’m a recovering perfectionist)…

      You’re (we) definitely aren’t alone.

      -Victor

  • Helen Dec 7, 2012, 8:47 pm

    Dear Victor,

    I am not a consultant (I work in a Big 4 accounting firm in Sydney) but I always enjoy your blogs.

    I found this blog about excellence vs. perfection so insightful thst I have printed it out and stuck on my desk to remind myself every day to strive to be the best that I CAN, not what OTHERS SAY I SHOULD BE!

    • Victor Cheng Dec 8, 2012, 2:33 am

      Helen – Great!

  • HTH Dec 7, 2012, 11:07 pm

    Much appreciated! Thank you for sharing, Victor!

  • Chris Marasco Dec 7, 2012, 11:30 pm

    “Excellent” post. Thank you.

    I learned this lesson a few years ago, after I read “The Search for Significance” by Robert McGee.

    This $.35 book changed my life forever:
    http://www.amazon.com/The-Search-For-Significance-Through/dp/0849944244/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354937206&sr=8-1&keywords=search+for+significance

    (I DON’T receive any compensation from this. Just passing on a life-changer.)

  • Ryan Dec 8, 2012, 12:50 am

    So far your best post…you have great heart
    Very interesting perspective…I have been debating
    about this with colleagues and friends….your findings
    are amazing….keep doing the good karma

  • TN Dec 8, 2012, 1:32 am

    Hi Victor,

    Just wanted to say it takes a lot of courage to admit something personal like that, and I really admire you for it. You are not only the best aspiring management consultant coach I’ve found in a technical sense, you’re also an inspiring, humble, and deeply caring guy.

    I’ve got a final rounds with McKinsey next week, and I was really hoping afterwards (if the news is good) to send you one of those giant all-caps “THANK YOU” emails. But this post has reminded me that the *outcome* of that interview is not as important as the process of striving after a worthy goal in my life. It’s in the process, not the outcome, that I determine my character and happiness in this and other challenges. So regardless of how the interview goes, thank you for all the incredible work you do.

    Cheers,
    TN

    • Victor Cheng Dec 8, 2012, 2:39 am

      TN,

      ” the *outcome* of that interview is not as important as the process of striving after a worthy goal in my life. It’s in the process, not the outcome, that I determine my character and happiness in this and other challenges”

      Yes… and ironically when I’ve found CIBs embrace that attitude, they relax and usually perform better than when they see the interview as “do or die”.

      Good luck with the interview (AND with the process called life).

      -Victor

  • GK Dec 8, 2012, 8:07 am

    Dear Victor:

    Rarely do I feel compelled to reply to your mails. One of the best reads from you. I’m not in the consulting profession, in fact the more I read about this industry (through your site and blogs) the less chances I see for myself, but that’s a story for another day.

    For long I’ve been UNHAPPY about my LIFE and WORK, despite getting a PhD in sciences and working as a postdoctoral researcher. I’ve always COMPARED me with my PEERS (it’s just as in any other profession/business, except that making money/profits are replaced with grants/scientific publications). I always have felt that I’ve settled for LESS and life has treated me “UNFAIR.”

    After reading your excellence vs. perfection content [and looking over my shoulder (LOMS) ;-)], I feel like, hey, I’m not doing THAT bad. Yes, I’ve had a few tough breaks, and I mean who hasn’t. My LIFE, after all, is OK!

    My biggest take home MESSAGE from your post is this: if I’m spending way too much time trying to compare/BEAT others (aka TRYING to achieve PERFECTION), I’m never going to get ahead! Run my OWN race, instead. COMPETE with myself for EXCELLENCE and be CONTENTED!

    Recently, I was asked who my ROLE MODEL was and I quoted “VICTOR CHENG” (which, of course, resulted in who-the-heck-is-he and/or what-has-he-accomplished responses in my institute). My REASONS are — and I’m not saying this to flatter you — you aren’t just HELPING people SUCCEED in their careers, but also positively IMPACTING their LIVES profoundly. The numerous success STORIES from them are the TESTIMONY. It’s a hallmark of a LEADER, a ROLE MODEL, a trusted ADVISER, and on a related note I’m very thankful for sharing your personal story with us.

    Cheers,
    GK

    • Victor Cheng Dec 8, 2012, 3:07 pm

      GK,

      Thanks for your very kind words. I definitely empathize with your situation as it was analogous to my own for a long time… And even now it creeps in once in a while.

      The first time I realized I had this negative “self-talk” was when I would take some kind of class (singing, writing, astronomy) my stated goal was I wanted to “suck less”.

      My goal wasn’t to learn (at least not the top of mind goal) or to enjoy the activity, it was simply to “suck less”. At some point along the way, I realized that by focusing on that I didn’t really allow myself to enjoy the experience very much. I’m often surprised how much difference a simple mindset or attitude shift can make in how I feel about myself and what I do.

      This is newer territory for me and I find it oddly reassuring to know that others are going through similar situation. Thank you for writing and sharing.

      Victor

  • Elena Kokorina Dec 8, 2012, 3:11 pm

    Dear Mr Cheng!
    I have lots of respect for what you do for others. I get your email automatically and I read majority of them. Although I will probably not go into consulting industry, I truly appreciate your insights as they can be applied on a wider specter of life.
    It is refreshing to know that there are people like you who are despite their success ( cause you are successful and there is no need to be CEO of Fortune 500 company) they are present and willing to share their knowledge and wisdom with others.
    Also, it is obvious that you care for people in general.
    So, Thank You very much for all your emails, time and help to others.

    Elena

  • Senthil Dec 8, 2012, 8:20 pm

    Hi Victor,

    Absolutely brilliant email. It really resonates with me and I am sure with other FFYs. I have been introspecting a lot over the past few years and your statements are very true. I strive for perfection and I am very competitive, but I hardly relish my success and go in pursuit of new goal. It never feels enoug and tend to compare to other people.

    I have come across few brilliant articles on the issue you touched about. The problem is more with keeping it in mind, because I tend to fall back to older habits. I have to remind myself occasionally to step back and analyze my life, so much so it is actually on my calendar now. From what I have seen so far, it is an ongoing process. It doesn’t end, one has to keep themselves in check. Your article is fresh in my mind, but a few weeks down the line, I ll start back to fall into old mindset. As important it is to read and understand your email (trust me your email is one of the important issue in life), it is more important to reinforce in future. I have noticed even when I have had very brilliant insights, I have fallen back to old mindset when unchecked and had to remind myself. Just wanted to share my thoughts. I have also stored your email text and put a reminder to read it occasionally.

    Again I think this is your best email so far, its about us, how we live life as human beings and there is a lot of gold in your words. Thanks!!!

  • William Dec 9, 2012, 12:04 pm

    Dear Victor,

    I have read your email since the mid 2012.. Initially I read your email daily just to enhance my knowledge on how to pass trough MBB since I’m not came from a target school, etc.

    I didn’t have much to say to you, but this email might have change my perspective on life goal.. shifting from seeking for perfection to excellence.. and I have to say, I am very lucky to came across your website that day..

    I will pass along this article to my friends, hopefully they will find it as helpful as I am.. Thanks for sharing.. 🙂

    William Budiharsono

  • Kelvin Limonte Dec 10, 2012, 12:23 am

    Victor,
    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all of your work and insight. I too was raised by a single mother who fought to afford me an education. Thanks for giving me the courage to pursue this path and for giving me the guidance to excel!

