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.