Earlier today, I participated in a #Peri10K #Sharathon and did a Facebook Live Video about “How Your Mindset Affects the People Around You.”
The first thing I thought about was the mindset of perfectionism and how it affects the people that lawyers typically interact with.
A perfectionist is a person who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection. This mindset can lead to hypersensitivity, paralysis, and exhaustion.
I truly believe that we attract to ourselves people and circumstances that match our mindset and when lawyers have a perfectionist mindset, it can manifest in their career in several ways.
First, a perfectionist lawyer can attract emotionally manipulative opposing counsel. I have worked on multi-counsel cases where there are multiple defense and plaintiff’s attorneys and in a handful of them, there is an unkind attorney. That unkind attorney can always identify the perfectionist in the group. The perfectionist is the one who responds to their nasty emails defensively. Unkind people thrive off the ability to control the emotions of others and when they identify a perfectionist, they have a field day. And the rest of the attorneys are stuck reading facebook-rant-sized emails that go back and forth about absolutely nothing. But, one person feels like he or she must be right and the other gets energy and joy from the control of the other’s emotions.
Second, a perfectionist attracts clients that have no boundaries. I have talked to colleagues who complain about clients calling or emailing late at night or on weekends for non-emergent matters and demanding a response. A perfectionist mindset can cause you to believe that if you do not respond to every question immediately, you are a failure. You fear that the client will go elsewhere. You fear that the client will tell others that you are horrible and unresponsive. So, you remove all realistic boundaries and wear yourself out trying to please an unreasonable client.
Finally, a perfectionist mindset can prevent an attorney from receiving invaluable constructive criticism from a supervising partner. Your hypersensitivity may cause you to make excuses and get defensive when a well-meaning supervising attorney attempts to give helpful feedback. If you do that enough times, the feedback will stop and your growth as an attorney may stop as well.
What is the solution? Be mindful about your mindset.
First, acknowledge that you have a mindset that is not serving you or your career.
Next, identify the mindset that you want to have instead. Realism is an example of a mindset that is the opposite of perfectionism. It is defined as the attitude or practice of accepting a situation as it is and being prepared to deal with it accordingly.
Finally, ask yourself what someone with that new mindset would do in situations that normally trigger you.
A realist would reply respectfully to a nasty email from opposing counsel, or not respond at all.
A realist would respond to losing a big motion by not taking it personally and preparing for the next steps of litigation.
A realist would respond to a typo in an email by shaking it off and moving on.
I know it is not as easy as, “just stop being a perfectionist.”
But, if you mindfully identify the mindset and replace it with a mindset that better serves you, you may gradually, not instantly, but gradually see positive changes in your career, relationships and your life.