  • Ermek Dec 10, 2012, 8:35 am

    Victor,
    Thank you for your great messages.
    Actually, I have doubts whether I really have to pursue career in consulting. But I am sure that skills that you teach are useful in any careers (I bought LOMS). Besides practical issues you share your thoughts on life, on wisdom that young people often lack. People need to ask “why” more often.

    • Victor Cheng Dec 10, 2012, 10:54 am

      “People need to ask ‘why’ more often”

      I definitely emphasize this in the context of a case, but I think your point is it very much applies to life as a whole. I totally agree.

      Victor

  • Shailendra Bade Dec 10, 2012, 4:58 pm

    Hi Victor,

    This email is like the 2 cent of wisdom which nobody wants to acknowledge. It is like we all are trapped in the mad race of comparing what the person next to me has instead of admiring what we have.

    I am also same and at time try to check and refrain myself from this. But many often fall in the trap. But how true are your words, I can relate to with a small incident that happened.

    I am a computer programer and ideally should not be hooked to your blog as I am non-finance, non-management background (wanted to do something in that probably might be one of the reason but somehow I just loved your writing). I was fascinated towards the financial world or towards the jargon they use in financial newspapers, media and analysis. Since, I didn’t understand an iota of it, it just made me more fascinated!!! I thought I need to enhance my knowledge of this domain as I often program many of these processes into computer working for a fortune 50 company. When we program, we absorb the biz complexities and try to deliver a solution. This is where I thought that let me do some formal study that will benefit the fascination as well as help in work. I was more in risk and fraud domain in computers so somebody suggested that go for the FRM (Financial Risk management) exam – http://www.garp.org – a difficult exam suited for the core risk professionals. But I opted because it gives a chance to read something in a structured fashion plus it is pretty challenging. Of course as it happens, we just postpone the things we admire to mundane affairs and I never got up to study seriously until very late. With the global exam of that level it anyways require a serious effort to crack, I struggled like anything. Compare it to somebody being assigned to design a computer chip while all that person right now knows is – Computer runs on a chip !! I knew that clearing the exam had reached to being treated a far-fetched idea but I still went ahead and attempted it instead of not showing up.

    Do not look for a dramatic ending to my story. Though the results are not out but at least I know the outcome for me. I don’t think if I was able to answer even 10% of questions correctly. But I was very happy and this is where your current blog comes into picture. I was happy that though I was not able to answer anything but I was able to understand the verbiage of the questions !!!!!! That verbiage was Greek to me since ages. I could not answer them as I had no concepts but still I was able to decipher what was being asked – arbitrage, option spreads, hedging, etc. When I came out I ran into a fellow candidate and he felt that I have really cracked the exam. I could not explain to him as to why I was happy. I was happy that as a person I was more enlightened than from where I started. But if I compared them with anyone else in the exam room, I should have fallen into depression. But I still was so happy !!!

    When I read your blog, this is the first thing that came to my mind that I was more happy comparing myself to my performance instead of the whole world who appeared in FRM. Because according to the norms of this world, if you flunk exam you have to remain sad and grieve about it.

    But as you rightly said – It’s about being as excellent as YOU can be.

    Thanks for bringing the rational back Victor…..!!

  • Andrew Dec 10, 2012, 5:29 pm

    Victor,
    I seem to be in good company when I say that I have continue to read your emails, having long since ended my first career search. Your lessons have only gotten better with time.

    To my mind, consulting is implicitly prone to fostering a perfectionist mindset. The notion that others hire you for guidance implies that you represent the ideal – they look to your model. In a way, it’s no surprise that perfectionists are so drawn to consulting. And as you say, admittance to the top firms has a way of validating those strivings for perfection.

    I loved your note (and think every FFY AND consultant in the world ought to read it) because it’s a reminder that personal growth should never take a back-seat to the professional demands of consulting. Thanks for sharing.

    Andrew

  • Zull Dec 11, 2012, 1:26 am

    Hey Victor,

    Very very good post.

    According to me, the search for perfection and its frustration for many recent graduates lie within 2 ideas that are being pushed permanently to us:
    1) Value of somebody = his/her success
    2) Success = financial success or/and fame

    In a nutshell, if you are not a billionaire/CEO/on national news/managing 200 people by XX (put the age here), it means that you are not smart or working hard enough e.g. you don’t deserve it. It was like luck/timing/personal circumstances had no impact.

    As you rightly say, this creates a new rat race towards a misplaced target of perfection – a new version of keeping up with the Joneses where Joneses are today the serial internet entrepreneurs who sell companies for millions.

    I had to wait the last day of my MBA to hear the sensible thing: “Do what interests you first; money and fame might come later and if they come, at least you will be happy”

    Z.

    • Victor Cheng Dec 11, 2012, 8:25 pm

      Zull,

      The question not enough people ask themselves (include MBA’s) isn’t what is your goal.

      It is the following:

      What is the goal of your goal?

      Until you answer the second question, its hard to trust your answer to the first question.

      -Victor

  • Amo Dec 11, 2012, 7:33 pm

    Hey Victor,

    even though I did not read everyone’s reply, I still think I hit the general tune by saying that this post was very inspiring again.

    I realized the same during my job hunt for an employment in consulting. Now I am with a boutique firm, rather than one of the big 3. I missed the chance of joining BCG through a very silly mistake in the partner interview, because I just wasn’t focused. (Funny enough, I did not have much training back then but my best interviews probably – not sure if its country differences though because it was for a BCG office in another country than most of my interviews, but the country I ended up working now.)

    Anyhow, of course I sometimes feel the urge for perfectionism in the sense that I wonder how things would be at BCG and if I should reapply. When reading your post I realized that, whatever I did in my life, I always wanted to be the best (provided it was something important to me). I would not set my goal as 120 % of my current performance / knowledge / etc BUT as 100+x% of the best’s performance / knowledge / etc – just to be better than the best (and by as much as possible).

    Now, in my current situation I realized – this is not always what makes you happy. E.g. I recently started a new sport I have no clue of whatsoever. Is it still realistic to become the best? Unlikely! Why do I do it then? For the fun! The team play! The exhaustion after training! …

    Job-wise I also am more happier now than I would probably be at BCG (and I have a friend who applied after me and made it). I am working not much more than 40 hours and therefore have time for sports and friends (in the new city I moved to). I started on the 2nd career level immediately, I am project leader in a project after 4 months. And so on. I admit this isn’t an ideal example because by the facts it might actually be the better job in the end (for me) anyways as compared to BCG e.g. I worked in a so called 2nd tier consultancy and even though I got used to working around 55-60 hours, I realized that this is not what I want: What do I get from sacrificing my private life down to 1.5 days per week maybe? Okay, worked at BCG which gets me a great job in industry. So then I have a great job in industry where I work the same amount of time. And it will surely never be less. So okay, I earn big money. But first of all: doesnt help me if I dont see my children growing up but they can do so in my wife’s BMW rather than another car. Second of all: the money will come on the long run anyways if you really wish I truly believe – as most people writing here are smart enough AND eager enough to make it to a good position anyways.

    The point I want to make is that happiness indeed is not necessarily to have the best (as others define it) – but have the amount of xyz that you want to have, realizing there is a trade-off for something else.

    Cheers, Amo

    PS: Yes, I know 55-60 hours is not much necessarily. And I worked more than that during my study time.

