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Excellence does not always mean perfection

Thirteen years ago, when I was still in my early college years, I represented my class in a university-wide extemporaneous speaking competition. Each contestant was asked to talk about and expound on a statement written on the card they had drawn. The statement I picked was “Excellence does not always mean perfection.” Perhaps because of the topic, combined with clear thinking and good public speaking skills, I won first place in that competition. Weeks after, I wrote an article of the same title: Excellence does not always mean perfection. The words may not be the exact words I used during the extemporaneous speaking contest, but the thought and substance are the same. I am sharing my article, which was published in the university paper on the same year.

Perfection is being right, whereas excellence is the willingness to be wrong. We must admit that as human beings, we have the capacity to commit mistakes. Each of us is bound by his/her own set of limitations. It is up to us then on how we are going to translate these weaknesses into something positive. Mistakes are actually points of reflection and points for reconsideration. As they say, “From a bit of failure is a spark of learning.” A person who learns from his or her mistakes is less likely to repeat the same mistakes over again. From our shortcomings, we learn…from our learning, we improve…and from these improvements, we succeed. The secret is constancy of purpose. We must not be disheartened by our failures but rather, we must take them as stepping stones in life. What counts is not how many times we stumbled down our path but how many times we stood up and moved on. Indeed, we can never understand the real meaning of success until we learn the value of failure.

What is important is we put our hearts in what we do and do it in the nicest way we can. We may have failed at some point or have slipped through another but the process does not stop there. We may have lost some battles but the war is not over yet. We stand from where we fall and become better and better along the way. It is not what we lose but what we gain that really counts. Give it our best…do it in the nicest way we can…learn from our mistakes. It is how we do it that makes it perfect.
My younger self was definitely right. We tend to equate excellence with perfection so much that we miss the very essence of excellence. If we are perfect, we have no more room for improvement. Our imperfections are the ingredients that spice up our life in pursuit of excellence. I believe being imperfect does not mean we are mediocre; it only means that there is always something better to look forward to. We can always strive to be the better version of ourselves: that is excellence (Second part next week).

Thirteen Years After
Thirteen years have passed and many things have changed, from the way we do the simplest tasks to the most complex technological breakthroughs. Over the years, my idea of excellence has also changed. Before, excellence for me was just confined to the premises of the university. My goals in life were limited to getting high grades in exams and quizzes, graduating in college with honors and, finally, passing the CPA board examinations. As the great philosopher Heraclitus once said, “The only thing that is constant is change.” As my perception of excellence changed, my goals have also broadened to include other aspects, such as my career path, health, lifestyle, wealth, family, and relationships.

Excellence does not always mean perfection; most of the time, excellence means incompleteness. We will reach a point in our lives when we realize that there are missing pieces of ourselves that we feel we need to find. By nature, we are never satisfied. When taken in a positive context, this discontentment enkindles our strong desire to be better. Excellence means being better tomorrow than you were yesterday. In pursuit of excellence, we come up with strategies and targets. This is where goal setting comes into play. Goals are an important element of excellence. Seekers of excellence typically set challenging, yet reachable goals. Set goals that are realistic and attainable; otherwise, we are striving for perfection, not excellence.

Working at P&A Grant Thornton
For almost eight years of working at P&A Grant Thornton, the Firm has instilled in me the commitment to deliver quality output, the attitude to achieve more than what is expected, and the ability to seek and create opportunities to innovate within engagement work—all of which I consider qualities of excellence. At P&A Grant Thornton, we have six global values that underpin our culture and are embedded in everything we do—our CLEARR values: Collaboration, Leadership, Excellence, Agility, Respect, and Responsibility. Excellence is described as “finding a better way every time.” We never get complacent. We are distinguished by our innovation and our solutions-based approach, created and delivered by talented people with the passion to exceed expectations.

I often ask myself, “Why am I still doing what I am doing? What drives me to achieve?” I always look for reasons that will motivate me at work. However, I always end up with the same old reasons: money (always one of the reasons), opportunities for growth, challenges and variety (as I easily get bored with routine), and being able to inspire others to also strive for excellence and improvement. Bestselling author and clinical psychologist Dr. Harriet Braiker once said: “Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.” Strive, therefore, for excellence, not perfection. Perfection is impossible. “Nobody is perfect”, as the cliché goes. I totally disagree when people tell me to practice and practice, because practice makes perfect. If perfection is unattainable, then why do I still have to practice? “Practice makes excellent” is better and, of course, achievable.

The Challenge Ahead
Excellence does not always mean perfection, but it requires the drive to improve and be better, to go the extra mile. I believe everyone has the potential to succeed in whatever field, may it be at work, in school, or in whatever undertaking. The challenge is to convert potential into realized abilities. We have our strengths in the same ways as we also have our weaknesses. The key is to capitalize on the strengths without leaving the weaknesses unattended.

According to the American motivational speaker Les Brown, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” The challenge is to aim to be the best that we think we can be. We may not reach that goal right away but, at least, we progress and we get better. Excellence does not always mean perfection. Even in the little extra efforts we exert, there is excellence.


Mr. Mamacus is manager of Audit & Assurance Division of P&A Grant Thornton in Davao. P&A Grant Thornton is a leading audit, tax, advisory, and outsourcing firm in the Philippines, with 21 partners and over 900 staff members with offices in Makati, Cavite, Cebu and Davao. For comments on this article, please email or For our services,visit


As published in Mindanao Times, dated 10 June 2018