About Time

As I approach 28, I feel like I have a fairly firm grasp on the specific angsts of the mid-to-late twenties.  If I had to sum up this time, I’d describe it as “there is just so much happening.”  Or, in the words of the crown jewel of television, ~~it’s all happening~~.*  I feel both overwhelmed with excitement and gratitude and anticipation and also exhausted with uncertainty and anxiety and hopes and fears and goals.  I go to bed most nights with the distinct sense that “I AM PRESENTLY BECOMING WHO I AM MEANT TO BE AND EVERY MOMENT IS SO SIGNIFICANT.”  Which, I gotta say, is not the most relaxing thought to hover directly over you as you try to fall asleep.

There are many elements that go into this feeling, and if you are interested, here’s a small sample of thoughts that dart around my mind in the course of a day:  What do I need to accomplish today?  What do I need to do this week?  I should watch more critically acclaimed TV.  Do I want to make partner one day?  I should spend more time with my family.  I want to travel more.  I can’t believe Donald Trump is the president of the United States.  Why does everyone else look like they’re on vacation always?  Does it look like I’m on vacation always?  How am I going to afford four kids?  Is it irresponsible to have four kids?  I should be a better friend.  I have achieved a lot of my goals.  Money is not the most important thing.  Our phones are ruining us.  I can’t wait to post this on Instagram.  I want to live in Kansas City forever.  Marriage is an unnecessary and oppressive institution.  My life is incomplete until I have a dog.  I want to be a stay-at-home mom.  I would hate being a stay-at-home mom.  This year I’m going to start writing a book.  Is my life boring?  If I stopped watching reality TV, I’d certainly spend that time doing something productive.  I feel like I’m getting the hang of being a lawyer.  Should I become more domestic?  I can’t believe Donald Trump is the president of the United States.  I’d like to lose 10 pounds.  I don’t care that much about my weight.  Do my coworkers like me?  I need to try 100% at everything every day or else I’m wasting my good fortune.  The only thing I’m good at is nourishing my friendships.  I could be happy at a 9-5.  I want to volunteer with kids to nourish my soul.  I do not have time to do anything else.  If I dropped dead today, what would people say about me?  I am too spontaneous to commit to a dog.  I miss my brother.  Does everyone else like their jobs more than I like mine?  There is no point in trying 100% at everything because the world is going to shit and nothing matters.  I am really happy.  I am definitely capable of waking up at 5 am to live a fuller life.  Should I be married yet?  Money is important to me.  I can’t believe Donald Trump is the president of the United States.  I really enjoy working at a law firm.  I want to move tomorrow.  I need to map out the next 5, 10, 50 years of my life.  Planning anything is boring and futile.  I need to say no to more things.  I need to say yes to everything.  I enjoy sleeping much more than I love anything I’d do at 5 am.  Am I doing as well as I should be at 27?  I am doing great.  I am screwing everything up.  I feel like an adult.  Why don’t I feel like an adult yet?

… and this is all in one day.

I recognize that I am predisposed to neurotic overthinking.  I recently read Turtles All the Way Down (shout out to the power women book club) and I found the protagonist’s uncontrollable, unrealistic spiraling thoughts to be familiar, to say the least.  So maybe I am feeling these things more frequently or more intensely than others.  But, perhaps naively, I can’t help feeling like I’m not alone here.  This time in my life feels incredibly meaningful, like every decision I make or don’t make is going to lead directly to the rest of my life.  A Choose Your Own Adventure playing out right in front of me.  I did not used to feel like this.  In high school, college, even law school, I had a pretty clear path in front of me and I felt reasonably confident in that path.  I made choices and worked hard and had fun and knew the rest would fall into place.  Maybe it’s being permanently out of that comfortable school structure that has me feeling adrift.  Or, I don’t know, adrift isn’t the right word.  I know exactly what I like and exactly what it’s important to me and exactly what my goals are, but I can’t figure out how to make them all happen, both on the smaller week-to-week scale and in the larger sense of what is my legacy (I told you guys, it’s a heaping amount to digest before bed).  It’s having the option of a dozen good toppings and wanting to create the best possible ice cream sundae without vomiting everywhere from overeating.  It’s like I am having FOMO for my own life.

Distilling through all the existential worries, my biggest daily hurdle is time.  I think about time constantly – am I spending it correctly?  How can I be more efficient?  How can I have more fun?  How can I work more?  How can I spend more time with other people?  How can I carve out time alone?  I imagine many people feel this way, that there is simply not enough time in the day to achieve all the things you need to do and all the things you want to do.  I obsess over it because I, perhaps again naively, feel like I can manage and control it.  Plus, I have the particular privilege of having to bill my time in six minute increments.  Let me tell you, nothing makes you more acutely aware of how you’re spending your life than billing your time in six minute increments.  I am proud and relieved that I have created a life for myself where there are so many wonderful elements that I want to – and can – do a million things.  Some weeks I feel like I am crushing it, and in the span of any given month, I feel pretty good about what I’ve done.  But there are definitely days and weeks where I am overwhelmed or disappointed in myself or wondering how this is going to be sustainable.  It’s something I consistently struggle with, and I suppose this is just the reality of adulthood, that you have developed enough responsibilities and interests and commitments and relationships that what once fit neatly in a box is now bursting at the seams.  Once I started dating Nick (HI BUDDY, here’s your shout out), I feel that crunch even more.  I already felt like my plate was 100% full and now I want to hang out with this guy all the time and WHERE IS IT ALL GOING TO FIT!?  And please note that I am 27 with no kids, no pets, and no real responsibilities outside of myself.  I know it’s only going to get more full from here on out.  Which again begs the question, WHERE IS IT ALL GOING TO FIT!?