    PPS: And also, I quantified some things – e.g. do the fun calculation of getting your hourly wages for your 60-70 hour week, makes me think of the golden arches again, huh?

    • Victor Cheng Dec 11, 2012, 8:26 pm

      Amo,

      The key question to figure out is 1) what do you want, and 2) why do you want what you want.

      Once you figure that out, the tactical career decisions become much easier to make.

      -Victor

  • Utkarsh Amitabh Dec 12, 2012, 2:27 pm

    I am amazed by the power of simplicity and the rigor of self-awareness. Really appreciate your sharing this and it is true that you are an inspirational guide for many. As I head to INSEAD in 2 weeks, I will surely be catching up with your posts.

  • Catherine Chen Dec 13, 2012, 2:32 pm

    It’s really tough to come out the way you did, Victor. So glad you did to inspire others to do so and to see success and happiness the way it is.

    Success can definitely be addicting, as many high-achievers — including my former self — can attest to. But there is help and simple mindshifts can make a big difference in how you view your achievements.

    Catherine
    catherinechenwellness.com

  • iS Dec 13, 2012, 3:42 pm

    Victor,

    I anxiously wait for new blogs/articles from you as I find them extremely interesting, relevant and knowledgeable. This article is without a doubt the best article from you so far. Thank you so much for sharing with all of us. You are a source of inspiration for many. You are caring, empathetic, honest and sincere. You have touched so many hearts and souls and made a difference in so many lives. God bless you!
    irshad

  • Catherine Dec 13, 2012, 4:04 pm

    I love you. Maybe I’ll post a better reply some other time but this article really, really hit home for me. Thank you.

  • Bogdan Malashenko Dec 13, 2012, 4:39 pm

    Hey Victor,

    You are very brave man. I respect you a lot.

    BR

    • Victor Cheng Dec 14, 2012, 1:58 am

      Bogdan,

      You’re very kind. Thank you.

      -Victor

  • Adeshina Aladeshawe Dec 13, 2012, 7:03 pm

    I work in a health management firm in Nigeria run by a brilliant ex- Mckinsey guy who likes to make you feel sad when you don’t meet his standard, now don’t get me wrong he is a nice guy he just gets nasty if you aren’t hitting the benchmark. Two nights ago he told me that a report I had written was below bar cos I know I’m smart and I just so wanted for him to know that and please him, that I have been feeling blue since then.
    Now however reading this article I’m pretty sure I understand my boss better. I’m now free to strive to be better each time at what I do, to enjoy the process , working hard and smart while at it!
    Thank you Vic.! What a blessing this article has been to me.
    Gracias!

    • Victor Cheng Dec 14, 2012, 2:05 am

      Adeshina,

      De Nada!

      If its any consolation, people like your boss who make you feel bad for not meeting your expectations, also make themselves feel bad when they don’t meet their own expectations. So in once sense, he probably treats everyone equally.

      By the way, the better way to handle such a situation from his situation is to say that the REPORT didn’t meet his expectations (as opposed conveying you as a person are somehow not worthy). This keeps the focus on the output or the behavior as oppose to the person’s intrinsic self.

      Also, its much more actionable if he says this report didn’t meet my expectations. There were 3 things missing:

      Item 1
      Item 2
      Item 3

      Instead of doing Item 1 this way, it would have been better if you did it this other way — it’s simpler

      For item 2 instead X, it would have been better to do it Y way — its more precise that way.

      And finally for item 3 instead of A, doing in like B would have been better — it gets the main idea across sooner. Yes you had the right idea, but it took me too long to realize you had the right idea.

      Good effort, next time work on these 3 things and see if you can make it better.

      Giving feedback in this way, which is really more coaching than “attacking” allows the other person (in this case) you to not feel bad about oneself, keeps motivation high, and gets better results over time.

      He may have done this (and you didn’t mention it), but I thought I’d clarify for the sake of others who might be reading this.

      -Victor

  • Andre' Lugo Dec 13, 2012, 9:08 pm

    Wow, great post and awesome honesty! As we well know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I honestly say your words were really beautiful. As you indicated life is not about perfection (becoming CEO) but rather about seeking excellence. Giving to others is such an wonderful concept for in it you help others achieve their best selves. As a consultant for the past 7.5 years, I love seeing a client achieve success in an engagement due to my coaching and support. Helping other to become their best is what consulting is all about. I so appreciate your candor and honesty. It’s fresh and encouraging. As a reader of your blog for the past 1.5 years, I’ve enjoyed the concepts you present and the way you’ve shared about yourself to help others. I’ve watched your videos and read some of the books you’ve suggested (I’m currently reading Words that work). I’m sure there are numerous people you’ve helped that you know nothing about. They read your blog, and newsletter and then just go forth and conquer. Thanks for being real and sharing from your heart. We are all better for it. As an older consultant (50+), it’s refreshing to see someone who wants to give back and asks very little in return. Keep up the good work and may you and your family be blessed.

    • Victor Cheng Dec 14, 2012, 2:06 am

      Andre,

      Thanks for the warm wishes. Much appreciate and the best to you and your family as well.

      -Victor

  • Samantha Zhang Dec 13, 2012, 9:46 pm

    Victor, your emails and articles always come at the right time in my life and help me find clarity when I most need it.

    Last time it was when I just got my PhD and was on the crossroads between continuing to pursue Management Consulting opportunities or to go with a startup. That’s when you emailed us about being aware of our own strengths.

    And now, just as I’ve been really torturing myself about coming up with a million-dollar idea for my own company/app/website, this article pops up at the height of my frustrations.

    By all means I should be absolutely happy and satisfied. I am working from home, in the best city in the world, with the free time to do all the things that I’ve been wanting to do, and starting a life together with a wonderful husband and nicest dog ever. Yet, my Ivy League education and my Big Ten PhD at a top institution makes me feel like I’m not fully applying myself. That mental splinter of our drive for perfection gets really annoying at times.

    Instead of seeking perfection and comparing ourselves to colleagues and strangers who traveled down their own paths, it really is important to realize that in the end, the reason for having money and success is to obtain happiness. Since in our short life, happiness is a subjective thing achieved by personal satisfaction, what’s the point in beating ourselves up chasing after a goal that’s only going to bring more frustrations down the line.

    Thanks again Victor!
    SZ

    • Victor Cheng Dec 14, 2012, 2:10 am

      Samantha,

      I find its hard to be creative when one is being self critical and harsh with oneself. Just relax into it.

      Also from a process standpoint, one of the things I teach my clients is to forget about coming up with the killer product idea, website or app. Instead, go spend time with an audience you might want to serve, get to know them really well and try to figure out what problem they have that irritates them.

      That’s right, go hang out with some complainers… and THEN figure out how to solve the problem.

      This is demand-driven product development, as opposed to the more common (but far riskier) supply driven product development process.

      Every article, video, service and product on this website exists not because I thought it was a good idea. Every item exists because someone like you asked for it (and generally several people).

      -Victor

  • Samuel Dec 13, 2012, 9:53 pm

    Hello Victor,

    Thank you for the great piece of advice!

    I have been thinking about such issues lately myself. I can say that I have also been driven by perfection in the past, but through the years, I have realized that perfection is unattainable and that what really matters is to aim for self-improvement and be satisfied with the quality of our own work.

