GOOD FAITH ADVICE
Question: I’ve heard the saying, “law school is a marathon, not a sprint.” How do you keep your motivation levels up as the days/weeks/years go by? Especially during those times when other aspects of life (family/relationship/etc…) seem to have more important happenings and require more energy?
More Tired Than Ever Before
Dear Exhausted and Overwhelmed,
In the words of Green Day, “I’ve got no motivation. Where is my motivation?” Welcome to law school. Though this may not be the most inspirational start, it’s a realistic one. I hope that you can at least find solace in knowing that you, my friend, are not alone. Many of your peers have difficulty staying motivated, despite whatever front they may put up. Let’s face it, this sh*t is hard!
Your question is a difficult but good one. I could literally write an uncountable number of pages on this subject, but instead I want to focus on one particular aspect of your question: dealing with loss while in law school. This is something that I experienced, and I’m slowly learning that I am not the only one who has dealt with losing a loved one, in more than one way, while in law school. For the most part these things are kept silent, for obvious reasons, but for those who are comfortable opening up, it can be a valuable story for others going through it.
I lost two people who were very close to me during my first year of law school. In truth, my work ethic declined and school no longer seemed important in comparison to what I was going through. Life seemed to go in slow motion and all my aspirations faded into one short-term goal: getting through the day. Having reading to do helped me get through some of the days. It gave my day a purpose and it was a good time-passing activity. It helped the hours on the clock go by faster. Other days I couldn’t muster enough energy to leave my bed. Crying until I was too tired to continue was all I wanted to do. And I did.
With time, things got better. I spent less time crying and more time doing things that made me happy. However, what made me happy was not studying all the time. Before this experience, my life revolved around my studies, and my performance in classes was, for the most part, the only thing that mattered. Though overall I may have become a “worse student,” I’m a happier person. It’s crucial to remember what is really important in your life. Family, friends, and emotional/physical health should trump law school. This is something that is often forgotten, and when forgotten, it can be fatal.
A friend of mine once told me, “We may not always be able to balance all that we have going on in our lives, but we can at least attempt to create harmony between the tasks to make the process more bearable.” To be honest, I had no idea what this meant. But after some thought, I think this is what he was getting at: sometimes we have too much going on in our lives to balance all the things we have to do. But, we can try to make sense of what we are doing and why we are doing it, and to simply accept the cards we have been dealt. Only then can we move forward.
Peace, love, and happiness,
This response isn’t just for More Tired – it’s for all the students who have the same question, but won’t ask it because they think that no one else is feeling the exact same way. There’s no right answer to this question, and my answer stems from my own experiences here at UCI and my personal outlook on life.
I’ve ran marathons and I can tell you the analogy to law school is an apt one. A marathon requires not only physical training, but an equal amount of time and attention to the mental training required to push your body to endure such a grueling challenge. Just like any marathon, in order to finish law school you will have to create a balance between school and your mental and physical health, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Even people outside of law school will confront this question at some point, but law school inherently requires an individual to address this question in order to finish.
During one of my marathons, I hit the wall at Mile 20 (and I still had 6.2 miles to go!). At that point, the runners had thinned out so much that I was running by myself, and I was completely physically drained. My muscles were stiffening, my shoes were filled with blood, and I could feel the salt on my skin from the build-up of sweat. At that point, I started to tell myself I could stop, that no one was around to see me stop, and that no one would care if I did stop. At that moment, another runner caught up to me and matched my pace. He told me I was doing a good job, and that if I kept my pace, I would qualify to run in the Boston Marathon. There was nothing more motivating at that moment than to have someone, an external voice, who encouraged me but also reminded me that there was a goal, a reason to continue forward. I finished the race in 3 hours and 30 minutes.
Now, I don’t want to do a plain reading of your question, but I’m about to. The “other aspects of life” you refer to should not just seem to be more important and require more time. The “other aspects of life” should take up a majority of your time as you continue your journey through law school. I know this may not be a widely expressed belief (although I do suspect it is widely held), but your family, partner, and friends are more important than law school.
Yes, law school is important, it’s your career, you have worked so many years just to get here, and you’ll definitely need to work in order to learn the things that will make you a zealous and knowledgeable advocate for your clients. But your external voices, your family, your friends, your partner – these are the people that will quite literally get you through the day. They are the ones you will talk to when you’re struggling to keep your head above water and also when you’ve had a great success. When you forget that law school is three years and that it thankfully gets better, they will remind you to continue forward. They will motivate you because no person is an island.
Keep connections to friends both within and outside of school. Do things outside of the law school bubble in order to remind yourself that work is not the end-all-be-all, singular defining aspect of who you are. Visit your family and talk to them often, and not always about law school. Lean on them when you forget that school is not everything, and remember that their lives deserve just as much attention from you as they give to your trials and tribulations.
Good luck! It’s not easy, but you will finish, and you will find your external motivating force. This too shall pass.