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From Perfection to Excellence

12/6/2006 6:49:42 PM

By Julie Fuimano, MBA, BSN, RN

It was summer 1993, and I was taking microbiology. It was an intensive six-week course that included a lab. The final exam consisted of 100 multiple-choice questions. I got 93 correct. Now, you'd think I would be happy. It was a fabulous grade and it ensured that I received an "A" for the class. But I was mortified. All I could think about was how I got seven questions wrong! I couldn't believe it. Neither could I believe my behavior. Receiving an "A" was the best there was, and yet I was choosing to feel bad and give myself a hard time. I realized that I needed to alter my perspective.

The Perilous Pursuit of Perfection

Seeking perfection is time-stealing and energy-draining. Because perfectionists strive for unachievable outcomes, nothing is good enough. For fear of not being able to perform "perfectly," perfectionists will often not complete things or even start things. They fear making mistakes and are in a constant state of worry over what negative things could happen. They also have unrealistic expectations of others and tend to micromanage.

Perfectionism is also one of the roots of procrastination. Believing the consequences of not doing something are preferable to the consequences of doing it imperfectly, perfectionists often avoid or postpone tasks that need to be done.

Although being a perfectionist leads you to do top-notch work, the cost is high. It may keep you from trying new activities and taking on new projects. You postpone work and become stressed when things pile up. You focus your attention on what's wrong or what's not working rather than seeing what is good. You feel bad when you make a mistake and you berate yourself mercilessly.

Replace Perfection with Excellence

For example, we know what it feels like when we receive excellent service at a restaurant. What if they were striving for perfection? Who would know whether they had achieved it? All you know is that the meal was fabulous and the staff was attentive. They could have made any number of mistakes along the way and you would never have known. And you know what? It wouldn't have mattered. Mistakes would be great learning opportunities for the employees and the compliments or comments you give them provide the feedback they need in order to know what they are doing well.

What is perfect anyway? Not making mistakes? From our mistakes we learn the most about how to do things and how not to do things – mistakes ultimately contribute to better performance. And it's also true that what we accept as excellent today will be different tomorrow, in a month, or in five years.

So refocus your attention on what's right and what's working well, rather than what's not working. This points you to the positives. It also allows you to strive for higher standards: for achievable excellence, not impossible perfection.

Julie Fuimano, MBA, BSN, RN is the co-founder of Nurturing Your Success Inc., a dynamic organization leading the cultural transformation movement for a professional healthcare environment. We offer keynotes, workshops, and coaching for leaders and teams. Julie is also the author of The Journey Called YOU: A Roadmap to Self-Discovery and Acceptance, the manual for personal leadership. To learn more about how we can partner with you to nurture your success, call 610-277-2726, email or visit Nurturing Your Success, and sign up for our empowering newsletter.

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