    I work in the NGO sector for organizations who do development work and humanitarian assistance. I’m facing a dilemma lately about whether or not I should go into the consulting business once my current contract comes to an end.

    I think I’m attracted to the consulting business for some genuinely good reasons and some other reasons that might be superficial.

    On the one hand, I believe consulting firms offer many opportunities to improve the quality of our work, think more logically, be more efficient at what we do, etc. To keep my motivation at work, I need to constantly be challenged and be learning new things.

    On the other hand, I’m also attracted to the business because of the prestige and the salary that goes with it. However, I’m not sure money and prestige will be enough to keep me motivated to dedicate 70 hours a week of my time to a job.

    I still have a few more months to think about my next move before my contract comes to an end. The more I think about it, the less I believe I should try and become a consultant in a big firm.

    However, I would be interested in learning how to think and work like a consultant as a mean of reaching excellence in my line of work.

    Do you have any resources/books to recommend me ?

    That would be greatly appreciated.

    Samuel

    • Victor Cheng Dec 14, 2012, 2:15 am

      Samuel,

      If you wonder if the money and prestige will be enough to keep you motivated, I will say that in my experience it will not — or at least not for very long.

      Anytime someone “wonders” it usually means in their heart they already know the answer, but their brain is trying to disagree with it. In a conflict between one’s heart and one’s brain, the heart will win in the end… or cause one so much against while it is being ignored.

      This isn’t true 100% of the time, but probably true 80%+ of the time.

      In terms of resources, if you want to master the analytical thinking process of consulting, I would recommend getting LOMS http://www.caseinterview.com/loms

      To learn more about the client management skills, join my newsletter for new consultants at http://www.caseinterview.com/new-consultant

      Other books you might look at, but they are either a bit technical or only take key topics superficially are Barbara Minto’s Pyramid Principle (which I demonstrate and teach extensively in LOMS) and The McKinsey Way.

      -Victor

      • Samuel Dec 15, 2012, 5:23 am

        Hello Victor,

        Thank you for the prompt answer. I couldn’t agree more with your comments.

        I have read the McKinsey Way and Engagement. I thought the concepts in the first one were interesting, but they are only addressed superficially.

        I’ll have a look at Barbara Minto’s material, maybe it will give me some good insights. As for the LOMS, I have been thinking about getting a copy, but it’s a big investment for someone in the NGO sector who’s not aiming at becoming a consultant in a top firm.

        Thanks for the information! Have a wonderful Holiday Season!

        Samuel

  • Mahir Abrar Haque Dec 14, 2012, 3:37 am

    Hi Victor have you heard of the Landmark Forum? It’s a transformational program. I believe you would find great value in it.

  • Altan Atabarut Dec 14, 2012, 6:13 am

    Wow,
    a very nice article with an important lesson that I wish I had at the very beginning of my life. Though better late than never.

    Teşekkürler – “Thanks” in Turkish

    Altan

  • Jo Dec 14, 2012, 11:19 am

    Excellence instead of perfection … it is so easy and yet it first had to be pointed out for me to see it. Striving for perfection is fatiguing and frustrating, striving for perfection and (of course) failing in it is what drives people mad and makes them unhappy. Striving for excellence it is then, and happiness. Thanks for sharing!

  • Joe Dec 14, 2012, 6:04 pm

    Thanks for helping the “little guys”. I am one of the little guy. I didn’t go to target school. My family are no where near to the de facto prestigious pedigree. I faced challenges and obstacles. I am deaf therefore it give me a un-leveled playing ground. I am stereotyped to someone who will have 4th grade level reading and unfit to living a productive life.

    I have overcame the obstacles. And, I have more to slay the “dragons”.

    I am blessed you wrote a book on case interview. It really help me on becoming better analyst. As matter of fact, I focus on improving my mathematical skills, refining decision making, and practicing my Minto Pyramid Principle.

    I am exciting to see you releasing a product for those who didn’t go to target school. It maybe will increase my confident to repackage myself as someone who is capable and competitive.

    I am clearly disabled but always -able in achieve greatness. Granted, it is take more layers to peel to get where I need to be.

    Whether of becoming a consultant or not and I know I will become a better acumen due to your sharing the roadmap to the consulting life. I thank you for share what you gain from your years at McKinsey and the continuing new experiences as Victor Cheng, INC.

  • Daniel Dec 15, 2012, 8:34 pm

    Victor, you are a dead set legend. I have learnt such an amazing amount from you, not only from your case interview preparation materials, but from all the stories that you have told. From hard technical skills to learning how to frame thinking in any context I have loved reading every single one of your e-mails in full.

    Thank you for everything you have done.

  • nikolai Dec 17, 2012, 11:33 pm

    That was so inspiring! It reminded me one great quote: Even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat.

    Many thanks!

  • Serena Dec 26, 2012, 12:51 am

    Dear Victor,

    Thank you for writing this post. I could not actually help but tear up and cry a little when I read this. It speaks to everything I’ve been struggling with growing up and continue to work on now. The older I got the more I thought what I wanted was to be perfect. Thanks for reminding me of an alternative path called excellence. It’s relieving to dare to introspectively listen to that voice in your head instead of always turning your ears to what others expect of you.

    Wish you the best.

    A work in progress,
    S

  • Carlos Dec 27, 2012, 2:02 am

    Dear Victor,

    I would not be surprised if you were a CEO after your plethora of experience. Embracing the challenge to become a fortune 500 CEO would be surmountable for you. However, you didn’t because you found success and happiness in helping others achieve greatness. You did not have to look further in the socioeconomic ladder, because you made it. I strive to be like you, committed and relentless. Thank you for the powerful message.

  • Sumit Choudhary Dec 28, 2012, 1:20 am

    Hi Victor, I have been following your emails since 1 year and truly speaking it has given me a lot of insights into myself and the world of management consulting. I would like to thank you for your efforts and wish that you continue with the journey of educating young minds.

  • Krissia Jan 22, 2013, 10:15 pm

    Best article ever. Thank you Victor for sharing your thoughts and for having the audacity to share yourself, your mission and your life goals with the aspiring consulting community. Your daughter’s would be very proud =)

  • Leonardo Jan 25, 2013, 9:46 am

    Great article!

  • Gus Feb 5, 2013, 8:45 am

    Thanks Victor, it was a real pleasure reading your keynote address. Yes, I agree there is a real feeling of personal satisfation and joy when helping others in their endovers. I did it several times and I liked it. I never wrote anything in this page, however something cross my mind when you put the PROBLEMATIC “Success vs. Happiness…. and Excellence vs. Perfection. Give it some thought as it applies to your life.” I found this worth a huge study but in fact I read a book (french) with the title “Le Bonheur: Essai sur la joie” written by Robert Misrahi. In this tiny pocket book, I found a lot of answers to the Question posted.

    Thank you again,

    Gus

  • Nick Feb 7, 2013, 1:24 pm

    Victor, this was an incredibly helpful post for me. I’ve experienced my share of failure. I got a mediocre job out of college (in 2009), and recently I made the semi high risk/reward move of doing a top 5 MBA at a relatively young age (started at 24) to my peers. I worked really hard to get a job in consulting which was my goal going in, and fell short by the tiniest of margins (was called and told this by two firms).

