I recently took a fun online quiz that labeled me as a “perfectionist.” Ugh! I hate that I fell into that category! The quiz indicated I am averse to failure and that, often, I hesitate to take action because I don’t want to miss anything or make a mistake.
Many lawyers would fall into this category, I believe. We research, ad nauseum, afraid of missing something important for our client. We never want to lose a case, and we never want to look bad. (There’s definitely some ego involved in this as well!)
But perfectionists are very hard working individuals, too. We’re not afraid of burning the midnight oil to be the most prepared, the most knowledgeable we can be.
The hardest part is trying to figure out when enough is enough. How much research and/or information are enough? How many cases should I read? How many colleagues should I speak with to verify my conclusion? How many websites can I review? We become information junkies on overload.
It’s about balance. It’s about knowing you’ve done the best you can do and letting it go. It may be less about the number of hours put into a certain case than it is about working more efficiently within a prescribed timeframe. Or it may be about asking for help so that you can cut down on your workload, and find the answers or draw your conclusion more quickly. The more time spent does not necessarily mean our conclusion is any more correct! It just makes us feel better when we put so much time in, that we turned over every rock.
I’m not saying not to do your job. It’s more about us learning moderation, using our time thoughtfully, and not being afraid to ask for help, than it is about the number of hours expended. Being less of a perfectionist may help us to achieve a better work-life balance, too. It will free up some of our time, may even allow us to be more productive, as we can move on to another issue or case, or perhaps even get home earlier to spend more time with family.
Can we look at our work as complete without going over the top? Like all other character traits we try to improve upon, this is a practice. It’s about closing the books, shutting the computer, and saying, “I’ve done all I can do.” It’s about recognizing our need to never finish, to keep at it, and it’s also about not trusting ourselves that we have done our best, and then–letting all of that go.
It’s about trusting our knowledge. We don’t always have enough confidence in what we have become, like we’re shams, fakes, and someone is going to find out we’re not really smart enough, good enough, and we’ll be exposed for the losers we are.
I recently went to a seminar on a topic on which I felt I was lacking, and I came away realizing that I knew a lot more than I thought I did. In fact, I was versed in nearly every subject that came up. I realized that those with years more experience than I still struggled and still had questions, because every case is individual and has their own particular set of circumstances to review and resolve.
I also realized that my perfectionism and its partner, my lack of confidence, comes into play not only at work, but follows me home. You can’t turn character traits off! I recognized how I want to make everything and everyone around me perfect too—make a perfect meal (how many recipes can I look at for beef stew??), have a perfectly clean house (no dust bunnies in the corners), have perfect relationships (no arguing!), and then putting myself down when all of these things don’t happen. Whew! That’s a lot of stress, not only on me, but for those around me, too. No one needs that kind of pressure.
How do we work on this? The first, and best, step is observing ourselves, and noticing when these tendencies come up. Next is being gentle with ourselves—telling ourselves that we are enough, that we’ve done enough, and that we have done okay in our lives. We’re allowed to give ourselves a break, at least once in a while (!), from all the pressure that we put on ourselves. Taking the time to affirm our goodness and self-worth every day will go a long way in improving our perfectionist tendencies and our lack of confidence in our abilities.
Call to action: In what ways are you a perfectionist? Do you agree that perfectionism can be tied in to a lack of confidence in our abilities? This week, try looking at one area in your life where perfectionism rears its ugly head, and take action by reminding yourself that you don’t have to be perfect, that you are good enough in that area and that you can relax about it. Know that it will be okay to accept yourself where you are. As always, let me know your results in the comments below.
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