Reflecting with my father on my first year, I explained law school hit me like a ton of bricks. He responded, “Yes, and I remember witnessing the very moment it whacked you.” It was November.
First semester of first year was probably the most anxiety-inducing academic period of my life. To be honest, from November onward, I spent most of my first year wondering if I should stick around to see it through. I couldn’t believe I was paying such exorbitant amounts of money to struggle like this. And it wasn’t without cost to other areas of my life.
Now being a year away from that awful first semester, I’ve developed strategies to cope and I’m motivated again. Though the feeling of isolation is still fresh.
It felt like I was struggling all on my own and I had no one to run to. Other first-year friends were freaking out just as much, so I didn’t want to overburden them. My family was stressed for very separate and serious reasons, so I didn’t want to sound trivial with my academic woes. My non-law friends couldn’t really understand what I was going on about, so I kept most of it to myself. And I didn’t know anyone in upper year well enough to confide in.
In the hopes of relieving this feeling of isolation that some first-year students might be experiencing, I share my lessons learned.
First of all, and perhaps most importantly, it’s not just you. I felt that way, my friends felt that way, and many of your peers are feeling overwhelmed too. Remember, you are not alone.
The most relieving news: this is the worst of it. The first semester is the anxiety precipice of law school. Obviously, we’ve got way more to learn. However, in terms of feeling like a fish out of water, this is it. If you can make it through this first semester, the five semesters that follow will seem a lot more manageable in comparison. Unfortunately, the stress continues, but it feels entirely different.
I probably sound like the student services office repeating their mantra, but I mean it: physical exercise has become my tonic.
The type of anxiety I experience is one that feels like a knot in my stomach. It’s visceral. It feels toxic. The first time it appeared, I didn’t know it was called anxiety, nor did I know how to combat it. So it grew to the point where it controlled me and I felt helpless as to what to do about it.
My weapon of choice against this evil creature has become exercise. I literally displace the tension in my middle onto the yoga mat or treadmill or dance floor. I can feel the knot unravel and I can sit back down to work with ease. The challenge is always finding the time; however, in my experience, one or two hours of exercise will make for 10 hours of productive work. Really.
Another important thing I had to remind myself is that life continues despite a contracts exam. My sisters still need me. My boyfriend probably doesn’t want to talk about law again. My family would still like to see me for dinner once in a while. I might get sick and just need to rest. These are not unimportant things.
Of course, I studied hard and still do. But I reminded myself: one exam will not break me. I will not fail life or law school if I don’t understand restitution completely. Yet dismissing other important things like loved ones and my health can have lasting effects.
Which brings me to the Big Picture. It’s more than a concept: it’s a thing, it’s a title, and it’s important (hence the capitals). It’s the single reason why I stormed through first year and it’s what gets me through my days now. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the daily tasks, that you forget where you are and why you’re here. It doesn’t mean I have my career mapped out to the finest detail, but I try to see the forest for the trees.
All throughout first year, as my dad watched the law school bricks fly and me try to stumble to my feet, he told me, “Keep on truckin’ Beck.” He’s right. We’ll be there soon.