It is widely acknowledged that perfectionism is a common trait amongst law students and lawyers. Indeed, many lawyers identify as perfectionists. However, given the prevalence of mental distress among lawyers, one must question whether perfectionism adds value or whether it is contributing to the elevated levels of distress in the profession.
Perfectionism is often driven by a fear of failure and a fear of making mistakes. Perfectionists often place immense pressure on themselves to always get things right – in essence, the desire to be perfect. When this is combined with a strong work ethic and ability, it can often lead to great results. However, in a high demanding job, being a perfectionist can also work against us.
Perfectionism can drive us to set unattainable goals for ourselves and be too critical of our own work. In the workplace, time is not an infinite resource and when we spend hours on a task for fear that it is less than perfect, we are actually affecting our efficiency and productivity. It is also not uncommon for perfectionism to lead to procrastination, a behaviour that negatively impacts our performance at work and ability to meet deadlines.
As with anything in life, balance is key. If you are a perfectionist, it is important to have strategies in place to manage it so that it does not become destructive. It is helpful to set realistic expectations for yourself, particularly if you are a junior lawyer. Perhaps you can ask your supervisor to explain what they expect from the tasks they allocate to you so that you can manage their expectations, and most importantly, manage your own.
If you are a junior lawyer, you will regularly receive feedback on how your work can be improved – this is part of the process. Being realistic with yourself on your abilities will make you more receptive to receiving and applying constructive feedback. The idea is to control perfectionism so that it does not control you.
It is important to have pride in your work and always strive for self-improvement. These traits help build a successful lawyer. However, if you are able to identify when perfectionism affects your efficiency, you will certainly be one step ahead.