This week we welcome back Mark Livingston, current 3L, to discuss how to balance your personal life with your law school career.
I knew from the start that law school was going to be a long and arduous journey. There are innumerable articles on the internet in which law school survivors detail the demise of their friendships, marriages, and romantic relationships because the weight, stress, and burden of law school place too much strain on most relationships. I started law school in the second year of my marriage to my third wife. Already, the odds were stacked against us. Despite that, we agreed that law school as a mid-life career change was a good idea. As I race through the last seventy days of law school, my marriage remains intact. There have been rough patches at times, but we have managed to survive the gauntlet. We definitely have battle scars, but even battered and bruised, I think that we are stronger as a couple because of the challenge. This post is an attempt to help all of my law school colleagues preserve their most important relationships throughout the law school journey and beyond.
Communication is King
The only way that my marriage has survived law school is because my wife, children, and I have maintained open and honest communication. The key for the law student is to think beyond his or her own feelings and actively listen to what the people at home are saying. In other words, I often felt exhausted and frustrated with the things happening in my law school life such as exams, readings, cold calling, etc. Despite these trials and tribulations, I always remained mindful of the fact that the people at home had little visibility on the day-to-day stress of law school. Just telling them, “I have cases to read and brief,” or “I’m on call this week” has little meaning to my wife and twelve-year-old, let alone the infant. I was open about what I was feeling with my family, but I never stopped there. In fact, I rarely started with my feelings. Instead, I asked how they were doing. I tried to talk to them about what they needed to be happier and function properly in light of our difficult circumstances. I found that the conversation alone made my wife and children feel better. They understood my perspective, but more importantly, they felt that I understood theirs. It is vitally important to openly and honestly communicate about feelings, fears, anxiety, and disappointments. Make sure everyone at home feels like they’ve been heard.
Talk is Good; Action is Better
Law school is an all-consuming endeavor. It’s a voracious juggernaut that can rarely be satiated. There is seldom respite from reading, class prep, exam prep, and the ever-looming reality of the bar exam. Understanding how everyone at home is feeling about the experience is critical, but when your kids, spouse, or significant other tells you that they’re feeling lonely, neglected, or isolated, it’s time to take affirmative steps to mitigate those feelings. This is a critical test; it’s a test you can’t afford to fail if there is any hope of maintaining that delicate school/life balance. When my daughter said that she was struggling at school because she missed me, I knew that I had to carve out time to do something, just the two of us. When my wife said that she was lonely and just needed to be held, I recognized the warning sign, and made time to take her on a date (even if that date was little more than a home-cooked meal and watching some Netflix on the couch together). The point is, once the people you care about articulate a problem, you have to make some movement to resolve those issues. These people are supporting you through law school. Maybe not financially, but certainly emotionally, and they all deserve an award for surviving the stress you’re bringing into the home. The action steps don’t have to be dramatic. You don’t have to give up on the critical studying, memorization, or class prep. Just making some time to combat the fears of your loved ones will go a long way to help you preserve those relationships.
Don’t Forget Those Few Precious Words
This post has taken a slightly mushy tone. The words you’re expecting me to recommend from this heading are, “I love you.” Of course, telling the people supporting you that you love them is important, but the precious words I’m referring to are, “thank-you.” There is not a week that goes by when I fail to thank my family for their support, sacrifice, and encouragement. Saying thank-you validates their contributions to your success and makes them feel like they are valued and appreciated. Who doesn’t love to feel that way? Say thank-you. Say it often and mean it.
This Isn’t Rocket Science, But It’s Not Easy Either
Let me be clear: The recommendations in the post are not easy when you have so much on your plate. If you want to preserve the important relationships in your life, relationships that are so often destroyed by the law school journey, you have to make the effort. In the end, when your wife, kids, or significant other are watching you cross that graduation stage, the victory will be that much sweeter for all of you. You can do this.