June 24, 2012
What Mowing My Lawn Taught Me About Law School - Lesson 1
[Before I begin, I must give you some background. I made a vow. I was about nine years old. I swore that when I grew up, I would never do yard work again. Long story short, my mother used to get us up early on Saturday morning to go outside and pull weeds from the garden. I hated it, and I promised to myself that I would live in a home surrounded entirely by concrete, Astroturf, or some other substance that neither grew nor required tending of any kind.
Flash forward 30 years. My wife and I bought a home a few years ago. Since I left my childhood home, it is the first place I have lived with a lawn. (To be clear, I had enough therapy since childhood that I did not argue with my wife about buying a home that had an actual yard.) A few days after we moved in, we were awoken at 7:30 on a Wednesday morning by the sound of several lawn mowers. After first thinking that I had moved into a Stepford situation where our neighbors all did the same thing at the same time, I realized that a lawn service was cutting the lawns of several of my immediate neighbors. I immediately ran outside to find out how much I could pay to have someone cut my lawn once a week. The answer was $30. And I paid them.
One additional piece of background information. I am cheap. I hate paying other people for something I can do (or can learn to do) myself. So, after paying for the lawn service for a couple of months, I couldn't shake the idea growing within me that I could save a lot if I mowed the lawn myself. So, I started mowing my own lawn. And here are some lessons I learned . . . .]
LESSON 1: YOU CAN’T FINISH IF YOU NEVER START.
I like sleep. I like sports. I like food. That means it is possible for me to spend an entire Saturday watching TV from the couch, with brief forays into the kitchen for snacks. And, I don’t feel guilty about it – at least not if everyone else will just leave me alone.
Of course, that never happens. The first weekend after I got my new lawn mower, my wife gently asked, “So . . . are you going to mow the lawn today?” “Yes,” I said. “I’ll do it later.” So, I’m sitting on my couch, watching a golf tournament and eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich . . . time is passing . . . and the next thing I know, it’s starting to get dark. “So,” my wife asks (slightly less gently than before), “what’s going on with the lawn?” My response: “Well, it’s getting kind of dark, so I’ll just have to get to it tomorrow.” The pressure, obviously, is building. I have to cut it on Sunday, obviously, or there’s going to be trouble.
At some point on Sunday, I decide to start mowing. In my mind, this is going to be an ordeal. I have to make sure the mower is set up correctly. I have to go purchase gasoline. I’m not sure if the lawn mower takes straight gasoline or a gas oil mixture. It could take hours for me to read through the owner’s manual to find out the answer. God knows what other problems might arise during the setup alone. Do I even have shoes to wear? I’m not wearing my nice sneakers – they’ll be ruined for sure. I’m hungry. If I start now, I might miss something really important on the golf tournament. I really need to just sit down and collect myself for a few minutes. I deserve to rest. I’m a really busy person. There is nothing immoral about a man sitting on a sofa and watching golf for a couple of hours.
I grab the remote, but my wife gives me that look that only wives can give husbands or librarians give to the lady who decided to take a call at full voice in the quiet reading room. I immediately accept that I am not going to be watching golf. So, I suck it up. I find some old sneakers that I used once when painting. I go outside, after grabbing a bottle of water out of the fridge (it is important to stay hydrated). I buy some gas (I had the foresight to get a gas can, so this involved just a short drive down the street).
Once I finally started, a day and half late, it only took me an hour – maybe a few minutes more – to finish. I finished with a sense of pride and accomplishment. My lawn looked great. And I actually got to watch the end of the golf tournament.
What this taught me about law school:
My own experience reminded me of so many things that come up when I meet with students. A legal writing paper is due in a couple of weeks, or there are 50 pages of text to read for class on Tuesday. It is so easy to procrastinate, and the excuses mount.
I’m tired. I have too many other things to do. Everyone is going out tonight, and I might miss the best night out ever if I don’t go. I'll do it tomorrow. I don’t study well at home, and I don’t want to walk to the library in the rain. I’m hungry. The baseball game is on. My back hurts. I really should vacuum the carpet. Did I feed the cat? This is going to take me at least ten hours, and I only have eight hours to work right now. It’s overwhelming. I just need to rest for awhile. I deserve some rest. I'm a really hard working law student.
But you have to understand -- the paper is not going away. You'll have to do the reading eventually. You may not be lucky enough to have someone looking over your shoulder, telling you to start. At some point, you will just have to listen to the voice in your head urging you to get motivated. Sit down at the computer and start typing your memo or brief. Open up your casebook, grab a highlighter, and start reading. You almost certainly will surprise yourself. It probably won’t take as long as you fear. If you don't start, the task, like grass, will continue to grow. As you put off your work, other tasks will be added to your to do list. So, just get started.
If you never start, you’ll never finish.