Embracing failure as an opportunity for improvement

Shawn Healy
BridgeTower Media Newswires
Being a lawyer often involves a fair amount of sales and persuasion. Whether you are delivering an argument or pitching yourself as the lawyer who can deliver for his clients, a common burden for lawyers is the idea that you have to project invulnerability while constantly being aware of the opposite.

Downside of perfection

This belief of needing to be perfect can be blatant, but more often it is a subtle feeling under the surface, a “should” statement that makes failures stir up doubts about whether you have what it takes. It’s the idea of knowing that you can’t be perfect, but still wanting to be perfect.

The idea of being perfect sounds good on paper, but the reality of being perfect would be something different altogether. Preparing the perfect argument can make you feel confident because no one can rebut a perfect argument. 
The reality is all arguments can be attacked, rebutted or weakened with a good counter-argument or even an ill-prepared response to a mediocre counter-argument. Perfection — either real or projected — would be void of failures.

Accepting failure

Unfortunately, it is our failures that teach us the most and provide opportunities to improve.

You all have flaws and struggles. That’s what makes us human. You’re allowed to have struggles. It’s our struggles that make us stronger, not weaker.

The goal of perfection is in direct contradiction to the skill of resilience. Resilience, the ability to respond well to adversity and come out stronger than you were before, is a skill that can be developed and strengthened over time. Resilience requires obstacles in order to develop. Resilience is present only in flawed people. Perfect people never get the chance to develop it.

Most lawyers learn from early on that a perfect professional record is not possible. You can’t guarantee a successful outcome to your client or that your client will be satisfied with the results.

The more common source of the insidious idea of perfection has to do with the lawyer’s personal life. A person who desires perfection is less likely to admit weakness, less likely to ask for help, less likely to benefit from the knowledge of others, and more likely to feel isolated.

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen groups of attorneys visibly relax with a sigh of relief when a respected lawyer admits to them that he or she has struggled with anxiety, depression, self-doubt, substance abuse or any other common struggle that humans experience. If you have never heard this said explicitly, let me say it to you now: You all have flaws and struggles. That’s what makes us human. You’re allowed to have struggles. It’s our struggles that make us stronger, not weaker.

Once you embrace the fact that failures can be a source of improvement, you can increase your confidence while being devoid of perfection. Failures will still cause pain even when you are resilient. Pain is important. For a resilient person, failures become challenges that provide motivation to continue, and pain provides a safeguard against recklessness. The result can be a confident, motivated lawyer who is not afraid to try difficult things, not afraid to fail, not afraid to ask for help, and always looking for what he or she can learn from every experience.

Don’t be the boxer who never gets knocked down; be the boxer who sees the opponent as a teacher and refuses to stay down.


Shawn Healy is a licensed clinical psychologist on staff with Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Massachusetts. He also writes and presents on a variety of topics germane to the practice of law. He can be contacted at shawn@lclma.org.