On the one hand, I read back through this and conclude that I am actually insane.  People who reflect this much – and feel comfortable enough to put this on the internet! – are fools who should relax and just be grateful for the things they have and let go of the rest.  On the other hand, I believe wholeheartedly that authentic feelings and experiences are always worth it, and connecting with others over those shared feelings and experiences is kind of the whole point.  Plus, one of my 18 in 2018 goals is to recommit to this blog because it genuinely is one of the delights of my life.  I have a sneaking suspicion that this is just the natural young adulthood stage unfolding and I am in the thick of it.  It would be nice if other people feel similarly or have advice or can tell me how to balance everything or can at least tell me I am not alone in this.  And despite the uncertainty of it all, ultimately this time of life is pretty fulfilling and exciting and I feel like I am really living.  If you have any wisdom, I’ll buy you a drink at Tom Tom, where I will most certainly find the time to visit because IT’S! ALL! HAPPENING!**

*  Please do yourself a favor and watch Vanderpump Rules if you aren’t.  It is the single best reality TV show (dare I say best overall TV show?) on air.

** Seriously, I think about Sandoval crying into the dog at Katie and Tom’s wedding at least once a week.

vanderpump-rules-dog-napkin-tom-sandoval.gif

 

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I hate the anti-millennial furor.  It’s lazy, overdone, and pretty unfair.  I believe we are generally creative, collaborative, ambitious, and vulnerable.  We believe that anything is possible and we are way more tolerant and open-minded to other humans.  And, it’s like, if you didn’t want us to get so worked up about feeling recognized and validated – maaaaybe you shouldn’t have recognized and validated us so much.  (For the record, I have one parent who doesn’t like competitions because “everyone is a winner!” and one parent who believes Kobe Bryant is a god, so I feel safely in the middle zone on this one.)

But the one thing the olds get right is that we are addicted to technology and it is ruining us all.

My phone broke last Sunday morning, right before I was supposed to drive home for Mother’s Day.  I was annoyed at the prospect of setting up a new phone but took this as an opportunity to test my theory that, oh well, it’ll be fine because * I * am not totally reliant on technology.  Welp.  Guess who is totally reliant on technology?  During my drive from Kansas City to Topeka – mind you, this drive takes me one hour and seven minutes – I found myself generating a stream of incredibly stupid thoughts.  But what if my friends are texting me?  But what if I get a work email?  But my podcast queue is building up!  But what if I get a flat tire & need to call for help?  But I won’t be able to post an Instagram photo with my family!  But what if an exit is closed & I need directions?  But I wanted to listen to my Summer 17 playlist!

These are all things I take for granted – in my car!  It was not long ago that it took our forefathers six weeks to transmit a message that the British were coming, and now I am hopping into my air-conditioned crossover, able to magically zap every modern convenience into existence like I am Samantha on Bewitched.  I found myself genuinely let down by the idea that when I want something right this very second, I am unable to have it.  That’s … troubling.

Like all earnest blog posts, this story has an obvious and saccharine lesson: not only did I survive, I had a remarkably lovely drive.  If you are holding your breath, here’s how things turned out:

But what if my all friends are texting me something really urgent?  I missed two texts.  They were – sorry, buds – most definitely not urgent.

But what if I get a work email?  I didn’t.  It was Sunday morning and I am a junior associate.  The team miraculously survived with me off the grid.

But my podcast queue is building up!  Instead of spending time with my imaginary friends funneling a constant stream of information, stories, and quips, I had to spend time alone.  Just me and my thoughts.  Haunting, truly. 

But what if I get a flat tire & need to call for help?  Arguably, the only real concern here, and of course that did not happen.  People drove without cell phones for many decades.  Also, to be clear, it was 11 am on a major highway, so it’s not like I was on a hero trek in the wilderness. I’m fairly certain a kind Midwestern family headed to a chain-restaurant at Legend’s would have saved me.

But I won’t be able to post an Instagram photo with my family!  I guess everyone has now found out that I hate my family, and on Mother’s Day, no less.  The jig is up.

But what if an exit is closed & I need directions?  My usual exit actually was closed and I had a moment where I legitimately thought, “Well, how is anyone supposed to figure this out?”  I came up with the ingenious idea to just keep driving and – wait for it – follow the huge signs that happen to line the highway.  Lo and behold, not one mile ahead was another exit.

But I wanted to listen to my Summer 17 playlist!  Since the dawn of streaming music, I’m all-in on the stream life.  I do a lot of weekday podcasting (see above), but for my weekend drives, I like to live as though I am in a well-produced pop music video.  Because I was without a phone, and the silence was making me nervous, I did something I have not done in years:  I dove into my CD case.

YOU GUYS.

The faux music videos were 100x better.

I experienced a full-on dive into the days of glory.  Remember when your pals carefully curated a mix CD tailored to you and you raced to the car to play it for the first time, unsure of what incredibly specific and meaningful gems you’d find?  The purest joy in the world comes from the few seconds of a mix CD loading, followed by the opening notes to an obscure song that meant something to you, capped off by the heart-swelling feeling that someone you care about really just *gets* you.  I spent the whole drive listening to CDs that my friends have made me over the years, cracking up at the memories associated with certain songs, tearing up at some that triggered a ~* teen feeling *~ in me, watching the Kansas landscapes and actually seeing them because there was no other distraction in the car with me.  And when each CD invariably started skipping around track 10, as all well-loved CDs are wont to do, I just accepted that our time together, beautiful though it was, was done and it was on to the next unexpected song.

