So what is the difference between having a pursuit of excellence verses perfectionism? Please allow me to share my perspective, thoughts and how I believe the Holy Spirit leads and is leading me.
First of all, we know it is impossible to be perfect. No human being can be perfect. You may get straight As in your coursework. You may be the top 1% in your career field. You may go to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, visitation Thursday, hospitals on Tuesday, or more… however none of this makes any human being perfect. We are imperfect beings in need of a Savior, that serve a perfect God. We inevitably will make mistakes, and yes, fail. However, you do not truly fail unless you do not get back up, or learn from your mistakes.
Let’s start with “Perfectionism”.
The Dictionary defines it as: noun: refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.
Here is what the magazine, Psychology for Today, states:
“Perfectionism is a trait that makes life an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. A fast and enduring track to unhappiness, it is often accompanied by depression and eating disorders. What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation. And love isn’t a refuge; in fact, it feels way too conditional on performance. Perfection, of course, is an abstraction, an impossibility in reality, and often it leads to procrastination. There is a difference between striving for excellence and demanding perfection. The need for perfection is usually transmitted in small ways from parents to children, some as silent as a raised eyebrow over a B rather than an A.”
I must confess I was somewhat of a perfectionist in my younger days. I was very driven, and chased the “Corporate Ladder”. In my home, the family room / living room had to be spotless. Most of my clothing had to be ironed or starched with the dress shirts in a certain aligned crease. Dishes had to be arranged in the cabinets in a certain order. I didn’t only prefer to do well at work, I worked and did whatever it took, well above and beyond, to be the very best. Number one. I worked out 6 days a week. If I was not in the gym each of those days, I was in the Karate Dojo training. Even with church, I was there not just Sunday morning, but Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, Thursday visitation, and often Tuesday hospital visitation. My efforts bordered on an obsession with perfectionism or performance. I was not just prepared, I was overly prepared.
Now reading the above paragraph you may either think this is borderline Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or you may say all of that sounds good, or what’s wrong with it? I am here to tell you that regardless of your perspective, it is a prison and thinking that you may perfect something or become perfect is a failing endeavor.
First of all time is priceless and you can never get time back. Wasting it on the pursuit of perfectionism is not a good investment of your time versing investing it with loved ones. Being obsessed with things or activities that do not make a true positive impact, help build the Kingdom, or truly grow in your relationship with others, and most especially with God, can be a wasteful pursuit. I am not saying all of those things I confessed are bad. We should take care of our body, mind and spirit. We should work hard at what we do, or anything we set out minds too. We should worship, serve, learn, grow and go out in church. However, God did not design us to be “workaholics”, or “churchaholics”, or “perfectionists” There is a difference between perfectionism and the pursuit of excellence. And I do believe God designed us to pursue excellence.
The pursuit of excellence is not perfectionism.
Just because you are a fallible human being and not perfect, it does not give you permission to not pursue excellence, or a license to be a sluggard. It does not give you permission to be a sloth in your work, leading and loving your family, and striving to serve Jesus Christ. We are all wonderfully, fearfully, and miraculously made for a purpose. As believers, many others, not just the lost will look to, and up to us as an example. If you are a born again believer, part of your responsibility is to fulfill the Great Commission. It was the last things that Jesus said before He ascended unto the Heavenly Father.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” — Matthew 28:18–20 NIV
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might,[a] for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going” — Ecclesiastes 9:10–12 English Standard Version (ESV)
A job or career is both a blessing and a privilege. Many do not even have a career, or able to choose one. It should be done well. A person should strive to be excellent at their job, as long as it is not first in their lives. Meaning, give your work your best during the hours you are assigned. Your employer extended trust in you in hiring you to do the work. Do it with the best of your ability. Learn more, listen well, and do your best, then let God take care of the rest. The bible says a man must work, and not be a sluggard.
“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,[a] serve the Lord.” — Romans 12:11 English Standard Version (ESV)
“Spiritual maturity is a quest for character for which there will be little progress without the pursuit of excellence. Without pursuing excellence, life will remain bland, very vanilla, lukewarm at best (see Rev. 3:15–16).” — Charles Swindoll.
