Mona Zafarian, Osgoode Hall Law School, Class of 2015
“If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try” – Seth Godin
Completing my first year of law school made me feel simultaneously exasperated yet enthralled. I was left with the lingering momentum to learn and discover, but I needed a new way to channel my inquisitive energy.The summer of 2013 gave me the perfect, uninterrupted chance to rediscover myself and cultivate my interests.
I began my summer break by spending the equivalent of a full workday at a local bookstore. I had collected at least 3 light, summertime novels in my shopping basket before I gingerly wandered through shelves stacked with world maps and travel guides. While grazing book covers adorned with eclectic places and faces, I felt compelled to pick up a memoir of a woman who spent a year backpacking around the world alone. The author recounted her journey of self-discovery and adventure as she excitedly described the joy in getting lost only to find herself. Inspired by her fierce independence and my own unwavering sense of wonder, I did the most terrifying thing and booked a flight to Europe the next day. With less than 2 weeks to plan, and only a vague recollection of “Eat, Pray, Love” as encouragement, I prepared for the adventure of a lifetime.
I spent more than 3 weeks in 3 countries and 5 cities (Rome, Florence, Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam). Traveling alone was something I never thought I would have the courage to do, nor was it a thought I had ever pondered before. Taking the leap and confronting my fears of the unknown was the best gift I have ever given to myself. Spending quality time with my own thoughts, a journal, and camera was a way to explore dimensions of myself I never even knew existed.
I learned the meaning of resiliency, the importance of adaptability, and the virtue of patience. More importantly, I was able to trust myself (and my instincts) in way I never have before. The sentiments I accumulated last summer set the stage for how I approached my second year of law school.
Expect The Unexpected
As much as we try to control the outcome of our lives, or even our days, the inevitable reality is that we will have a much more enjoyable and rewarding experience if we just “went with the flow” (even if it the flow feels more like a torrential rapid than a mild wave).
Take for example the incident that occured on my third day in Italy. I was in the metro station trying to get back to my hostel during the panicked Roman rush-hour. After walking from the platform into the train (a span of 3 seconds), I looked over my shoulder, and to my horror my purse was zipped open and my wallet and smartphone were missing. I was pick-pocketed! In that moment I had to make a decision about my attitude, I could either choose to become overwhelmed and frantic (and ruin a perfectly good evening ahead), or I could choose to move on and take practical measures, like making an incident report and calling my bank to cancel my credit cards.
During 1L, I had several moments which could be analogized to feeling caught off guard, surprised and depleted (I’m looking at you, 3 hour exams). Let’s face it, we all come to law school as superstars in our own right. But it is important to recall that our letters of admission were not entirely based on our stellar undergraduate grades, or dashing good looks – admissions officers see our photos right? Remember, we are all unique and dynamic individuals coming into law school, and we have more to offer than just a flawless transcript. Know who you are, do what you love and use this aptitude to your advantage. And if you are ever confronted with nagging thoughts of inadequacy, underperformance or just plain burnout, just know that only you are in control of your attitude you can either choose to give-up or rise-up. After all, endurance in the turbulent pressure of the atmosphere is what gives stars their twinkling light.
Be Kind to Yourself and Practice Patience
Law school can feel like boxing match at times, competing with our own scores and trying and out-perform ourselves everyday. While resiliency is an invaluable trait, it is so important to continuously celebrate and cherish the small victories. The spirit of a fighter, the grace of a butterfly and the sting of a bee are wonderful qualities, they surely helped Muhammad Ali defeat his opponent in the first second of the first round of a boxing match. But even butterflies and bees need to stop and smell the flowers sometimes.
Use your first year at law school to engage in activities and opportunities which are rewarding, and meaningful to you. Go at your own pace, because while 1L may seem like a sprint, your legal career is more like a marathon. Taking care of yourself, getting enough sleep, eating well and repeating positive and kind affirmations will all help to ground you in this unfamiliar terrain.
Make Mistakes, Learn and Discover
1L gives you a perfect opportunity to get creative and explore different areas of law without serious commitment. Partaking in extra-curricular activities and student clubs is a great way to get to know others, and discover your own interests. While the amount of new information and opportunities might seem overwhelming, remember that you are only one person and you can cherry pick what seems enticing to you.
During my travels, I made the decision to take things at an easy pace and do activities that I was sincerely interested in. I realized that while I loved exploring famous tourist sites, I could never see everything and actually enjoy myself without feeling rushed. Treating a vacation like a cultural scavenger hunt is a sure way to exhaust yourself and induce burn-out. Similarly, law school can feel like a buffet- biting off more choices than you can chew might make you feel overwhelmed, leaving you with too much on your plate.
It Takes Some Time to Get it Right
I am currently in my second year of law school, and have officially hit the halfway point to graduation. I write this reflection, with the benefit of hindsight and the realization that it is just as important to learn what you don’t want to do, as it is to discover your true calling.
After going through the prerequisite courses of first year, second year gave me the latitude to pick courses and seminars that peaked my interest and kept me coming back for more. I took up writing for Osgoode’s IPilogue, and have taken several intellectual property classes including Copyright and Trademarks law. Staying true to my passion, and putting my effort into a focused area of law has been a very rewarding experience.
I can honestly say that I am more positive than ever that opportunities are endless. As long as you have a general roadmap, passion to discover, and a slight sense of direction, you will end up where you need to be on your journey through law school and beyond.
While this has been a small look into my path, I am sure that you will find yours too. I can’t say that I have arrived at my final destination yet, but that’s okay because I am enjoying the ride along the way.