We’ve lost that.  I can play any song I want, immediately.  I can communicate with anyone I know, immediately.  I can figure out a solution to any mild inconvenience, immediately.  I can tell you where I am, who I’m with, what I’m thinking, what I’m doing, immediately, always, and I can generally find all that out about you, too.  If I have a question, I don’t need to ponder – in fact, you actually get strange looks if your instinct is not “I’ll google that.”  I am, for all intents and purposes, constantly available, and so is the entire universe of information.  Life is totally and completely on demand, and I think it has taken something profoundly human away from us.

Instead of relying on a machine to fix or mediate or entertain, I experienced a sustained rhythm of one of my favorite combos: the fizz of anticipation mixed with joy of the moment.  Because you know what?  Before this era where every single desire was immediately granted, people had to think about things and wait for things and get excited about things that were not magically summoned at that very moment in time.  I heard all these songs that I haven’t heard in a decade or longer.  I lived my day experiencing real interactions because I wasn’t absorbing images of other people’s lives.  I got errands done because I wasn’t wasting time scrolling through feeds I don’t care about.  I made a mental list of things I wanted to talk about with my friends because I couldn’t blurt it out in the group text at 10:30 am while at work.  I remembered that I don’t need to be connected to the entire universe.  The entire universe is moving along without me just fine.

It was, of course, embarrassing to feel so naked and helpless without my phone.  I didn’t necessarily want to believe I was that person (hello, special snowflake speaking).  I’ve read the articles, and intellectually I know we are all turning into compassionless machines who automate our lives and can’t form functional human relationships anymore.  But sometimes it takes a clean break* to really get it.  Sincerely, I have a dream that all the cell phones will stop working for a month and we can get back to basics.  I think it would solve a lot of our collective angst.  But since that’s not going to happen (though, in 2017, I should know better than to say anything is impossible anymore), and since I am a 27-year-old lawyer living in midtown KC, not Vincent Kartheiser, I definitely got a new phone.  But this inadvertent detox was nourishing for me, and it reminded me that  I want to do better.  I want to leave my phone at home during the workday.  I want to stop checking it when I’m spending time with people.  I want to pay full attention to real things and engage with the world in real time.  I want to be okay when the CD skips and I cannot reload it immediately.  I want to be excited just to move on to the next unexpected song.

 * Please note that by clean break, I still had my iPad and a macbook.  I could and did access technology on each of these three days.  I am no martyr.

How to Move Past 2016 in 21 Easy Steps!

1. Deny, deny, deny.  Luckily for you, you’re beginning this effort in the middle of nowhere, Alaska. The lack of sunlight, streaming television, and chain restaurants will help convince you that this cannot be the real world and everything is fine.  You’ve never questioned the nature of your reality; why start now?

2. Cry.  Cry more than you thought was possible.  Cry with the melodrama that suggests you should be on the most important product of the mid-2000s and you just had to shoot Trey because he was going to kill Ryan and your dad stole from all the millionaires and your mom is sleeping with your ex-boyfriend and you were cursed with both a substance abuse problem and also the ethereal sunkissed glow of teenage wistfulness.  Cry about minor things to mask the real things you’re crying about.  After all, you’re still in a work setting, alternating solely between a shared office space and a remote Alaskan cabin where your co-workers have nowhere else to go.  Go ahead and make them uncomfortable.  As the most junior associate on the team, you’ve totally earned it.

3. Tailspin.  Take some time to familiarize yourself with your more destructive tendencies.  Engage in behaviors that are best left off your blog.  Sincerely exclaim the words, “What’s the point – there are no real consequences anymore!”

4. Emerge hazily from that stint and remember you’re not in Thirteen (my my, we’re heavy on the Evan Rachel Wood today, aren’t we?).  Overcorrect, and wonder if the answer is to start going to church.  Research local churches.  Nix the church plan.  You missed that boat long ago.

5. Reroute to pop culture escapism, your tried and true solution.  Old friends, new friends, this world, that world, that other world.  It’s all lighter out here, even the tear-jerker machine.  Even the murder podcast.

6. Return to the shitshow and immerse yourself obsessively with every crushing detail of what’s happening.  Join all the groups.  Read all the articles.  Watch all the news.  Consider quitting the job you deeply enjoy and worked three years to get to fight the good fight.  Do you stand for nothing? They need you out there.  Consume everything.  Knowledge is power!

7. Demonize all Republicans.  Curse the Bernie bros while you’re at it.  It’s their fault.  Everyone who isn’t like you is a backwards moron who voted against their interests.  Damn them all to hell.

8. Rescind your earlier proclamation.  Knowledge destroys you.  Do a complete 180.  Ignore everything.  It’s too much.  The content is giving you an ulcer.  You cannot fix anything.  Furthermore, the liberal elites – your bread and butter – have become incredibly stressful to be around.  Which of These White Women is the Most Inclusive, Progressive, and Intersectional is a game with no winners.  You may just drown in the white tears.

9. Repeat steps 6-8 for a few nauseating rounds.  You’re on the devil’s ride and the park ain’t closing anytime soon.

10. Grind your teeth so badly in your sleep that you break your bite guard.  Damning so many people to hell takes a real toll.