    It’s been a trying time, I especially think it’s tough in Asian cultures because it’s common in these cultures for parents to compare their kids with each other. My parents haven’t been particularly sensitive about how difficult it is to get a job and compare me to “successful” cases of people in PE etc (who are almost always older). I always point out to them that simply graduating before the economy fell off a cliff is a pretty big advantage that will compound over time, but I think overall it’s a fruitless exercise to do these comparisons. Everyone starts at a different point with different upbringings and even different genetic traits.

    I will say though that when you stop comparing yourself to others and think about the progress that you yourself have made over time, and the things you are thankful for in your life it does make you much more likely to be happy. There’s a great quote from Epicurus: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

    • Victor Cheng Feb 21, 2013, 5:16 pm

      Nick,

      I love the Epicurus quote — very true. Also, I totally agree with your introspective insights. The best benchmark in the world is you vs yourself, you vs your past, you vs your inherent potential.

      Incidentally, this is the benchmark of champions and leaders in their fields. When you lead your own direction, by definition there is nobody else to follow.

      Good luck with your efforts. It sounds like you are very close to your goals. Persistence pays off (though not always immediately).

      -Victor

  • Yue Feb 19, 2013, 9:22 am

    Victor,
    I’d like to share a sentence as I find it helps me: “To see failure as endeavor; not disgrace.” The idea of not seeing failure as a disgrace can really set people free from own’s captivity. It turns your view on yourself from admitting the inadequate self to positive evolving recognition.

    • Victor Cheng Feb 21, 2013, 5:23 pm

      Yue,

      My attitude towards failure has changed a lot since becoming an entrepreneur. I have since taken the word “failure” as it relates to how some other party is responding to your efforts (e.g., customers for entrepreneurs, recruiters for CIBs), and replaced it with the word “feedback”.

      The simple word substitution has made a big difference to me.

      -Victor

  • YourFAN Feb 22, 2013, 8:23 pm

    Victor,

    I have recently graduated as an engineer from a tier 1/2 university in the UK, with sub-par results. Call it god’s grace or my ability, fortunately did bag two offers from a fortune 500 and a startup.

    A desire for a career in management consultancy enticed me to your site. I am from India and obviously have heard as much about Mahatma Gandhi as did rest of the world.

    Gandhi- a trained, practising barrister eventually a pivotal career shift to work as a freedom fighter- to most people it did not appear as a significant career shift. Years down the lane, today we have independent India and ‘Gandhi’ is apotheosized as the Nations ‘father’.

    I think people who have been here to your site, made into consultancy or not, would anything but be extremely grateful to you. The decisions made and the path chosen by you, Gandhi are not the easy ones. These are the ones that only few, very strong men can make. Men who have the audacity to sacrifice lucrative materialism for larger contribution to society.

    These exemplary individuals know the true meaning of humanity, societal economics- they are the real patron of self actualisation.

    I salute you. I often refrain from writing comments but could not stop myself. If I ever get into MBB, not only it is for you, but I will accept we are weak you are strong. I failed you won. I have only taken but you have given, for no gain of your at all.

    A great conscience is priceless.

    Thank you

    • Victor Cheng Feb 22, 2013, 9:03 pm

      Thank you for your very kind words.

      Best Wishes,
      -Victor

  • foamposites Apr 8, 2013, 5:46 am

    On the road to riches is where we’d all love to be. Some of us make it happen, while others try to get there and simply can’t make the journey. In the above text, you have just learned a few ways in which you can reach that ultimate destination. Use what you’ve learned and have a happy, safe trip!

  • Abigail Apr 20, 2013, 11:03 am

    I have kept this blog post open in my web browser for a week now. I have read and re-read your words more times than I can count. I have read all of the comments and all of your replies. Obviously, this spoke to me.

    I’ve come to consulting at the mid-point in my career. I got my undergraduate degree 19 years ago and my MBA (2nd grad degree) 10 years ago. My educational pedigree is impressive – top tier all the way. But in my mind, my career has always fallen short. I’ve never reached the pinnacle that everyone expected of me – or rather, that I thought they expected of me.

    I’ve changed paths and started over from scratch several times. I’ve had a failed marriage in a foreign country and a failed business that was doomed by a failed partnership. My professional growth has been stunted by my failures. Or so I thought.

    I’ve received two life-changing pieces of advice during the process of trying to break into consulting. The first was from a former McKinsey guy on a Skype mock interview set up by my MBA program. He said, simply, “Stop apologizing.” He pointed out that my zigzagging career path was neither uncommon nor something to be ashamed of – rather that it could even be considered in a positive light as it provided me with broad experience.

    The second piece of advice was from you – this blog post. We’ve never met, never talked, but this post talked to me. I am a perfectionist. I know this. It’s in my DNA – I come by it honestly. It can be an asset, but it is also my greatest weakness. The perfectionist in me believes that I’m a failure. The perfectionist in me has kept me from going to school reunions because I fear that my classmates will view me as a failure. The perfectionist in me holds me back from happiness and even success.

    I don’t mean to say that I’m unhappy. That’s the funny thing, actually. I’m at a really happy place in my life right now. I like where I live, I have a great set of friends, I’m able to participate in volunteer activities than enrich my life and I have family nearby for support. I don’t choose my friends based on what school they went to or on their professional achievements. I don’t expect them to be perfect. In fact, I wouldn’t want them to be – how boring. Why would I hold myself to such an unreasonable standard?

    So now, slowly, and through much introspection, I am letting go of ‘perfect.’ I am reassessing my own value and my career path. And I’m finding that I like this new version of me.

    Thank you, Victor. You’ve made an immeasurable impact on my life.

    • Victor Cheng Apr 21, 2013, 2:18 am

      Abigail,

      I found your story and words very touching and humbling. I’m glad you found a way to be more accepting of yourself. One of the big catalysts for the change in myself was seeing how perfectionism was harming one of my daughters.

      She is [Amazing] – [1], I see the amazing in her and the only part she sees in herself is the -1. It was a heart breaking to see her hate herself because of the -1. That’s when I realized that my perfectionism and previous lack of acceptance was rubbing off on her and it also helped me realize that I too massively overweigh my own -1.

      Its taken some time to learn to think differently, and for it to trickle down to her, but we are both much happier now. Thank you for sharing you story.

      Victor

  • eynes galoc Apr 21, 2013, 12:22 am

    Hello, Victor
    Very interesting topic, when my 14 year old daughter ask to me those questions I didn’t know how to explain her. you fix my life. money is nothing in life. see all these unhappy billonaries.
    Thank you

  • Carlos Apr 25, 2013, 4:00 pm

    Victor:

    This post was truly inspiring for me, mainly because the majority of my life i’ve always aimed to perfection, but the moment i focused my attention to excellence the relief was overwhelming. I’m trully sharing this post with other graduate fellows on behalf of quitting the absurd and non sense perfectionism race. This doesn’t mean at all that i’m quitting on my goal to land a consulting job preferrably on the US.

    For the purpose of benchmarking on the salary topic i was also reading i’m going to share this with you: I’m a business analyst in consulting on a big four firm in south america. My salary is barely 8.000 USD a year which can be shocking the moment you know that 25.000 USD is near the poverty line on US. With this salary I live well but i’m aiming at more, that’s why i arrived at your page. Thanks for the wonderfull and inspiring words.

    Best Regards,

    Carlos

    • Victor Cheng Apr 25, 2013, 9:57 pm

      Carlos,

      I’m glad you found the article helpful. In striving for excellence, the only comparison is you vs your maximum potential. Everything else is just noise.

