Imposter Syndrome: An Orientation Recap

I can’t quite believe that it’s been almost exactly a month since I started at Harvard. The time has flown, at least in part because I haven’t had a whole lot of time to catch my breath (in a good way, mostly). But I wanted to write a post about the orientation experience to give a window into what starting at HLS is like — I think it did a really good job of setting us up to create a solid environment for ourselves and for each other.

One of the first impressions I got upon coming to campus is that Harvard Law School is HUGE. I knew that conceptually, but the law school population itself is almost as big as my (large) high school — about 1800 students. In order to make it easier to get to know people and avoid getting lost in the shuffle, HLS divides the 1L (first-year) class into seven sections of about 80 people, each of which has a professor as a section leader. It sounds like a lot, but orientation is basically four days of intensive section bonding, so we all got to know each other really fast. At this point, I recognize everybody in my section and probably know about 90% of the names.

The first day I actually got to campus was a Wednesday, and I was just there to pick up my campus ID. As I was walking out of the main law school building, someone on the faculty stopped me and greeted me by name. To say I was taken aback would be an understatement. He introduced himself as my section leader and Torts professor, and then I finally connected him to the headshot I’d seen on the website. I can’t say that this is necessarily the norm for section leaders, but before orientation had even really gotten going, this professor had taken it upon himself to learn all of our names, first and last.

Orientation started in earnest the next day, and we had the typical slew of info sessions, panels, and tours, interspersed with a few section-specific meetings. In addition to our section leader, we had six 2Ls and 3Ls (second- and third-years) who acted as orientation leaders/mentors for our section (and who later TAed our Legal Research and Writing class). We call them our BSAs (because they’re part of the Board of Student Advisors). One of the things the BSAs did on Thursday was run a session to get us ready for cold calls in the classroom (I’ll write a full post on what that’s like later — in the meantime, if you’ve seen The Paper Chase, Legally Blonde, or any of the other law school movies, you’ve got an idea). Our BSAs, because Section 5 is the best section, accomplished this by asking us hard-hitting questions about Harry Potter. I was cold called on whether Ron Weasley deserved to end up with Hermione Granger. As you can imagine, especially if you’ve ever experienced the depth of my love for Harry Potter, this was a good sign that I came to the right place.

Another highlight of orientation was our section leader playing the full video of “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Mulan, definitely one of the best Disney pump-up songs ever. But in addition to that, it turns out that the lyricist is an alumnus. Go figure.

But there were two themes that took center stage at orientation (besides all the typical administrative, etc. stuff). One was set particularly by our section leader. He put strong, repeated emphasis on the importance of creating a supportive, loving community for each other, particularly within our section. He told us he expected us to learn all of each other’s names by face and by voice (for conversation in class), and that our experience here and our future after would depend heavily on the extent to which we supported each other now. It could easily have been an empty admonishment, but the fact that he’d taken the time to learn all of our names and things about our backgrounds made us take it a lot more seriously. Everyone in the section has been really nice, helpful, and open in the last four weeks, and I give a bit of credit to our section leader for that.

The second theme came up both in our meetings as a section and in the more general panels and talks for the whole entering class. Time and again, we heard a variation of, “We did not make a mistake. You deserve to be here. You can succeed here. You are not a fraud.”

Law school can be hard and scary. You’re surrounded by startlingly accomplished, intelligent people, both as professors and classmates, and it can be easy to convince yourself that you don’t belong among them. My classmates seemed a little confused by this emphatic and repeated refutation of “imposter syndrome” so early in the process, but as a writer, I recognized the symptoms that they were working to head off.

When you’re doing something hard, something risky, something that doesn’t offer constant feedback or allow you to gauge exactly how you’re doing at any given moment, it’s easy to doubt yourself. Even if, or maybe especially if, you’re used to being really good at things. How can you know if you’re in the right place doing the right things? Maybe, really, you’re just fooling everybody, just pretending. But what if they find out that you’re a fake?

