Sometimes I think I've gotten this second-year of law school thing all wrong. I've taken too many classes, I've got too many extracurricular activities, I travel too much. You name it. If I do it, it's probably wrong.
Objectively, I don't think the above conclusion is true. EVERYONE gets over-extended. It's part of the 2L life, unless you consciously decide to miss out on some of the experiences law school has to offer. I hate missing out, and I like having a diversified life. In many ways I thrive on the variety in a way I wouldn't if I focused on just a very few things. And it's not that I try to do everything: I do make choices. It's like being at a buffet I really hate overloading my plate to the point that everything drips together into an indistinct flavorless mush. I prefer to take on my plate only as much as I can savor separately.
So I really shouldn't beat myself up for having a lot going on that's part of the experience but I am right now anyway. I'm also beating myself up for how I've chosen to spend my time. For instance, part of me is worried I should have stayed home over spring break and not gone to Japan. But at the time I booked the trip, I couldn't really know what my workload would really be like. And there shouldn't be anything wrong with traveling. Traveling may not recharge me physically, but it does mentally. I love the motion, I love the journey, I love the sating of my curiosity. I love getting out and experiencing LIFE to its fullest. This kind of thing is really important to me. Even my silly Huey Lewis and the News concert habit that helps reset and recharge me too. So maybe I would have gotten a little more done if I'd stayed home instead. Of course, if I hadn't been sick I could have gotten more done while I was traveling too. And I doubt I would have gotten everything I needed done anyway, had I stayed home and missed out on the trip experience. Plus the fact of the matter is that I was burning out and needed a break. So a break I took. I really, really need to stop beating myself up about it, or any other minor breathers I've taken recently either.
But beat myself up I do. Over everything. My level of pathos right now is extraordinary. I don't feel like I can have a conversation without saying something inept. I don't think I can send an email without risking offense. Everything I'm doing I feel like I'm doing badly. Instead of exuding experienced composure, I feel like I'm flailing. I seek advice of mentors, but it feels like I'm begging. I practically ooze desperation: hire me, somebody, please! Of course, why would anyone hire someone like that? Even my supporters I fear are getting tired of me, and I don't know if I'd blame them. *I'm* getting tired of me too.
As I've been writing this I have a Huey Lewis and the News concert video playing in the background. This post has gone through several revisions while I try to pull my thoughts together, and in the process I got to thinking about one of the reasons I really like watching my favorite band. It brought to mind something I once saw posted on an Internet board with regard to the appeal of watching Norm Abram work his carpentry magic in the New Yankee Workshop, "Extreme competence is very sexy."
Well, sexiness aside... I enjoy watching the band perform because they're just so GOOD at it. There's something very reassuring watching people (generally) confidently and competently perform, and by perform I don't just mean perform musically but perform in any way, performing some task. Just as it's nerve-wracking to watch someone unsure try to work something out, watching someone do something they make look easy inspires a profound confidence and makes you, the observer, feel good and secure as well.
Most of the time, anyway. The exception to the rule is when you're trying to do the same thing and struggling with it. Then watching people seemingly handle the same thing effortlessly can be pretty demoralizing. In law school everything involves figuring out how to do something you've never really done before and have little to no experience in. Failure to get it right is really pretty likely, but somehow everyone else seems to walk around looking like they know exactly what they're doing. So while everyone else's lives all seem perfect and functioning, and I by contrast seem like a clumsy loser who can't quite get anything right.
Of course, it's all a faηade that I'm seeing. Everyone else struggles too I just may struggle with more candor. But the candor might be a problem, though, because as I worry that I can't do anything right, I think I may inadvertently convince others to worry I can't either. For instance, as I've been sending out exploratory emails in the job search, they've been dripping with humility. I've been extremely concerned that any employer who got my resume now would wonder what was so wrong with me that I'm still unemployed. So I've been trying to address that concern pre-emptively, which isn't a good idea. Especially because it's not really the case: the other day someone pointed out to me that lots and lots of 2Ls got their jobs as late as May last year, as many employers are only just now starting to figure out their summer needs. My job status does not suggest a defect on my part and I need to stop apologizing for it.
In fact, I need to stop apologizing for a lot of things. I need to stop inviting other people to take me down a peg by doing it myself first. Maybe I haven't hit home runs as often as I would have liked. But maybe my expectations may have also been unrealistic. I expect a level of perfection and brilliance in the work I do that just may not be reasonable. Somehow I need to come to terms with redefining "success" as something much more manageable. And to learn (again) how to see the positive in what I do and stop dwelling on the negative. Because otherwise I won't get anything done. My brain will remain frozen in paralysis, afraid to cogitate for fear of not cogitating well. And then nothing good will get done.
In one sense, I already intuitively understand this. In my study abroad interview the other day, I was asked what makes this year different than last, and I said that this year I'd found things to do to play to my strengths. I know, for example, that I'm good at running things. I know I'm good at coming up with community-serving events and making them happen. So that's what I do with the IP Law Society. It's rewarding, this particular responsibility. Of course, it's also exhausting. Trying to keep everything going requires constant attention. Even if the best laid plans all worked out on the first try (and they never do) it would still be a very interrupt-driven activity, whose demands on my time suck up far more hours than the actual labor required. And even with the previous experience doing this kind of thing I have, I still find myself challenged by new situations that I have to learn to deal with. The kind of situations where confident composure is most called for.
Meanwhile it's the pile of other things that I need to do that ends up tearing me to bits. The more buried I get with obligations and commitments, the more stretched my self-esteem gets as well. And with that, the less energy and diligence I have available to throw at any one thing and increase its chances for success. There's also a lot of pressure, imagined and real. It's hard to bravely send out resumes and cover letters when you feel like your entire career teeters on a precipice. Either I get the right job right now, today, or all my future prospects will be scuttled... (so it seems.)
Writing this post has made me think it's time to regroup and rediscover my own inner bravado. The old adage, about who will believe in you if you don't, is quite apt. Not to have a complete Stuart Smalley moment, but I need to remind myself that I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darnit, people like me... Some days it's easier to believe than others, but it's never any less true.