      Best Wishes,
      -Victor

  • Chris May 22, 2013, 5:28 pm

    “Strive for perfection. It is a place you will never reach, but it is the journey that makes us great.”

  • Amy May 27, 2013, 2:05 am

    Hi Victor, you are a true role model. I am so grateful to find you last year when I was stuck in a career bottleneck and experiencing some sort of depression. My life is getting so much better now. Thank you for all the courage you give me. I am following the Strategic Outlier Newsletter and it’s incredible! Thank you so much!

    • Victor Cheng May 29, 2013, 2:10 pm

      Amy,

      I’m glad life is back on track for you. Thank you for your kind words. As for the courage you feel, I didn’t really “give” that to you, you gave it to yourself. You did a good job of “self care”.

      Thanks for reading the Strategic Outlier letter. I’m enjoying writing it. It’s probably the one day a month I look forward to most.

      Victor

  • THANKYOUVICTOR Jun 17, 2013, 4:56 pm

    I just read your article Victor… This is first time I am writing comment on any article ever on the web since I could relate to your article .. at one point I was never happy when I strived to be perfect but quite satisfied when I aspired to be excellent and have made this transition (from perfection to excellence) just some months back when one of my peers mentioned this..

    I would just like to thank you a lot for enlightening aspiring people all over world like us with this website and sharing your career milestones with all. You are doing a great job and whoever has written a negative comment about you only goes on to show how insecure they are. Please continue and keep up great work. BTW I have young daughter (1.5 yrs) too and taking lot of tips from your posts on how her future should shape up meaningfully.

    Thanks

  • Lakshmy Aug 5, 2013, 12:45 am

    Dear Victor

    This was one of the best articles that you wrote. I have subscribed your articles and I have them in my email. Sometimes I read this article over and over again just to make me feel better.

    Thank you.
    Lakshmy

  • Gabriel Aug 16, 2013, 10:50 pm

    This was the best article Ive read in your site, thanks for sharing.

  • Navdeep Jan 20, 2014, 12:40 pm

    Victor
    I read your blog a few times and have always found your comments insightful. However, I have more respect for you now after reading this article. Thanks for sharing your life’s lessons about happiness vs perfection. I’m going to teach my kids the same thing. Be comfortable with yourself, with occasional failures and strive for excellence but not perfection.

  • Mohan Murari Jha Apr 20, 2014, 4:00 pm

    Sir,
    Perhaps oldest Hindu scripture UPNISHAD declares,” MANA EVA MANUSHYANAM KARNAM BONDH MOKXHYAH” means Mind is the only cause for slavery or freedom of human being. Your choice of your life and happiness lies in renouncing the constant thought waves of fear and greed and embracing the path of selfless services by improving others lives and striving to live in eternal bliss. Never get your cherished choice corrupted or compromised. Long live your Choice.
    With tons of regards,
    Mohan Murari Jha.

  • Debbie Briody May 11, 2014, 3:27 am

    A very enlightening read…and incredibly helpful to me. Thank you.

  • Greg Oct 1, 2014, 5:12 pm

    I have my final round MBB interview coming up this week, and I don’t think I’ve smiled for 4 days. I’m smiling now.

    Thanks, Victor. Your candidness is inspirational.

    • Victor Cheng Oct 4, 2014, 12:12 pm

      Greg,

      I’m so glad.

      Thanks,
      Victor

  • Aaron Oct 7, 2014, 8:56 pm

    Hello Victor, your article was an interesting read. I want to ask your opinion on a matter. Try to imagine a teenager who has never wanted, lusted, or yearned for any material things i their life. Hard to believe I know but if this teenager knew how and was allowed to, this person would not mind living off the plains and rain forest. That is if he could find such a place that was not owned by anyone in today’s world.

    So back to my original case, what would you say to this teenager that has no goals. What is he to do with his life? Are his/her parents to make arrangements for him/ her to become the next Tarzan? Or once the teen reaches 18 are the parents supposed to let him/her wander their home city/town homeless? Perhaps he does find a job lets say as a janitor, or at a cash registrar. Your saying as long as he/she strives to be the best at these jobs he/she will be happy? Perhaps this person does feel content with what they have accomplished thus far. Then all of a sudden because we are social creatures this person seeks companionship. Lets say he/she finds said companion. GOD willing eventually a family comes to the mind of this person but this person or spouse cant afford to have a family. So this person seeks a better job perhaps janitor manager, or store manager they have years of experience with their happy jobs that they should qualify hands down. But is this advancement considered striving for perfection. Is becoming such an excellent janitor or registrar (to be able to manage others) striving for perfection? Are they conforming to societies views?

    I guess the point I am trying to make is that in today’s world it is very difficult, borderline impossible to not conform to societies views without living a life of constant struggle.

    So at what salary is the line drawn between excellence and perfection?

    How can one be happy by having nothing except the shoes on their feet, the breath in their lungs, the blood in their veins? Especially when the rest of the world continues to raise the minimum bar ever so higher.

    I do not wish to offend you or anyone else I am simply looking for guidance.

    thank you and any response is appreciated.

    • Victor Cheng Oct 9, 2014, 1:31 am

      Aaron,

      When a child comes of age (whether that is 18 years old or 21 or some other arbitrary age), parents should let their kids be full fledged adults — with the ability to make their own choices and live with the positive and negative consequences of their choices.

      With respect to your many other questions, here are my views:

      > what would you say to this teenager that has no goals. What is he to do with his life?

      He should do whatever he (or she) wants to do with his life.

      > Are his/her parents to make arrangements for him/ her to become the next Tarzan?

      No, but the teenager may choose to do that for himself with his own resources (or lack thereof)

      > Or once the teen reaches 18 are the parents supposed to let him/her wander their home city/town homeless?

      I don’t know if 18 is the cut off, but at some age, yes, parents should let their ADULT children live their own lives with full consequences of their choices. I know of one family that refuses to let their originally teenage son suffer the consequences of his own choices. He is now 45 years old, still living at his parents home (been doing so for 10 years) rent free with a live in girl friend… and unemployed this entire time.

      This is the 45 year old “teenager” living as he pleases at his parent’s expense. It’s not the fault of the “teenager” (okay it is), but the parents are enabling him by shielding him from the (potentially painful) consequences of his choices.

      > Perhaps he does find a job lets say as a janitor, or at a cash registrar.

      Great. Honorable work.

      > Your saying as long as he/she strives to be the best at these jobs he/she will be happy?

      No I am not saying that at all. I am saying if cleaning and interacting with customers makes this person happy and he strives to be as good as he can be at both, he will enjoy it.

      Personally I would hate it because that is not what I enjoy doing.

      The difference between excellence and perfection is this. With excellence you strive to be the best that YOU can be (reaching your maximum PERSONAL potential). With perfection you strive to achieve a literally impossible goal defined by someone else.

      You can be a janitor that strives for excellence or perfection. You can be a cashier that strives for excellence or perfection.

      You can be a heart surgeon that strives for excellence or perfection.

      The distention between excellence and perfection makes no value judgment on any profession. It simple argues that HOW you pursue whatever profession you like matters to your personal satisfaction.

      > Perhaps this person does feel content with what they have accomplished thus far.

      Great, then there is no problem… thus far.

