By Jordan Carter • December 04, 2015
2015 has been the very best year. For the first 10 months, it felt like a nonstop celebration. 3L spring I had one class, a job secured, and a whole lot of free time. Many weekends I jetted off to visit friends or if I was in town, we had some event or gathering or at least senior year lounging. After that, we basically celebrated law school graduation for a month. Studying for the bar was not fun, but it wasn’t terrible and once that was over, we had another license to celebrate for a month. I started a shiny new job, got to celebrate my best friend’s wedding, and got to dive into Kansas City living (Taylor Swift! Happy hours! Fall fun!) with money for the first time.
Everything was easy because I felt like I had complete control. I knew what I was doing and how to do it well. Once I have control, everything else falls into place. I am kinder, more patient, more engaged, more responsible, more likely to say yes, a better friend/co-worker/family member, I keep up with my personal life, I am just better on the whole at existing in the world.
Then November happened.
[Spoiler: this isn’t like a tragic Behind the Music story. It’s merely a low grade The Universe Humbles You moment.]
After doing a sort of victory lap around life, life got kind of hard. Being a first year associate means losing a lot of control – of what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, how much we’re doing, when we’re doing it. It is starting over after spending three years getting really good at something. Yet again, I had no idea how to do anything, and that sort of incompetence for me triggers a whole host of other (dramatic) thoughts: Why am I so slow? Why can’t I figure anything out on my own? Am I even contributing anything valuable? Am I forgetting something urgent? Am I writing this motion correctly? Am I doing anything correctly? Am I billing enough? How will I sustain this lifestyle for decades? When will I ever have time for my kids? Okay, note that I don’t even have a boyfriend so really freaking about my nonexistent, way-in-the-future kids was a sign that I was not in a great place.
Starting a real life career has also been a major transition of my whole lifestyle. At first, I tried to maintain the same casual, spontaneous thing I had going for the past year – “sure, I’ll come visit you next weekend!” “yeah, let’s go out!” “oh, I’ll just finish that late tonight when I’m most productive.” I’ve had to let go of how things were and make real adjustments. And that has been hard, because I had a comfortable, really fun thing going. But at the end of the day, working as a first year associate at a law firm cannot support the same lifestyle as a third year law student. I felt myself slipping into my bad habits that come when my anxiety flares up. I become antisocial, irritable, exhausted, unhealthy, and disorganized. I can manage everything okay, I’m not like spiraling out of control, but I’m certainly not living my best life, and everything sort of declines. I knew if I didn’t turn things around, it was only going to get harder later down the line.
The upshot of being an anxious person is that this wasn’t my first time at this rodeo and I am able to get out of the mess much sooner. Instead of being paralyzed with stress, letting everything suffer for months, and feeling like I might be going crazy (a la past Jordan), I know exactly what I’m feeling, and I can address it and move on from it. And that’s what I'm doing. I’ve had to reintroduce structure and boundaries into my life. I’ve had to replace my bad habits with better habits. I’ve had to reprioritize what’s important to me in this stage of life. I know exactly how to take care of myself. I just choose not to do it sometimes.
I look back on this year and think of A LOT of highlights. I've traveled more in the past year than ever before, I've spent more time with the people I love than I had in years, and I've had some big accomplishments in 2015. But life isn’t all European vacations and weddings and theme parties and World Series championships, despite what my Instagram would have you believe. For the sake of being authentic, I believe in sharing the unfiltered moments, too, and this past month or so has been tough. So for the 1L who is having a panic attack at your first set of finals, to the 2L who is so, so tired from the worst semester ever, to the 3L who might finally be feeling a little stressed out as a result of coasting all semester, and for the fellow first year associates who are trying to figure this all out – I feel you. The career path we’ve chosen can be a lot of things, but it is not easy. It’s OKAY to have real feelings. It’s OKAY to vent to someone or ask for help. It’s OKAY to say well crap, right now this is hard and I’m not doing so hot. That’s real life and we all experience it. And take it from me: your year can be an incredibly full year – with highs and lows and upside downs and sideways – and still be your very best year.