11. Brave a tiny footstep to attempt to understand the other side.  You said you were open-minded, riiight?  They’re the intolerant ones, not you, riiiight?  Surely, they’re not all bad.  Contemplate, briefly, that maybe you’re the villain after all.  Retreat immediately and confidently from that thought upon seeing He Who Shall Not Be Named’s tweet de jour.

12. Double down on work.  Who knows how long the infrastructure of the economy is gonna last?  You need that paycheck while it exists.  Comfort yourself by thinking, Big law definitely won’t be the first to go in the New World Order.  Must destroy the arts, public schools, and the entire government first.  You’ll probably get those student loans paid off.

13. Shop online aggressively and from the safety of your own couch.  Forget the concern about the loans; they’ll disappear swiftly upon the start of the nuclear war.  Remind yourself that the shopping is necessary because it’s the holidays.  Ignore that your buying proportions favor yourself heavily this year.

14. Allow yourself to get swept away in the holiday magic.  You’re normally not that into Christmas, but you swallow that cheer this year full stop.  You wear that Wizard of Oz- themed Christmas sweater unironically, like you swore you never would.

15. Leave the country.  Act a little smugger than necessary when announcing it.  Women and children are first off the Titanic, thank you very much.

16. Shed your American skin for an international lifestyle.  Make sweeping proclamations about the End Times to the European backpackers who try to comfort you with tales of their own atrocious leaders.  Inquire about the qualifications needed to work at a Peruvian hostel.  Climb some mountains and feel good about the metaphor you’ve created for yourself.  Instagram with abandon.  This could be the last Valencia-worthy moment you ever get.

17. Return stateside to 2017 for an intense optimism tour.  Those mountains really changed you.  You can and you will fight this new state with sheer enthusiasm.  Make that vision board.  Book those trips.  Cram fun and joy into every nook of the coming months.  Confidently scream at each of your friends: THIS WILL BE OUR YEAR.  They’ll agree.

18. Organize your life obsessively and frenetically.  You can gain some control in a world that seems as though it will never be predictable again.  Creating sublevels within your to-do lists is the only sane way to live, you are so right.  Staying up two extra hours to folder your emails is good time management because that’s the important work.  Color-coding your planner will change things in 2017, that’s gonna be our mantra.

19. Tearfully watch montages of the Obamas and Uncle Joe to mourn what once was.  Curl upDie.  Ponder getting a tattoo in honor of the whole gang.  Reconsider because that will truly upset your grandma (anti-tattoo, not anti-Obamas).


20. Circle back to #18 and note, curiously, that those thoughts have historically signified a surge of anxiety and a rather urgent need for medication.  Medicate.

21. Rediscover, slowly, your center.  Pick one, small, manageable cause.  Return to your beloved ol blog.  Start reading for fun again.  Buy ice cream.  Talk to your loved ones.  Say aloud, cheesily and with increasing conviction, that you will be okay, we will be okay.  Breathe deeply and go forward.  You cannot fix the world, but you cannot remain paralyzed by its troubles and your own fear.  Maybe you aren’t fired up and ready to go.  Maybe you are still terrified, anxious, and disappointed.  Maybe you will always remain with her, but she is moving forward, and so, too, are you.

2016

Hi there.

Did you watch this?

Did you read this?

Please do both.  It’s all I’ve been thinking about for the past two days.

I can’t stop reading this line over and over again: “The grief and the magnitude of loss I heard in that boy’s crying reminds me that we cannot indulge in the luxuries of apathy and resignation.”

It’s 2016, and I have largely protected myself with apathy and resignation, for a variety of legitimate and selfish reasons that ultimately don’t matter.  It’s easier to think such things aren’t your problem, and while I could never fully convince myself of that, I definitely could convince myself that such things would never happen to me or to the people I love.  Thus I could create distance, and when you have distance, you can care but in that artificial sort of way where there are no stakes and you have a passing thought of, “Oh, that’s really awful for them . . . glad it’s not me!  Now let’s go back to lighter thoughts.”  I’m an ace at lighter thoughts.

But here is the thing.

It’s 2016 and I worry more about my dad existing in America as a black man than RUNNING INTO BURNING BUILDINGS as a firefighter.

It’s 2016 and my mom had to have a talk with my teenage brother about not making any sudden movements around the police, in the event they pull him over for a traffic infraction and decide, I suppose, to shoot him.

It’s 2016 and I have alarmingly little faith in the justice system — and I am a first-year lawyer who expected to have at least a couple years of being naively energetic and optimistic about the noble calling I have chosen.

It’s 2016 and when I listen to this 15-year-old boy sobbing that he wants his daddy, I hear myself and my little brother and every other kid it could be and will have to be one day.

It’s 2016 and this is not the world I want to bring my future [sparkling and adorable] brown children into.

So maybe I am confessing that I am forced to care because it feels too personal.  Of course, in reality, this has always been my problem, it’s always been everyone’s problem.  But you know how people work.  The best of us have hearts so big and shoulders so strong they can carry all of the burdens.  And I have watched with awe some of those people, those who committed to doing the hard work from day one.  Most of us are not those people.  Most of us fall back on apathy and resignation until the burdens get so close that you are forced to confront them.

And when the police kill another person for being black in America, and another and another and another . . . I have to confront it, and I have to question everything.  I question our law enforcement agencies and our justice system and our media and our institutions and our country, the one we’re told is the greatest in the world (for whom, exactly?).  It even makes me question whether O.J. really did it after all (joke! No one has ever been guiltier than O.J.).