      > Then all of a sudden because we are social creatures this person seeks companionship. Lets say he/she finds said companion. GOD willing eventually a family comes to the mind of this person but this person or spouse cant afford to have a family. So this person seeks a better job perhaps janitor manager, or store manager they have years of experience with their happy jobs that they should qualify hands down. But is this advancement considered striving for perfection?

      Not at all. People change over time. What people want changes over time. It is a personal CHOICE that can be made regardless of whether one is striving for excellence or perfection.

      If you CHOOSE to be a janitor manager, do you choose to be the best you can be at it or do you choose to attempt t be perfect at it. In the former, if you do the job to the best of your ability you should be pleased with yourself. You achieved excellence. If you adopt the perfectionist mindset, you will only be happy when you do the job perfectly… which means logically you will never be happy because perfection is impossible unless you are a deity.

      > Is becoming such an excellent janitor or registrar (to be able to manage others) striving for perfection?

      No. The decision to strive for excellence vs perfection is a choice made WITHIN oneself. When chooses perfection, one shifts the standard that one judges oneself by to an external source — ensuring your happiness depends on people and things you do not control or influence.

      > Are they conforming to societies views?

      It depends on if the choice they made was a personal one, or one they made solely because society told them to. Two people can make the exact same choice — one for intrinsic reason and one for extrinsic. You can’t tell if a person was internally motivated or externally motivated (by society) solely by the choice they made.

      >I guess the point I am trying to make is that in today’s world it is very difficult, borderline impossible to not conform to societies views without living a life of constant struggle.

      I totally disagree. Society’s view of anything is by definition the view of the majority. Whatever the majority view is, that view is mathematically speaking the average view.

      Most of my clients reject society’s views on many aspects of their lives. It is precisely because they reject society’s way of doing things that they are so successful and happy with what they are doing.

      Again, it is not the specific decision that is relevant here. It is the MOTIVATION behind the decision that is key.

      I went into management consulting originally because I truly thought it was the amazing profession for me at that stage of my life. To solve business problems all day long, to learn tons about an area of passion of mine, AND to be paid well for it was just amazing to me.

      I know a great many people who have gone into management consulting because they thought they were “supposed to”. They were miserable and eventually left. Many years later, they found what they loved to do, did it well. And interestingly most of the people I have in mind who fit this description were former female colleagues of mine. Most of them are now university professors with full tenure — some quite well known in their fields.

      > So at what salary is the line drawn between excellence and perfection?

      Salary is irrelevant to the distinction between excellence and perfection. I think you are conflating the “excellence vs perfection” concept with “traditional vs non-traditional” career paths. They are separate issues.

      Your question doesn’t make sense to me. It’s like asking what is the salary line between an Olympic athlete that strives to perform at the absolute best they body is capable of performing and being happy with whatever medal (or non-medal) they obtain as a result vs one that considers anything short of gold a failure.

      What is the salary cut off point difference between these two types of people? The question doesn’t seem relevant to me because salary doesn’t enter into the equation at all.

      > How can one be happy by having nothing except the shoes on their feet, the breath in their lungs, the blood in their veins?

      How could one NOT be happy with nothing but the shoes on their feet, breath in their longs and blood in their veins. Some of my happiest moments are when I am walking in the woods or on a mountain top with nothing but the shoes on my feet, the breath in my lungs and the blood in my veins.

      > Especially when the rest of the world continues to raise the minimum bar ever so higher.

      Who cares what the rest of the world is doing? Minimum bar for what?

      Much of happiness comes from the ability to appreciate and be grateful for what you have in your life. If you can not feel gratitude for what you have in your life, I guarantee that when you have 5 times more in your life, you won’t feel any happier.

      Success = Getting What you Want
      Happiness = Appreciating What You Have

      The two are independent. Happiness does not depend on achievement. It depends on appreciation.

      -Victor

  • Jesse Jan 10, 2015, 2:13 pm

    Mr. Cheng,

    A simple Google search this morning following a discussion with one of my employees lead me to your article, and now a recipient of e-mails from your site. For this, I thank you.
    I had Googled looking for a word like “Perfectionist” only one meaning someone who sought excellence instead of perfection. Unfortunately, “Excellentist” still isn’t a word. Fortunately, I found your article instead which is now required reading for my entire staff.
    I couldn’t agree with you more, nor did I understand how vastthe two concepts are. One thought that your writing inspired in me though: It is funny that Success and Perfection seam to be an ending destination on lifes path whether you reach it or not. But Happiness and Excellence have no end to be acheived. They reward you with more travel.

    -Jesse

  • Lay Monica May 9, 2015, 11:39 pm

    Hi Victor,

    I wish the same thing as you (i.e., have a role model of 100% emotionally healthy person). Yes, I resonate you in terms of struggling with my emotional baggage.

    I am a person who is difficult to accept my failure. I feel ashamed of them and sometimes it feels like I want to kill myself because of it.

    Anyway, this article is the one that I always read everytime I fail (e.g. loose in a competition). I wish I can read more articles from you about how you overcome perfectionism. This trait is hurting me.

    Thanks a lot for your powerful words in each of your article. It helps me to reinvent myself everytime I feel blue about my failures.

    Hope I can be emotionally healthier later.

    -Monic-

    • Victor Cheng May 11, 2015, 11:23 am

      Monic,

      I know the feeling of shame from failure all too well. It frankly really sucks.

      I have evolved my own relationship with failure over the last few years. I pass along a few things that have worked well for me.

      Instead of thinking I’m a loser for “failing”, I reframe the entire situation as one of me merely being human. I am not a loser. I am human. No more. No less.

      One thing I’ve learned and have since taught my kids, is that “making mistakes is how we learn.”

      My then 4 year old daughter is the keeper of this mantra in our household. We had a mouse running around the house after some repair work done on a dishwasher left a small crack open to the outside.

      Since my kids love animals, I used a humane mouse trap to capture but not kill the mouse. It worked.

      I showed my three daughters that caught mouse. My 4 year old promptly opened the door to the trap to see what happened. The mouse ran away to the other end of the house.

      Her tw older sisters yelled at her and yelled somewhat in general. I could see the look of surprise on her face from the mouse running away, and hen the deep shame she felt from her sisters, in their super agitated state, coming down hard on her.

      I immediately called for a family meeting to intervene. I reminded my older girls that we do not yell at someone or try to make them feel bad for making s mistake. I asked my 4 year old, did she have a hypothesis about what would happen if she opened the door to the mouse trap?

      She nodded her head to signal yes.

      I asked did your hypothesis turn out to be correct?

      She shook her head from quickly side to side answer no.

      I said, did you learn something?

      She nodded her head up and down in agreement.

      So I said, that’s good,

      “Making mistakes is how we learn.”

      It is okay. We all still love you, and I’m glad you learned something today.

      Ever since then, whenever someone in the house makes a mistake (often it’s me), I always say…

      “Making mistakes is how we __________”

      And my four year old, who is now five years old, always blurts out “LEARN!”

      It’s quite funny when I’m the one making the mistake and beating myself up for it, to hear her say, “Daddy. It’s okay. Making mistakes is how we learn.”

      Another thing that’s been helpful to me is the concept of the failure bow. I’m taking a class in improvisational comedy. In the class, they teach a concept called the “failure bow”.

      It comes from the circus, where if a circus performer falls off the tight rope and lands in the safety net, rather than shake his head and hold his head down low in shame, he instead bounces off the net a takes a big bow celebrating the “failure” . He owns that falling is a part of the process and because he is comfortable with it, so is the audience.