“And this I pray, that your love may abound (i.e., excel) still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” — Philippians 9:1–10 (NET)
If you are a father or a mother, do you instruct your children to give their endeavors little effort? Do you tell them that they do not have to show up for school, or church? That is okay to be late, that their time is more valuable than the teachers or coaches? Do you allow your children to sign up for an activity in which they lead, or a sport to then accept them quitting after a few practices or games? Do you get concerned when they get poor grades or sleep in too late? Do you as an adult show up on time or even early demonstrating not only your respect for the person or employer in Christian maturity or as a responsible adult, or are you habitually late for work, events or activities not only disrespecting the other person or employer’s time, but disrespecting yourself in your faith and as an Ambassador of God?
“O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you[a] and watch.” — Psalm 5:3 English Standard Version (ESV)
“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” — Proverbs 6:6–11 English Standard Version (ESV)
“Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more.” — 1 Thessalonians 4:1 (NASB)
I have several friends who either are in the military or who were in the military. They are some of the most punctual, dedicated and persevering people I know. If they were late, it could not only cost a unit member their lives, it could cost civilian lives. Some may say, well that is for times of war, or for when we are at war. Readers, we are at war. There is a Spiritual War waging all the time and all around us. We face three enemies: the world, our flesh, and the devil
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” — Ephesians 6:10–12 (ESV)
Allow me to expound on another personal example. What about your “Sir name” Your character as it is associated to your lineage or legacy? Is it okay to do activities, work or something you have been assigned or responsible, half way? Is it okay for you, your character and Sir Name to think that it is acceptable to just throw anything together without much thought and work? Is it okay for your children to do the same? Your children are observing you, and will learn to be a responsible adult, citizen and eventually a parent from your example. In addition, God and His Son, our Savior, is also observing. Are we living our legacy in the way of striving to do well, and pursue excellence in all that we do, and say?
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good[a] is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” -James 2:14–18 ESV
The pursuit of excellence is a good thing. It is also not proud, nor boastful. It is not a quest for superiority. It is all done with love, love of others, and love for God.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” — 1 Corinthians 13:4–8
“But as you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, and in all eagerness and in the love from us that is in you — make sure that you excel in this act of kindness too.” 2 Corinthians 8:7 (NET)
“And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound (excel) in love for one another and for all, just as we do for you, so that your hearts are strengthened in holiness to be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” — 1 Thessalonians 3:12–13 (NET)
If you love and respect your parents. Or let’s say you have or had an amazing boss or coach. Would you not strive to please them, to honor them? Would you not strive to do your best for them? What then shall we do for our Heavenly Father? We are His son’s and daughters. We are all adopted by salvation through Jesus Christ. We are also Jesus Christ’s apprentices. Should we not pursue excellence as a good son or daughter? Should we not be the best apprentices that we can?
Life is a gift. Time is priceless. We should strive to make the most of it and seize each day with purpose, navigate with principles and explore with passion. Are setting back, and observing life from a cozy recliner, or are we getting in the game of life and giving it our best? Do we look forward to each day that the Lord blesses us with, in thanksgiving, striving to honor not just ourselves, our children, but our Heavenly Father by giving Him and those other loved ones our best? Are we getting to up and out to not just work, or events, but to life on time, or better yet early with enthusiasm and optimism?
“Seize life! Eat bread with gusto, Drink wine with a robust heart. Oh yes — God takes pleasure in your pleasure! Dress festively every morning. Don’t skimp on colors and scarves. Relish life with the spouse you love Each and every day of your precarious life. Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange for the hard work of staying alive. Make the most of each one! Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily! This is your last and only chance at it, for there’s neither work to do nor thoughts to think in the company of the dead, where you’re most certainly headed.” — Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 The Message (MSG)
I say, we should pursue excellence in all that we do and say. To do our best, and let God take care of the rest. To look at life as an adventurous expedition, launching each day with purpose, navigating with principals, and exploring with passion!