My Property professor wrote our casebook and is working on the next one. My Torts professor argued the Supreme Court case he had us read for our mock class during orientation (and was the Executive Director for investigations into the Gulf oil spill). My Crim Law professor for next semester has argued a bunch of cases for the ICC and worked on the Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Doubtless they and all my other professors have done lots of other impressive work I don’t even know about. This is terrifying, to say nothing of the amazing accomplishments of my classmates. It’s easy to go, “I just turned 23 and I’ve never had a full-time job. What am I doing here?”

Imposter Syndrome is a lie. There are lots of reasons for that, but one is that everyone is faking it. No one knows what they’re doing. Not in law school, not in writing, not in life. So decide that you have a right to be where you are, not to the exclusion of everybody else, but alongside everybody else. Take up space. Practice your art. Have opinions and learn why you’re wrong, or right.

If you’re in law school, or thinking about going to law school, know that sometimes, you’ll feel like you’ve pulled one over on everybody else, and maybe on yourself. That’s okay. It’s normal to feel like an imposter when you’re doing something hard, something worthwhile. You don’t have to do it forever, but at least give yourself a chance. Keep speaking up in class, even when you think you’re wrong. Keep participating. No one is 100% sure what they’re doing, either.

If you’re interested in more on this topic, LS Hawker and I talked about self-doubt and Imposter Syndrome on our podcast in May, and you can check that out here.

So orientation was a great time getting to know everybody and reminding ourselves that we all deserve to be here. Keep an eye out for an upcoming post on my first few weeks of class and how law school really works. Have questions you want a law student to answer? Toss ’em in the comments!

The Law School Diaries: Moving In

As of today, I’ve been in Boston for ten days. After all the lead up to getting here, it doesn’t seem possible that this year has finally started.

When last we left off, I was panicking a bit about late financial aid applications and immunization forms. The moral of the story is, I (unsurprisingly) was a little more panicked than was necessary. After much ado, I am indeed here and going through orientation. Everything is not finished (I will be very happy when my financial aid cash advance finally comes through, and even happier when all the extended loan paperwork is taken care of), but I have a Harvard ID card. For now, I’m happy. But let’s back up a little.

After a life-giving week spending time with friends in Pittsburgh and wishing a dear friend good luck in her own next chapter, I flew into Boston Logan on Thursday evening. I managed to pack up pretty much my whole life (besides my book collection) into a large suitcase, a medium suitcase, a carry-on, and a giant backpack. I have one box being shipped to me, but otherwise, I have to pick up everything else here.

I got to my Cambridge apartment fairly late in the evening after some flight shuffling. I fell pretty immediately into bed, which consisted of a futon mattress on the floor with a box fan in the window pointed directly at me. Cambridge is hot in the summer, and we don’t have central air.

On Friday, I finally got to see Cambridge in daylight, and I took a long, meandering walk through the neighborhood. It’s pretty awe-inspiring to live a short walk from this and this. Cambridge is full of history, memorials, huge trees, and old churches. Plus, the Harvard campus is enormous, and a lot of the architecture is really cool.

I’d given myself a lot of time (I didn’t have to be here until Wednesday), so I spent the weekend hanging out, mostly sitting around and sweating before I got my A/C. On Sunday, I walked down to a local farmer’s market, which I have within walking distance three days a week! Yay inexpensive local produce! I’m very happy about that. I also ordered groceries from a delivery service since I don’t have a car, which didn’t end up coming until Tuesday. When they did finally come, I broke in my kitchen by having my first cooking session. Chicken curry success!

Over the course of the several days I had before orientation, I managed to assemble a mattress, bedding set, stack of pillows, and a window A/C unit, most of which I got through Amazon Prime. I still don’t have my bed frame, so I still feel a little like I’m squatting here — curse you, mysterious shipping delays! But that should hopefully come soon.

Once my financial aid comes in (#gradstudentlife), I’ll be able to get a desk and some drawers so everything I own will no longer be crammed into my little city-dweller closet. I’m liking the new place, though — the location is amazing and my roommate’s pretty cool.

I know I’m cheating by making you wait until my next post for info about orientation (it’s good — you’ll like it), but I feel like I should wait until orientation’s over to summarize it. Orientation continues Monday and Tuesday, with class starting on Wednesday. But just to keep you interested, highlights include Harry Potter, a puppy, Merrick Garland, and some CMU pride. Stay tuned!

