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Your Best Self/Your Worst Self: Which One Does Your Boss Feed?

In my brief career (lawyer), I've had the opportunity to work with/for a few amazing mentors. I am beginning, I think, to fully appreciate what they have contributed and continue to contribute to my development and improvement. My current boss, I could not say enough good things about—really. I don't always agree with the way she wants to do something, and of course one occasionally gets annoyed with the person(s) one primarily works with/for, but those things are rare and minor.

Today, I discovered a significant problem that, at the time I discovered it, looked like it could cause some serious blow-back onto me/us. The problem, in the form of incorrect factual information in a couple of early filed documents, did not originate with me, but I have done a lot of work on this case. I relied on that information in the work I did, and I will be dealing with untangling the mess. Whatever the blowback is, it's gonna hit me. So I figure out what this problem is and I go to my boss's office to tell her about it and talk about what to do.

At this point, I think I should go ahead and describe to you some of my personal flaws that affect both work and life. I am the worst kind of perfectionist. By that, I mean that I have a tendency to catastrophize even minor errors. If it's not All Perfect and I'm not All Right, I have a problem not wanting to destroy or abandon whatever the project is. I can't give a knitted gift to another person without pointing out to them the one place where I messed up a stitch. I probably started the whole project over, several inches into it, multiple times before making it so far that I couldn't convince myself to turn back. In today's Imperfection Challenge, until this morning, I was feeling so proud of the work I've been doing on this project—confident about the arguments, and the optimistic about the potential for a good outcome. Upon discovering this incorrect fact, in my head, the whole thing was on me because I did not duplicate previous work, and I wanted to Shut That Whole Thing Down re: anything I wrote or argued. I was convinced that the identified error was going to just blow the entire case. These same sorts of impulsive thoughts sometimes keep me from doing things. I want to do the Year of a Clean Person on Lifehacker, but because I do not believe I can satisfy myself with my own work, and am afraid I'll quit as soon as I think I've done something wrong on some future project that hasn't even been posted yet, I am having a serious hard time picking a time to do my damn bookshelves.

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Okay. That is the general perspective I took into my boss's office, along with a very crest-fallen and shamed face. We discussed the magnitude of the problem, different ways of dealing with it, and ultimately determined that the incorrect information only weakens but does not destroy one argument out of several. It originated with a good-faith misinterpretation of a sort that just happens sometimes. Nobody else has relied on that information or is harmed by its inclusion in previous filings. If the lawyer on the other side blows his top and tries to do something like ask for sanctions, the judge is unlikely to entertain him, and we can remind him of something *actually* egregious that he did that we dealt with without something dramatic like asking for sanctions. We talked about why the argument still survives but is simply weaker, and how the incorrect information does not affect our main and most important arguments in any way. So, error? Yes. Severe transgression that destroys our case? No.

This afternoon, I was thinking about how important it was that the conversation went the way it did. I can't be effective if my first impulse is to abandon what are ultimately good arguments over one error that caused no harm. It made me think about how it would change my development and probably the course of my career if I had the kind of boss who would also catastrophize it, or who focused on assigning blame instead of a boss with her kind of "Get shit done and don't sweat the small stuff," attitude. It made me think about how important it is to be able to tell the difference between the small stuff and actual catastrophes and everything in between.

I think this post is less about how my boss feeds my best self, although she certainly does. It's actually about how she starves my worst self, which is just as important.

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