Excellence vs. Perfection

Are you striving for perfection, or excellence?

I spent a lot of time in ESSEC business school in France. First, as a student, and a few years later, teaching as a Lecturer and helping students as a Career Coach. I have been raised in cultures of excellence. I went to an international high school where we took classes of History and Geography in German, in addition to the regular language classes. Sometimes, we joked about teachers who said we were “the Elite of the Nation”. No pressure kids.

Later, I started to practice the De Rose Method, a lifestyle that focuses on good relationships as a basis for any success, and technically rooted in an ancient Yôga: both combined allow a human being to cultivate and attain high performance. It was created in the sixties by Professor De Rose, a Brazilian teacher who spent over twenty years studying with Masters in India and brought back to life Pre-Classical Yôga, enhancing the importance of behavior with old philosophies like Samkhya and Tantra. In this form of Yôga, one aims at embodying perfection. That includes perfection in the form (aesthetics), intention (bhava, a Sanskrit word for passion in action or a form of self-surrender in one’s practice), and doing all of it with pleasure.

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But what is Excellence exactly?

How does it differentiate from Perfection?

Alexandro Jodorowski the filmmaker, writer and visionary tarologist gave an excellent distinction when talking about Arcana VIII, Justice:

“What Justice receives, are the universal laws, with the mission to embody them and enforce them to the extent that is humanly possible: excellence and perfectibility rather than perfectionism.”

THE WAY OF THE TAROT

This text is powerful. Indeed, we see that there is a dynamism in the concept of Excellence, that allows for Progress – a term dear to our Western mind. Philosophers such as Hegel have talked extensively about the notion of Progress as a drive for our evolution. And whether we want it or not, our species is deeply engaged in Evolution at ever accelerating speed. In Perfection, we see that there is no more evolution: it is a state that cannot be transcended. As Antoine de Saint Exupéry said:

“Perfection is not when there is nothing to add, but nothing to take away.”

Antoine de saint EXUPERY

It is a state of equilibrium that is unsurpassable.

Hence, we can aim at perfection, and I believe even “get there”. For instance, in Yôga, one can hold for a certain period the perfect ásana. One feels whole and complete, in a perfect state of Flow. Our mind is silent, and people from the outside will look at us as if it were a beautiful statue. Yet, this perfection is impermanent, and we then move on to the next ásana. That allows for progress: next time we can do an even better posture, and surpass our previous perfect. Perfection is itself evolving across time, just like our canons for what perfection is evolves over the course of our lifetime. As a teenager, maybe our idea of a perfect evening was to have drinks with friends or a romantic adventure. As an adult, it might have changed to spend more time with one’s family, without stressing out about work.

As a coach or entrepreneur, if we think about the service we are offering our client, it might be highly imperfect. As a coach, there are many times when I am not 100% perfectly dressed, I do not feel 100% ready, I am not always at the top of my game. Sometimes, I do not hear what my client just said, I misjudge a situation, I make a mistaken assumption, I can even fall into being arrogant and manipulative. I am highly imperfect. Yet, I am always committed to excellence: I am willing to do my best to catch myself (before my clients do), improve, and clean up if need be. These are keys to deliver a service of Excellence.

When we hear the word “Perfectionism”, a red light should go on. A red light should go on at any “ism”, whether materialism, postmodernism, essentialism, pessimism, spiritualism, communism, fascism, racism… The “ism” is a warning sign for dogma and imbalance. Nothing inherently wrong about it, but it is just too much. In Perfectionism, it is looking too much for perfection, which is actually the cause of us not reaching it. The thing we are looking for outside of us and running towards might be the exact thing that is holding us back from achieving it.

For instance for coaches, running towards money and wealth is preventing us from connecting with people genuinely, serving them deeply and powerfully, and thus having them line up to work with us. I am writing this as an advice to you, dear reader, but first and foremost to myself. As Rich Litvin says: we often teach to others what we most need to learn. Or in French:

“Le fils du cordonnier est toujours le plus mal chaussé !”

(The shoemaker’s son always wears the worst shoes!)

As a business owner, we quickly need to learn, embrace, and love:

“Better done than perfect.”

And

“Perfection comes in the making.”

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