My favorite of all the photographs Dr. Brackette F. Williams submitted for my book, Dear Lauren, Love Mom: 31 Days of Affirmations for My Daughter, for Myself, and for YOU, partners with the affirmation, Seeking Excellence, Not Perfection. The left side shows an ocean wave reaching up and you can see fish and other ocean jewels inside the wave. The right side of the wave has crashed. There is no more potential, and you can’t see anything but foam. The left side is excellence; the right is perfection.
When we seek excellence, we have room to examine our resources, grow, and improve as we keep reaching toward the top. Even if we never get all the way up there, we do the best we can at the time and then learn to do better. Perfection is impossible for humans. If we don’t realize that, we crash and torture ourselves saying, “I’m a failure.” I know that one well.
My next two books are resources for families struggling with eldercare: To Survive Caregiving: A Daughter’s Experience, A Doctor’s Advice, 2nd ed., and The Doctor is IN: Answering Your Questions About How to Survive Caregiving. I was determined to get the books out at the perfect time, for National Caregiver Month in November 2020. Instead of plodding through the publishing process in sequence, I rushed and farmed out pieces of the project. I thought I could pull them together in time to publish the last week in October. NOT. When I got the layout proofs, I saw that the books were NOT EXCELLENT. I’d been doing my doctor day job and didn’t have time to monitor the project as closely as I should have. If I kept pushing to publish at the perfect but unrealistic time, the books would not be easy to understand and therefore, not as helpful for the caregivers to whom I have dedicated my career. They deserve better.
One piece of the project was asking eldercare professionals and caregivers to review the content. Of course, they responded to the errors. I tortured myself with guilt and shame because people KNEW I had failed. I was sure everyone thought I was stupid and would never want to hear from me again! Then, I remembered to seek excellence. I put down the whipping stick and decided to wait until I retired and could focus on doing my best. Whenever the books come out, they will show the best work I can do at that point. I will be able to learn, grow, and do better next time.
You cannot achieve excellence if you don’t make mistakes. How would you learn anything? How would you realize that you needed other resources? How would you know what NOT to do next time? How would you know where to start to make it right? Shake off guilt and don’t succumb to shame, which is the most destructive emotion. Guilt says, “What I did was not good” and gives you space to regroup and do better. Shame says, “I am not good” and makes it hard to believe that you CAN do better.
You learn nothing from seeking perfection except how to lose confidence and question your worth. You also waste time and energy you should use to seek excellence. As I told my grandson when he was upset about making a mistake, you have to say, “Oops. I’ll try again. What do I need to make this right?” Then, get back to work.
To learn more about Excellence vs Perfection, click on this video.