Ordinary does not mean sub-par or not working to an individual’s potential. Everyone faces life-obstacles, mental blocks, constraints etc. and we should be respectful of this and how each one navigates her / his journey. This work celebrates extra-ordinary achievements. We are not denying the social parameters of success or celebration. Yet, many a times they are flawed. Flawed enough to bend the next generation. Frazzled enough to break our spirit. When we mean ordinary, especially in the job market, we refer to being above the median measurement of whatever is measured: intellect, work ethics, job knowledge, etc. which might get one a role. By being ordinary, one can still have a life that offers contentment. But with social pressures, we often forget what’s being contented.
Being extra-ordinary does not guarantee material success, happiness, or human development factors. If being a topper at the best school and college possible were to guarantee continued success in the corporate world or entrepreneurship, and in personal life, then none of the worldly effects would be in play. But we know that such is not the case.
As a society, we are obsessed with perfection. The perfect look for the cameras or the selfies. The perfect scores for college admissions. The perfect kid for school admission. The perfect address (locality to live in) for the right school. The perfect club membership. Perfect seems a disease that eats us inexorably.
Luckily, neither of the two authors can claim to be extra-ordinary individuals, by birth or education. We were fortunate to have the ovarian lottery, as well as the mentoring of countless individuals who liberally shared their time, advice, and wisdom. By no measure, did we get anything easy. Nor did we get any success without many failures and disappointments and stupidity from our part. Also, this is not a comparison with someone materially more successful or not.
*Perfectionism, the worry
“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.”
― Leo Tolstoy, in ‘Anna Karenina’
How do we know if our high standards and expectations have crossed over into the territory of perfectionism? For a perfectionist, getting things 100 per cent right, ticking and re-ticking all the boxes, is a necessity. It dominates their thinking, obscures more important priorities and prevents tasks from being completed on time. The DSM IV manual of mental disorders links perfectionism with a variety of clinically related disorders, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder (Flett & Hewitt, 2002).
While struggling is part of life, there should not be pressure to accomplish tasks without struggle or give the impression that one had things happen easy to them. The expectation to be flawless and excel in every moment is perpetuated by social standards. For someone who is a driven perfectionist, however, the costs can be unacceptably humungous and even debilitating.
To be in search of excellence, you need to have a strong desire to improve and strive for the highest level of achievement in whatever you are doing. This means setting high goals for yourself, working hard to reach those goals, and being willing to learn and adapt along the way. It also means being open to new ideas, seeking feedback, and continuously seeking ways to improve.
Excellence and perfection while used interchangeably, are not the same. Excellence is a standard of quality that is very high, but it is not necessarily perfect. In sports, Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar are known for their pursuit of excellence and their relentless work ethic. They set high goals for themselves and worked tirelessly to achieve them, both becoming renowned cricketers. In business, companies like Toyota and IBM are known for their pursuit of excellence and continuous improvement. They have implemented systems and processes that allow them to constantly seek out new ways to improve themselves and their products, services, and operations.
*Perfection, the mirage
“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.”
― Donald Miller in ‘A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I learned while editing my life’
A mirage is an illusion that deceives us into believing that something is true. We are captivated by what we think we see and start the delusional journey towards it. Perfection is like a mirage, a state of being without any flaws or mistakes. Social pressure for perfection has increased dramatically over the past few years, especially with the advent of social media. We expect perfection – be it in the photos of fabulously plated food to perfectly edited family pictures, to well-set photo-filters on every selfie.
Our society pushes us to believe that such perfections make who we are as individuals, and that such perfections would throw happiness at us. Behind many of such perfect-photo scenes, aren’t there much of human brokenness – be it if relationships, attitudes, limited thinking?
Now is always a good time to accept excellence as a choice, and not chase perfection. Drop perfection, Embrace Totality. One is an obsessive goal, the latter a living in current life experience. Life is Unique. You are unique. There will never be another like you.
Srinath Sridharan – Author (Time for Bharat) & Corporate Advisor – Twitter: @ssmumbai
& Steve Correa – Executive Coach and OD Consultant – Twitter: @SteveCorrea1122