Perfect Performances vs Brilliant Performances

So many of my clients have an interesting relationship with perfection. Perhaps that is why I am drawn to work with them – because my relationship with perfection has been turbulent to say the least over the years! I got thinking about why it is I prioritise perfection over excellence sometimes (and this might be just my issue!) Here is my analysis on Perfect Performances vs Brilliant Performances.


Hi, today I want to talk to you about perfection and brilliance, and those two concepts.

The reason this comes up for me today is last night I was running my own online course, in which there is a module on perfection, and how the search for perfection can be so harmful. That if we are seeking perfection when we practice, and we’re seeking perfection when we perform, that this can actually invoke anxiety, anger, and frustration in us, and despondency at times, because it can just be littered with failures.

If perfection is what we want, then we all know how much ‘failure’ goes in and, how rarely, if ever, we hit perfection. Not only does it have an impact on our emotions and then our self esteem, because if we are faced with this repeated “failure” this impacts our view of ourself, and our value of ourself. Our self worth. It also impacts us physically. So the tension that comes with that anxiety, anger and frustration can make us feel physically uncomfortable, together with the nerves that might come.

This can also affect how we perform. It can affect dramatically are vocal technique, and it can affect how we think about our performance, and what we say and how we say it if we speaking. That’s the irony of the search for perfection. We use it to be better, but it undermines us the whole time, because it induces this anxiety and this self criticism.

So we talked about all of this last night, and there were still people who struggled to let go of perfection as the holy grail. Perfection as the ideal. We talked about beauty not necessarily being perfect and the conversation kept returning to this idea that perfection was the ideal. This was going round and round in my head, as it does, and this morning, obviously in the early hours as it always is, the question arose in my head.

What if they were seeking brilliance instead of perfection?

Why is it that we seek perfection? Why is it that some can struggle to seek brilliance sometimes? Is brilliance better than perfection, is perfection better than brilliance?

What’s the difference from the perspective of the audience, if we’re the audience watching somebody perfect and watching somebody brilliant?

It made me think that sometimes perfect might seem easier to seek because we view it is as this objective standard. As something that is right or wrong. We can judge whether we’ve got it. Whereas brilliance is subjective. It’s harder to put your finger on it.

Perhaps seeking perfection is less egotistical than seeking brilliance. Seeking brilliance can seem like self-aggrandising. It can be “bigging yourself up”. How could little old you be brilliant or be seeking brilliance? Are you just seeking something that is too big for you, doesn’t fit?

How could you have brilliant vocal technique, or produce a brilliant speech? Is perfect easier to achieve because we see it as definable?

For me, the difference between the two concepts is that perfection is binary. It’s on or it’s off. You’re either perfect or you’re not. There are no shades of grey around perfect. Whereas with brilliant, you can be brilliant today and even more brilliant tomorrow, and slightly less brilliant the next day, but you would still be on that scale of brilliance. It’s not on/off, it’s not right/wrong. It’s harder to put your finger on it, but it’s easier to be somewhere on that scale, in concept.

Perfect is faultless, whereas brilliance isn’t necessarily so, and perhaps that’s where our preference for perfect really lies. Perhaps it’s more about that quest that we so often have to eliminate all our faults. If we can shave this bit off, get rid of that fault, get rid of this fault, aim for perfection, so we get rid of all those faults, then we’ll get it right and we’ll be beyond criticism. Whereas brilliance is so ethereal, it’s hard to put your finger on and it’s harder to achieve.

It’s true that perfect can be impressive, and perfect can be technically brilliant, and we can be impressed by that. Brilliance is not necessarily perfect, and if we’re talking about brilliance in rounded terms, about connection with the audience, character, message, engagement, authenticity, then I would say brilliance is never perfect. There will always be something under a microscope that you’ll be able to pick up on and say that wasn’t quite right, and whilst a technically perfect performance maybe faultless, and brilliant in its own way, is it one that really engages audience? Is it one that captivates them and achieves the end that we really want in our communication as a performer? Does it get our message across? And what sort of performer do we want to be? Do we want to be brilliant in those rounded terms? One who engages and captivates our audience? Or do we want to be one that is beyond reproach, beyond criticism because we are perfect?

That’s the question I leave for you, together with the cost of the search for perfection. I talked about it early, the harm that we can do ourselves and our performances in this never ending quest for perfection, which, when we’re the judge in the room, only has one certain outcome which is failure. We will always fail when we are the judge of our performance, there will always be something that we come away thinking, we could have done the better, we didn’t achieve perfection.

So what cost and is it really our true aim?