Did you see the recent CNN opinion piece: Why lawyers are prone to suicide?

I immediately thought of the John Hopkins study finding that lawyers have the highest rate of depression of any profession. According to the study, lawyers were 3.6 times more likely to be depressed than the average. That study was in 1990. Things certainly aren’t better in 2014.

I found this point helpful:

The psychologist Rollo May famously defined depression as “the inability to construct a future.”

As you may know, several years ago (when the economy was booming), I wrote: Say Ciao to Chow Mein: Conquering Career Burnout.  Tony is a young lawyer with a law firm in Houston and at the beginning of the book, he  is unable to construct a future. Then, I share ideas on how Tony can construct a future based on his own definition of success.

One big problem that causes depression, and even suicide is that lawyers tend to be perfectionists.

I have met, worked with and coached a few lawyers I would describe as perfectionists. For the most part they were very fine lawyers, but I never met a happy perfectionist and I never met a perfectionist who was really good at client development. They were too afraid of making a mistake.

Their draft article, presentation, or blog post was never perfect. So, it was never published, presented or posted.

I read an interesting article in Slaw: Canada’s on-line legal magazine. The title was: Perfectionist or High Performer? Which Are You? The writer describes perfectionism this way:

What is perfectionism? Perfectionism is when you have exceptionally high standards and expectations for yourself. Perfectionists are highly self-critical. Perfectionism is accompanied by certain beliefs or thinking patterns that are incorrect and/or unworkable. Most simply, it is the need to be and do everything to perfection.

Lawyers who are perfectionists burn out, get depressed. As the Slaw article notes, at the very least, being a perfectionist kills the joy of a lawyer’s pursuits.

I recently wrote about Josh Waitzkin’s book: The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance. I was struck by his thought on perfectionists:

Musicians, actors, athletes, philosophers, scientists, writers understand that brilliant creations are often born of small errors. Problems set in if the performer has a brittle dependence on the safety of absolute perfection or duplication. Then an error triggers fear, detachment, uncertainty, or confusion that muddies the decision-making process.

I have made many small (and some not so small) errors in my career. I have made them during trials, during meetings with clients and during my client development efforts. During my career, I even had a few dreams (nightmares) about my errors.

But, I never let my desire for excellence make me a perfectionist. How did I avoid it? Early in my career, I realized I would never be perfect. My writing would never be perfect, my speaking would never be perfect, my trial skills would never be perfect, my client relationships would never be perfect.

I focused my attention on the career journey striving each day to learn and become a better lawyer. I enjoyed the climb and learning. So, based on my own experience I would say focus on constantly developing your skills and the process, not the end result.