Dealing with Difficult Relatives

Any time I see an article on this topic, the advice generally goes something like this: “We know it’s hard to disagree with relatives sometimes, but they love you and want you to be happy, so as long as you explain to them that what you’re doing makes you happy, they’ll be kind about it even if they don’t agree with you! Then everything will work out just fine!”

I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I define difficult relatives. Continue reading

Starting “The Law School Diaries”: Law School Prep

This August, I have the amazing opportunity to start studying at Harvard Law School. While I’m at it, I decided I wanted to start a blog series on my experiences for those of you who are interested in maybe going to law school one day, or even are just curious about what the experience is like. For those of you who are going through law school right now, I hope this series can be a companion in your journey — I’d love to hear about your experiences, too!

The Road So Far

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Creation over Consumption: A Challenge

Our lives are an ever-changing balance between creation and consumption. Mindful and intentional consumption is important and essential–consuming food, resources, and ideas, when done with intention, contributes meaningfully to our lives and helps us contribute meaningfully to the lives of others.

Unfortunately, though, our culture is largely one of mindless consumption. When we’re bored (or just not overstimulated), we scroll through Facebook, flip on the TV, or surf Buzzfeed. We play mobile games while we’re waiting in line. We listen to the news in the morning and the radio in the car, and spend the rest of our day with several tabs of email open and social media sending us notifications every five minutes.

On the other hand, how much time do we spend every day creating value? How much time do we spend on creative hobbies or passion projects or actively contributing to our health? If you’re anything like me, that amount is much, much lower. Some days, it might be non-existent. Continue reading

Prioritizing like Warren Buffett

In a post on Live Your Legend, Scott Dinsmore talks about one tip on prioritization that Warren Buffett gave his pilot. The system goes like this:

  1. List the top 25 goals you want to achieve, either in the next few years or in your lifetime.
  2. From that list of 25 goals, pick your top five most important. Put those on their own list of current goals.
  3. Put the other 20 goals on another list.
  4. Avoid those 20 goals at all costs until you achieve the first five.

Sounds a little terrifying, doesn’t it? Committing to five goals so much that you’re willing to sacrifice all of the others to achieve them? But, according to Warren Buffett, that’s how you become successful: focus on your highest-priority goals to the exclusion of all else. There are a lot of good articles out there about why taking advice from those in extraordinary circumstances can be less than helpful, but I think this one might be the exception to the rule. Continue reading

Four Steps to a Peaceful Evening

I can’t count the number of blogs I’ve read on the importance of beginning a morning routine. You hear so often about how everyone’s lives would be better if they just got up a little earlier and did a little more in the morning. While I’m fully in support of taking advantage of your mornings, it seems to me that finishing your days well is just as important as starting them well. If you’re ending your days feeling exhausted, stressed, and behind in your work, here are some ways to make that time a little more positive. Continue reading

Your Health: This Time, It’s Personal

If you knew absolutely nothing about health and fitness and set out armed with Google to learn how to live your healthiest life, you might not get very far. Go vegan! No, go vegetarian! No, eat lots of meat! No, eat only fish! Exercise every day for seven minutes! No, exercise twice a week for two hours! There’s no shortage of information on health out there, but much of it is completely contradictory. If you then found yourself determined to dig into the science, you’d find the same thing. Beyond a few commonly accepted truisms (don’t starve yourself or over-stuff yourself, move your body consistently, eat more vegetables), even the science seems to give different answers.

For a lot of people, this leads to decision paralysis. Well, if I can’t figure out what’s best, they think, I guess I just won’t do anything at all. Or, maybe worse, I’ll try everything but give up before I have time to make any progress. All this conflicting information causes you to self-sabotage from the very beginning. Continue reading

Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things (a review)

On Wednesday night, I had the opportunity to go see a screening of Minimalism, which is a documentary put together by The Minimalists, some of my favorite podcasters (much better known for their website and books). Unlike their other projects, though, this was mostly dedicated to yelling the stories of other minimalists, including Courtney Carver, Joshua Becker, Leo Babauta, and Tammy Strobel. What’s awesome about that is minimalism is often portrayed as something only single white guys do, so it was a lot of fun to see the ways in which these other individuals interacted with the idea of minimalism. Continue reading