We law students are an overachieving competitive bunch. It comes with the territory. We’re all pretty bright and have had to fight our way in to the academic equivalent of Tough Mudder. There seems to be the perception that not only is it okay for us to push our bodies and minds to their limits, but that it is expected of us, and that anything else is a sign of weakness and ineptitude. This ethos is just plain wrong and unhealthy.
I have been studying law part time for over five years. I have increased and decreased my workload on a number of occasions to fit in with my life. Yes, my actual life. My life outside of being a law student.
When I started my degree, I had only one child and was working. I very mistakenly thought that maternity leave was a perfect opportunity to overload my studies because of all that alleged time off. Oh how wrong I was. I was so exhausted from sleep deprivation and my brain was, putting it mildly, fried. I stressed myself out to the point where I was an emotional mess and of no use to anyone. Unsurprisingly, I managed to fail a subject in the midst of all that chaos. Incidentally, the kettle does not belong in the fridge.
In a moment of clarity after a suitable period of doldrums and self pity, I realised that in my efforts to fast track my degree, I had actually slowed myself down because I would now need to repeat a subject but also take time to recover my health physically.
This was the point where I decided to slow down. I decided to go against the law student archetype. I decided to make my degree fit in my life, rather than my life needing to accommodate the needs of my degree. Many people were stunned and thought I was crazy. Some still do.
I have not taken a break from studying in over four years. I have had two weeks at the end of each trimester, as my uni calls it, to gather my thoughts, tend to my wounded textbooks and bury the dead highlighters.
The beauty of summer school is that this year, only one subject I needed was offered, and as a consequence I have enjoyed seven weeks studying only one subject. I have found that because my workload is so much lighter, I am more attentive to my family, eating better, not nearly as snarky as usual and I am actually focused and enjoying work. Aside from this weekend, which has been dedicated to finishing off my Civil Procedure assignment.
The baby in question is now about to enter Primary School and although I am still plodding away at the world’s longest degree, I am happy that I slowed down and took the time to enjoy this precious and irreplaceable time with him and with his big sister. I am now about to slow down even further as I go back to work full time.
Looking at my life in the most pragmatic way possible, I know that any more than one subject per semester for me, with working full time and parenting the two most important people in my universe, is going to be too hard.
I am not weak for making this decision. It takes a great deal of strength to go against convention and do what is best for you and the people that are important to you.
I know that this decision will delay my graduation by at least 18 months. I also know that I would rather graduate later and retain my sanity now and enjoy my life because, let face it, law school (contrary to popular belief) is not everything.
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