As I’m very, very fond of telling people, I am now a 3L. A 3L in my last semester, no less. Actually, I will graduate exactly 100 days from today. (Awesome.) So I’ve been reflecting a bit lately on my law school career, and I’ve noticed that there are ways I could have managed parts of it better. As many of you already likely know, I have a general propensity to dispense unasked-for advice. Lucky for me, Professor O’Hear kindly offered me the opportunity to climb up on my e-soap box here. (Thanks so much for that!) Thus I bring you…
Reflections of a 3L, Installment One: Put Down That Book and Go To the Gym; or, Yes, You Do Have Time.
The more you move your body, the more energy you have to move your body. Exercise introduces endorphins into your system that make the daily grind seem smoother. And my mother swears – though I’m pretty sure she’s making this up – that your body will grow new blood vessels to your brain if you exercise on a regular basis. As my fellow 3L Staci Flinchbaugh put it, there is just no downside to exercising. Not that I’ve been doing it much during law school. Ok, at all. I haven’t been exercising at all. There was never a time when I decided, “Ok, absolutely no more physical activity for me aside from pack-muling these books to and from class.” It just happened by increments. Not today, I have that brief due. Not today, I am super far behind in my reading. Etc. I even signed up for a Pilates class my first semester. Alas, my attendance was short-lived. And it likely resulted in a group of undergrads who still discuss the weird woman who came to Pilates and kept falling asleep on the mat.
In retrospect, though my reasons for not exercising didn’t seem like excuses, they were. Law school is stressful. It’s also expensive. Job hunting is stressful as a rule. But we’re in an economy where the lead banner on the American Bar Association’s website has a picture of dollar-bill George Washington sporting a black eye, seated next to the declaration that we are in a LEGAL RECESSION. (Yes, really.) I may be an extreme case, but I do think it fair to say that as far as law students go, our type-A personalities, our dedication to excelling in our chosen field, and our loans engender in many of us the belief that we simply don’t have the time to do anything but work on making law school work. If we don’t have time to sleep, then how do we have time to go to the gym? Obviously we want to make the most out of our time here; but, I fear that we forget that the habits we enter into in our time in school are likely precursors to the habits we will maintain as practicing attorneys. And my best guess is, the stress isn’t going to go away. Soon there will be real people whose real lives will depend on our performance. If we don’t have habitual coping mechanisms in place, what are we going to do? The statistics do not paint a pretty picture.
Lawyers are not a healthy bunch. Attorneys as a group have epidemic depression. (Don’t think so? Well, the problem has its own website. Check out www.lawyerswithdepression.com.) There is also an incredibly high incidence of alcoholism in our field. According to the Legal Profession Assistance Conference, about a quarter of us are alcoholics. These are factors that speak of a community that does not cope well with the large amounts of stress we endure. My point is, the oft-mentioned, rarely-explicated “work/life balance” probably includes you moving your well-educated self around more than you currently do.
How do I know? Let’s just say I recently realized that there’s me and there’s my 2L interview suit and nevermore the twain shall meet, and leave it at that. So I started dragging myself back to the gym. (Note: step aerobics is NOT like riding a bike. You DO forget how.) I tried, as a week-long experiment, treating workouts like they were my absolute top priority. I went every day. And, wouldn’t you know it, my energy went up and my stress went down. It actually seemed like there was more time in the day. It seemed like the things that normally tend to irk me were decidedly less irksome. And I am not completely lost in all my classes. Actually, I’m not even behind. I just took note of those times during the day where I had scheduled in “work on X” but knew I would not be working on X, but rather perusing facebook or watching trashy T.V., because I would be too mentally exhausted to work on X. Instead I scheduled “go to gym.” Now, do I think I will keep up the every day regimen for the rest of the year? No. I will not. And yes, that will still be me you see shamelessly taking the elevator every time I have to go to the third floor. But the success of my experiment brought home the fact that at many points throughout school I have given myself the false choice between taking care of myself and taking care of my school work. This is not a choice I can habitually make and be a healthy lawyer.
We have the time to take care of ourselves, because we don’t have the time not to.