This is Better than Perfection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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26 comments… add one
  • Lenore May 21, 2015, 12:47 pm

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

    Thank you.

  • Jane May 21, 2015, 11:56 am

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

  • L May 21, 2015, 7:37 am

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

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


      Progress over Perfection.

      Good words to live by.


  • nisa May 21, 2015, 12:57 am

    Hi Victor,

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

    Thank you! Will set that in mind.

  • Anh May 20, 2015, 11:32 pm

    Hi Victor,

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

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


      You are welcome.

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

      I wish you the best in persevering towards your goals.


  • Brandon May 20, 2015, 6:56 pm

    Our family’s definition of An Audience of One.

  • Dee May 20, 2015, 2:53 pm

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

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