A Perfectionist’s Advice for Overcoming Decision Fatigue

I was recently at the nail salon, and I had to pick a color for my manicure. There must have been at least 400 options, so I narrowed it down by asking for a light pink — and there were still more than 50 shades to choose from.

I am embarrassed to tell you how ridiculously long it took me to make this decision.

Nail polish color is pretty much the definition of a low-stakes decision, but it illustrates how often we’re confronted by an overwhelming number of options. Particularly for perfectionists like me, this can easily lead to decision fatigue.

You can imagine how difficult career decisions can be for someone who can’t even choose between Sugar Daddy and Mademoiselle. (Stay tuned below for the exciting outcome of this nail polish drama – LOL!)

I’m going to be writing a third edition of my very first book Getting From College to Career – to be published in 2024 – and it’s really brought me back to the mindset of a recent college graduate and the enormous number of career choices available. The reason I wrote Getting From College to Career back in 2007 was because I struggled to commit to a career choice when I first started out. The options have only multiplied for recent grads – and all the rest of us – since then. 

I (obviously) still struggle with decision-making, but over the years, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about making better choices. If you sometimes struggle with decision fatigue in your career or elsewhere, here are some lessons I’ve learned:

Find Your Own Perspective

Getting input from others can be a double-edged sword. I’m a really big fan of having mentors, career coaches and a network of people you trust to help you make tough decisions. But other people’s opinions are only helpful to a point. 

Remember that people will always give you advice based on their perspectives. 

I recently went shopping with a friend who convinced me to buy several outfits that were outside my comfort zone because she said I looked great in them. I appreciated her support and enthusiasm, but none of the clothes felt like me, so I ended up returning them.

Advice and input is great, but the final decision is always yours to make.

Make ANY Decision

Collecting input is great to a point, but taking action is better.

The best way to overcome decision fatigue is to make a decision – literally any decision – and move on from there. 

If you make the “wrong” decision — as I once did by signing a lease for an apartment I immediately regretted — you can either get out of it, learn from it or discover what’s‌ good about it. Here’s what I did: brought the real estate agent a huge flower bouquet and begged her to get me out of the deal…and it worked!

In my experience, indecision is the real enemy to your well-being. And if you don’t make any decisions, you’re just prolonging the pain of indecision. I often tell recent grads that even if a job offer ‌isn’t perfect, it’s still worth taking for the experience and the chance to learn more about your own preferences. You can always make another decision in the future.

As a perfectionist, I HATE this advice. What I hate even more is that it works.

Iterate Until You Get it Right

I constantly have to remind myself that there is no perfect lunch order, no perfect seat on the airplane, no perfect blog post. You do your very best and iterate from there. 

I recently attended an event where an incredibly successful hedge fund manager was speaking. An audience member asked how the manager handles the ups and downs of the stock market and his portfolio. He said that no matter how bad or good a day he has in the market he knows he can always come back and make a different decision tomorrow. 

I think that’s great career advice, too. In the words of John Lennon, which I quoted in my book Recalculating, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

If you struggle with decision fatigue, let me assure you that you’re not alone. No choice is perfect, and recognizing that can give us the power we need to refine our options and make a decision. 

So, how does my nail polish saga end? After seeing 50 shades of neutral pink, I still mixed two together to make my own shade!

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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