Intention vs behavior

I was watching a TV show recently and someone used the phrase “a call to excellence.”  I can’t remember what the program was about. But the phrase made me think about how striving for excellence differs from being a perfectionist. There’s an important distinction in the two concepts.

If I allow myself to be in perfectionist mode, I am never satisfied with the results of my efforts. I feel like my best is never good enough. Not that anyone else makes that judgment; I make it for myself. I am my own worst critic. But when I have the mindset of reaching for excellence, there is a subtle shift in how I see my efforts. I am able to become my own cheerleader, as though I am standing back and watching an athlete race or attempt a demanding physical feat. I see the aim for the best outcome.

Perfectionism is about critiquing results, finding fault with what was done, or not done. Striving for excellence is about encouraging the reach, the desire to be the best I can. Even the words “strive,” “reach,” “aim,” convey an implicit realization that the goal may not be achieved, the reach may exceed the grasp. But there is also an acknowledgement in those words of trying, putting my best forward.

I know I’m not perfect. But I love the challenge of excelling. Striving for excellence keeps me engaged and encouraged. When I feel the burden of perfectionism creeping into my thoughts, I feel disheartened and defeated.

Now, the next step: I can only judge for myself when I am honestly striving for excellence. Whether I achieve my goal or not, I know if I have truly given my best. But I can’t know that about anyone else. Not another living soul. I can see results from others that may look far short of excellence. But how can I know what another person can achieve at any given time, or in any given situation? This realization brings me full circle. I can only control the results of my own efforts. I can encourage and cheer others on, from my sideline position. But I can’t achieve for anyone else, and I can’t know if anyone else has reached for their own excellence. I have to trust, and then accept.

My life coach says we judge others by their behavior and ourselves by our intentions. And this sums up the challenge for how we treat others. If I can forgive myself when I don’t achieve the excellence I strive for, why can’t I do that for everyone else in my life? Here it is again: grace. This is not being blind to shortcomings, whether in myself or others. Grace allows me to love and accept myself anyway. And to love and accept others anyway.

That is enormously freeing…not that I have been burdened with angst or carrying grudges. And I have been working to free myself of perfectionism for a long time (thank you, Flylady!) But it is helps me put this into words, think it through. The process allows me to be intentional in how I view myself and how I relate to others.

I am reaching for excellence, and living with grace.

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