Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence. – Vince Lombardi

The word “perfect” relates to being flawless at all times. As human beings, this is impossible for us to be perfect. Even machines can show glitches and abnormal behaviors at times despite following a certain set of protocols and rules at all times. For this reason, the quote by Vince Lombardi becomes quite relevant. He said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence”. While the quote may seem pretty straightforward, many fail to understand the in-depth meaning and apply it to their lives. 

Vince Lombardi

Who was Vince Lombardi?

Vince Lombardi was an American football coach who was born on 11th June 1913 and died on 3rd September 1970. He was an executive in the National Football League and is ranked among a few of the best coaches in the history of American football. He served for many years and was majorly known for his works as a coach of the Green Bay Packers, a team that won a total of 5 championships in 7 years of which 3 were done consecutively. Lombardi was so accomplished at coaching that he never had a losing session as a head coach in the National Football League. 

During pre-season training, he asked the players to reach a point of excellence and not at any point of perfection which is why he reduced the amount of competition and instead focused on polishing the skills of the players.  

Fans and close friends of Vince Lombardi always said that he was a man of principle and had a unique approach to dealing with sports and various issues that arose in the middle. He never used to pressurize the team rather he used to take on an approach to intrinsically motivate the football players. His name was also enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, Lombardi died suddenly due to cancer in the year 1970.

Origin of This Quote

The origin of this quote comes from a team meeting of the Packers. Many of the stars of that time still remember his words and recall them as one of the most important reasons for success. In the first team meeting of Packers and Lombardi in 1959, Lombardi started off by saying “Gentlemen, we are going to chase perfection relentlessly. We will not be reaching perfection but we will surely catch excellence”. From this point, he was making it clear to the team members that reaching perfection isn’t an idea we are considering but we are going to push our efforts to that point so as to become excellent in what we do. 

Football players with their coach

Meaning of This Quote

Several aspects can be inferred from this quote. The following are a few possible analogies to consider. 

Excellence is Possible – Perfection Isn’t 

An important lesson given in this quote is the perspective of excellence and perfection. Vince Lombardi beautifully explains that the two are completely different with one of them being possible and one of them not possible. People are running to just become perfect in everything which results in a loss of dignity and grace because you are never feeling fulfilled enough. You always feel that there is something lacking because perfection isn’t going to come at any point. 

In contrast to that, excellence is something that many people should be focusing on. They should not be having the mindset that they only need to get perfect in everything rather they need to go on with a mindset that they need to improve and be better than many others. Reaching the top isn’t a realistic goal because it is not possible for everyone to be the single person on top. Once a person tries to go for excellence, he learns and adopts the various ideas in a much better manner. 

You Can’t be 100% Perfect

One of the biggest lessons this quote gives us is that one can never be perfect. Most people these days are running after perfection and trying so hard to reach that 100% point. While it does sound like a good idea, a realistic aspect is that one can never be at 100%. You should definitely try to improve yourself but not be so hard on yourself that you only want to be at a point of perfection because reaching that point is impossible. 

For example, if a man pursues his career goals and tries to work hard in order to earn better. He keeps on improving his position and ultimately becomes the CEO of the company. Even at this point, he is not a perfectionist person. He is bound to make mistakes. He can make wrong decisions too. There are hundreds of examples in history where CEOs end up making a decision so wrong that the entire company becomes at stake. You might be achieving your career goals but you will still not be having the most perfect life. There are chances that you are having some sort of mental problems, family problems, diseases, or social life issues as well which can ultimately affect your career somehow. 

Another example of this can be a person who decides to never get angry. He tries to overcome situations by handling them without any expression of anger. However, even such a person cannot expect a perfectionist approach in his mind. There is a chance that someday, in some particular incident, he loses it all and becomes angry about an issue. Alternatively, overdoing the “no anger” aspect is also going to cause harm because he will also not raise his voice on genuine issues. 

All these examples indicate the fact that perfection is not attainable for all the right reasons. We can’t even accomplish perfection as we are human beings bound by aspects of emotions and decision-making. We are not working on set protocols or programs rather we are working with our own free will. With that in mind, one thing is for sure. Humans can’t reach the level of perfection as they are made with flaws.  

The word “excellence”

Don’t Give Up

If we realistically hustle towards our goals, we will not be having the definition of perfection in our minds. We will be going towards reaching a point where we are good at what we do. In addition to that, if the ultimate goal is to be good at something, then one will not even feel the need to give up. If the ultimate goal is to just be perfect, then you might give up midway because you aren’t even going to get there. 

The quote guides us from the perspective of not giving up. It tells us that we should keep running towards making ourselves better by not giving up. Again, while keeping in mind that we are realistically approaching our goals. If we give up midway, we will not be able to achieve excellence in any way. 

There are many examples where people haven’t given up and reached a better point in their lives. For example, Elon Musk. He worked a lot on SpaceX. The company had many failures and many spacecraft were destroyed on their maiden voyage. However, with consistency and the element of not giving up, he was finally able to overcome all the hurdles and obstacles coming his way. Today, SpaceX is one of the most successful and technologically advanced companies working towards the exploration of space in numerous ways. 


We can conclude on the fact that perfection is one element that many people are chasing but for all the wrong reasons. They don’t just see the minor improvements that they have made over time or how good they have become. They only want to become entirely perfect which is not possible in any case. The goal should be to consistently improve and be contended with what your current position is. Various other motivational scholars such as Lao Tzu and Babe Ruth also have a firm belief in this point.