Whether you are at the top of your class or just scraping by, law school has a unique way of making you feel completely inadequate and insecure. These feelings are often unfamiliar because you excelled to get into law school in the first place. Everyone reaches their breaking point, those times when stress and anxiety fill you with the impending fear of not being good enough.
For me, my first one came when I overheard one of the smartest people in our class make a comment about how dumb my question was, when I was standing right behind him. A week later, my second one came when my professor gave me a grammar book for writing in the passive voice. Both times, I broke. Likely, at some point in your three law school years and certainly during bar prep, you will have a breaking point, too.
How do you reach your breaking point?
One of the easiest pitfalls in law school is the feedback loop of first thinking “I am not getting enough done,” then working longer hours and trying harder, which leads to having less time to recharge, thereby becoming less and less efficient with your time, which leads to feeling like you need to work even harder. As a result, you become increasingly stressed, and self-doubt creeps in slowly, leading to insecurity about whether you are adequately equipped to get through law school and the bar exam or even to be a lawyer.
So, what do you do?
You need to create a space to recharge so that you can shut off the voice in your head (or in the seat next to you) that says you are not good enough. You need a place where you are surrounded by reminders of what you are capable of and a place for your mind to wrap itself around the challenges that you will continue to face. Why? So that you become a happier, more productive student and lawyer.
What does that look like?
I don’t run. Hell no. I hate running. It’s hard and I feel like I want to throw up and fall to the earth after two minutes...but I do love walking, swimming, and hiking! Whatever you do for exercise (and do something you like to do), implement that into your weekly routine. Your physical health is essential to your mental health and will help you recharge.
I love to cook. Well, I love to eat. This is my favorite hobby in the world, and when I am not focused on school or work, I am focused on what new restaurant or recipe to try next. Through this, I remain aware of nutrition. One of my professors in law school (and a former Supreme Court clerk) reminded us how important nutrition is when she pointed out, right before the final, that you need to take care of yourself by eating well before tests. Give your brain the power to do well. Basically, you are what you eat, so if you eat junk, you are junk. Being conscious of what you are putting into your body while enjoying the process will help you recharge.
The law school community is small. And competitive. I was aware of the effect the competition had on my psyche. You don’t leave your past relationships at the door when you go to law school, and you will form new relationships in the process (good or bad). Be aware of who you are surrounded by and how you act around them. Are they building you up or tearing you down? Are you fulfilled by the conversations you have with them, or do you feel insecure and inadequate? Forming relationships is important to recharging because you need people in your corner to cheer you on. Who are those people for you? Be present for them so that they are present for you.
Lastly, relax. Ha! That can be the most obnoxious word for someone to say aloud to you when you are stressed after spending 12 hours in the library with a mountain of books and no real understanding of anything you’re reading. But really, how else do you recharge without relaxing? Fitness, nutrition, community...these are all essential to your mental well-being, but sometimes taking time off is the most productive thing you can do for your studies.
Be careful not to conflate relaxing with procrastinating! Develop outlets that allow you to express yourself so that the time you use to relax does not cause additional stress. Figure out what you enjoy (besides reading law cases) and go do it! This could be listening to or playing music, writing, dancing, painting…whatever! Remember, becoming a good lawyer does not mean you need to be the top of the class or the smartest person in the room. You want to be balanced in the way you spend your time and energy so that you cultivate a sustainable lifestyle that allows you to crush today’s legal issues, while also enjoying other aspects of your life. This way, you are recharged to face the challenge!
Truthfully, the habits you form in law school will continue throughout your career and life. Be aware of the decisions you make now so that when you reach those breaking points, you have the support system in place to put yourself back together and keep moving forward!