A friend of mine posted on Facebook today that it’s been ten years since our first day of law school. I’ve been thinking about it all day. Everyone else from our class made comments about how it couldn’t possibly be that long ago. But I feel the opposite–it seems like a hundred years have gone by. In fact, I had completely forgotten about my embarrassing first day of law school (the first of many, many embarrassing moments that year) until it popped into my head just now while I was putting the girls to bed. I almost don’t believe this happened, because I haven’t thought about it in so long.
I had just moved back to the DC area after working and living in South Africa (the first time around) and meeting Dan. He was living in Chicago at the time, and I decided I would live alone (gasp!) for the first time ever. This was not a cost-effective decision, and it’s a decision I will be paying off for years to come. But no matter. I enjoyed picking out new furniture and framing some of my favorite photographs on a very tight budget. Instead of a desk, I had a card table. In lieu of a bed, I had a lumpy futon. My one splurge was high-speed Internet access, until halfway through the year when I had to take on a second a job and cut most of my expenses just to pay the rent.
The week before my first week of classes, I did all of the required reading. I’d seen The Paper Chase and knew that the professors loved to torture new students via the Socratic method, which basically just means putting people on the spot by asking them questions when they least expect it. I didn’t quite understand the point of reading old case law, but I was ready to answer questions about the fact patterns. I did a test run on the metro during rush hour to see how long I needed to leave before class in order to get to school on time. No problem, I thought. I am going to be organized, efficient, and keep that scholarship by staying in the top 10% of the class.
The morning of my first class, I got up early, made coffee in my new coffee maker, re-read the case law and hopped on the metro, feeling pretty smart. It wasn’t until the train had gone a couple of stops until I realized I was in the District of Columbia. My apartment, and my law school, was in Virginia. My heart sank when I got off at the next stop and saw that there wasn’t another orange line train for 15 minutes. I had allowed enough time to get to school about 15-20 minutes before my class. But now I would arrive a few minutes late. And I had no excuse: I went to college in DC, worked there in the summers all through high school. I knew the trains and all the stops. How could I have been so stupid as to get on the wrong train? Needless to say, I jogged or drove to class from that day on.
When I finally got to class, the professor had already started talking. There was only one seat left in the front row, so everyone saw me walk in late. I tried to be cool, tried not to look like I was falling apart. No one said anything to me about it, but that little mistake left a lasting impression on me. I felt dumber from day one. If I couldn’t even get to school on time on the first day, how could I stay in the top 10%? I worked harder in that particular class than any other, probably so I could make it up to that professor for being so disrespectful on day one. In the end, I was easily in the top 5% of that class–and it was the hardest final exam I’ve ever taken (ask me about causal nihilism sometime). The rest of my classes were nothing to write home about. I had a lot of distractions: two jobs, a boyfriend 700 miles away, a marathon to train for. At the time, I was mad at myself for not being more focused on getting good grades in every class. But now I am much more comfortable in my skin. I don’t want to focus on just one thing to the exclusion of everything else. I don’t actually want a career that takes up all my time and energy. I don’t think I ever did. I’m glad that I get to do legal research on occasion, and I always loved contract law so it’s a good thing I do a lot of contract negotiations. But I also get to spend a lot of time with my family and explore my artistic side. It’s all about balance, and avoiding labels or all-or-nothing thinking. Some days, you’re the dummy who gets on the wrong train. Other days, you land a long-term contract with a dream client. And in the ten years in between, there are just too many beautiful days, too many unforgettable moments, to worry about being late to class.