Monday, January 14, 2019
As the winter continues, my colleagues make more and more hot tea. The Keurig makes that process much easier, but when thinking about the upcoming semester, making tea in a tea pot comes to mind. The way many people view success and habits is inconsistent with reality. Success is generally like making hot tea.
To make hot tea, you fill the tea pot with water and turn on the burner. The water looks calm and is cool to the touch. The burner begins heating the water, but the water remains still. The water continues to heat and reaches 150 degrees but remains still. After more time, the water reaches 200 degrees. Nothing happens. The temperature rises to 211 degrees, and the water remains still. However, in a mere instant when reaching 212 degrees, water begins to boil with bubbles bursting on the surface. The water looks nothing like the calm from only 1 degree before. The constant rise in temperature didn’t produce anything to see, but each degree brought the water one step closer to boiling. Each step made a difference.
Law studying is similar to the tea pot. Spending five more minutes looking at materials doesn’t produce immediate results. Doing another set of practice questions doesn’t generate instant gratification. Finding another supplement may not help answer more Socratic questions in class. However, all of those actions raise the level of understanding in a subject. The continued work throughout the semester raising the temperature can lead to hitting the boiling point on final exams.
The book Pounding the Stone tells a fictional story about this idea. The book’s title refers to a poem about a stone cutter. The premise is the stone cutter hammers away at a stone. Each blow has an impact, but the impact is not seen. At a certain point, the next blow cracks the stone. Persistence, grit, and habitually doing the small things in spite of no visual feedback produced the remarkable result.
The stone cutter is another good analogy for law school. Many students don’t understand the big picture of a subject until the end of the semester. The large outline is not clear until delving deeper into the material to determine how topics relate to each other. Reading cases doesn’t seem to produce much understanding outside the holding of the particular case. Professor questions are hard to relate to previous classes. The feedback for whether students understand the material doesn’t happen for months. Pounding the stone is difficult but necessary for success.
Approaching this semester, I urge students to “pound the stone” as the book dictates. Make sure to do the fundamentals of studying and practice to reach the boiling point. Read every page of the assigned readings carefully, which may require many students to slow down. Brief every major case. Create a comprehensive outline, chart, or other study tool. Meet with faculty regularly to clear up misunderstandings. Complete practice questions and receive feedback. Craig Groeschel said it best, “Successful people do consistently what normal people do occasionally.” Results won’t be immediate. Finals don’t happen in February. Be consistent and pound the stone this semester to be prepared for finals.