to first-years

as a mentor, i don’t consider myself particularly wise or accomplished enough to impart any meaningful words of guidance. i have been thinking for awhile about what to tell those seeking guidance, and the kind of advice that i would have wanted to hear when i was beginning from stage zero a year ago.

this is a letter to you first-years:

first — this is going to be a pretty difficult year. it might be one of the worst years of your life, quite honestly. you will be challenged in every way imaginable. if you move to a new city, you will have to learn to manage a new identity in this foreign place while balancing simultaneously the incredible stress of law school. if you just graduated from college, you’ll be plunged into an environment with other students who have somehow learned how to adult more efficiently. shit WILL happen. one friend’s boyfriend ended up in the emergency room right before she walked into the classroom to take our torts final, and another friend’s aunt got into a serious car accident during her oral argument before a judge. people break up, others start dating, and many lose touch with their non-law-school friends and family. it’s a tumultuous and challenging period on the personal and academic fronts.

second — the job search process is going to suck. you’ll get an amazing job, but the journey in securing that job is a nerve-wracking experience. doubts will pervade your mind constantly. your mental and physical stamina will be stretched to the limits throughout the marathon of interviews and callbacks. your sense of self-worth will be directly tied to your rejections and job offers. you’ll tread the fine line of listening to the opinions of others on prestige and following your gut in what you believe is right for you.

third — you’ll feel alone at times. some of your experiences may seem alienating: receiving a mediocre grade, getting another job rejection, blowing a cold call in class in front of 89 other students. quite frankly, almost everyone will experience those very same experiences.

fourth — you might cry. a lot. and if you don’t, you might encounter a heightened level of anxiety. this is something i want to be brutally candid about, because i have seen classmates weather the year with such strength and grace. i have also seen the same classmates break down — during finals, the on-campus recruiting season, and throughout the year. people who seemed like they had it all together had anxiety etched into the lines of their faces. i had insomnia during the year and particularly towards the end of spring semester. i cried frequently during both semesters — out of homesickness or pure envy at my non-law-school friends’ vacations or existential questioning about my decision to go to law school. and when i started to get callbacks, i cried. when i started to get job offers, i cried. i even cried for an hour after i got an offer from a place i thought i never would get into, for various reasons. i can’t stress enough how EVERYONE i know in law school went through some kind of personal crisis and extreme anxiety to get to where they wanted to get to, even amidst seeming like they were completely on top of their shit. one friend went batshit crazy right before recruiting season. he morphed into this unfathomable type A monster obsessed with maximizing his network because the fear of striking out shook him to the core. he ended up getting offers from almost all the top firms in new york and california. so, yes, you’re absolutely going to be okay. but you’ll also go through a lot of anxiety in the process, and that’s completely normal.

fifth — take care. seriously, guard your well-being and mental health. go to the gym, treat yourself to croissants, grab a beer with your section-mate after you finish that memo, watch that Netflix show for an hour. the little things do matter, and do whatever gives you even a bit of calm and peace that leaves you content for that day.

sixth — you’re going to make amazing friends. you will meet brilliant, passionate, and diverse individuals who are brimming with drive and empathy. their work ethic will put yours to shame. their sharp minds will test your own. you’ll pick at each other’s words even in ordinary conversations and unabashedly bring up obscure law jokes that no one can equally appreciate. when your forehead is covered in copious beads of sweat from running in high heels up 14 flights of stairs to your eighth interview of the day and your throat is running dry from all those interviews,  your comrade-in-yet-another-ridiculously-traumatizing-experience-of-law-school will pass you cough drops in the narrow hallway of the hotel.

seventh — you’re going to meet a few incredible people during this year. inside the law school, outside the law school. let it happen. follow your instinct. even if this proves to be a fleeting encounter, they may instill something raw and beautiful into your life. let them breathe fresh air into your daily routine. you’ll be truly happy at times, and they may be the keys to you unlocking the revitalization of purpose and joy.

Really important meetings are planned by the souls long before the bodies see each other.

