This is a guest post.

In high school, I was involved in orchestra. There was a phrase that was drilled into our heads on a daily basis:

Perfection is our goal. Excellence will be tolerated.

It seems fine in practice, but I didn’t realize the damaging effects until about a decade later.

I teach violin lessons to a lady who grew up in this same orchestra program. She is a talented violinist, and dedicated to her skill. She is never satisfied with her progress, though. She’ll spend weeks working over sections of a piece. Despite her obvious improvement and near mastery of the section, she still beats herself up over it because it isn’t perfect.

Perfect. Such a dirty word.

The search for perfection is a funny one. It’s a noble cause, I suppose. I mean, who doesn’t want to be perfect? But what about the damage caused by the acceptance of nothing less than perfection?

My student is a great example of this. Instead of embracing her weak spots and working them through, she beats herself up and puts up a mental barricade preventing any improvement whatsoever.

It’s that darn word “can’t”… I can’t get this section, she tells me. I can’t play it right. I can’t play it up to speed.

I can’t, I can’t, I can’t…

Henry Ford said: “Whether you can or you can’t, you’re right.”

What if my student would acknowledge what she can do? What if she had an ego-less honest chat with herself? Can you imagine the improvement by acknowledging her true weakness instead of her perceived weakness?

Can you image if you did the same? 

Excellence should not be tolerated. Excellence should be the goal. On the flip side, We should never settle for mediocrity. We should always strive to become better versions of ourselves. (That’s a post for another day…)

I propose a new mantra. None of this “perfection is our goal” crap. No. We’re better than that. We should seek excellence and accept the perfection that comes as a product of a healthy relationship with ourselves.

Excellence is our goal. Perfection will be tolerated.


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