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Outstretched hands without story

Author: Cristina Badea

You're not selling, I'm not buying, and I don't care. Showing vulnerability means you are weak, you have to step over dead bodies! I have to know your story. I don't have the privilege to hear the story, I don't have the courage to tell my story. It's fake perfection.

That's the issue. It hurts, doesn't it? We seem to be many different isles, when we should be a continent. Good morning. My name is Cristina and I'm a perfectionist. I also happen to be a lawyer, but... The truth is that, in order for you to get to know me a bit better, actually, what you should know is that I don't think I deserved to give a speech today. Or, at least, that's what an inner voice whispered into my headphones, which I, thankfully, can't hear any longer. Or, at least, I can only hear it as background noise, but it's too late to change that anyway. I already let it roll, I started my speech and in the next 10 minutes I would like to tell you a bit about taming that inner voice. Anyway, let's go on. If I honestly thought I didn't deserve to come and hold a speech today, what happened and how come I'm on this stage and talking anyway?

When I received the invitation to come and talk at People of Justice, I started digging through the materials we have at the LfJ course, through the speeches held at People of Justice in previous years, through the TED Talks I found on YouTube, through the how-tos on how to hold a successful Ted talk and after going through this due diligence like a good lawyer, I was able to get through the four steps in preparing today's speech. Step 1. Setting expectations. How do I want it to turn out? Simple. By the book. The message has to be a good one, to be inspiring, to be a revelation. I'll have to talk with the best possible rhythm, to move the right way, to impress you, to make you tear up, to inspire you, and we should leave together and participate in #SchimbareaRo in a better world, just as I'm going to suggest to you with my speech today. So, very simple. Two minutes and it's done. Let's head over to step 2. Step 2. Decide on a subject. What do I want to say?

Simple. I have something that bothers me, a subject I discuss with many of my coworkers, with all my friends and with anyone who has a minute to listen to me. Working out step 2 was simple, too. Two minutes and it was done. Step 3. Getting ready to write. That doesn't mean actually writing, but rather a sort of starting to start like a student during exams, right? I can't start learning without tomatoes. So we start to prepare ourselves to write. Now that I'm here, it's a completely different ball game. Step 3 took over a month to accomplish and it was more like a sort of constant table tennis game between me and my inner voice. It looked something like this: Come on, Cristina, we'll manage, it will be fine, you've done this before. Years of debate, national and international competitions, prizes, mock trial competitions, you're a litigation attorney. Damn. You do this for a living. It's going to be fine, you've done this before. Yes, but not exactly this. You've seen all the speeches for People of Justice. What will you tell them? This is new. Lights, a huge audience. It's not the same. Fine, but someone told me today's speech will be similar to the one in our communication session at the LfJ this year, where I held a speech and I was told it was good. Someone told me it was a very good speech.

Yeah, right, some think that. But you know that 3 out of 15 feedback forms were, actually, about how you move your hands too much, about how you talked too quickly, how you were too agitated, so, you know that, actually, for all your experience, it wasn't that good. It was bad. Yes, bad. And you know it was bad. And, if that one was bad, imagine how this one will turn out. So, actually, you don't necessarily have what it takes to speak in front of these people. I don't understand why you were so arrogant as to accept this invitation and the organizers so naive as to believe in you! I ended up a bit beaten up because of this, but, for better or worse, the deadline was getting close, so I had to go over to step 4: actually writing the speech. This took about three days full of constant anxiety, fear, a knot in my stomach, speeches, and praying with my colleagues: God, oh God, if only I could disappear and it weren't necessary for me to say if I came or not. Finally, I finished it, I pressed send, and I considered it to be someone else's problem. Despite all this, for about a month, I went through, what's called trials and tribulations, due to the fact that I was suffering because I had to write something that had to be very good. I wasn't alone. My friends and coworkers were saying: Come on, Cristina, you can do it! Encouragements: It's going to be fine! Come on, talk to us, practice on us! And I was unable to accept praise. Why?

Because the power of the inner voice criticizing you is greater than any encouragement those around you can give you. So, if you can relate to this story, there's the risk that you, just like me, suffer from perfectionism. We are taught that perfectionism may very well be a positive thing. Culturally, that's what we believe. After all, the question is: What's wrong with wanting to be better? What's wrong with wanting to be the best? The problem is that that's not perfectionism.

That could be ambition. A basis for perfectionism. Perfectionism looks like this: high hopes, maybe too high, fear of making mistakes and disappointing those around us who believe in us. It means thinking: Maybe I shouldn't do it, rather than do it and mess up. And, thirdly, it's that voice that is hypercritical that teaches us to be tough on ourselves and those around us, if they don't rise up to our expectations. Perfectionism takes on the form of a complete failure, when we fail the admission exams in our profession.

Or... Even better. We pass the admission exams for our profession, but... 70? That's all I could do? Call it a day! At least you passed! Perfectionism takes on the form of sentences such as: The generations that come are weaker and weaker! or: Oh God, I haven't heard such drivel in my ten years of teaching! or, the best one, my favorite, the cherry on top: In order to be good in the judiciary, you have to be the best! You have to learn to step over dead bodies! Perfectionism takes on the form of a constant repetition of You are lucky to be learning in the palace of the most prestigious Faculty of Law in the country! Meanwhile, the rain knocks on the tiles of the palace, there's no soap or toilet paper in the bathroom and you don't have enough money for research. This is the environment we grow up in.

This is the environment where we form our future jurists, future lawyers, future judges, future prosecutors, active participants in the justice system. We create a hyper competitive environment with an inherent fear of failure, where, if I say something wrong, everyone will think I'm stupid. That's why we learn to hide our vulnerability, to hide our mistakes, to hide our insecurities behind a fake, cardboard perfectionism. We know it's made of cardboard, we know that's not who we are, but everyone around us seems to be, in our eyes, just like we want us to look, namely perfect. We have to courage to lift this screen among our friends, in communities such as this one and to say: Look, I'm afraid, too, and I feel the same as my client. But we don't have this privilege in front of our teachers, our coworkers, our superiors, the younger associates we work with. How did this go for us until now in the environment we live in? Do we have solidarity between professions? What about inside our profession?

Once again, I would say no. But what about separate teams inside the same law firm? Money talks, right? But what about citizens and the justice system? That's the issue. It hurts, right? Inside this justice system, we seem to be many separate isles, when we should be a continent. So, the question is: What do we do about it? How do we go forward? What's the solution? I am happy this is not the first time you hear a possible solution and the solution I firmly believe can bring about a better world is having more empathy. But this is contrary to what we've learned until now. Showing vulnerability means you are weak, you have to step over dead bodies! Even more than this, the problem with empathy is that in order to offer it, to be able to try to put myself in your shoes, I have to know your story.

And what did I just say? Cardboard perfection. I don't have the privilege to hear the story, I don't have the courage to tell my story. So, we offer, after all, in this moment, empathy along the lines of: If you've got your hand out, but no story to tell, you receive no alms. You're not selling, I'm not buying and I don't care. That's why change actually starts in ourselves. From having the courage to show vulnerability to those you don't know, to your superiors, and to those in the younger generations who are not as good. Because we are all in the same boat, we're all people and we all suffer from uncertainty, insecurity, mistakes, and fears.

And this should bring us together in order to offer empathy and a helping hand. That's why I promised in the beginning that I would speak about taming the inner voice, and how I ended up giving a speech, after all. Did I succeed in taming my inner voice? No. Not really. I hope I haven't... yet. But, at the very least, I started to give it a try. And the first time was through showing that I'm vulnerable. That's why I believe that, in reality, it was and should've been the first step. Thank you.


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