Laws of Life

A long table sits in the center of a room. Chairs are set up on either side, separated by small name tags that make a white dotted line down the center. On one side, 16 distinguished lawyers are seated with relaxed expressions, each with a small Dasani bottle sweating beads on condensation onto the table top. They are volunteers, men and women who have traveled from their respective hometowns to give advice regarding a career in law. We, anxious undergraduate students, sit across the table and contemplate the years of schooling and experience that span the carpet separating our chair legs and theirs. These professionals see reflections of their former youth in confident juniors and seniors biting at the bit for the chance to prove they have what it takes to be an “Attorney at Law.”

Speed Mentoring, 3-minute conversations with lawyers in a variety of fields, was a great idea. My university thought it would be helpful for pre-law students to have personal interactions with people who might be hiring in the next 4 years, people who had gone to law school and lived to tell the tale. I got a variety of advice:

1. Study for the LSATs. Get into the best law school you can.

2. It is an extremely competitive job market now, compared to when I graduated. Know what kind of law you want to practice.

3. “Well I was between graduate school and law school. Then Harvard Law called me and told me I had been accepted. You don’t turn down Harvard Law.”

I left the event feeling a little shaken. My reasons for wanting to attend law school, I found, were vastly different from a number of lawyers and students I had spoken to. Environmental law doesn’t make a lot of money, isn’t about large corporate firms or Tier 1 networking. There is no glamor, no high-profile grove of trees or celebrity Superfund site. But then again, I realized I didn’t know what environmental law really was or if it would be something I could do. I need a stable job, sufficient income, and comfortable bed just like anyone else. Reconciling the needs of daily life with a young person’s desire to “make a difference” is difficult to do.

And the LSAT, my Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s golden ticket to law school, is a dull bronze at best. What is it about standardized tests that makes a person question everything he or she previously believed about intelligence and future success?

I tell myself I’m improving. I say I am capable of anything. And yet the practice tests and bubble sheets layered deep within my brain convolutions have begun to seep black tendrils of doubt deep into my logical core. The  forecast of failure is hard to erase. Comparing my brain capacity, summed up in a three digit score, to thousands of other students in the country ripping their hair out over that third logic game or last logical reasoning section isn’t particularly appealing either. Should I stop looking toward the 90% percentile as a hopeful future and string a hammock between the lower half of the percentile curve instead? That I cannot answer. All I know is that I want to do well because  I expect that for myself. Because I’m terrified a bad grade somehow translates to bad person. Irrational but honest.

My godmother sent me an e-mail this week, detailing her similar studying experience regarding an online update for her family practice boards. I can say with absolute certainty that she is one of the most intelligent people I know, with a memory perfectly designed for medicine and standardized tests. She wrote, “the questions are ambiguous, the references don’t provide the answers to the questions, the site doesn’t work well and last but not least, IT MAKES ME FEEL STUPID.” She asked if this was similar to my LSAT preparation and voiced her sympathy.

And that’s the fear: realizing you aren’t as intelligent as you thought after all. The feeling of smallness.

And so I’ve realized that I do not fear the LSAT on October 1st, nor do I fear the work associated with law school or bar certification. I fear that rejection somehow reflects who I am as a person, measuring how much or how little I will accomplish in my life. But rejection, any rejection, does not define me. My self-worth is nothing a test, a law school or a job offer, can take from me. And who doesn’t struggle now and then with the feeling your contribution is just a raindrop in the universal ocean of human kind?

That is the Question?

As children, we question everything. “Why is the sky blue?” “What’s in this soup?” “Where do dead things go?” It is our way of examining the world with our tiny magnifying glasses of innocence and wonder. To me, asking questions was an effortless and necessary part of figuring out people, objects, and my pet cat Charlie to which I was allergic.

In high school, we would get extra points for having questions whenever a guest speaker came to talk. Before the first sentence was uttered, hands would be raised flapping in the air like birds in flight. The answers were never important. The fact that we had come up with a question was satisfaction enough.

Questions in college got harder to ask and even harder to answer. The questions required thought and the answers were less available in their purest form, reduced to scratched prisms that twisted and bended beams of thought. I started to learn the power of the question, of a question, in how one lives life and values the opinions of others. I wanted to ask a big question, an important question. And this desire to find one large, expansive question lead me to my decision to write a senior thesis.

At the end of my junior year, my thesis question seemed far away and full of possibility. I could research whatever interested me, searching for answers to the question I posed. But that question is no longer a mirage in the distance. Yesterday, my thesis advisor informed me that I had a lot of great ideas about the Philippines, its social structure, and internationally funded environmental protection projects. My adventures over the summer would definitely come in handy over the next 7 months when I would begin to wrestle with the available data. But right now what I needed most of all…was a question. A simple request at the surface, but coming up with just one question proved harder than I could have imagined. And I am struggling…

My grandfather sent me a gift last week, tucked inside one of his homemake cardboard boxes. The small wooden carving about two inches high had come alone. No note, no explanation. But isn’t that the way of questions?  They often appear quite out of the blue, just to make sure you’re paying attention.


Senior in College

It’s raining today in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. A slow and steady rain that knocks against the leaves outside my bedroom window. The weather is still warm and muggy and I’m reminded of the Philippines weather during rainy season. My summer experience feels so far away.

Being back at college for my final year is wonderful. My five girlfriends and I have moved into our new house, nicknamed Blue Crumbles, and are slowly learning to cook dinner, take out the trash and wait in line for the single shower. My room is the biggest room I’ve ever had and I feel like I’m coming home every time I climb the stairs and open the first door on the left. There is a sense of freedom gained from living off campus, a sense that life is slowing down and waiting for you to catch your breath. And that’s the catch. Life isn’t waiting, isn’t looking behind with an outstretched hand. Life is sprinting full speed ahead and you close your eyes hoping you’re moving in the right direction.

I could write about my first desperate attempt to cook dinner which resulted in the blandest eggplant dish known to mankind. I could detail the hours of sorority practice and conversations for recruitment in order to snag the best pledge (we did). Or the last Dance Company auditions I would watch, multiple attempts to begin my thesis and grabbing lunch with friends I haven’t seen since sophomore year. My last two weeks have been great but the words end and last continue to creep into my brain, a shadow of self-doubt about the future that lies ahead.

I took my senior pictures last week and got through most of the fake half-smiles before realizing the reason for the pictures. Wearing a cap and gown and posing with the tasselled hat against my chest I felt strange and confused. Later in the week I sat in my first 3-hour LSAT prep class and thought about the step after the preparation, after taking the test. Law school. Do I want to be an attorney? I can’t even decide what I want to make for dinner let alone the next three years. And considering I signed up 3 days after the deadline and have to drive 40 minutes to the test site I would say I have long-term planning issues.

So my blog is not going to turn into senior year quibbles but I needed a chance to say my future is fuzzy. And how that can be daunting at times, the way the night sky looks when the blackness extends outward into space. But I can only live one day at a time and today was a pretty good day.