“What a perfect day! The trees are blooming, the birds are singing, and a warm breeze blows.” “What an excellent day! The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and there is no traffic on the road!”
These are different statements with different details, yet the words “perfect” and “excellent” are interchangeable between them. In fact, most people use these words as synonyms, and many, including myself, are tripped up by the assumption that excellence and perfection are the same. A deeper look, however, reveals an essential difference.
The American Heritage Dictionary, new College edition, defines “excellent” as “being of the highest or finest quality, exceptionally good, superb”. It defines “perfect” as “complete of its nature or kind; without defect”. The Unabridged edition of the Random House Dictionary is not much different, defining “excellent” as “remarkably good’ extraordinary”, and “perfect” as “beyond practical or theoretical improvement; without flaws or shortcomings; correct in every detail”.
What stands out is that perfection is a completed process. It is a destination, a final state, beyond which growth does not occur. It is static. Excellence, on the other hand, is exceptional and extraordinary, but it is not a completed process. It is ongoing and dynamic. It is growth.
I submit that, dictionaries aside, there is no real definition of perfection. If asked for details of perfection, a hundred different people will have a hundred varied answers. Perfection is subjective, an assumption in the minds of individuals. Humanity cannot agree on perfection. Perfection is static, having ceased to grow, hence to live. Perfection, in fact, does not exist. It is an illusion to which people subscribe.
Excellence, on the other hand, is a continual engagement in learning, growing, becoming at a greater level than the one at which one currently exists. It is alive and enlivening. It fuels our lives, our progress and our success, to the extent to which we realize and embrace excellence. Excellence does, in fact, exist.
It is therefore useless to chastise oneself for not being perfect. One CANNOT be perfect, because perfect does not exist, at least not on a plane that humans can understand. Penalizing oneself for not being perfect is akin to punishing oneself for being alive. It is operating from the base of a fairytale, an ungrounded assumption.
The pursuit of excellence, however, is most beneficial. As excellence is an ongoing process, we are guilt free for not having achieved a specific end. We are enlivened by the pursuit, and nourished by the achievement of steps along the way. Excellence brings hope. We are not stuck and doomed where we are, because we are not at a final end. The pursuit of excellence carries us forward. Excellence is life force, waiting for us to partake of it.
May we all let go of guilt over not reaching an illusion. May we all drink deeply of the life force of excellence.