Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Last Thursday (October 26) was National Pumpkin Day and today is Halloween; it seems like a fitting day to conclude my “Giant Pumpkin Growing Lesson” series.
For the first four installments (read #1, #2, #3 and #4 here), I not only detailed my experience growing a giant pumpkin, but also tried to empathize with first-year law students. For this final post, I’d like to focus on “passion,” which I believe is an essential element to successfully transition from novice to expert.
You have to be truly passionate about the work in order to perform at a competitive level over a sustained period of time.
During the early morning hours on October 14, I officially entered my pumpkin in the Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Grower’s annual weigh off. At 516 pounds, my pumpkin took 35th place out of 38 eligible entries.
Many of the more experienced growers were impressed with her* shape and color, but commented that she was simply “too small” to be a real contender—even in the rookie category. These other growers would then immediately follow-up their statement with a question about my plans for next year. Although each of their questions varied slightly (e.g. “What seed will you grow next year?” “Will you be performing a new soil test?” “Do you think you can outgrow your husband?”), implicit in every question was the notion that I would undoubtedly be growing a pumpkin again next year. I responded to each of their questions with a straightforward answer: “I’m not going to grow another pumpkin. This was a one-time-thing for me.” Then, almost universally, a sense of disbelief would appear on the questioner’s face for a brief moment before a Cheshire Cat grin would settle in across their lips. The grinning grower would respond with something like “Oh, give it a few months. You’ll be itching to plant a seed in the spring.”
After the third or fourth time, it dawned on me that the other growers simply did not (or perhaps more accurately, could not) believe me. Because these vegetable enthusiasts love growing pumpkins so much, they are unapologetically eager to get back in the patch and try something new. The fact that I was not as equally eager seemed too confusing for them to accept. But for me, most days in the patch were a chore that I could manage, not a task I wanted to master.
I suspect that both the “can do” folks and “want to do” crowd exists in the law student population as well. The question then becomes what do we, as academic support professors, do to assist the “can do” students; that is, those students who are able to achieve the minimum benchmarks of success, but are likely disinclined to challenge themselves during their three years of school. Can we motivate someone to evolve from “can do” to “want to do”? And, is the evolution really necessary?
With regard to the latter question first: I submit that the evolution is imperative to long term success in the legal field. Extrapolating from my own experience trying something new and challenging, I feel comfortable asserting that in order to be content and fulfilled while working long hours, you have to be truly passionate about the project. Therefore, if a law student possesses a can-do attitude, but doesn’t actually enjoy the work, he will eventually lose interest and the quality of the work will suffer. In law school that translates to mediocre grades, but in legal practice poor quality work may result in the loss of a client or even malpractice. In addition to producing lesser quality work, the student will be fundamentally discontent and unfulfilled. Perhaps this helps explain the extraordinarily high rates of depression among law students. The difference between me—the novice pumpkin grower—and the law student is that I have the luxury of walking away after one season. Giant pumpkin growing is just a hobby, not a career path. On the other hand, most law students—because of financial commitments, family pressure, or a lack of personal insight—are not in a position to just walk away from law school after one year. Even if the student finds the entire first year a laborious chore, his can-do attitude will likely convince him to return for another year.
So, if we conclude that the can-do student is likely to persist through all three years of law school, even if he finds the entire process somewhat miserable, then what can we do to help transition his mindset from can-do into one of want-to-do? How can we make him passionate about his project? I suspect that identifying the student’s long-term career plan and then tying law school tasks directly to his individual goal(s) may prove useful in reframing his motivation. A more defined end goal may motivate the student to engage beyond the basics and eventually spark a real passion. Numerous ASP articles outline the benefits of curiosity, self-directed learning, and internal motivation in achieving academic success. My own experience echoes these scholars' findings.
Looking forward: next time I encounter a can-do student, I plan to spend a few extra minutes trying to identify his real passion, and (hopefully) tie that passion directly to his legal studies. In short, I hope to spark a passion for the law which should better equip and inspire the novice to transition into an expert who is excited about facing new challenges and his own potential for exponential growth.
*Like most sailing vessels, giant pumpkins are referred to using female pronouns.
Happy Halloween! (Kirsha Trychta)
Novice grower at 516 pounds on the left; expert grower at 1,337 pounds on the right.