2.6 – Keeping Your Sanity


Keeping Your Sanity

We've been talking about how to keep up with your classes in your first year, and we're going to talk about a lot of practical suggestions about how to read cases, how to study for exams, but one thing I really want you to try to keep in mind is that it's really, really important to focus on your own mental health and sanity. I use the word sanity advisedly. I don't think that most law students are likely to really, completely lose their mental health in the course of one whole year, but it's a tough year, and it can really grate on you, and a lot of people do find it pretty challenging.

It's very easy to get discouraged, it's very easy to get anxious, it's very easy to get depressed, and in that way, your biggest enemy, your first year, really can be yourself. It can be really easy for you to get into a negative way of thinking about law school, that might really undermine your ability to succeed. You need to do things that are going to enable you to have the right state of mind to really perform at your highest level over the course of the entire year, because the first year is long.

Think about it, you start in August, it's going to go all the way through May. Often your exams are going to be May or June, and then you might even have another week of a law review writing competition after that. You really want to be in a position to perform really well over that whole period, and you can't do that unless you're really in a good state mentally. So, how can you do that?

Well, a few suggestions.

Putting borders around your law school life

One is that you do need to figure out some way to put borders around your law school life. We talked a little bit about treating law school like a job. Treating law school as something that you're going to do, maybe in certain places, or during certain times, and then have other times where you're more going to focus on yourself, things that rejuvenate you, things that make you feel good. A related thing to do is try to have some friends that are maybe not in law school with you. Even if you're not in the same city as those people, try to connect with them, try to have phone calls with friends that are elsewhere, because you want to try to prevent law school from being totally 100% all-consuming that first year.

I will say it is going to be very much an all-consuming experience. It's overwhelming. You are learning a whole new way of thinking, and a lot of people, it really changes them as people, and that's good. There's nothing wrong with that, and I really enjoyed that about the experience, but if you can figure out some outlets that make it feel like you're not doing law school 24/7, I think that's really healthy. Also, if you can do things that are good for your body, find time to exercise. You might feel overwhelmed, like how can I find more time in the day, it's taking me so long to do my reading.

Nonetheless, build it in because you will sleep better, you will think better, you will feel better, and you can always feel like there's more to do. You could spend sixteen hours a day studying, and unfortunately, I'll tell you that then you could think of two other things that you could do that would take up the other eight hours a day. If you didn't sleep, you could spend all your time working and still feel like there's more you could do. At a certain point, you just have to learn how to let that go and just feel like I'm doing enough, and I still need to build in enough time to do the other things in my life that make me feel good, and make me remain physically and mentally healthy.

You also need to try really hard not to psych yourself out. Law school is, in some ways, a competition. It is graded on a curve. Only 10% of the class can be in the top 10% of the class. Not everyone is going to get an A plus on the exam, and for that reason, it becomes very easy to look around at your peers and try to evaluate how they're doing, trying to rank yourself against them, and also related to that, it's very easy to say, "I am not understanding this as well as my peers. Oh, I listened to Joe, during the cold calling, and he was so brilliant and had all the answers and I could never do that."

Just try to remind yourself of a couple of things. First of all, your peers probably don't understand it as well as you think that they do. You are probably overestimating how well they're understanding it, and you're probably underestimating how you're performing relative to them. It's very, very easy to psych yourself out in that way.

Another related problem is that you're not going to get typically a lot of feedback over the course of the semester. In a traditional law school environment, in your doctrinal classes, you might not have any midterms that are graded in any way. Some law schools are going to do graded midterms, but many don't, and many professors don't. The only feedback that's really meaningful that you'll get about how well you're doing relative to your peers is going to come a month after you finish the class when you finally get your grades back on your exam.

For that reason, people are often looking at other things. Looking at, oh, how is someone doing in cold calls, to try to figure out some gauge, and you're not going to have that necessarily, and you're going to just need to live with that uncertainty. It's going to require a certain amount of faith in yourself, and it's going to require just stepping out onto a ledge without a net, and just saying, "I'm going to do my best. I know I'm not going to know how I'm doing until later. All I'm going to do is going to make a plan, and I'm going to follow it. I'm not going to spend all my time worrying about how other people are doing. I'm just going to figure out what do I need to do to perform at my highest level," and do that, and then beyond that, it's really not under your control. "I'm going to hope for the best, and what other people are doing or not doing doesn't really matter, as long as I am doing what feels like enough for me."

Going easy on yourself

Finally, go easy on yourself. You can always find reasons to feel like there's more you could do. In law school, even when there were periods where I felt like I was doing really well and proud of how I was doing, I would then look next to me, and I would see one of my peers, who was doing twice as many things. She was researching for three professors, winning the moot court competition, running a law journal.

There's a bunch of other things, and there's always going to be people who are doing more, who are going to seem like they're doing better, and you just have to let that go and recognize that what you're doing is good enough for you. You're not going to be perfect. It's never going to be perfect, and you just need to get to a point where you feel comfortable with what you're doing, because if you're not there, it's going to be a lot harder for you to do the best that you can do.

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