Ambreen Walji, University of Windsor, Class of 2015
It isn’t easy to have it all. Nay, it is impossible. In your first week of law school you probably heard the word “Balance” – work-life balance, balancing expectations, balancing a social life and a professional program. The word is tossed around so frequently, its lost a lot of its meaning. For some, it can add pressure: Am I being balanced? Does that just mean that I have to have it all?
This blog post is about not having it all and relishing in it.
If you’ve gotten into law school, chances are you’ve had a great many people support you in this life-long journey. They are your parents, your friends, your intimate partners, your running buddy, your best friend, or maybe your goldfish. They are the people who are happy for your successes. Or maybe there haven’t been and the relationships you’ve made in law school are all encompassing
But a lot can be said about keeping up relationships in law school- the romantic, familial and platonic ones.
I can only speak from my personal experience but I remember that on my first day of law school I was told that everyone in my small group would be my best friend. For some people, that is entirely true.
But for me it wasn’t. These stellar individuals are not the people that I thought to call after a break up, death in the family or after my first round of interviews. It was by no fault of their own, or a product of a lack in chemistry. In my first year, I struggled with this- everyone around me seemed to be having the time of their lives, and I would gladly spend my one hour break between readings skyping my siblings, or catching up with my best friends. By my third year, I’ve come to realize that there is no formula for happiness. But I wish I had ignored the nagging little voice that made me feel guilty for taking what I needed: comfort in the relationships I had spent a lifetime building. For someone who likes to be liked by everyone, stepping back has been a constant battle for me.
Here are some things that I wish someone had told me when I was a 1L:
1. Law school is not undergrad.
A Canadian study on friendship and adjustment among 1st-Year university Students found that first year undergrads who developed strong new friendships were more likely to have a positive social adjustment, had stronger feelings of attachment to university, and had an easier academic adjustment. (Buote, V., Pancer, S., Pratt, M., Adams, G., Birnie-Lefcovitch, S., Polivy, J., & Wintre, M. (2007). The importance of friends. Journal of Adolescent Research, 22(6), 665-689. doi:10.1177/0743558407306344). The myth that what worked in undergrad will work in law school is pervasive during first year orientation.
A lot can be said about support stability. Adulthood offers choice. The choice to actively disengage from friendships or to participate in establishing and maintaining friendship structures is yours, and only yours, to make. (For more on this in academia see: Finchum, T., & Weber, J. A. (2000). Applying continuity theory to older adult friendships. Journal of Aging and Identity, 5(3), 159-168.)
2. You will share a lot of similarities with the people you meet in law school, and the closeness that grows from daily contact, shared experience and perhaps even similar backgrounds, is something beautiful.
But some of the relationships you build in law school will be a product of artificial construction: group projects, seminars, etc.
3. Your non-law school friends will keep you sane and help you remember who you are and where you came from.
They might not understand why you need five different sets of little sticky notes, but they will help you remember that you weren’t always this anxious. They will remind you that a life outside of this bubble exists.
4. A night in to catch up on the phone with a friend can be worth way more than meeting ten new people in costume at a Halloween party.
It takes courage to step back and acknowledge what you need. Perhaps even more so than doing what everyone else thinks is ‘the best law school experience’ for you. Maybe you won’t be tagged in thirty new photos and people might start to ask about why you never go out. To be honest, its unlikely these people will be as attentive to your whereabouts a year from now, but that friend who you took the time to keep in touch with, will.
5. Giving back to the people you love is important, but you are only human.
Friendship and relationships are usually give and take but everywhere is impossible. Communicating the boundaries of your time to friends, new and old, can help you avoid resentment when you aren’t able to hop out of tutorial to tend to a friend’s distress.
The most invaluable thing I’ve come to realize about law school is something I heard in the grade seven “sunscreen song”. It is: The race is long and in the end, it’s only with yourself. Maybe that realization is the essence of finding a balance!