By Barbara Levenson
Attorneys are detail oriented. Attorneys are trained to research and document the advice that they are giving their clients. There is always a balancing act between being thorough and knowing when to move on to the next matter. When is enough, actually enough?
A big component in trusting our judgment and becoming comfortable advising clients is experience. The more we do something, the easier it becomes. The more we know, the more comfortable we become. At some point, these skills become second nature, but until that happens, many of us fall victim to fear. For some people, that fear can become so overwhelming that they are unable to proceed with the tasks at hand. They miss deadlines, they get sick, they suffer anxiety attacks, and sometimes their fears lead to tragic consequences. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” However, in this era of highly edited/curated social media selfies and postings, we are being conditioned to expect perfection, from ourselves and others.
Don’t believe everything that you think. Intellectually, we know that perfection doesn’t exist, but we are afraid of not being perfect or making a mistake. Sometimes our fears are based on actual experience, i.e. someone humiliated us when we made a mistake, and sometimes they are based on projection, i.e. we will “look bad” to someone whose opinion we value. We overthink the project with a looming deadline. We try so hard to cover every contingency, that analysis paralysis kicks in and we fail to deliver. Our fears become self-fulfilling prophecies. Below are some strategies that may prove helpful in facing your fears and conquering them:
1) Before you start an assignment, ask questions. If necessary, ask more questions. Undoubtedly, the person for whom you are doing an assignment has done this before. And probably they have done so many, many times before. Some mentors are better at remembering how nervous they were in their early days of practicing law; others, not so much. That said, all partners and counsels were associates once upon a time, and their responsibility is to help you become a top practitioner. Rather than waste time, sit down with your partner(s) and get a clear idea of what needs to be done. Once you start the assignment, if you start feeling stuck or confused, ask more questions.
2) Part of preventing analysis paralysis is to learn your partners’ management style. You can’t meet expectations if you don’t know specifically what your partner(s) expect. How do you do this? You ask them. For example, “do you want me to show you the draft when it’s completed, or would you prefer that I show you sections as I complete them to make sure that I’m on the right track?” Once you know your partners’ preferences, you can meet their expectations. Having these conversations not only will help you do your job better but also, your partners will get to know you better. They will be able to see how dedicated you are, and that you want to do a great job.
3)If you are feeling increasingly anxious, or overwhelmed, speak with someone. We all feel anxious at some point in our lives. For some, it’s related to a specific event or occurrence. For others, it’s an ongoing struggle. Sometimes talking to a close friend or family member is enough to help put things in perspective. If that isn’t working, please seek professional help. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
We want to do a great job. We don’t want to let our teams down. We want to exceed expectations. In order to do that, we need to know what is expected and proceed accordingly. Seeking the information that you need in order to do your job effectively expedites successful results, helps you bill more efficiently, and helps you avoid analysis paralysis. Perfection does not exist. Any questions?