We welcome back guest writer Alexandra Muskat, to talk about positivity in law school and why it can help you in your law school career.
Even before law school starts, you will have been inundated with messages from people in your life telling you how hard law school is – how hard the curve can smack you down, how scary cold calling is, how grades can make or break your career, and how ridiculous the bar exam feels. Then you start school, and it’s just as hard as these people made it out to be.
My first month of law school, I spent almost every day crying. If I made it two days without bursting into tears, it was a good day. After the first month, I became proactive and checked myself into counseling through the school’s wellness center. What I learned in my first two sessions, was that I was desperately looking for a way to have the experience I wanted to have in school, without the mental breakdown that seemed to accompany everyone else’s time there. Part of my personal brand of anxiety is that I search to make things feel right. I can’t explain that feeling, but when my emotions aren’t right, my entire body is humming. And I spend my spare time searching for how to correct that. When it came to law school, I googled countless articles – to find none – about someone who’d had a positive experience in law school and passed.
How to be Positive
Now, I’m going to get very heavy with you: the only way to be positive, is…to be positive. It’s a practice. If you imagine positivity as a bubble, we are taking actions to make that bubble grow stronger so that it is harder to pop. I found there were a number of activities that could aid in my positivity in law school.
1. I stopped caring about how other people were experiencing law school
This is probably the hardest step, but the most effective. I stopped caring what others were doing. If my friends were complaining, I closed my attention off, and I did not participate. If I was done studying, I ignored that my friends were still studying and put aside the feeling that I was missing something. I learned how I learned, and I stuck with that. I stopped staying at school all day and night and left when I was done. I figured out how I worked best, and I went with it.
2. Gratitude Practice
I’ve talked about this before, but a gratitude practice reminds you that your world is bigger than your immediate stressors. Putting your life into perspective each day, and seeing all the things you are grateful for, can have remarkable effects on your mood and stress levels. Take a few minutes a day to name three things that you are grateful for, and I promise you’ll be so much happier.
3. I put sleep first
Quality sleep, I found, was the best tool for keeping my mood upbeat. If I was tired, or I slept poorly, or even too long, my mood tanked. So, I put sleep hygiene first. I got into bed at least a half hour before I really wanted to be asleep and tried not to look at my phone. After a few weeks, my brain got used to falling asleep quickly and waking up when it felt rested, rather than with an alarm.
The Importance of Resilience in Law
Resilience is literally your ability to recover quickly from difficulties. I harp on this fact all the time – law school is difficult. Law school can beat you down if you are not careful and becoming more resilient is paramount to counteracting those long taxing days where you feel like nothing you’ve done is good enough.
Developing resilience takes time, which is why it is important to start now. The truth is, law school is not where stress or anxiety end. Life does not get easier once you are out of school. Life will always throw you curve balls, and the farther you are in time from law school or the bar exam, the more you’ll understand that this is not the end all be all for your emotions. Learning to be resilient now will carry over into every other aspect of your life and will have greater, long lasting effects.
Since I graduated law school, I have taken the bar exam and failed, studied again and passed, searched high and low for full time employment, found part time jobs and lost them, finally found a full time job and was forced to quit, severed friendships, and lost one family member in a tragic accident. All of these instances were filled with anxiety, depression, grief, and loss – but the difference between my reactions now and what my reaction might have been before law school is remarkable. I am resilient. I allow myself these emotions, but I stay in them for less time, and when I pull myself back up, I sore even higher.
If you take one piece of advice from me, take steps now, while you’re still in school, to learn resilience. Take deep breaths in class, get better sleep, be grateful and recognize it daily, move more, and recognize that there is a whole world outside of school, even if you can’t see it well.