Thursday, August 2, 2012

What Mowing My Lawn Taught Me About Law School Learning - Part 2

LESSON 2:     YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT.

Optimal yard care involves proper performance of several critical duties: (1) cutting the lawn, (2) edging at the borders of the lawn to create clean lines, (3) pulling weeds from the garden, (4) pruning plants, bushes, and trees, (5) watering plants, and (6) other related tasks like fertilizing, overseeding, aerating, raking, stump removal, and replanting.  (Just writing that last sentence stressed me out!  I’m going to take a break.  Be back shortly.)  . . . . . So, when I am sitting in my house on the weekend, I know (really, I feel) that “mowing the lawn” is waaaay more than just mowing the lawn.  I find it really difficult to commit to what could be several hours of lawn care.

It’s not that I don’t have time to mow the lawn, but I don’t have time to do all of that other stuff.  I start thinking about the fact that the last time I was edging, the weed-whacker ran out of line, so I’m going to have to replace that.  I make a mental list of all of the things that I’m going to have to do in addition to the mowing.  No way I can accomplish all of that.  It’s too much.  I resolve to do nothing for now.  Save it until later, when I can do it all.    

Eventually, I say to myself, “The lawn isn’t going to mow itself.”  If I let the grass continue to grow, I’m going to need a pith helmet and a machete instead of a lawn mower.  The homeowners association is going to send me a notice.  My wife will start talking to me about the dangers of deer ticks.  So, I get up and mow the lawn.  It doesn’t take forever.  And, if I really don’t have time to do all of the other things, I realize that they can wait.  But I did what I really needed to do.  Maybe the lines aren’t as perfect as they need to be, but I have prevented my lawn from being a nightmare.  Even though I did not trim, edge, prune, plant, weed, cultivate, water, fertilize, or any of the other things I could have done, I finished the important part.  The rest can wait, and my lawn looks good.  Frankly, the other things I need to do seem far less daunting, now that the big part is finished.  

What this taught me about law school

Perfectionists come in two extremes.  The first type works her fingers to the bone, getting every aspect of a task right, laboring until that moment that the task is thoroughly complete, shiny, and, yes, perfect.  Type-1 perfectionists sometimes can lose sleep, go hungry, or otherwise sacrifice self-care in an effort to achieve perfection in their work.  The second type of perfectionist looks at all that needs to be done to achieve perfection and starts to feel a little overwhelmed.  This feeling of being overwhelmed may paralyze the Type-2 perfectionist, who may choose to do nothing, fearing that any attempt to do something just won’t be good enough.  I don’t think either type of extreme perfectionist is healthy, but I’m going to focus on Type-2 for now.

In law school, it is easy to feel overwhelmed.   4 courses.  2 classes per week per course.  50
pages of reading per class.  1 legal writing paper.  5 job applications due.  2 student group meetings.  5 gym workouts.  Saturday night party.  If you are a Type-2 perfectionist, all of this work makes you want to crawl into a hole.  Rather than attacking this invincible mountain of work, you do nothing.   

A better way to approach this might be to do what you can now.  You can accomplish a lot in the time you have, even if there is not enough time to make it perfect.  Do the reading, even if you don’t think there’s enough time to finish a brief.  Get the first draft of your paper done.  Do what you can, and don't try to do everything at once.  Good may not be perfect, but it's a darn sight better than nothing at all.

 (Writer’s Note: I am going to resist the perfectionist urge in me to hold onto this blog post any longer and edit it a few more weeks.  It may not be perfect, but I hope it is good enough to make a good point!)

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