By Marc Lopez, The Marc Lopez Law Firm
This article first appeared in Marc Lopez's quarterly newsletter, "Drunk & Disorderly."
A man much wiser than myself once said, “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re probably not doing anything. Doers make mistakes.” For some reason, my mind kept returning to these words after I read Joanna Litt’s emotional account of her final weeks with her late husband, Gabe MacConaill. I have no ax to grind with big law, and in my heart, I believe we’re all responsible for our own actions. We all know what it’s like, though, to have our priorities misaligned. We all know what it’s like to lose our balance.
I wear a lot of different hats in my life. As a lawyer and small business owner, I manage three attorneys, a full-time support staff, and countless clients. As a father, I’m raising a beautiful four-year-old girl. As a husband, I’m supporting and being supported by a wife I’ve known for 23 years. As a son, I still need my mom, even as she increasingly needs me. I’m a brother, a friend and a citizen. I’m a human being, and I make mistakes every day.
When I wake up every morning, I know I need to do my absolute best in order to get the most favorable results for my clients. Striving for perfection, however, never guarantees the desired results. Just recently, I lost a suppression motion for one of my OVWI clients. Despite the effort I exerted, the hours I spent, the depositions I took, the memo I drafted and the arguments I made, I still lost. And the client? He fired me. And yet, there are still people who depend on me. There are people who need me to do my job so they can do theirs. I can’t let myself wallow in defeat—I’ve got bills to pay and mouths to feed. I’ve got other cases to work on.
An unhealthy focus on flaws, imperfections and other perceived failures is what’s known as maladaptive perfectionism. When you hear someone described as a perfectionist, this is usually what’s being referred to, and it’s not a compliment. Self-criticism is a good thing, but it’s easy for some people to go overboard. It’s okay to seek perfection so long as you understand you’ll never attain it. The chaos of the world endures, no matter what sort of order you try to impose on it. The reason it’s called maladaptive perfectionism is because it doesn’t work. You’ve got to learn to roll with the punches.
If professional pressures are turning your inner life toxic, please seek help. You’re not your job, and you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You have value beyond the services you provide, and it’s okay to take time for yourself. We live in a messy world. Nothing’s perfect, and that’s okay. In the words of Robert Browning, “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp.” This isn’t a shortcoming; it’s a defining characteristic of human achievement.