3 Words That Turned Me From a Perfectionistic Workaholic to a Burnout Coach

one woman burnt out, one woman happy at work

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Stephanie Kelly86
Life & Career Coach Committed to Ending Burnout
May 25, 2024 at 11:37PM UTC

I was in the middle of a therapy session — where I had just spent the last 40 minutes explaining why I was overworked and exhausted — when my therapist asked innocently, “Instead of constantly hustling to make sure everything is perfect, why don’t you just go for ‘good enough’ and get some of your life back?”

“Good enough”? Was she joking? Did she understand me at all? 

“Good enough” – a seemingly innocuous statement – carried a lot of baggage for me. I assumed it was for those who simply weren’t as invested in the work as I was, who didn’t care as much I did. It was for the slackers, the box checkers, the bare minimum-ers. 

For as long as I can remember, I was always taught to “do my best”, which on the surface, is a virtuous goal. But “best” quickly becomes a synonym for “perfect,” and “perfect,” I came to find over the years, quickly becomes a trap.  

I lost years of my life to trying to be perfect. I spent countless hours finessing presentations, fixing formatting, writing and rewriting emails, overthinking conversations and wrestling with wording. I burned myself out over and over again, repeatedly looking for relief in two-week vacations anywhere outside of cell phone range. Was that time well spent in the end? Did it actually make the difference I thought it did?

I’m not sure, but I do know that I found striving for perfect intoxicating, comfortable and familiar. There was little scary about “perfect” – not a whole lot of risk-taking or fear of failure. In fact, I was repeatedly rewarded for trying to be “perfect” in the form of promotions, awards and praise. 

So when my therapist suggested “good enough,” I literally thought she was crazy. Why would I leave this warm, safe comfort zone that’s earned me so much success? 

Fast forward six years and many hard lessons later, I’m preaching the gospel of “good enough” to my team every chance I get – with a small tweak that’s made a big difference. Instead of encouraging them to do work that’s “good enough” – with all the negative connotations I’ve carried with it over the years – I introduced the idea of doing work that’s “good” and “ enough.”

As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve searched for a work philosophy that honors the balance I crave while not forsaking my value of working hard. The addition of the word “and” completely transformed the meaning of “good enough” for me and reframed what it represented.

Now I strive to do “good” work – work that makes me proud, dazzles my clients and challenges me to grow. 

I also do “enough” work – work that leaves time for my daughter and husband, allows me to pursue a hobby and preserves my weekends.

This simple yet powerful concept has liberated me from the trap of perfection and completely changed the way I feel about work. I'm happier, more balanced and a better mom, wife, manager and colleague than I ever was before – mostly because I’m not taking on the pressure of “perfect” or carrying the resentment that comes along with that. 

So to all the overachievers, workaholics, and perfectionists out there, how might today be different if you set your sights on “good” and “enough”? 

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This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Stephanie Kelly is a certified life coach who is committed to helping people recover from burnout, reclaim their lives, and redesign their world so it never happens again. Interested in working together to create the life you want? Book a free Discovery Call today.

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