Throughout most of my life (or at least, as far as I can remember), I have been surrounded by people who are never content with what they have achieved; they always want to do a little more, and do it a little better.
I have noticed two broad sub-categories amongst such people: those who take this opportunity to become better as a joyful path they embark on with much gusto, and those who are so hard on themselves that they become bitter, angry, or try to achieve their goals at any cost.
It seems like these two broad sub-categories mark the two ends of a continuum of behaviour in individuals who try to be the best they can: those who make it about themselves, and those who make it about the journey.
In other words, those who do it to satisfy their ego, and those who do it for the sake of becoming a better person.
Those who work on becoming better for the sake of their ego seem to be perfectionists. They can accept nothing but perfection. And because perfection is unachievable, they are never happy, and seem to be at increased risk of negative mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health outcomes.
Those who work on becoming better for the sake of becoming a better person seem to be lovers of excellence. They accept nothing but a whole-hearted effort. And because it is possible to give oneself 100%, they are deeply happy despite a state of constant effort. And although they are extremely busy and always in touch with what their approach is lacking, they seem to be at increased rick of positive mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health outcomes.
When one desires excellence for its own sake, one is inspired to try and try again. When one desires perfection as a way to prove oneself, the path becomes a burden.
Being a perfectionist is having both high standards and an ego, which leads to a lot of frustration. But being excellent means having high standards and being humble, which leads to you constantly trying without guilt tripping.
It might seem like I am belaboring the point, but I feel it is crucial to know which of these two types of individuals we are, and to seek advice and guidance from those whose approach is similar to ours, as each approach begets a specific set of advice. I have a friend who draws much joy from the process of becoming a better person. She doesn’t mind “falling” because of a big mistake; rather, she feels grateful for the opportunity to get up, dust herself off, and try again. She is friends with someone who advises her constantly to “take it easy,” a piece of advice she has told me really irritates her and causes as lot of tension in their relationship. But once we thought about the reasons why her friend gives her this advice and the reasons why it isn’t compatible with her view of life, she was able to focus on the love with which the advice is given. Needless to say, the friendship is doing a lot better.
On a larger scale, the concept of being happy with a constant state of striving for excellence has major implications with the way we learn, be it in formal or informal settings. While excellence implies striving to become constantly better at something, perfectionism implies constantly trying to be beyond reproach. It’s easy to see, then, how the latter can cause distressing environments of learning. When it comes to personal development and community building, then, striving for excellence is, to me, the obvious path that must be taken in order to advance in harmony.