Letters from Berkeley


I never took off a weekend from studying in college. Not one weekend! I didn’t need to find fun on the weekends because I could see no alternative where the enjoyment of the activity would outweigh my stress over not doing work. If there was a night that I did not do work, it was only because I had just taken an exam or turned in a paper.

Ironically, that way of life changed in law school. It wasn’t until this past week when I realized the extent of that change, and paradoxically, the extent to which my old habit and anxieties are still a part of me.

During fly-back week, I traveled to South Carolina to see Steve, my boyfriend. Steve learned he would have to undergo a relatively minor surgery on the day I was supposed to arrive. I was happy that I could be there for him, figuring he would be fine by Tuesday, the day I was scheduled to come back to Berkeley.

By the time Tuesday morning rolled around, I was sad to leave but excited to get back to school. However, Steve had some complications from his surgery and had hinted that he wanted me to stay longer. At first, I thought he was kidding.

Realizing he was serious and fearing he might be upset if I left, I decided I could stay at least a one-day longer. No problem, right? I knew I could do my work in Columbia and be just as productive as I would have been in class.

I went back to sleep for a few hours only to wake up in a panic. I had work to do. Even though I had brought my books with me, the idea of missing class irked me. But despite my obsessing, I spent the next two days thinking that if I left, I would regret going back more that I would staying there.

And then it hit me. All of a sudden, I realized that going to class did not mean what it once did to me. I think the reason why school isn’t important to me now stems from my first year at Harvard when I was rudely awakened to the “harsh” reality of the Harvard grading system. Yet the aftermath of learning to deal with life as an “average” person has helped put my life in perspective. Had I been here at Boalt, for instance, I wouldn’t have had to deal with the Harvard reality of Bs and B-s as Boalt has a four-tier grading system, in which students receive variations of passing, and 60 percent of students get a plain Pass. Harvard humbled me and at the same time made me realize that life has much more to offer than getting straight As.

By Thursday morning, I had finally decided to chill out and let go. I realized that by staying, I was letting go of what is perhaps my most consistent yet irrational attachment. As important as school and work is to me, I now realize they are not everything. Neither my books nor my classes could console me if I had my own surgery to deal with, for instance. I am embarrassed to admit it took me so long to rearrange my priorities, but I guess that’s what happens when we are under the misconception that life can be lived for a letter grade.

By the end of the trip, I was sad to leave. I had not completely escaped my obsessing or worrying, but it had subsided considerably. I have come to view this latest experience as a challenge, another psychological conquest over myself. At the heart of my resistance to staying with Steve was my desire to always have to know exactly what was going on in class. Yet now I know I’ve come to value things that are more important to me than school; paradoxically, Harvard Law School helped me reach this conclusion.

I am happy to say that in the end, I stopped weighing Steve’s need for my presence with the benefits I would have received from going to class, and I just trusted that I was doing the right thing. He wanted me there, whether or not I could really understand why.

I guess that’s my next obstacle — learning to appreciate the things in life that can’t be articulated in words. It’s an especially hard task to do considering our value as lawyers is so caught up in our ability to articulate what others can not do themselves. I guess that’s one of the lessons I’ve learned in the past few weeks. Needs and desires exist even if they can’t be spoken or written. The challenge is to let go of that which makes us valuable commodities, to let go of thinking like a lawyer when not in our roles. Having personally been raised by two lawyers, that’s going to be formidable, but I’m looking forward it.

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