Most uncomfortably, it makes me question myself.  What am I doing?  Anything?  I have thus far been a loyal ally on the social media sidelines.  I cry when appropriate and complain when appropriate and share the requisite videos and well-written opinion pieces and even now, I am writing the requisite blog post.  I am, after all, a respectable liberal millennial.

But I have not acted, not really.  Because it’s depressing and I’m “busy” and other people are doing so much more than I ever could and the action is in other cities and where do you even start and sometimes I donate some money and hey, that’s something, right?  And let me tell you, in the whitest of jobs in the whitest of states, it is all too easy to hide under these excuses, particularly when you are just trying to fit in and do your job and get through the day.  But as more Americans who look like my family and could be my family — could very well be the people who are the most important to me in the entire universe — are massacred on the street for doing the same things (or less) that you and I do every day, it becomes harder to merely shake my head and be horrified from the sidelines.  It becomes harder to justify inaction, claiming I’m too busy billing hours dealing with discovery disputes and case management strategy at my cushy big law job (which I enjoy and am grateful for and don’t want to leave so please don’t take this as a sign of that if anyone from work is reading this!!!), when it feels like the world is burning all around us.  In 2016, my own silence is deafening.

Which brings me to the next step: what can I do?  This is an honest question, so please, if you have answers, I am all ears for guidance and suggestions and partners.  The Internet, always a treasure trove of people yelling suggestions at each other, offers a billion ideas, and one of my quirks that I spin as endearing (but actually is a terrible defect) is that I want to do all the things all at once, or I want to do nothing.  So before I go all in and then realize that’s not feasible, I need to be thoughtful about how to effect change in the way that makes the most sense for who I am and what I can offer.  After all, would Alexander Hamilton be the legend he has come to be if Washington hadn’t forced him to write, not fight? [A 2016 blog post is not complete without a Hamilton reference, lest you forgot my penchant for pop culture.]

Do I feel embarrassed that, as a well-educated, upper middle class attorney with access to virtually unlimited resources, I am asking that question?  Sure.  But here I am, asking it.  Because I’m also a 26-year-old in Kansas City asking how to stop the systemic and societally-condoned execution of an entire population by its own police force tasked with protecting them, and I’d venture that’s enough to make anyone feel powerless.  But I’m not powerless.  We’re not powerless.   I’m not sure what’s next, but 2016 is the end of my apathy and resignation.

Stay tuned.

Faking it: Creating the Illusion of Confidence

Confidence does not come naturally to me.  I am in awe of people who jump into a new situation and feel completely at ease doing the following: allowing themselves to be vulnerable, making mistakes, vocalizing their opinions, contributing right away, feeling like their ideas are the best ones, etc.  Let me reiterate: that is so not me.  But adulthood is basically a rollercoaster of alternating confidence-building and confidence-destroying exercises, and so I am forced to be on the ride.  Lawyering is a particularly potent career for working out your confidence issues because there are simultaneously so many rules and absolutely no rules.  Being a lawyer essentially is years of trying to learn a new language, moving to a foreign country where everyone who actually lives there speaks the indigenous language, then after figuring that out, TURNS OUT, fluency actually entails making your own, better language.  Confidence is hard to come by when you are still trying to get a hold on the introductory phrases.

I always think back to a 1L fall moment.  Before law school, I happily participated in class without intimidation because I initiated it myself.  Once I entered the unique funhouse that is law school, where the cold call looms large, and where the material was much harder than it had ever been for me, I became supremely nervous.  I had no confidence in myself, especially because it seemed like so many of my classmates were really confident and really self-assured.  One night, while reading for Contracts, I read about a tricky distinction between contractual language that allowed for performance in different ways.  Thrilling, I know, but it was complex for a 1L class.  I knew our professor would cold call his way through the class until someone explained it.  To be the person I wanted to be – the person who was confident, self-assured, and eager to volunteer – I had to fake it. Tough subject + huge class + intimidating professor meant I was not confident, self-assured, or eager to volunteer.  I read the text repeatedly, made a chart to explain it to myself, then practiced explaining out loud in my bedroom.  OUT LOUD like a level 10 nerd.

The next afternoon when the professor asked the question, my stomach dropped and I briefly hesitated because, what if it’s wrong, what if I’m an idiot, what if everybody hates me – you know, the usual ballad of an anxious mind.  But I wanted to prove to my professor, to my classmates, and to myself that I could handle law school, that I could articulate myself, that I could put myself out there.  So I preempted the cold call, raised my hand, and answered.  Note that it was probably 15 seconds max, and no one else cared, but to me, it was a big moment.  I was extra proud when the professor asked me to explain it once more because my description was “nice.”  NICE!  Coming from him, “nice” was basically a trophy.  This tiny moment gave me the confidence to seize opportunities and show up in the arena every day, even if I didn’t feel completely sure of myself (I often didn’t, oh well), even when I worried I was too much of a gunner (I often was, oh well).  Soon after, I had zero fear in any class, any activity, with any professor, because I found my confidence.  I faked it til I made it.

