— By Agustin Hubert
If you are anything like me, your answer to one (or more) of the opening questions is a loud and clear “of course!”. If so, then you have also dealt with what I call the triangle of frustration made up of imperfections, problems, and failures. The problem with this triangle of frustration is that it is not only frustrating, but it can also destroy our self-esteem and self-efficacy – making us feel stuck, unloved, unworthy, uncapable. In order to deal with our imperfections, problems, and failures, it is important to consider the meaning of these 3 words and how they are often confused with similar terms.
Let us start by taking a closer look at the words “perfection” and “excellence”. We tend to understand perfection as something that is complete and made without any errors or defects. The same qualities are also generally associated with excellence. However, pairing these two words into one would be a mistake. Perfection can only be used towards things and, therefore, it is foreign to people. For instance, a rock is able to be perfect when looked at as a rock; it is perfect because it no longer has the ability to improve being a rock and it has managed to be what it is at its best: a rock.
However, the same is not true for people, who are in a continuum of constant improvement and growth. A person cannot become perfect. Improvement and growth are always possible and, quite frankly, necessary. Here is where the term excellence appears, which has to do with being the best that can be achieved at a certain moment, while knowing that the work is never finished.
We could define Mount Everest as a perfect mountain, but we will not become perfect mountain climbers just because we climbed it. This is a common reason why some of us experience a void after an important achievement; we equated a goal with perfection and not excellence. Thus, while perfection and excellence may sound similar, the former is impossible, while the latter should be part of our constant growth in our human experience.
Let us continue by turning to the words “failure” and “mistake”. Generally speaking, we tend to give the same value to these two terms and respond to them in the same way. By doing so, our response to a mistake become identical to our response to a failure. The problem in doing this is that any mistake has the potential to render us defeated since it could be interpreted as a failure. While a mistake is often understood as not achieving an expected outcome, a failure is understood as the omission or “no result” of an expected or required action. This means that a mistake goes along with something a person does, while a failure is attached to a person giving up or not doing anything at all. Thomas Edison made 2,774 mistakes when developing the light bulb, but did not fail, as he was able to achieve it in the 2,775th attempt. Although it’s true that each mistake can have consequences, sometimes even severe ones, as people we must seek growth and excellence, as explored in the paragraph above.
Finally, let’s talk about “difficulties” and “problems.” Many of us believe that these terms mean the same thing and use them interchangeably. This is not the case and here is why. A problem is always something related to a thing and should be outside of me as a person. In other words, I am not a problem, I have a problem. Difficulties, by contrast, define how difficult it is for me to solve that certain problem due to resources, limitations, personal history, etc. For instance, a mathematical equation is a problem that will very in difficulty according to the knowledge of the person solving it. A five-year-old would have difficulty solving a complex math equation due to limited knowledge, but the equation itself is the problem, not the child. May we be mindful of the difficulties we are facing, and how much work we must put in to solve them, without the shame-inducing beliefs and behaviors that can make us stuck.
So, having looked a little deeper into these 3 words, let us reconsider the first 3 questions in this article, replacing them with more accurate terms according to our human condition:
The answer once again may be “of course!”, yet the implications are different and the outlook more hopeful. There is a way out of the triangle of frustration. May we always remember that we do not fail when we make mistakes, only failing if we abandon the attempt to seek our own excellence and growth without perfection as the goal, while overcoming our difficulties while facing problems in life.
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