Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Dealing with Defeat

After coming back from Europe, I felt depressed. I kind of knew it would happen. I had a very fantastic holiday, and it made me feel very, very good.

So what does that surmount to? A burst in the bubble - one can say. And I knew it was coming. I was expecting it. What goes up must come down, right?

But even when you expect it, even when you know it's coming, it doesn't help you. I wasn't teaching this semester. Somehow, my workload was easier. This isn't a bad thing, but when you're used to a high paced environment like I am, it's a bit of downer. It is a bit of downer precisely because it forces you to slow down.

Then, I had that bad grade. The one I really didn't expect. On top of that, I didn't know what actually went wrong in that class. I did decently in the midterm. What happened?

Walking through the hallways of the law school again, I felt judged. Regardless if I felt it or not, it's real. People judge you in the law school. One of the deans once told me, "No one is invisible in law school." This is true. It's small enough everyone knows you.

For instance, I met someone new today. And he said, "I've seen you around a lot." I hear that a lot, probably because I wear bright red ferrari jackets or suspenders. Someone else told me, "I notice you because you wear suspenders." I thought ok. . .

But it hammered home a point to me: You are not invisible in law school. People are wondering about your gpa, if you made it onto the law review, and/or if you have a firm job. Those are probably the three precious status symbols in law school.

So, when I started being harsh on myself, I thought the external world was viewing me under its own lens. I'm probably not too crazy to think this too. We're a competitive bunch; so, we're always measuring ourselves against the competition.

But all this, just got me a bit down. I texted a friend, who has now graduated and is a licensed attorney. She said, "Get used to it Paul. You are always judged."

That wasn't comforting. So, after I had to force myself to do the simple tasks: like going to class, doing the readings, finishing homework, etc. I spent some time reevaluating what I had to do to regain control and figure out what went wrong.

Isn't that the basis of depression? When you don't actually believe things can get better? It's either that or you believe you can't get better. Doom and depression are probably twin sisters.

So - I thought, you have to figure out what went wrong. Let's flatter yourself and imagine you are a CEO of a multibillion dollar corporation. Yes, I'm in a fantasy world, but humor me a bit. If you were at the helm, and you had a bad financial quarter, what do you do? Do you do what the Italian captain of the cruise ship did and abandon ship first? Of course not! Even if a CEO came to me for advice like this, I would say this: "You need to figure out what went wrong. We can go through it together to identify how to get accurate information."

I decided I need to do this. So, I saw the professor in the class I didn't so well in. I was embarrassed. Here, I was, and he's going to tell me how I f()*&) up. Yeah, that's basically how it goes. My right arm was grabbing my left bicep throughout the meeting. It's an obvious sign of pain or stress or being uncomfortable. And he explained good analysis. Good this and that. But he could tell I didn't spend enough time with the material. That was basically it. I agreed with his analysis.

I was teaching last quarter, lecturing around the world, and writing a lot. I mean: a lot! So, that was in someways comforting. I wasn't dumb. I probably could have done better it if I had more time. I learned a valuable lesson: know your limitations.

This situation reminded me a lot of dealing with my own students and their shortcomings in writing. When they met with me, they were nervous, frustrated, sad, and or angry. Then when I explained what they did wrong, AND (always explain this part of the equation) what they SHOULD HAVE done, they actually smiled. I often put my hand on his or her back or shoulder, and let them know, it's ok. We all make mistakes and we're all on a journey to evolve. When I did that and gave my explanation, they were so much happier. They always thanked me too. The sad part, though, is that I think many students can't get passed the barrier to see me for help.

And after the weeks went by, in my new classes, at least the investment in my own writing paid off. Professors were telling me: Great Topic for my next paper. (I never had that happen on my first shot). Great papers you're turning in. Trust me, law professors don't give you praise unless you really, really earned it. Funniest thing, is all this writing and topic searching came easily now.

I had a 1L ask how to come up with a few topics. The guy was Jewish. I said: "Why don't you write on Jewish Law." He said, "That's boring!" I said, "There's so many interesting topics. Why don't you write about whether a genetically engineered pig, that chews its cud, is kosher to eat?" Jews can eat animals that have cleaved hooves and chew cud. He said, "That is a really interesting topic. It's pretty complex." I could see his mind going through the Leviticus laws. Of course, it's controversial. That was the point I was hammering into him that controversial stuff actually gets published.

I saw my laws of war professor. She said my paper I submitted for her has a lot of promise to be published. So, I guess I'm stronger at writing than test taking. We'll see.

That's where I am at.

My classes this semester are four:

1. Trial Advocacy: How do you learn to be a trial lawyer?

2. Client interaction: How does a lawyer effectively communicate and deal with clients?

3. Critical Race Theory: What is the role of race, gender, and sexuality in how law is formed? I didn't initially want to take this class, but seeing that I finished all my BAR classes, I thought why not. I'm actually really enjoying it.

4. Youth and Justice: How are youth treated within America's juvenile justice system?

And no surprises there, I have a lot of writing I need to finish up from last semester. I'm rewriting an international trade law paper. I finished rewriting a paper on sexual abuse of juveniles. I finished an article being submitted to a business journal.

I still have no job lined up. If you know of a legal job for me, let me know.

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