Now I’m a first year associate in this large law firm setting, and most of the time I am in my Contracts seat all over again.  Every day holds an assignment I’ve never done before, a concept I didn’t learn about in law school, a procedure I had no idea existed.  I love the pace, the variety, the constant learning; I will never get bored.  Right now, I am in Florida at my first trial, which is super fascinating and completely unlike anything else I’ve done so far.  But in these first five months, while I’ve been doing everything required of my 1L self – I do the reading, I show up, I’m taking notes, I participate – I have little confidence and am not yet at the level where I want to be: someone who feels comfortable always speaking up and making suggestions or having answers or being a vibrant member of the team.  Someone who is in the arena every day.  I know authentic confidence will come with time and experience, as it always does.  Until then, my approach is to fake it til I make it once more.  These are my seven pro tips for creating the illusion of confidence:

Make a mountain out of molehill (in a good way).  At this point, there are so many things I can’t anticipate because I don’t know they exist, let alone how to spot and tackle them, but I am starting to see patterns.  People are impressed when you point out an issue or suggest an idea, even if it’s insignificant or not great.  So stay on high alert.  Maybe it’s a small drizzle and not a hurricane, and it’s not like I have a clue how to prepare for or recover from a hurricane, but I can at least point out that it’s raining and take the lawn furniture inside. Someone has to do that, and it can be me.

Practice out loud.  I will never – and I do mean never – do any public speaking without practicing.  My actual worst nightmare – like the one they’d make me do on the Bachelor because they exploit your fears for America’s entertainment (and I love every second) – is stand-up comedy alone in front of my peers.  And unfortunately, I have chosen a profession where there is some degree of extemporaneous public speaking, and so I will have to – and I want to – get better at that.  But most of the time, you can practice. Even if it’s an informal convo, if the person intimidates me, I will practice my intro and my “casual tone” in my office beforehand. I am making myself sound cooler by the sentence, aren’t I?  For the introverts among us, though, physically practicing what you’re going to say goes a long way in manufacturing confidence.

Grab the easy points.  For lawyers, and I imagine for most professions, style seems as important as substance.  Formatting, bolding and underlining, tables of contents, headings, attaching relevant documents as attachments, offering a highlighted hard copy – THEY EAT THAT UP.  It makes you look way more capable and intelligent, even though it is literally just basic word processing functions that you learned as a fourth grader. Similarly, I can avoid typos, the stupid and careless errors that keep you up at night and make you question your very existence upon discovery, by triple-checking everything I write.

Edit out the signs of low confidence.  I can fix the weak language in my verbal and written communication by erasing things like “maybe” “well I don’t know, but” and “just.” JUST!!!  Officially calling for a ban of “just” in work emails, and I’m not the only one.  Self-deprecation has a time and place and it is most definitely not in the work email attaching the project you spent an entire week completing.

Make a “Good Moments” List.  Sometimes you just have to drown the self-doubt out with your own Greek chorus of compliments.  Every single day I write down at least one good moment from the day.  Sometimes it’s a sincere work victory, like a valuable answer to a question, or a draft I feel great about, or a meeting where I learned a ton, or even just a fulfilling conversation with someone.  Sometimes it’s “made it home and ate ice cream for dinner while watching Gilmore Girls.”  Find the successes where you can.  I also keep a folder of enthusiastic praise emails.  To you, dear partner, it may have been a routine email with generic positive feedback, but to me, these are words that’ll sustain my self-esteem for weeks.

Humanize the mythical people.  My own personal Boggart spell.  I’ve never met as many brilliant, dazzlingly impressive people as I have at this firm.  When I am especially intimidated, I aim to reduce the feeling that we have nothing in common, which is where I think most fear comes from.  Once you ask humanizing questions – oh, where’s that artwork from? How are your kids? What did you do this weekend? – you realize they are normal people like you and me!  They also watched the KU game and they are also working for the weekend and they are also trying to lose 10 pounds.  Then when I submit a project or get feedback on a draft, I am getting feedback from Normal Relatable Human who once was a first-year associate, not Acclaimed Trial Attorney who has always had the swagger of a champion.

Ask WWASWMD?  That’s “what would a straight white male do?” and it is wildly effective.  Think mid-career Leo Dio (a timeline, for reference).  Confidence is a gendered issue, no doubt, though I have plenty of brassy female friends who are naturally extremely confident.  But at the end of the day, law firms are a SWM’s game and I’d like to win it one day.  Sometimes I channel particularly confident people at my firm and consider how they would respond. I have rewritten emails, attended happy hours, and walked into meetings actually acting in a film in my head of me emulating an entitled white guy.  Maybe I’ll get that Oscar before Leo.  Kidding.  I saw The Revenant.  Just give the man the award so we can finally give him the wacky rom-com he and Kate Winslet deserve.

These hacks will take you pretty far; old-fashioned hard work and patience will carry you the rest of the way.  Still, it behooves us to remember that we are objectively the least knowledgeable people a lot of the time in our offices.  Evolutionarily speaking, those who are too confident end up dead sometimes.  The world cannot sustain a population entirely built on Kanye-level confidence.  But a healthy dose, even if it’s manufactured out of an illusion, is absolutely critical to getting out in the arena and learning to be fluent in a totally new and a totally rewarding language.  You, too, can fake it til you make it.  Here, start with this.

 

The Law School Curriculum I Actually Needed

A modest proposal from a first-year associate at a law firm.

First Year:  Start from the bottom.  Get a grip on how little you know and learn some foundational office skills.

