Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Self-reflection and success

I frequently write posts for this blog on articles about research on thinking, learning, and success. This post will be about an article on the connection between self-reflection and success. Unlike most of my posts, I question whether this advice, without further qualifications, should apply to law students. While I think self-reflection is critical to success, the type of self-reflection advocated in this article might be damaging or dangerous when applied haphazardly to law students.

The article, from the New York Times, is titled "Secret Ingredient for Success," and chronicles the "self-examination" practiced by restauranteur David Chang, proprietor of Momofuku in New York City. His restaurant was failing, when he decided to subject himself to "brutal self-assessment." The article goes on to discuss the work of a Harvard Business School professor who studies what happens when people find "obstacles in their path." The findings suggest that people who struggle, but subject themselves to "fairly merciless self-examination" find success through "reinvention of their goals and methods."

I think self-reflection is a critical part of success, especially for law students. Law students should be thinking about their thinking, thinking about what they are doing right, where they can improve, and how their methods of study, reading, and writing contribute to their successes and failures. I find that many students can solve their own problems if they take the time to think about their own choices. It's easy to say "I want to be successful in law school" but it's difficult to admit to self-defeating behaviors, like playing video games for hours, drinking too much, or prioritizing a social life over studying.

Where I become concerned for law students is in the "merciless" and "brutal" part of the self-reflection. Law students receive no feedback until they receive negative feedback. I think it's easy for a law student to say to his or herself, "Qualified experts (law professors) think I am a B/C student. Reputable news sources say that B/C students cannot get jobs. I know I feel over-my-head, exhausted, confused, and depressed. What is the next step to turn this around?" While many students will look for support, some students will look to self-destructive means of self-medication and treatment to deal with their feelings. I think it's very important that self-reflection is paired with tools and resources to help law students who find themselves in a tough situation. So I agree with the idea that self-reflection is important to success, I think that it's not enough to tell students they need to reflect on their challenges; we need to support students as they begin the journey to become self-reflective practitioners. (RCF)

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