      So in improv, when we make a mistake, we take a big bow and everybody in class cheers. Since improv is all spontaneous there is a failure literally every 5-10 minutes. There are colossal train wrecks of failure. There are pretty big embarrassments, and we all learn to embrace it and learn to re-associate failure with fun and laughter rather tha on shame an embarrassment.

      Finally, I have found that it can be useful to intellectually think about where that feeling of shame comes from. Shame is taught. A new born infant feels no shame. If they did they would not cry at 1 am, 3 am, and 5 am in the morning!

      An interesting question to explore is who taught you to feel shame about yourself? What purpose did it serve?

      Often the answer to the first question is a care giver one had in early childhood – a parent, relative, teacher, coach, babysitter, older sibling. Then ask what was the purpose of that shame?

      Often the purpose of shaming somebody is to benefit the person sending the shame, rather than the person receiving it.

      Shame is a mechanism. It is taught. By whom and for what purpose, only you can answer that in your life. But I can say, it likely serves no useful purpose in your life today as an adult. It is okay to slowly let it go, and replace it with love, acceptance and compassion for yourself.

      The antidote to shame is self acceptance. The key to self compassion is kindness to self. The key to love is acceptance, kindness and respect. The key to loving yourself is self acceptance, being mind to yourself, and being respectful to yourself.

      If there are hurtful things you say to yourself about your failures that you would never dare say to someone else about their failures (because it is too cruel), then you are being more respectful, kindness and accepting of others than to yourself. All human beings (including both of us) deserve respect, kindness, and acceptance.

      Finally, I would highly recommend watching Brene Browns two TED talks on shame and vulnerability. They are excellent. She also has a wonderful audio lecture series called The Power of Vulnerability. I’ve listened to all of that many times and have found it helpful.

      Finally, I wanted to acknowledge the courage it took to share your experience and your feelings. I encourage you to find emotionally safe people with whom you can reveal your feelings of shame to (who won’t use your disclosures against you to hurt you, criticize you, shame you, belittle you, embarrass you, or humiliate you).

      As Brene Brown says, shame does not like the light. It thrives in darkness and secrecy.

      Don’t let your feelings of shame sit it darkness. It only makes it worse and can take you to even darker places.

      Best Wishes,
      Victor

      Victor

  • Sarah Jun 13, 2015, 9:11 am

    Victor,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts so vulnerably. Everything you write really resonates with me.

    With no business background, I used your case prep materials for the past few weeks, practiced with friends and felt reasonably prepared for my first-round interview yesterday with an MBB. (Thank you so much for making these resources available to everyone!) It was a great experience, but unfortunately, once I started doing my first case, I think nerves got the best of me and everything I learned pretty much went out the window – not to mention some silly computation mistakes.

    It was very disappointing, and I realize the reason I keep replaying those mistakes in my head is not because I want to learn from them, and not even because I really wanted this job so much more than any other option: It’s simply because I’m a perfectionist. When I first got the interview invite 5 weeks ago, I was thrilled just to get an interview–somewhere along the line, something changed. I started imagining how great it would be to have my intelligence and potential validated: “If MBB says you’re good, you’re good! You must be worthwhile.” And I hate knowing that, even when I tried, I didn’t have the raw talent and sheer willpower to succeed at something I wanted.

    Your article was really helpful to remind me that I’m only human. I make mistakes. And going way out of my comfort zone* for a case interview was already a step towards achieving excellence and being the best me I can be! Thank you for this much-needed reminder.

    Sincerely,

    Sarah

    *FYI: I’m a liberal arts major from a semi-target school who’s been out of college (working) for 2 years. I applied ONLINE to an MBB with zero connections or referrals and got an interview, which my interviewer said he’s never seen happen before. The trick is to have great SAT scores, pretty good GPA and a convincing cover letter.

    • Victor Cheng Jun 13, 2015, 11:42 am

      Sarah,

      I’m glad you could acknowledge yourself in stepping outside your comfort zone. It is that uncomfortable place where w tend to grow the most – as long as we don’t beat ourselves up when the preferred outcome didn’t occur.

      Also I think that your self assessment, even after being gentler on yourself after reading my article, is still a bit too harsh. You concluded that you didn’t have the raw talent and will power to succeed at something you wanted.

      Based on what you described, I wouldn’t make the same conclusion you did. You said you were nervous and you made computational errors during the interview. That is extremely common as people learn how to do the case. Virtually everyone I know who got an offer eventually had to work through nerves and the stress of doing mental math with someone starting at you.

      You did not mention if you had practiced with another live human being during your prep work. That is usually what I suggest to help get accustomed to the nervousness and doing mental math under pressure. My free case practice partner matching site http://www.CaseInterviewPartner.com can help you or others reading this find multiple people to practice with over Skype.

      My assessment would be that you took a shot at some thing way outside your comfort zone, and that’s great. You prepared best you knew how to, but we’re much more nervous during the actual interview than you anticipated and didn’t do as well as a result. You didn’t get past that interview. Period.

      In my opinion, the data on this “local” event does not support making any “global” conclusions about you, your character, your intellect, you level of talent, your will power.

      You tried something new. You were nervous. You didn’t do as well because of the nervousness. End of story. Period.

      In my opinion, the only reasonable conclusion to draw was you were nervous and you underestimated the likelihood that would occur, the magnitude of it when it did occur, and the impact that had on the outcome.

      In other words, you got some feedback. That’s it.

      It’s like going outside in the rain for the first time without an umbrella and getting sopping wet. Whoops, I didn’t realize that could happen. Now I do. No need to draw a negative conclusion about my character in the process.

      In any case, I’m glad you found the reminder to be helpful. Also, I hope you didn’t mind my calling you out for some residual perfectionism that I noticed in your comment.

      (My oldest daughter is overly harsh on herself — and I never let her get away with it. I call her out on it (a loving way) each… and… every… time.)

      Perfectionists, and recovering perfectionist like us, tend to “over-conclude” – taking a micro “failure” and turn it into macro conclusion about self. If you are open to it, I suggest monitoring yourself in this regard.

      Also, I’m teaching a web class on how to develop unshakeable self-esteem. You might find it interesting.

      To be notified of opportunities to register, just fill out the form at the bottom of http://www.caseinterview.com/self-esteem

      Best wishes in your journey to have more compassion for yourself. And thank you for sharing your story.

      Victor

  • Sotarduga Jun 17, 2015, 12:26 am

    Victor,

    You’ve been a CEO for many people from what you’ve done to help others getting their dreams and better life.
    And it’s a paradox : “The more you give, the more you get”

    Thanks,
    Sotarduga

  • Clemens Jun 26, 2015, 11:32 am

    Hi Victor

    Phew! I wish I had read that earlier. There lies so much truth between the connection of these so easily to confuse terms of happiness/success/perfection/excellence. Everything easily said, but so difficult to embrace.

    Being a former mgmt consultant from Germany, I now sit in my startup in Nairobi, finishing my Friday office beer after having just passed this lesson on to the team. It hit them hard and so elevating, especially given the local “never question the teacher or preacher” education. So thanks for inspiring not only me but 60 great Kenyan colleagues. Here’s to your purpose!

    Thanks and please don’t stop doing this!
    Clemens

    p.s.
    email me in case you’re interested in the deck.

  • akshay Feb 18, 2016, 11:00 am

    how to chase excellence in studies?

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