Recovering Lawyer, Recovering Perfectionist

Lawyers are perfectionists. Admit it—you have often thought to yourself that if you had done more research, thinking, writing, arguing, digging your heels in, or just plain old tried harder, you would have had a better outcome, either at work or in your personal life. And even if someone else doesn’t, you come down on yourself like 20 monkeys on your back for not being better. More perfect.

If this doesn’t sound familiar to you, you might want to skip the rest of this post.

offering candles burning in church

These candles aren't perfect, but they get the job done. Image courtesy

But there are times when perfectionism derails your life in less obvious ways, as I realized this morning. I’ve decided I need an altar in my studio. I want it filled with beautiful, meaningful objects and lots of candles. But I don’t have any of those beautiful, meaningful objects that I’ve collected on pilgrimages, for example. Heck, I don’t even have a robin’s eggshell or a feather. There’s not $100 in the budget right now to buy lots of beautiful, meaningful objects. And so I’ve been stuck.

What hit me this morning is that I was willing to let my vision of altar perfection get in the way of the thing that mattered, having the altar in the first place. I had rejected, in my pursuit of perfection, letting the altar evolve organically. And ironically, I believe that the organic evolution will net me the meaning I’ve been seeking. I’ll add things as I have experiences that matter, ones that nourish me much more than a couple hours spent online shopping.

So what on earth does this have to do with leaving law, you might be asking. So much, Grasshopper. It becomes easy to fixate on having what sounds like a perfect exit strategy that you don’t actually take any concrete steps that would enable that exit. Like, say, looking at some job descriptions that sound intriguing, if not possible, and revising your resume to more closely match those jobs. Just for grins.

Or, perfectionism might keep you from taking a class you’re really interested in, because you can’t see how it matches up with your perfect exit strategy. The two simply aren’t related, you think. Horse hockey, it’s all related, and you truly never know who you might meet and make an amazing connection with. Doesn’t even matter if that connection is professional or personal, really. It’s the connection that counts. Connection to others is what this life is all about. That is what nourishes us when parts of our life start running dry.

So what perfect vision are you letting paralyze your quest to leave law? I’d love to hear it.

Jennifer Alvey is a career transition coach and recovering perfectionist. What perfectionist tendency have you battled with, or even triumphed over? She would love to hear about it at jalvey AT

5 thoughts on “Recovering Lawyer, Recovering Perfectionist

  1. Glad to see you’re posting again! Perfectionism is such a beast. I was a “closet perfectionist” thinking that it was something harmless that no one needed to know about. Now I see every day how it keeps me stuck, afraid to put myself out there, afraid to take risks. I always “need” more time to learn before I feel ready to move forward, when I would actually learn more by just doing it and learning from the experience.

    For anyone reading that is seeking an exit from the law, I just wanted to chime in about putting yourself out there. I was fed up and didn’t know which direction to take, so I just started applying for anything and everything that caught my interest–and I got interviews! For jobs I wasn’t really qualified for! I finally got honest with myself and that’s when I started getting positive feedback. Letting go of the perfectionism makes life a lot more fun (and interesting).

  2. Oh how I understand. I am sitting here after 28 years of practising law and wondering “what has happened to my life.” I want to exit but I do not know what I am capable of doing. I would do anything just not the practice of law. I keep believing in “magical thinking.” It will just happen. I am paralyzed.

    • Try reading Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. She is brilliant and funny, and very good at picking apart perfectionism. Her TED video (easy to Google) is great, too.

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