Why perfect people have such a hard time leaving the law

 August 18, 2013

By  Casey Berman

There was a typo in my blog post from last week. (Actually, I used a similar sounding but nonetheless incorrect word). I saw it for the first time right after I hit “Send” on the email newsletter … and published it on Facebook … and tweeted it on Twitter. It was repeated as people forwarded the post along and retweeted.

My mistake was out there and there was nothing I could do about it. I should have taken more time to re-read the post more carefully before sending and publishing. I was kicking myself for not being precise enough in my proofreading.

At least the one thing I could still do was to log into my WordPress blog account and change the mistake in the post itself on the site. I at least still had control over that.

So I logged into WordPress, and scrolled down into the window that displays the content of the post, and as I was about to correct the incorrect word, it hit me. It hit me how crucial and revealing this typo was. It hit me how this typo was a perfect example of the progress I myself have made in leaving the law. It hit me how I was never going to correct this typo.

As lawyers, we want (and need) everything in our work to be perfect, or as close to perfect, as possible: We need to make sure our work product represents our clients and our firms in the best and most accurate way possible.

And on top of that, as individuals we are often perfectionists: We are compelled to review and double check and triple check and quadruple check and make sure we have it (whatever that is, at work or in our personal life) right and correct before we do anything next.

But when we explore leaving the law behind, we don’t need to be perfect. We actually don’t need to be anywhere near it. What we do need to be is flexible and open and courageous and honest and receptive to change. But we do not need to be perfect.

And really, to properly leave law behind, it can backfire on us to aspire, or actually be, perfect. When all we seek is perfection, when all we seek is for a guarantee, this often means that, in reality, we end up not doing anything at all, or anything different. We do not start. We do not take a baby-step. We do not experiment. We do not consider. We do not network. We do not risk being wrong. The risk and hard work required to take that first step are often perceived as too high a hurdle. I can’t leave law, I won’t be any good at it, so why should I try, or It’s really just so hard to leave the law, or I know what I want to do in my dreams, but I only want to try it if I know I’ll succeed at it. So we keep doing what we’re doing, and we keep getting what we’re getting.

Those that seek perfection seek completeness and flawlessness. When we properly leave law behind, we, rather, aim to incrementally and gradually and sincerely build self-confidence and self-worth and meaningful relationships and growing income and passionate lifestyles and happiness.

So while I always endeavor to produce well written, engaging, grammatically correct content, I left the typo in the post. It’s still there, and it will always remain there. While the post is not perfect, it is published. And shared. And read. And hopefully helped. And for me, the post’s existence is important, not it’s perfection. It’s evidence of how I didn’t sit on it and re-read it over and over again until I didn’t do anything at all. It’s evidence that I acted. It’s evidence that you can be far from perfect and still succeed at your wildest dreams.

PS The first three readers who find the typo in last week’s post and email me a few thoughts on baby steps they’d like to take to leave law behind, but still find difficult to take, will win a free 20 minute call with me to discuss how to leave the law, baby-steps, fears or whatever else is top of mind for you. Looking forward to it!

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  1. The expectation of perfectionism is also one of the things that makes being a lawyer miserable. In almost (but not every) endeavor a person can accept that mistakes will occur, but lawyers cannot. it weighs on us, and it makes perfectionist out of people who were not to start with.

    1. It’s so true. It goes to how critically many of were in considering law school. I know I didn’t think critically about attending law school at all. As such, we really don’t know what law school entails, nor what being a lawyer entails (such as needing to be a perfectionist). And not be too dramatic, but we then end up many years into the practice of law, and realize “Hey, wait, being a lawyers is not really in alignment with what I’m good at or what I enjoy.”

      Thanks so much for the comment, it’s right on.

  2. Indeed, your comment about law school is telling, as for a long time I’ve held the view that most lawyers are intellectual dabblers, which is how they tend to stumble into law school. In some ways, as nobody discloses to them what the practice of law is like, they’re sold a bit of a bill of goods.

    I occasionally hear people say they love the law, or hear students claim it, or even hear from somebody that they always wanted to be lawyers, but for the most part, I don’t believe those stories. People stumble into law as they have wondering intellects, and the law seems to be involved with everything, when in fact the law tends to be much less intellectual and much more adversarial (at least in litigation) than anyone would imagine.

    Given that, a bunch of people are recruited into law who have what amounts to great curiosity, a wondering intellect, and who are not particularly aggressive, and are expected to have relentless perfectionist focus and not to divert from what they are looking at, so that they can fight. This means that they are in internal conflict from nearly day one.

    Part of the problem with leaving the law, for those same people, is the “oh no, I don’t know what I like and what have I done feeling.” Indeed, you’ll find quite a few people who just can’t find a path out. I haven’t. But some will maintain that there just isn’t one.

    1. You hit the nail right on the head and I don’t believe them either when they say this.

      Many also go into law school and law because they just don’t go into other areas (I was a Jewish guy who didn’t like blood … ergo no medical school for me, law school it is!)

      And you’re right. We don’t explore, and schools don’t encourage exploring, one’s Unique Genius, one’s strengths and skills. This exercise takes a long time, but knowing what they are helps knowing what we like, and matching what we like with what we do for work is a nice recipe for happiness and success.

      Thanks again for the comment, much appreciated.

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