I am pleased to offer a post today from Pascale Pageau, founder of Delegatus Legal Services Inc., chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s Women Lawyers Forum, and mother of four young children. Pascale became something of a pioneer in the Quebec legal community in 2005 when she launched a law firm that offered out-sourced, consulting-based, made-to-order legal services – a true novelty, as you will know, if you know anything about how law has traditionally been practiced. Today, her firm is thriving, and she herself enjoys a full and satisfying life. In this post (a repeat of a text she published recently in the newsletter of the Women Lawyers Forum), she explains a part of the philosophy that has guided her through her many accomplishments.
The quest for perfection, a characteristic often found in women, and even more so in female legal professionals, is useful to us in many ways. Excellence in the quality of work, methodology, concern for detail, meeting of deadlines and budgets, and the list goes on. When it comes to the practice of law, the quest for perfection is essential.
That being said, in all its aspects and from every angle, this quest for perfection can create significant problems when it is applied to our lives as a whole.
On the one hand, it can contribute to diminishing our quality of life and our self-esteem, interfering with our pursuit of happiness and balance. Despite all the time we invest and the effort we put in, unfortunately we all too often feel that we should be doing more, doing it better, that we should succeed at everything, be perfect, excel at everything, be recognized in all areas, and be loved by everyone. That we should constantly be the best of mothers, wives, sisters, and children, the best at the office, the best on the board of directors, the best in business development, and in each and every single one of our social commitments.
Conversely, this quest for perfection can stifle our courage and discourage us from applying for important positions, becoming involved, challenging and even surpassing ourselves.
Sometimes, out of fear of not attaining perfection, we don’t dare become involved in a project or an important office or political committee, or a professional or charitable organization. Some women don’t dare become partners, climb the organizational ladder, accept promotions, or work towards new objectives and greater goals. Still out of fear of not attaining perfection, of not being good enough, some women don’t dare accept the responsibility of representing a major client or attempting business development. Some women don’t dare speak at conferences, argue certain cases, or handle certain business deals. Or maybe they shy away from sitting on a board or applying to become a judge. Some women even go so far as to leave the profession – women of exceptional quality who have the talent and potential to continue.
How many women have turned down opportunities because they felt they weren’t good enough, or because they feared they couldn’t reach perfection? And how many of those women, after having let opportunity after opportunity pass them by, wind up thinking, “Why didn’t I go? I know I could have done it.” Some even go on to add, “I could have done a better job than so-and-so.”
And so, this infamous quest for perfection can lead to two major issues. On the one hand, it can undermine our self-esteem, and on the other it can make us timid, thus stifling our progress.
I tried to think of some possible solutions that might help us, as women, confront these issues. I began to wonder, might the solution be an obligation of means?
All in all, what if doing our best were enough?
Think about it for a moment.
Wouldn’t we be more likely to be more daring in our lives if we allowed ourselves to be wrong, if we gave ourselves permission to make mistakes, if we accepted the fact that perfection is not attainable? My thought is yes.
Wouldn’t we be happier if we got rid of our feelings of personal guilt concerning the imperfection of our acts and deeds? Wouldn’t we be even prouder of ourselves if we told ourselves that doing our best was already great? I think so. I think that we need to let go of our never-ending quest for perfection in everything we do. Instead, every day, we simply need to try our best, and love ourselves as we are. I think we’d all be more confident if we only reasoned, “Today, despite any small mistakes or imperfections or lack of time, I reached my goals because I did my best.” Wouldn’t we all be more content and closer to happiness? I may be wrong (for I give myself the right to make mistakes), but I think the answer is yes!
For those of you who may be skeptical and for all you steadfast perfectionists, I would like to clarify what I’m saying. It is my belief that doing our best still implies making use of all reasonable means at our disposal in order to achieve the desired performance, the desired result. To do everything necessary and to take serious control in order to do what needs to be done.
Without really knowing it, and without defining it that clearly, I began applying this attitude to my life in 2005, after having my second child. At the time, I was working in a major law firm, the mother of two young children and an avid seeker of perfection. I began to strongly question things, even going so far as to consider leaving the profession.
But I realized that quitting wasn’t the solution. Having adopted this new way of thinking, I decided to take matters into my own hands and launch myself into business. Today I am still a lawyer; the mother of four children, ages 2, 3, 7, and 8, happily married, a businesswoman and the chair and founder of a law firm that was just named one of the Top 10 regional firms in Quebec. I am also the Chair of the National Women Lawyers Forum of the Canadian Bar Association and am involved with the Montreal Bar.
In all of these areas, I have made mistakes and have committed blunders, but I have also forgiven myself for them. In every instance, I didn’t let my sense of guilt or my quest for perfection get to me as it had in the past. I think the force that helps me to keep going and to do everything (or at least try to do everything) lies in my belief that, right or wrong, I have the right to make mistakes, and in all things and in all situations, I at least try to do my best. And do you know what? That’s enough for me!
And what is most extraordinary is that I am deeply happy, and you can’t put a price on that.
And so I would encourage you to do a bit of soul searching.
If these thoughts can help you, either to feel less guilty, even for a moment, or inspire you with drive, even if it’s just for one project, then I will have accomplished something extraordinary, and you will have too.