By Jordan Carter • June 03, 2015•Writers in Residence
Balance is not something that comes naturally to me. My default gears are zero or 100. I would either like to be doing absolutely everything -- taking every class, participating in every extracurricular, volunteering for every opportunity, attending all social events, hanging out with all my loved ones, saying YES to absolutely everything (2015 is my Year of YES), all while maintaining my own personal well-being -- or doing absolutely nothing -- and that means Netflix, Jimmy John's, and not a thing else. I don't naturally create boundaries or limits for myself because I want to experience EVERYTHING and miss out on nothing. Or I just want to rest.
Up until now, this lifestyle has been relatively sustainable. Once the semester starts, I snap right into Student Mode, where I know the exact amount of effort I need to exert to keep up with my obligations and still do all the other stuff I want to do. I've learned how late I can wait to outline, how many practice questions I have to do, how much time I can spend traveling, how many nights I can go out, how many things I can sign up for, how many hours I'll need to devote to this activity, and so on. I have mastered being a student and going at 100 for as long as I've needed to do it. Want me to come visit you for a weekend? YES! Need a volunteer for a project? YES! Want to go out to celebrate something/anything? YES! Does it mean I'm always successful in this goal? No way. I get tired, I get overwhelmed, and things start slipping. I can squeak by because I've learned how to navigate this particular world, but I pretty much always end up run down and a little regretful of something (or someone) I've neglected.
The problem is that I have always had the comfort of a set end date, a shining beacon calling out to me, "JUST MAKE IT HERE AND YOU CAN LOUNGE ENDLESSLY." And so I push on for another two days, or two weeks, or two months, and then the reward arrives and I can be the lazy bones operating at a level zero like I was meant to be. I rest up in a big way, like in a "sleep for 12 hours and then get up only to move to the couch and watch an SVU marathon for five hours" kind of way. I can go days on break not doing anything remotely productive and I feel totally fine about it because I'm a master justifier and I tell myself I've "earned it." I basically stop caring about any outside responsibilities and internally retreat for awhile. I let myself fully recharge and then by the time I go back to the next semester, I completely forget I had intended to change things, instead going back to 100 like a garden variety idiot.
But everything is changing now (dramatic but true), and I have to learn how to balance better. There are serious and severe consequences for not being able to balance your life, whether those are consequences for your health, your personal relationships, your work product, your reputation, your happiness, or whatever else is being compromised. When I forget to send an email to my 1L study group, whatever. I can fix that. When I'm a little sloppy on my Law Review teching (just kidding, that would never happen...), the impact is minimal. But now I'm about to go work at a law firm with hundreds of people who are legitimately counting on me to do my best work every day for the next 50ish years -- co-workers, supervisors, partners, clients, opposing counsel -- and screwing up presents an actual problem. Combine that with moving to a new city and having all these new opportunities, work-related and otherwise, is going to be such a temptation. In my Year of YES, I have about a billion things I want to say YES to, which is awesome, except that I have this thing called Real Life Responsibilities that I actually have to put first on my YES list. And -- the kicker -- there are no more summer breaks to collapse into.
When I start lawyering, I want to be great at balance. I want a tried and true plan to be able to: cook a healthy breakfast! Wear bright yet professional outfits! Work efficiently and brilliantly! Make time to go to happy hours! Hit all my billable hours! Get involved in the community! Exercise! Network! Keep up with the news! Do professional development! Be a good friend! Be a good family member! Keep up with my number one passion, TV! And I want that all to happen in the same day. How do I do all those things that I feel will be important to me in the coming years as I start my lawyer life? I have no clue.
As a classic law school type, I figure preparation and control are all I need to succeed. A well-crafted to-do list can move mountains. So I've been reading and listening everything I can get my hands on, from TED talks to Lean In materials to books to the Real Simple podcasts to blogs, to get a sense of how to best approach being a 25-year-old working professional who still wants to have a busy, meaningful social and personal life. But I figure the best way to learn it is to just do it, and so I am trying to think of studying for the bar as my first opportunity to put my intentions into practice. For this little two month endeavor, there is no way I can operate at 100 -- there is just not time to do all that is recommended to pass, in addition to having a fun and active summer -- nor can I operate at 0 -- because a zero means I fail the bar and thaaat would really put a damper on things.
The only answer is balance. I have been experimenting with scheduling my time in different ways. I try to balance my day to accommodate the things I have to do (listening to lectures, practice problems, flashcards) with the things I want to do (exploring new neighborhoods, reading for fun, socializing, traveling). I skip out on some things I want to do (nap, binge watch The West Wing) so I can do things I REALLY want to do (happy hours, lake trips). I reduce the pressure to do things I should do (go for a long run, do all the practice essays) and settle for good enough (go for a short walk, do some practice problems). When I can, I combine what I need to do and what I want to do: I go to a cool coffeehouse to study for a few hours; I reward a productive session with something I've been wanting to do; I spend extra time cooking a particularly delicious meal because I still gotta eat. I'm getting better at saying no sometimes so that I can yes when it's really worth it. I'm trying to be competent in what I have to do while still trying to maintain the things that are important to me. In short, I am starting to balance. Although I am far from perfecting the skill, I am getting better. And for now, that's enough.