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ON WHIPLASH (or THE TYRANNY OF PERFECTIONISM)

If you haven’t seen it yet, you should. Whiplash is one of the best films I’ve seen in ages. No matter how bad your day practicing law has been, watching that film will make you think “Damn! Well, at least I’m not a jazz drummer.”

Without giving away any spoilers, Whiplash is the story of a talented and highly ambitious young drummer who is pushed to the limit – physically and psychologically – by a zealous and cruelly manipulative teacher.

After leaving the theatre I finally managed, through the judicious application of vodka, to coax my muscles into unclenching. As the blood began to flow again, I started thinking about the many levels on which Whiplash speaks to our desire for success and perfectionism. And it occurred to me that the fanatical Mr. Fletcher is a pretty good cinematic representation of our own consciences.

Lawyers are some of the most conscientious people I know and they are highly demanding of themselves. Most of us have our own version of Mr. Fletcher lurking right inside our self-critical little heads: taunting, provoking and relentlessly harassing us in the pursuit of some vague ideal of perfectionism. A ‘good job’ is never good enough, while the slightest mistake is blown out of all proportion and revisited incessantly, proof to ourselves (as if we need it) that we’re not truly up to snuff, that we’ll soon be exposed as the talentless frauds we are.

In short, we are horrid to ourselves. We would never dream of berating someone else about their mistakes or weaknesses with the brutality that we attack ourselves inside our own heads. It’s a type of psychological abuse, an incessant, habitual self-brainwashing to which we subject ourselves without even really being aware of it.

Like Mr. Fletcher, we might think we’re doing it for the right reasons. But that’s a misguided understanding of our psychological make-up, one too often perpetuated by outdated and unhelpful cultures within many law-firms and some companies.

If none of this sounds in any way familiar to you, then I am genuinely delighted to hear it. Go see Whiplash and enjoy it for the fantastic film it is. But if the concept of an ‘inner Mr. Fletcher’ resonates for you at all, then next time you’re having a rough day or feeling like something less than a star-performer, try listening very closely to your inner dialogue. Chances are, you will hear echoes of Mr. Fletcher in your head. And once you realise what he’s doing in there, you can start dealing with him appropriately.

Oh. And did I mention? Go see Whiplash.

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