Today I am hosting a guest blog from my friend Melody Mathewson, a member of the Class of 2022. -DS
What am I doing this summer? Well, the law, of course. I am drafting agreements and policies, researching admissibility, and reading trial transcripts and state statutes. It’s all very glamorous and novel to you as aspiring or fellow law students, I know.
More importantly, I am learning how to run a marathon. Not literally. Literally, I walk for an hour every day, but I do not run. What I mean is, I am learning how to endure and thrive through the marathon of being a human attorney. I am learning what I wish I had learned two years ago, both before and during the first year of law school.
Here are three lessons from my 2L summer experience.
Summer Experience Lesson No.1: It is perfectly acceptable to demonstrate your strong work ethic and hustling attitude from Monday through Friday, and “breaks” can coexist with “weekdays.”
I have been listening to some really thoughtful and insightful podcasts while going for my long, near-daily walks outside, and on the weekends I lie by the pool and read similar kinds of books (or completely lose myself in a perfectly curated playlist of summer bops). On a daily level, this hour-long walk is my mid-day break. It is my exercise, my fresh air, my break from a computer screen, my break from legal jargon, and most importantly it is time I am not working, not thinking about work, not worrying about work, and not pressuring myself to get back to work.
And those weekends by the pool? LORD, let me tell you all about this phenomenon called a WEEKEND. It is strange and foreign and wonderful and liberating, and it will change your life… if you let it. The very first Saturday of the summer after starting my employment, I promised myself that I would let myself have a real weekend. No thinking about work, no worrying about work, no resorting to work in moments without a plan for entertainment. And above all, no internal turmoil about an obligation to work. There is literally no reason for a student to guilt themselves into working on the weekends for projects that are not time sensitive. But your girl did that regularly throughout the first year of law school (slaving over readings far from due) and throughout the summer of 2020. None of it was about a professor, class, or my employer. It was 100% self-imposed. And for what? Did I get any further in life, personally or professionally? Perhaps it helped me do well on my 1L final exams, and it might have demonstrated my unshakeable work ethic to my employer. But I have since discovered that I didn’t need to agonize, self-destruct, or work weekends to achieve those goals. I realized that I was constantly running to get ahead, and yet I still ended up at precisely the same place as most of my peers – like that guy going 70 behind you, weaving through traffic, only to wait at the same red light up ahead as everyone else. Despite my mental sprinting, I arrived at finals and OCI at the same time everyone else did. I have a hunch I will also arrive at graduation in May 2022 as well.
Second, weekdays: another part of my week that has become an important tool for longevity in this personal and professional life. Did you know that sometimes it’s okay to enjoy yourself and the summer weather on a Wednesday?? I know. It blew my mind too. How liberating it was to schedule a walk with a friend through the new exhibit at the arboretum on a Wednesday afternoon. (Yes, this is the wild partying I was so worried would interfere with my productivity forever). I also bought rollerblades this summer, and one time I went out “blading” (i.e. panicking around a circular parking lot) on a Monday before dinner. Wild.
Summer Experience Lesson No. 2: Find a productivity rhythm that works best for you to balance both work and rest, and keep it. When you deviate, get back on track at that same pace. Sprint when actually necessary, but not before then, and certainly not all the time.
Another part of each weekday is my morning routine. It takes about 30 minutes, and I don’t skip it and I don’t rush it. I tend to naturally wake at about 6:30 am, but during the school year I often set my alarm for 6:00 am (as a 1L it was 5:00 am). Some of this is personal preference for the early morning hours when all is still and quiet. A little part of this was imposed for maximal productivity.
This summer, I have not set an alarm. I wake up when I wake up. This seems laughable, because if I naturally rise at 6:30-7:00 am, one probably thinks I have no reason to set an alarm anyway – this is plenty of time to complete a morning routine and then walk the three steps to my desk in the morning to begin the day’s remote work, even in a time zone one hour behind. And one would be entirely correct. But one is not me, and one is not the handful of sponges running around in my skull, on fire, desperately searching the file cabinets for simple pieces of information. So, for me, not setting an alarm is the greatest, most daring thing ever. And every morning when I wake up naturally before 7:00am, I win a bet.
I digress. The takeaway is that even when I wake up a bit later, or know I have a heftier workload for the day, or the previous day was the Wednesday I went to the arboretum, I promise myself that I am going to work at the same pace I normally would, and take the same breaks I normally give myself in a day (again, assuming that none of my tasks at the time is time-sensitive). And you know what? Keeping that promise was the most important thing I could have done for myself. That day and every day since. That is the marathon prep. Otherwise, I am setting myself up to feel as if I have to play catch-up constantly, when in truth I really am on pace and getting things done in appropriate time frames. There will never be an end point to being an attorney – there will always be more work to do.
As a first-year student, I attempted to sprint a marathon-distance track, and I have no doubt that it showed, and I was not better off for it. The breaks and relaxation I have described make it so that throughout the week, I can much more freely say yes to last-minute meetings and new work assignments, and remain interested in my research rather than chained to my desk. And likewise, this ability to focus and remain productive, humming along in my usual “zone” means that when the time comes to relax, I am ready and far less inclined to feel an urge to work.
Summer Experience Lesson No. 3: Make time for people and seek them out, for both of your sakes.
Third and finally: people time. A symptom of this work-work-work-worry-work mindset is that “there is no time” to chat with friends or family, and besides, “they are also probably busy, so it just won’t work out to spend time together anyway.” B.S. This summer I added a personal goal of making social plans once per week, and my boyfriend doesn’t count. These plans can be as simple as a Facetime chat, or as involved as meeting up at a restaurant forty minutes away and staying there gabbing for two hours. I hope absolutely none of you has the problem of losing touch with friends, or not making many new ones in law school–but if you do, then I cannot recommend this goal enough.
If you read all this and rolled your eyes because it’s all so painfully obvious, you are correct, and I applaud you for bothering to finish reading at all. I also wouldn’t blame you for reading this and thinking I am the worst kind of human to walk this earth for needing to experience these lessons in the first place. But I suspect that I am not alone in these feelings of self-imposed stress in the name of an honest work ethic and desire for achievement and to be helpful to your supervisors. So, for you, my friends, remember that you cannot help anyone when you finally burn out, and you are probably not helping yourself get ahead in the long run. Do yourself the biggest favor and practice pacing yourself, and stick to that pace – work, breaks, weekends, and all. I believe it is called a “life.”
When we return in the fall, if you ask me what I did this summer, I will probably highlight the legal work, as expected. But more importantly, this summer I learned a little more about how to be a human. And it is so wonderfully liberating to be human.
Melody is a member of the BC Law Class of 2022. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.