Law school is hard. This is not an arts degree and I don't think we're in Kansas anymore kind of hard. I knew it would be, but I don't think I ever expected just how hard I'd have to push myself just to keep up with my cohort. I've never reached dux status but I'm certainly used to being in the top tenth percentile of my academic pursuits. In law school, everyone comes from that same crop and suddenly what once got you through with glowing praise, now barley laps at the status quo.
I learned this the hard way this week. Upon getting my marks back for the first assessment of the semester, I was hit with a wave of disappointment. I stared at the 65% result for a good two minutes before spontaneously bursting into tears and questioning my life decisions. A tad dramatic, I will admit.
I can handle a bad grade when I know I didn't put the effort in. I copped a few in previous studies, for essays I threw together the night before. However for this particular assignment, I thought I had it nailed. I started early, I read all the materiel and I gave myself plenty of time to edit and re-check. I felt confident that I had engaged and understood the concepts at hand. Thats when a bad grade stings the most; when you may have deserved it, but really didn't expect it.
I'd like to say that I recovered well; that I studiously examined my markers feedback and re-traced my steps, satisfied I'd found my error and ready to move forward, but... I didn't.
I cried. I lamented to my long suffering girlfriends via out group chat that I was a failure who'd never graduate. That little performance was followed by a grumpy afternoon of binge eating and hiding in bed. I didn't pick up a book for 3 days afterwards, instead opting to tidy the kitchen and bathroom from top to bottom.
The fact is: falling short of your own expectations sucks, and whilst its okay to feel a bit shitty about it, it shouldn't de-rail your progress. Below are the things I wish I'd done in hindsight.
1. Breathe & Walk Away
Take a moment to sit with your disappointment, but don't let it consume you. Scream into your pillow and then take a few hours off and go shopping. Or make yourself a cup of tea and lose yourself in a non-uni related book or trashy magazine. Do anything other than staring at the mark or beating your forehead on your desk.
2. Pay Attention to the Feedback
When you're ready to get stuck in again, start with the feedback provided by your marker. Read it in full. Make an appointment with your tutor for further clarification if need be. It feels really good to have that lightbulb moment of "ah ha! I know why that was wrong and I know the right answer!" Faith in own ability = restored.
3. Don't Compare Yourself to Others
You don't know what their transcript looks like. Law students in particular don't make a habit of heralding their less than wonderful grades, but you can bet your bottom dollar they exist. Upon sharing my disappointment with a few classmates, I was met with a sympathetic chorus of "oh yep, been there!". Someone whose dedication and smarts I admire admitted she had actually failed the same unit. You're not the only one, and you will bounce back.