Today was the first day of my last semester of school, ever.* (*Unless I decide I want another degree down the line, but for now, after seven straight years of undergrad and grad school, I’m definitely done for the near future.) As I saw all of the “happy last first day of school” messages this morning, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of restlessness. I’m externing this semester and was working full-time for the day. I realized my anxiety was building up over being in this new externship placement. Here, I’m working in an area of law that I have no experience in, so before I began this morning, I felt incredibly nervous about this new position: What if I’m in a meeting and get asked a question I have no idea how to answer? What if I’m supposed to know about some substantive area of the law that I actually am clueless about? Until I eventually calmed down, I even started wondering how and why I landed the position in the first place. Who, me? How? Why?
This feeling of doubt and lack of confidence isn’t foreign to me. I felt similarly on my very first day of law school, my first case during my clinic experience, and throughout my 2L summer as a summer associate at a law firm. These feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty are a form of imposter syndrome, which is something I continue to struggle with as a final semester 3L. Imposter syndrome can come in various forms for various people. One HBR article defines it as “doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud.”
As I entered into the thick of finals, I found myself in the usual funk of the season. Whether it be the long hours studying, the unfortunate act of flipping through class notes only to find illegible scribbles, or the jealousy rising in me as I see people pass my window enjoying their afternoons–I cannot help but feel a bit grumpy about what I (and all other law students) are going through at the moment.
On top of the usual irritability, I am painfully aware that this is my fifth time heading into finals. As a 3L, I have found myself dragging my feet more this time around. I have admittedly become a bit more impatient with tough concepts, lackluster in my study habits, and generous with my study breaks.
It was within one of these study breaks that I found myself browsing through the BC Law Magazine website and found this article highlighting Professor Bloom’s famous Ugly Sweater Contest.
Beyond chuckling at the images of Prof. Bloom and the class showing off their goofy sweaters, I felt a rush of nostalgia. I had completely forgotten about my own section’s Ugly Sweater Contest two years ago. Cooped up in a Civil Procedure review session, I remember laughing at both the fashion choices of my classmates and Professor Bloom’s zany commentary along the way. It was such a pleasant (and needed) break from stressing over what would be my first ever law school exam–a lighter moment to share with the people that had filled my life over the semester and who were going through the same taxing time.
Holiday season is my favorite time of year. I love the festivities, I love being around my family, and I love the overall warmth and joy this time of year brings. What I love most about the holiday season, though, is that it is a time for me to pause and reflect. Every year around this time, I especially like to think about what I am grateful for about the past year. As I reflect on 2021, I am most grateful for the opportunity to enroll in a DBT therapy group this semester.
DBT stands for dialectical behavioral therapy and is a form of cognitive behavior therapy. I knew I wanted to make a change in my life and join therapy when I caught myself repeating some patterns that began to negatively impact multiple areas of my life. A few months ago, I began to realize that over the years, I have formed a tendency to think in ‘either-or’s.’ This type of thinking has hindered my own personal growth and is affecting my interpersonal relationships. For instance, I think in terms of either “success” or “failure,” so if I plan to get five things done on any given day and I’m only able to complete three, I see ‘failure’ and can’t process any nuanced ‘in-between’ of the situation. Similarly, in relationships with others, I have trouble breaking free from conceptions of “right” and “wrong” such that if there is a disagreement, I strongly feel I am right and I become resistant to seeing viewpoints that don’t align with my own. In both of these situations, I am causing myself, and others, discomfort and distress. When I recognized this pattern earlier this year, I knew that something had to change. I joined therapy to better understand myself, to learn how to cultivate a healthier mindset, and to make some positive changes in my actions.
“Are you going to talk about anything else?” My brother rolled his eyes as I talked about a technical area of patent infringement that no one in my audience cared to learn about. This was just a few weeks ago, and we were at a small dinner party with some family friends. I had finished up my time with a firm this summer, and I was excited for the chance to talk about it. But my brother’s comment reminded me just how much I’d been talking about my work. I had an amazing summer outside of the firm, too: I went on some relaxing getaways, I spent a lot of meaningful time with my family, and I finally read the books that had been on my reading list for months now. Yet, throughout dinner, I had mainly only talked about my firm experience. It was a reminder to me that law school — and the legal profession — should not and does not encompass my entire identity.
During my first semester of law school in Fall 2019, I found myself burnt out fairly quickly. I was spending too many hours reading, not necessarily because I had a lot to read, but more so because I felt that this was what I had to do. I felt like I was supposed to be outlining after every class, even if I didn’t really know what outlining even was. Despite being on top of my schoolwork, I felt guilty when I wasn’t doing law school-related work, only because I felt that there was no time or room to think about anything else.
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.
I know I’m only four weeks into my legal education, and less than one sentence into this blog post, but I already feel compelled to start with a disclaimer.
This post is intentionally optimistic. The world has been feeling like a grim place lately. Although I’m presenting some bright sides to having class online, I don’t want to ignore the fact that the shift to online education has widened already existing educational disparities.
With no further ado, let’s talk about some good things for a change:
What a ride 2019 has been! I hope you all are enjoying a well-deserved break — baking on a beach somewhere warm — now that the semester is done and over with (whoo!).
Wrapping up a year full of ups and downs, we wanted to highlight a few of the most popular posts by our amazing writers at BC Law Impact:
With that, thank you for following BC Law Impact, happy holidays, remember to re-apply sunblock every 3 hours, and we look forward to seeing everyone in 2020!
Jae Lee is a second-year student who loves hearing from readers. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
World Mental Health Day, celebrated annually on October 10th, is a day to bring awareness to mental health issues and for individuals to band together to promote mental wellness, improve public dialogue and care for those struggling with mental health issues. Today the BC Law community is rallying together to share other ways individuals cultivate joy, cope with stressors, and find perspective while in law school.
Unfortunately, a high-pressure environment along with a number of other stressors puts individuals in law school and in the legal field at risk for developing mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse disorders. In fact, law students disproportionally struggle with mental health issues in comparison to the general population, as previously discussed in A Necessary Look at Mental Health in Law School and Out of Place? You’re Not Alone. Fortunately, Boston College offers professional help to those struggling with a mental health issue – no matter how small. (Links provided below this post).
Along with providing professional mental health services, it is especially important for law schools to promote mental wellness. According to the World Health Organization, mental wellness is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Thus, mental wellness is not necessarily the absence of mental health issues, but rather is the presence of positive strategies and characteristics for handling life’s ups and downs.
It is possible to boost your mental wellness by finding ways to elevate your mood and increase your resilience. Four wellness-building techniques are described in Beat Your 2L Lull: Four Strategies for Success.
Below, members of the BC Law community share what they do to boost mental wellness in their daily lives. As you read, feel free to share what brings you joy or helps you manage stress by commenting below or adding #LawStudentWellness, #WorldMentalHealthDay and/or #IamBCLaw to your post on social media. And please share this post with friends.
This is the second in a series of posts drawing attention to Law Student Mental Health Day. You can read our first post here. If you want to share your story with us about feeling out of place, send a few lines to email@example.com, or use the social media hashtag #fittingin.
It can be unbelievably daunting to ask for help. An environment where competition is paramount and the drive for success is all-encompassing makes help-seeking seem risky and shameful. Fear often paralyzes and dissuades so that many individuals don’t pursue help they need.
I was fearful my 1L year. I was fearful of imperfection and failure. I was fearful that admission of my difficulties would make them more real, would show that I was weak, and would indicate that I could not succeed in school or in my chosen career.