  1. A Brief History of Big Law: Origins of the Hierarchy So You Understand Who Is Powerful and Why  I imagine a Hocus Pocus-style Book here.  Someone with an old-timey, vaguely magical accent teaches this.
  2. The Billable Hour: Figuring Out What the Hell You Spent All Day Doing.  But… I was at work for 10 hours…  where did the time go?” — Me, most days for the first three months.
  3. Excel.  Just …. basic Excel functions.
  4. Business Casual For Women in January in the Midwest: An Illustrated Class  Women you trust provide a guide on which dark neutrals go with which other dark neutrals.
  5. The Legal Community Is Small: Horror Stories To Scare You Into Professionalism  Taught by the street-smart professor who practiced big law for a stint and knowingly chuckles at the ridiculousness of it all.
  6. The Delicate Art of Delegating: How to Work with an Assistant When You’re 25 And Clearly Have Never Had An Assistant  Learn quaint nuggets, like: in the olden days, assistants typed things for you.
  7. You Know Nothing: Accepting You Have Infinite Questions and Learning How to Present Them Without Being a Moron  Taught by a self-deprecating, younger guy with a penchant for pop culture references “to keep it relatable.”
  8. How to Email. This should probably replace the entire first year curriculum, but we don’t have the bandwidth for that. You hate it while it’s happening, but you appreciate it once you’re done. It’s a year-long course with a seven-part series:
    • Do I Reply, Reply All, or Not Reply to the Eighth Email in This Chain?
    • Okay, But Do I Formally Address AND Formally Sign off the Eighth Email in this Chain?
    • Foldering Your Way to Success
    • Crafting a Meaningful Subject Line
    • Closely Reading The Entire Email Chain To See If Someone Is Asking You To Do Something
    • Managing the Constant Stream of Emails and the Reality of Being Accessible 24/7 in the Electronic Age
    • Ouch! That Typo Really Makes You Look Bad: Edit Your Emails 3 Times, Every Time.

Second Year: It’s a busy year – buckle up for some hands-on training and hard lessons. You’re really in it now.

  1. Office-Appropriate Euphemisms for “Shit, I Fucked That Up. Sorry.”  The curve is brutal.
  2. Constructive Criticism  Professor gives you constructive criticism all semester and you practice accepting it graciously. You can cry, but that’s an automatic half letter grade deduction.
  3. Maximizing Caffeine Intake, Minimizing Bathroom Breaks  Because you gotta stay awake all day but you can’t keep getting up to pee.
  4. Learn to Say “Yep! I Can Help!” in 100 Ways  Fulfills foreign language requirement. Makes you marketable.
  5. Time is a Tricky Thing.  Some days the professor gives you four assignments to do, all due by next week. Some days she lets you out early. Some days you wonder if class has been canceled without you knowing. There’s no syllabus.
  6. Small Victories: How the Tiniest Successes Can Last All Week If You Need Them To  You go into this professor’s office during office hours just meaning to ask a quick question but you end up sobbing for 45 minutes. This accidentally happens twice more.
  7. Absorbing Brilliance Through Brief Interactions with the Smartest People You’ve Ever Met. Similar to osmosis. It’s science! Taught by the douchiest professor in the building, but you know he’s smart so you still listen.
  8. So You Want to Be An Adult: Taxes, Savings, and Other Money Things So You Can One Day Retire  Played like a game of Monopoly; still shorter than a real game of Monopoly
  9. Are You The Person Who Knows The Answer to This Question?  Practical skills course, set up like an obstacle course, replete with various dead-ends and unexpected redirects.
  10. “Find this on the system”: Tips for Finding It and Billing As Little As Possible  Another practical skills course, in the format of a timed race to increase efficiency and create pressure.

Third Year: You can handle the technical skills of a law firm.  Now coast through your third year as you try to figure out the nuances of the environment and how to navigate social situations successfully.

  1. Schmoozing: A Master Class  It’s a pass/fail class because either you’ve got it or you don’t. All the Cool Professors join up to teach but this skill can’t be taught.
  2. Build Your Own Office  You slowly acquire plants, wall hangings, candy, a white board, etc. throughout the semester.  The final exam requires you to hang the damn diploma up so it’s not still in your car five months after starting work.
  3. Alcohol in the Workplace  Intersession course where you attend various alcohol-laden events and try different drinks/amounts/combos to determine when you need to send yourself home. A startling number of Fs awarded each semester.
  4. Sitting and Staring At a Screen All Day  Physical ed requirement. (I actually did take the beginner level class in law school but I should have done the advanced class).
  5. Existing as a Young Brown Woman in a Law Firm: A Seminar It’s heavy, but it’s meaningful. We talk about our feelings. Naturally, we’re in a circle. One brave feminist male signs up but still says a couple offensive things throughout the course.
  6. Office Politics It’s a third year internship in a Real Law Office.  You either finish with a six figure salary or you’re blacklisted from the legal community.
  7. Elevator Small Talk Afterwards, you can sign up for the advanced course, Face Time With People Who Matter.  Extroverts eagerly enroll.  Introverts have to be bullied into it.
  8. Actually Completing a To Do List  Only rumored to exist; open exclusively to the top 10%, but they’ll send around a school-wide email so everyone knows who got invited.

CONGRATS! You did it. Go be a lawyer, you shimmering star, you.

[Note 1: In all seriousness, I actually enjoyed nearly every law school class and I learned a ton.  It is laughable, though, how different law practice is from law school, despite hearing that a million times before starting work.  For what it’s worth, the most useful classes I took, by a long shot, were my Legal Writing classes.  So grumble away, dear 1Ls, but I have had to write and speak like a lawyer using those foundational skills much more frequently than I’ve had to whip out my substantive knowledge of any subject.  Shockingly, no one has come knocking to use my mastery of obscure property concepts just yet, but fingers crossed.]

