When "Good Enough" is Just Perfect

woman doing at work letting go of perfectionism

My clients are top performers. They have succeeded in their careers in every sense of the word (except finding fulfillment or developing a long term career plan, but that’s a different story). They have worked hard day in and day out and always deliver their best work as a result. They have been rewarded for doing their best.

And isn’t that what we’re supposed to do in life? Our best at everything? Well, I’ve seen too many people burn out and kill themselves trying to do their best at everything, so, I say no – doing your best at everything is neither sustainable nor desirable.

Let me offer another way – instead of automatically doing your best at everything, what if you approached everything deliberately? Intentional performance means that you recognize when an activity requires your best and when it doesn’t. When the effort is worth it and when it isn’t.

When I began my legal career in a top Chicago law firm, I knew that every piece of work needed to be my best. In a scenario like that, when clients are paying hundreds of dollars for one hour of your time, they are absolutely paying for your best. There can be no mistakes and every piece of work you submit must be your best.

In addition, when you’re starting out your career, you’re developing a baseline reputation and a system of habits. Both point to giving your all to protect your reputation and help make performing at your best eventually less effortful.

But then I moved in-house, where there is much more of a focus on running a business than getting it perfect or producing the best work. As an in-house attorney, time is much scarcer than at a law firm because there are so many issues vying for your attention and a good counsel wants to support on as many as they can.

What I learned through this transition is that sometimes, “good enough” is exactly perfect. It’s hard for type-A achievers to wrap their heads around, but doing your best work on everything doesn’t always make good business (or personal) sense. I even had to make outside counsel hiring decisions with this in mind – yes, it would be great to have the best attorney I could have on everything, but that costs money, and money can be scarce. So, when I needed support, I had to find someone that was good enough for the task. On high profile matters, that meant the best because it was worth the money. On matters that weren’t high profile or didn’t have the potential to break the company, good enough was enough.

For my type-A super achiever clients, learning when good enough is enough is one of the most important strategies for long-term fulfillment. Getting in the habit of always doing their best – on anything from throwing a party to outfitting their child to, of course, their careers – has left them drained. And they’re not sure why and they’re not sure how to get out of the cycle.

Below are a couple scenarios I’ve seen when good enough makes infinitely more sense than the best. I’d love to hear what you think I’m missing – When else is doing good enough in your career the best decision?

You know you’ll be leaving your job or career soon

I’m amazed at the number of people who intend to leave their jobs that still work themselves to the bone and allow work to keep them up at night. Why do they do this? Because they only know how to work one way – by giving their all.

Transitioning out of a job or career is a big endeavor and if you’re trying to do that while still pouring yourself into your work, you will continue your pattern of feeling burnt out. Not to mention the fact that I’m a firm believer that we have a capacity for hard work. So if you’re giving your all to a job you’re looking to leave anyway, you’re not giving your all to your job search, which is way more important to your long term fulfillment and your life.

So – when you fully intend to leave your job or career, go for good enough. Good enough to leave on good terms. Good enough to feel good about your work (even if it’s not your best). Good enough to get the job done that you were hired to do. But no more. Devote the rest of your energy to finding the right next step so you don’t end up in another situation you want out of sooner rather than later.

You don’t have time or energy to give your all at work

business man overworked in business meeting

We are so primed to do our best and find the best and get the best from childhood on up. Not only that – we’re rewarded when we do – with good grades, scholarships, higher pay, and praise from others. But there may come a time when the “best” from a title, salary or prestige standpoint just doesn’t fit what you want in life right now.  You may know you can work to find a better job, and it’s hard to turn that achiever attitude off, but given everything you have planned for the next few years, finding the best might not be worth the effort you’d have to put into it.

This can happen for a number of reasons – your life circumstances change, what you value in life changes, you realize that you’ve been chasing other people’s dreams or maybe a role you put your all into just treated you as if you’re fungible. Whatever the reason, approaching a new role with intention and being clear how it can support you in other ways sometimes means going against what you’ve been told your entire life and not striving for the best. Sometimes “good enough” means taking something that’s the best right now.

Is she serious about this?

Look, I’m absolutely not advocating for half-assing your way through your work or career. What I am advocating for is intention. I’d prefer to see my clients that come to me because they are burnt out and want to change jobs (or careers) approach their situation with a strategy. Many people blame their boss or their job or their company, and they often play a role, but the root cause is usually themselves.

Developing a practice of clear intention instead of just the mindless pursuit of accolades valued by other people is what sets people up for long-term fulfillment. So, next time you feel burnt out or you know you could find something better or work harder on that project, ask yourself if it’s worth it. Consider the purpose of that work or role you’re trying to achieve and if doing your best is in line with that purpose, then do it! But if you only need something for the interim or if that project isn’t a career maker and you’ve got other priorities in life, see if you can get more deliberate and just do good enough. Give it a shot and you might find that, right now, good enough is just perfect for you.


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