Saturday, October 10, 2015

Advice for Law Students: Think about Thriving, Not Just Surviving

Professor Larry Krieger has written an article addressed to law students about the attitudinal approach they should take. Students can succumb to “survival thinking”:

Survival thinking goes like this: “Oh my God, law school is so hard, everybody is so smart, my profs are so knowledgeable. How will I measure up? My loans will be so much, how can I get those few jobs that will cover my needs?” This attitude will naturally drive you to constant worry, late nights and studying most of the weekend, and pervasive self-doubt about your ability to compete for grades and ultimately get a job.

Survival thinking has severe drawbacks:

This approach to law school is common, and it is exhausting, but where is all this stress coming from? It is your belief system, not the work. You have bought into the messages that you have to do better than the other students, have to look smart and in control all the time, won’t get a job if you aren’t in the top of the class — and the result of failure will be a nightmarish life. With this belief system, survival anxiety becomes a nearly constant reality that clouds your enjoyment and undercuts your performance, despite the fact that the schoolwork itself is doable and that learning could be inherently enjoyable.

OR, students can adopt a “thriving attitude”:

The “thriving” attitude is quite contrary, and you all will encounter students who naturally adopt it. It focuses more on intrinsic motivations — including self-improvement and growth, and relating to, helping and being in community with others — and optimistic expectations.

Certainly, law school is demanding. Still, students can choose the thriving approach:

Start openly accepting that reality now and deal with it constructively by focusing most of your attention on what you can do today to advance intrinsic goals that are in your control (i.e., learning, self-improvement, relating well and helping others). That is your best foundation for law school and for life. As you increasingly focus on building now toward worthy goals, you waste less of your time and emotional resources on worrying about the future.

Professor Krieger offers valuable advice. Nonetheless, although the survival attitude may diminish, it never disappears completely. But the focus on thriving is worth the effort.

You can read more here (Best Practices for Legal Education, Oct. 2, 2015).


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