Law school is a difficult environment. I often describe it as a pressure cooker. Take loads of high-achieving Type A personalities and throw them into close quarters for competition. Sounds like a recipe for success, right? Well, it can be. It depends on the way you navigate the process.
Whenever I think about the law school environment, one of my favorite quotes from Theodore Roosevelt always comes to mind. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It is so true. When you compare yourself to others, you frequently lose the perception battle. Have you ever been really pleased with yourself about something but then started to feel inferior because you compared your success to someone else’s? Or felt that you looked fabulous until someone else blew into the room looking perfect? Or were really passionate about becoming a prosecutor but doubted your resolve when others around you were scoring high-paying BigLaw gigs?
When you play the comparison game, you are letting others define the rules of the game. Play your game, not someone else’s. It’s your life, and you are the one living it, so do it your way.
It can be really challenging to remember that everyone is very different. Sounds like kindergarten, right? But the truth is that when we compare ourselves to others, we don’t know the details of the “reality” we see. That high GPA Law Review editor heading for BigLaw in NYC may have a terrible family life and be medicated for anxiety. That totally together leader who makes everything look easy may lack self-confidence and constantly doubt everything.
It is difficult to maintain perspective with all of the deafening law school noise around you. I call it the law school vortex. People talking about their huge BigLaw salary while you are still looking for a position. Others lamenting their journal chores as you recall your unsuccessful attempt at the write-on. Some confidently answering classroom queries as you secretly tremble in your seat, afraid of hearing your name called. And social media. It makes everything seem so much worse! Shiny happy people doing great things and looking perfect. Oh please…
When you feel yourself heading down that path of negative thinking, stop yourself. Negativity has a way of feeding on itself. Once it gains momentum, it’s hard to stop. But if you recognize that it is starting, you can stop it in its tracks. Figure out what works for you to stop the process. It could be as simple as saying “There I go again!” and then forcing yourself to think or say one positive thing about yourself. Some people actually say (or whisper if they’re in public) the word stop. Others start counting backward from 100. You can also question your negative thought and ask if you should take it seriously. If you isolate the thought and consciously focus on it, you can give yourself a reality check and regain perspective.
Maybe there is a trigger for the patterns. Identifying the circumstances that bring on the negative thoughts can help you get control over them.
Some thoughts to keep in mind as you work on maintaining perspective, which is increasingly important as the end of the semester approaches:
- Stop comparing yourself to others. There is only one you, so comparison is pointless.
- Go on a digital detox. Unfollow, mute, ignore, delete…social media is a time and energy sucker. Scale back slowly if necessary, taking small, frequent breaks. Unplugging lets you focus on what is real and right in front of you. It keeps you in the moment.
- Is this a real problem or imagined scenario? Are you reacting based on fact or fear? Can your worrying change anything? Or is it just creating an issue that is unhelpful?
- Sometimes a negative thought can inspire us to change something we’re not happy about. Be honest about your negative feelings.
- Take care of yourself. Sleep. Eat well. Exercise. If your physical self is off, everything else probably is too.
- Hang out with non-law school people. Time spent with folks who are not immersed in law school drama can be a wonderful and much-needed reality check. They can quickly help you realize that you might be stressing over something needlessly. (I cannot stress this enough. It is so important that you have people in your circle not in law school. Especially around finals!)
What you choose to focus on becomes your reality. We are so deeply wrapped up in our own stories that we prevent ourselves from seeing opportunities and possibilities surrounding us all the time.
When you find yourself trapped in your own head, try something to set your thoughts free. Have you ever eaten a popsicle in the shower? No, seriously. A sensory experience can snap you out of a mental spiral. The warm steamy water pelting your body plus the intense cold and fruity smell of the popsicle. It engages multiple senses, making it practically impossible to focus on anything else. Instant mindfulness.
Other ideas include…
- Calm your mind. Listen to music or focus on your breathing to get out of your head.
- Go for a walk or a run. Change your environment to change your thoughts.
- Write your negative thoughts down on a piece of paper. Then tear up the paper and throw it out.
- Work with your hands. Doing something creative is a fantastic mood changer. Color, knit, paint, take photos (not selfies).
- Change your posture. Stand up straight. Put your shoulders back. Assume a power pose. Maybe do some stretching.
- Help someone else. Shift your thinking away from your own problems and do something nice in the process.
- Talk to someone. Sometimes it helps to air out your thoughts and get another opinion.
If you want to talk to someone objective, consider talking to a counselor like Stella. Stella Miller is our law school wellness counselor. People who know you may be biased in their opinions and know extra information that prevents them from being objective. Talking to someone outside your situation can provide additional insight and yield more productive results. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It indicates that you have the self-awareness to recognize that no one does everything alone.
At the end of the day, it’s law school. Important? Yes. Life or death? Not even close. Keep that in mind as the chaos swirls about you. Your life is a big, beautiful world of possibilities, no matter what you feel right now.
If you are interested in more self-care ideas, email me at email@example.com. If you’d like to speak with Stella, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule an appointment with her here.
Until you read again…