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Perseverance, Not Perfection

In a recent Radio Headspace podcast, host Liz Fosslien, co-author of “No Hard Feelings,” talked about the difference between high achievers and perfectionists. She described that a high achiever will get a 96% on a test, celebrate the questions that they got right, recognize the two questions that they got wrong, and seek the knowledge to correct themselves the next time. A perfectionist will get a 96% on a test and obsess over the missed 4% so much that the hyperfocus on the error then hinders the person’s ability to learn from their mistakes.


As your career develops, it’s easy to fall into the-blessing-and-the-curse that is perfectionism. In fact, in an interview situation when asked what your strength and your weakness is, Leaders will often answer, “being a perfectionist,” for both questions. Many would say that striving for perfection forces them to give their best, to keep doing, keep going, keep working until the goal has been met. The flip side is, what happens when the goal isn’t met? What happens when you fail? For a true perfectionist, failure can be devastating to the point of debilitation. In the podcast, Liz says, “I want to dispel this idea that perfection serves you, that it’s the same as ambition. It’s absolutely not. It’s a pretty unhealthy coping mechanism that centers around a fear of failure.” The perfectionist’s compulsive obsession with where they fell short prevents them from course-correcting and achieving the perfect result they so desperately seek.


Rather than being afraid, how do you respond? Instead of seeking perfection, what do you do? Go back to Liz’s description of perfectionists and high achievers. The short answer: keep. moving. forward.


The longer answer: keep moving forward with perspective. Know that it is your continued perseverance that will help you to succeed. Know that you are not perfect, and know that you are enough. Know that you are exactly where you are supposed to be. Know that mistakes are inevitable and necessary for your learning. Know that sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move forward. Know that sometimes a lateral move is the best move. Know that anything worth doing takes time. Know that it’s not how many times you get knocked down; it’s how many times you get up. Know that all of these responses are short and simple and trite, and know that that doesn’t make them wrong. Perseverance, not perfection.

Rocky Balboa running up the steps


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