The Difference Between Mastery, Success, & Perfectionism

powerful woman

Even as I sit here to start writing this post, it has taken me 2 days to start it.


I'm a professed Perfectionist.

I could "I" possibly do this post justice when there's "real writers" out there who could slam it? Why even try to articulate what I want to say?

This is the thought process of the perfectionist. It rivals the worst critic, because at least the critic shuts up every now and then when they run out of things to say - the perfectionist? Not so much. This voice is constant. Every time you pick up the pen. Every blog post. Every creative offering. Every song. Every painting. Every stroke. Every note. It's there - reminding you that yes, if there are any mistakes, you will have not done your best, and you need to either be ashamed or start over.

This is usually when I want to tell myself, "you know what? go screw!"

I get on my own nerves sometimes, and that's real talk.

However, this past weekend, I had an 'aha' moment when I got the Brain Pickings newsletter (which, by the way, you should definitely be getting if you like books, psychology, spirituality, deep conversations, history, science, creativity, art and/or all of the above). In this past week's edition, I clicked on the article, "2014's Best Books on Psychology, Philosophy, and How to Live Meaningfully." It's a phenomenal list Maria put together, some of which have been utilized in formulating the methodologies I used in my deeply meaningful program, The Introvert Effect, and now, to re-shape it for In My Skin.

One of the books I haven't read in that list is The Rise by Sarah Lewis. In it, she delves into a topic that Carol S. Dweck also addresses in her book on fixed vs. growth mindset, which was used in formulating one of the modules I used in The Introvert Effect program. I sat in Barnes and Noble with this and 4 other books for over 4 hours, pouring over the ideas generated in each of them by scanning and dot connecting.

The topic in The Rise was on the difference between mastery, success, and perfectionism, and I'd never seen those 3 words together in one sentence before. It immediately caught my attention, because perfectionism is something I struggle with - have for some time. And I can tell you that I have come a long way from where I used to be on the matter. Mostly because my eyes have gotten a little less sharp than they used to be. I'm sure there will be a lot of mistakes in this article.

Here's the quote that caught my attention as I was reading through each of the book synopses:

[gdlr_quote align="center" ]Mastery requires endurance. Mastery, a word we don't use often, is not the equivalent of what we might consider its cognant - perfectionism - an inhuman aim motivated by a concern with how others view us. Mastery is also not the same as success - an event-based victory based on a peak point, a punctuated moment in time. Mastery is not merely a commitment to a goal, but to a curved line, constant pursuit.[/gdlr_quote]

My first thought was "wow, cool. Happy New Year. There went goal-setting and everything tied to it. Awesome." 

I read and re-read that quote, over and over and over and over. After all, I needed to PERFECT my understanding of it, right? 

Then, I decided to write this post and share a little about my own process and what I learned last year to really help me get better at not being such a perfectionist about everything.


For me, success was always a point. The pinnacle. Some end goal. And every year at this time, people pour into gyms, fitness centers, and coaching programs in hopes of some "6-figure" outcome or millionaire status or body, or promotion or whatever "success" may feel like to them. For some people, success is a dollar amount. "If I can just make ________, I'll be happy." Or "If I can just have ___________, I'll be good!"

As the quote above so eloquently states, success is only a victory, based on some said event - making a certain amount of money, marrying a certain type of partner, leading a specific type of business, or having a specific brand of product in your closet. And with this mindset, success is viewed as the climax. The top of the mountain. The end, then it's time to "want" something else that's "better."

My ever-sincere question for success is, "What then? What will you want when what you wanted gets old or is not enough because it's all that mattered? What will be enough? Will you ever stop asking?" 

I have to admit that my New Year's goal is to have no goal. I'm solely focused on well-being, increased empathy and presence, and being extremely grateful for what I have. That's it for me this year because my view of success has created more stress.

I don't see these new things I desire this year as "success" because I want it to never end - I want to focus on it from now on in a more present way. No pinnacle. No climax. No end point. Never-ending. Whatever happens in the interim will be divinely inspired and provided.

Just enjoy the ride baby girl. Enjoy the ride.


I truly believe my perfectionist tendencies came from a deep desire to do better than I saw my parents do - not that they did a bad job atall, but to just make them proud by how I live my life, decisions I make, and accomplishments. But even that started to feel so outlined - so......perfect. Because in desiring this for myself, I created a standard for how things needed to "look" and be done in my life. And, at the end of the day, it was really all b.s. because, for many years, it was masking what I really wanted to be doing or saying or going or loving or leaving. B.......S.

In the words of Elizabeth Grace Saunders, "From a perfectionst's point of view, if you can manage to force yourself to produce at the levels you envisioned in your head, you're on top of the world. If you can't measure up to those standards, you're crushed."

And if you add being highly sensitive and/or introverted to that, you just might end up with a mild to severe form of depression (like I have several times in my life because I'm both). It's extremely unhealthy and taxing on your mind, body, spirit, & soul man. No doubt.

Perfectionism then, is always about cost, right? Yes, great incredible works of art have been relinquished to the world as a result of this disposition, but at what cost? How much did it cost to produce, and was the cost much greater than the return on the investment? Often, and most of the time, the answer is a resounding yes - yes the cost was much greater.

In the quote I shared with you in the opening of this article, it references perfectionism as "inhuman aim" and "motivated by a concern with how others view us." That's strong language, but true. Perfection's aim is always unrealistic, inhuman even, and outcomes-focused. It's about the end result. It's more of the "fixed" mindset Carol talks about in her book, and less about the "growth" mindset or process-focused in its thinking. To get away from it, we can shift our focus to the process and enjoy it more, which is why I said I basically had no goals that had any "end" - I want them to be ongoing, so there's no "success" or "failure" mentality and I can, at least, minimize my own perfectionist tendencies. I'm a work in progress.


Mastery is a word I much more love and adhere to. It just even sounds luxurious.




I just like saying it.

Mastery is a different plane all its own. It is actually committed to no end game or result. It endures. I think it's no surprise that God is sometimes referred to as "the Master" because truly, He is never-ending. Our spirit man is never-ending. Therefore, "master"-y is also never-ending. It is not the same as success, perfectionism, or even moving along a straight line.

Instead, mastery is learning the curves, and how to take them again and again and again and again with just a little more finesse. No matter how many times it takes. Launches. Re-makes. Re-writes. Rough drafts. Canvases. Music notes. Remixes. Re-dubs. Erasers. White out. Blank slates. Empty sketch books. It only cares to master this curve so it can move to the next. Each curve and rough place building toward the next to improve upon itself over and over.

I want to leave you with a gorgeous quote from Anne Lamott to tie this nice bow, but first I want to just ask you - which one of these is your main struggle and what is something you've learned here that you could think about to change that pattern in your thinking? Also, what did I forget to mention you'd like to talk about?

Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist's true friend. What people (inadvertently, I'm sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are, and why we are here... --Anne Lamott

As always, I'm grateful to share the depth of my world with you always,


Photo by Raquel Santana on Unsplash