[Note 2: I hope it goes without saying that I love my law firm.  If I didn’t, I would be too terrified and too  mired in my own misery to write this or even think of light mockery.  Mainly, I find it crazy how much has changed in the transition from school to real life.  Law school is like playing college basketball: gotta do it before you go pro, but don’t be surprised when you are benched in your first season and then you airball from the longer three point line when you finally get to play.]

growth, gratitude, & goodbyes

It is my last week of classes ever. Forever ever. In two weeks, I will be finished with law school classes. A couple weeks after that, I will have a JD. I will be a LAWYER! What?!? In a move that surprises exactly no one, I have been reflecting a lot on these past three years, law school, and what it’s meant for me. In another move that is exactly as surprising, my main takeaway from the whole reflection exercise is nothing wise or definite but essentially just AH THIS IS CRAZY WHAT IS HAPPENING. But in a move that legitimately does surprise me (but maybe shouldn’t, as I have become a real sap), I am much, much sadder than I thought I would be.

The last three years have been, in many ways, the hardest three of my 25. It was a big transition for me, coming from five years of living away from home, to be footsteps away from my adolescence again. Kansas seemed exactly the same, but I felt like I had changed. That was an interesting process to navigate. It was like being thrown back into something I knew intimately, but in a warped, kind of uncomfortable way. Similarly, I was coming back to being a student after a year (only one year, albeit it a long, busy, meaningful one) away. This was also like being thrown back into something I knew, but of course, law school was like nothing I had ever done before.

Law school itself was a rollercoaster. I have detailed my ups and downs on ye ole blog, and please feel free to go diving through the archives, but it basically came down to this: school was sincerely difficult for me for the first time in my life. I felt personal doubt. I felt uncertainty. I felt a lack of control. I felt a distinct competition with the same people I was supposed to be friends with. I was in school with people who I felt had different values than I did. I felt like I did not have time to be perfect at everything. I felt that I had to give up everything else to focus on four letter grades that would (in my mind) determine my whole future. Don’t get me wrong: there were a lot of things I always liked about law school – the classes, the professors, the relevance, the opportunities, the intelligence of my colleagues, the extracurriculars, among other things. But there were a ton of downs, too, and all of these things were new and they were scary. They brought out the things I truly hate about myself — jealousy, aggressive competition, anxiety, paralyzing fear, self-pity, withdrawal from socializing, low self esteem, obsessiveness — and they brought them out viciously.

The upside of all this change was that it forced me to fall apart and then come back together better and stronger. Once I saw all these crappy characteristics come out, I was able to identify them and start working on them. Because I was spending basically all my time sitting alone and studying, I had a lot of mind-wandering time to consider what I wanted out of law school and out of this time in my life. So began what I can only describe as a physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually taxing process of growth.

You know how in your teen years you go through growth spurts and feel actual, physical pain while you’re growing? I mean, I only grew about three inches, but my brother shot up like a foot and it seemed like it was actually painful for him. That’s how I’ve felt about the past three years. I have experienced an inevitable, powerful, physical change in who I am — one that has been uncomfortable but necessary, awkward but pretty awesome.

Sometimes I wonder whether I would feel the same way had I done something else for these past three years. Was this intense growth a result of law school or does this happen to everyone in their mid-20s? I imagine it’s some of both, and that everyone goes through this process. Law school probably just forced me through it in a louder and more focused way. For me, it was because I was forced to confront the things I didn’t like about myself; it was because I was forced to interact in an environment that I didn’t always like with people I didn’t always like; it was because I was forced to make life-altering decisions about my future.

This story ends happily. The second half of law school has been wonderful. I have pretty much loved it. The challenges specific to law school settled down because I got good at them, so I was able to focus on other things. I toned down the crazy and started liking who I am again. I enjoyed all my classes again instead of focusing on the grade. I found the best job ever with the best co-workers ever. I devoted time to having fun. I made the effort to nurture old friendships and develop new friendships. I jumped at the opportunity to spend time with my family. I started reading for fun again. I put effort into how I looked on the outside because I liked who I was on the inside. I traveled. I exercised. I cooked. I said YES to things. I started making goals, personal and professional, that were things I sincerely wanted to do and not just things I felt like I should do. Honestly, I could do 3L year over and over again. There are still classes I want to take, activities I want to do, places in Lawrence I want to explore, memories with my law school buddies I want to make.

I won’t try to compare this to some sort of traumatic event because those analogies are ripe for a maddening debate where people are endlessly offended, but I will say that now that it’s winding down, I pretty much think only of the happy times and I don’t want to say goodbye. I think of the law proms and the professors I admire and the happy hours and the summer associate events and the cool things I read about and the laughter in classes and the celebrations of finishing finals and the study sessions and the friends and the relationships I’ve built. And that’s what I will think of when I think of law school. All the crap fades away and I’m left with how much I’ve learned and how much I’ve gained and how many connections I’ve made. And I feel sad. And I feel nervous. And I feel like, yet again, I’m about to start something completely new and scary and unfamiliar. After three years of getting comfortable with my life, life is shaking things up and throwing me out to grow again.

Let me be clear: I am really excited to start practicing law. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better first job. I am ready for business trips, Kansas City, making new friends, working with the most brilliant people I’ve ever met, working with real clients, taking on new challenges, learning what it’s like to be a lawyer, the perks of a big firm, and the money (duh). I feel older, wiser, and sort of ready for the world. I know this is the next step. I am not done growing, not at all, but I am ready for what’s next. But, as with every new hello, the necessary goodbye is hard, much harder than I ever could have expected.