Hands up if you are a bit of a perfectionist? Thought so.

Hands up if you also feel overwhelmed quite a lot. Uh-huh. Stressed out? Check.

Here's the thing about perfectionism. We wear it like a badge of honour. Like it's a thing that's bad about us, but is actually - secretly - good. It's the stock answer to the classic interview "What are your greatest weaknesses?" question. "I'm a bit of a perfectionist!" pretty much every candidate will trill triumphantly. It's the traditional negative turned into a positive response, so common in fact that I wonder how many people who say it are indeed perfectionists? Maybe it's just the perfect answer to that question? Perfectionism - the perfect double-edged sword.

It can be a useful quality, no doubt about that. If I am having surgery I definitely want that surgeon to exercise her perfectionist qualities at that moment, yessiree. High risk. High stakes. Great time to pull out the perfectionist tendency. Do it.


Making a regular weeknight dinner? Not so necessary. Low stakes, medium to low reward. Good enough here is - well - perfectly good enough.

This is the key when dealing with your own perfectionism: exercising the lost art of discernment. Treating perfectionism like a special sauce and being discerning about when you apply it. It doesn't have to be like the kid going through the phase where they put tomato ketchup on everything. There are some things you just don't need to put ketchup on, and they have not yet figured out how to be discerning.

Perfectionism - think of it like mental ketchup. The perfect complement to some life situations, and a completely unnecessary addition to others.

Look at the risk and reward, then discern how much of your perfectionist special sauce needs applying. Don't assume you need to apply it liberally to everything by default.
Sometimes good enough really is good enough.

Applying perfectionism as your modus operandi, blanket strategy across all situations presented to you in life, is one of the fastest routes to feeling stressed, overwhelmed, irritable and burned-out. It's like a one-way ticket to Overwhelmsville.

And it's very little fun to live there. Sure, it's perfectly neat and organised, but it's not very fun, and the To Do list is never-ending. Much of the time "Done" really is better than "Perfect".

As a general rule the world doesn't reward perfectionists - it rewards people who get stuff done. Most of the time, Done will trump Perfect. That way you fast-track out of overwhelm, get more done and still get to maximise that quality when it really counts.

Save your perfect ketchup for the times it really counts.