Today is one week since I returned from Boston to New York for my summer job. The Writing Competition was due on Friday, I took the train home on Saturday, and I started my job on Monday. I’ve only now had a minute to reflect on what this year really was and what it meant to me personally – and you know I’m all about self-reflection. This year was a year in which I had the least amount of time to ruminate (not necessarily a bad thing), but sadly, the least amount of time to reflect and to be balanced. I am profoundly grateful for all that this year taught me in terms of stretching myself beyond the bounds I thought I was capable, but I am equally as grateful for what it has taught me in terms of the kind of life that I don’t want.
Let’s start with the positive, because there is a lot. To sum up this year in a word: transformative. Like I said, I stretched myself beyond the bounds of what I thought I was capable of doing this year. I gained newfound confidence this year. I moved away from my family and friends and learned that I could not only survive, but thrive on my own. I now know that I could move anywhere and make a home for myself, and that is an incredibly comforting and empowering feeling. I slept less than I ever have this year, and I don’t recommend or condone this, but it was something I never thought I could do. I got cold-called in class and my voice shook, I raised my hand in class and my voice shook, and over time I got cold-called in class and volunteered in class and the voice coming out of my mouth sounded like my own again. This is growth: it’s uncomfortable, and sticky, and terrifyingly embarrassing in the moment: but once you reap its benefits they taste like a nectar that is twice as sweet because you arduously cultivated it all on your own.
These are the things I live for – even just crafting that sentence made me feel so at home within myself. These are my values. This is who I am. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: I am a writer first, and everything else second. I feel my most creative, my most at-ease, my most empowered when I am sitting here, music playing, typing letter after letter. But back to my first year of law school:
I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity that is in front of me, and for the fact that I am 1/3 of the way there (and through the most difficult 1/3 of that experience!). The school that I am privileged enough to attend has esteemed faculty, an incredibly supportive advising staff, brilliant classmates, and was completely renovated only a few years ago. Boston is a beautiful city filled with history and architecture and charm. It is not a perfect city, but no city is. This is the place for me right now – and I know in my bones that, as the poet Hafiz said, God circled it on a map for me.
A lot of what I thought I knew about myself before this experience has changed. A lot of the things I assumed were set in stone weren’t. I grew beyond the bounds that I thought I had intellectually and socially and emotionally. There are no words for how grateful I am for this. It re-molded me, it shook me up a bit, it taught me that I am more malleable than I had originally believed myself to be. This year was a year in which balance was not possible – and that is okay. For me personally, though, I can’t live in a world where such a lack of balance is long-term. This year I did what I had to do so that I could say that without a doubt I gave it my all. I have never worked so hard or so consistently at anything in my life. It completely redefined what I thought my capabilities were, and amid the relentless stress of it all, I have nothing but gratitude. It has taught me so much more than the elements of a tort, or what res judicata is, or what the components of a real covenant are. It has taught me more of who I am. It has made me more into the person that I want to be. I was interviewed for a “Week in the Life” segment that my school’s website is doing – and I said something toward the end of the interview along the lines of “I’m here for the emotional journey, too.” Yes, I am here for the academics and I take pride in the work that I did all semester, but I’m also here for the growth that is taking place in my life that has nothing to do with academics – which is a segway to the more real, deep, and true about this experience:
I just calculated how many hours I was spending either doing schoolwork, being at school, and commuting to and from school. This came out to 80 hours per week. This is startling. I knew that I was spending most of my time on all things school-related, but for some reason I did not realize what it came down to in a number. I didn’t have time for friends this year, or reading for pleasure, or going to the movies, or trying out a Pilates class (or exercising consistently in general). I didn’t have time for shopping, or trying out new recipes, or wandering aimlessly through bookstores. Most importantly, I didn’t have time for writing or reflection. These things may sound trivial to some, but they sustain me – they always bring me back to center and balance out the stress in my life.
This year has taught me that working hard has its time and place, but that, for me personally, I need time for balance and restoration. There was simply no time this year for anything remotely resembling balance, spontaneity, or creativity. I am proud of how hard I worked and how dedicated I was to giving 1L my all, but I am even more proud that I can sit here in retrospect and say with 100% confidence that this is not the type of lifestyle that is sustainable nor desirable for me long-term. For those out there who thrive on 80 hour work-weeks – I give you credit and deeply believe that you were made for those jobs. For me, however, the shoe doesn’t fit. And that is okay.
The 1L experience did the following: it pushed me so far outside of my comfort zone in terms of not having time for anything other than this one thing – this all-encompassing thing. It made me realize that while I may be capable and willing to spend one full school year working the equivalent of 80 hours a week, that is not the life that I see for myself because it does not reflect my values. Of course I want to contribute positive work to the world. I want to work hard and see the reward of that effort. But I also want to enjoy the rewards of my relationship with myself, and my relationships with others. I want there to be time outside of all of the working hard where I can breathe a little deeper, write a little more, absorb the beauty that is right in front of me. I don’t want a life where having time for quality connections with others or curling up with my favorite books, or trying out a new recipe isn’t a possibility. I don’t think this is too much to ask.
I know I’m just writing this into the void. I know that most of it won’t matter to anyone other than myself. But I do it because taking the time to reflect and document this experience matters to me. This year involved so much going-going-going and not enough time just being. This year was empowering, but it was also disappointing on various levels – both academically and personally. It involved me learning that I had to stop defining myself by something that had “carried” my self-esteem for so long (my grades). It also involved me experiencing a bit of crushing disappointment in the form of mild heartbreak for the first time. This year was an emotional rollercoaster if there ever was one. But the lessons. There are so many lessons here! This isn’t the space for them because they’re far too personal – but my point is: things can feel like they’re falling apart around you, and you have two choices. You can either fall to the floor in a heap and helplessly lay in that destruction, or you can sit down, cry it out, and then like a curious mapmaker, try to fit each shard together until you create some form of a mosaic. There are always lessons to be learned amid the ruin – this I know for sure. This illustration from @bymariandrew says it all:
I feel like as transformative of a year as this was for me, it has ended up leading me right back to my roots and my values. I care about the arts so much: books, music, films, you name it. This is what gives me life and this is what I think we’re here for. Art connects us to ourselves and each other, it teaches us that we are never alone, it reveals to us our shared humanity. I want time for these things in my life. I don’t know exactly how the next two years of law school will play out – and I am trying to relax into this discomfort and keep trusting that God has it covered because I have no reason to believe otherwise. The two main things that this year has taught me are that: (1) I am capable of more than I ever thought possible, and (2) I want balance in my life. These two are not mutually exclusive. I know that the right doors will keep opening and that my job is only to keep trusting, showing up, and working hard. But I also know that I want a life that is filled with meaning and joy and restoration.
A quote I stumbled upon on Tumblr forever-ago that felt right to close all of this with:
life is so subtle sometimes that you barely notice yourself walking through the doors you once prayed would open.
I can’t even believe this is my life sometimes. Yes, this year was crazy, but it’s exactly what I asked for. It’s like I’ve had these secret dreams that I was too afraid to even voice that someone was intently listening to the entire time. And then when these secret dreams have come true, they’ve so completely exceeded any expectation of what I thought they could be. Yes this year was challenging and yes this year was exhausting, but it was also invigorating and transformative and beautiful – and I wouldn’t trade its highs or its lows for anything. And as I sit here in its aftermath I only have gratitude for how far it pushed me outside of who I thought I was, and for how it bounced me right back to who I really am.