In the Garden of Lawyer Perfectionism

It’s fall, so I’m thinking garden thoughts again. The new mum is blooming beautifully, and I have 50 tulip bulbs and a flat of pansies to plant. And of course, weeds to pull. Lots of weeds to pull.

Pulling weeds out before they take over is so satisfying. Not perfect, but satisfying.

I was marveling at a several neighbors’ little strips of garden along the sidewalk, and how they never seemed to have any weeds or tattered plants. On the other hand, weeds grow with taunting abandon in my garden, and the slugs chew my salvia until it looks like green lacework.

I did pretty well keeping after my weeds this summer, so that the bindweed and wild violets did not take over by July, for once. I thought my neighbors must be energetic indeed for weeds never to appear, but then it hit me: ‘Doh, they use herbicides and pesticides. Weed-killers and bug-killers. I am now so much less impressed with their weed-free patches and unchewed plants.

It’s very like how I’m not impressed by lawyers in very pressed, expensive clothes, with lots of iGadgets, European cars and a house in the Hamptons. Because I’m pretty sure I know how they achieved those things: They used the soul equivalent of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer: perfectionism.

Perfectionism kills a lot of things in anyone’s life, but lawyers are particularly adept at blinding themselves to the relationship between perfectionism and their own deep misery. Like herbicides, fake fertilizers, and pesticides, perfectionism makes things look really nice at first. But in the soil, and in the soul, they are slow poison.

When used for very long, herbicides cause the plants become utterly dependent on these crutches to survive. Soil treated with herbicides and artificial fertilizers contains fewer and fewer nutrients over time. And the soil is less aerated, because the roots of the weeds don’t make little air and water tunnels in the soil. Plus, herbicides, pesticides and artificial fertilizers kill off or drive away beneficial insects like earthworms (soil enrichers and aerators), ladybugs (cute, voracious aphid eaters) and lacewings (even more voracious aphid, spider mite, and whitefly eaters), to name only a few. The upshot is that plants become more susceptible to pests and disease, less resilient to adverse conditions like drought or cold snaps, and simply don’t thrive on their own. They’re like addicts, dependent on the next chemical hit to make conditions OK for them.

The Perfection Pesticide

Perfectionism operates in an eerily similar way. While trying to look perfect, your focus is on appearances, and you rush past the small, nourishing moments of wonder that surround you. Those small moments are also your aeration—they let your soul breathe. Yet we tend to brush off noticing the beauty of a crisp fall day as something we don’t have time for, that isn’t productive and therefore isn’t relevant to our work and life. Soil depletion, indeed.

When you must hide your supposed flaws, your energy is poured into what others think, not what your true self is saying—much like how artificial fertilizers sacrifice long-term plant resiliency for impressive-looking short-term growth. When you insist on perfect chemical conditions, you don’t take any seemingly small steps of organic growth that could lead you to an ultimately far more satisfying alternative legal career. Because it might not look pretty and graceful right off the bat. The transition could be quite awkward. No ugly, voracious, ill-mannered caterpillars allowed in a perfectionist life.

So how do you transition to organic lawyering or an organic alternative legal career? I’ll talk about that next time.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer and organic gardener who gets a tiny bit obsessive about pulling weeds. Get advice on transitioning to a more organic, sustainable lawyer life by scheduling a discounted sample coaching session with Jennifer. Email jalvey@jenniferalvey.com to schedule yours today!

2 thoughts on “In the Garden of Lawyer Perfectionism

  1. Pingback: Growing Your Alternative Legal Career, Organically « Leaving the Law

  2. Pingback: Chasing the Perfect Job, Ruining Your Alternative Legal Career Search « Leaving the Law

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