Generally speaking, these meetings occur when we reach a limit, when we need to die and be reborn emotionally… if we have nothing to lose, or if we are full of enthusiasm for life, then the unknown reveals itself, and our universe changes direction.

— paulo coehlo

eighth — you’re going to grow. so, so much. into a more intelligent, even more ambitious (as if that were possible), and far, far, far more passionate person. you will grow jaded and cynical. you will grow humble. you will grow in self-discovery, beyond what you could have ever imagined. you will learn distinctly about the kinds of people, the types of environments, and the nature of work that makes you happy or unhappy. you will learn what happiness means to you. you will grow in love — a fluttering breeze that momentarily captures your heart, a cascading wave in a stronghold of passion. you are going to grow from the havoc wreaked onto a past shell of your self, from which you will be emotionally and intellectually reborn.

and once you are reborn, i promise that you will find beauty in your youth again.

 

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“It’s just locker room talk.”

It’s just catcalling, when a guy lingers his eyes along the lines of your body. It’s just groping, when a guy holding a beer can grabs and pulls you away from your friends, and you can’t run away because the ice has accumulated on the sidewalk in the middle of winter. It’s just friendly flirtation, when a guy repeatedly asks you out over emails at work and makes you feel uncomfortable to spend even a day at the office.

It’s like that sick, sinking feeling you get when you’re walking down the street minding your own business. Some guy yells out vulgar words about your body. Or when you see that guy at work that stands just a little too close, stares just a little too long. You feel uncomfortable in your own skin.

   – Michelle Obama

the view from the tortoise-shell glasses

Tortoise-shell glasses framed the deeply wrinkled face of the imposing man before me. It had been several weeks since I started my internship on Capitol Hill, and in my time there,  I had witnessed the imbalance between rhetoric and action that deeply troubled me. 

For all of the embellished, idealistic discourse on providing the North Korean refugees, the Iraqi war interpreters, and the Haitians the aid they sought in urgency, the legislation passed often fell far from the lofty rhetoric. My sense of pessimism grew in tandem with the increasing number of deaths in the Syrian civil war which had spiraled into a humanitarian disaster that spring of 2012. If the American political system couldn’t pull the trigger to help those suffering in Syria, who would?

As I sat before the eighty year-old founder and chairman of one of the world’s largest multinational corporations, I was nervous at the thought of walking away from yet another urgent problem that would remain unsolved. Given his deeply personal roots and business ties in the Gaza region, I was anxious to sit face-to-face with this man and listen to an intensely emotional story demanding assistance that could not be given.

Yet throughout the conversation, he looked directly into my eyes. Even with his awareness that I was an intern, he spoke to me and treated me as a fellow equal in the discussion. He did not treat me as an inanimate and extended arm of the machine of the American government that moved blindly in one body, but as a thinking human actor capable of producing a decision that could affect policy. I was moved by his deference towards me. 

In the short hour of our intimate conversation, I experienced a miniscule degree of the gargantuan weight that the United States bears in the world. Expectations for the American capacity to enact change were carried not only by ordinary students like myself, but also by influential leaders overseas. This multinational executive who was neither born nor raised in this country had looked up to American officials as a source of change. His humility reminded me that to him, while I did not necessarily wield power myself individually, I was connected to an institution that possessed the power to address his concerns. I realized in no way did he expect that the American government owed him an immediate solution to his grievances, nor did he behave in a manner that presumed he rightfully deserved the American government to act on his behalf. Instead, he expressed his gratitude to me for simply sitting with him to hear his concerns. He had reached out because he believed in the American government’s commitment overseas.

Having briefly seen America’s role in the world through the eyes of the executive with the tortoise-shell glasses, I began to see lawmaking in a new light. The executive with the tortoise-shell glasses and my experience in Washington taught me passion in the face of pessimism. Even in his old age, he patiently persisted in meeting with policymakers in the hope that some pathway could be forged towards the resolution in which he fervently believed. In the face of formidable challenges, the mere existence of potential for change can be an incredible power.