(Written by Susannah Thomas, a WIL Committee member.)
PREFACE: Last week I had a deadline to provide an article for this blog, but here I sit over a week later finally drafting this article. Ironically, I wanted to write about finding balance and moderation in our lives, and of course, the very moment I was ready to wax eloquent on the subject, I found myself dealing with a dental emergency first thing that Monday morning that took nearly 5 hours of my day and later that week attending a colleague's funeral that also took a half day. The combination of those two events left me off balance and 24 hours behind all week. So, yes, despite my best efforts and good intentions, I still have a lot to learn about how to find balance, and particularly how to regain that balance following unexpected situations. That said, I do have some thoughts to share on this subject that will hopefully help others accomplish this more successfully than I have.
The title of this blog piece comes from verse 20 of section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants in the LDS scriptures, commonly referred to as the Word of Wisdom. For those who may not be familiar with the Word of Wisdom, it was a revelation given to Joseph Smith that serves as a guide (with some specific restrictions) for diet and nutrition, but I think really teaches a broader principle of exercising moderation in all of our life activities. This principle has always made sense to me with my dietary choices, but little did I realize how its application would ultimately play a large part in my success in law school.
At the beginning of each academic year the members of the BYU Law Alumni Association are invited to attend a breakfast with 1L students so that the students can, among other things, discuss worries, seek advice, and ask other questions that are on their minds. I have attended this breakfast for many years now, and each year I'm asked how to successfully get through law school. I could certainly try to say something brilliant about how to study, or share from my perspective as an adjunct professor about how to respond to the professor's questions, but I really don't know all the answers to these questions – it is different for each person. However, there is one bit of advice that I always give, and that is to find balance and moderation during the next three years; something that I learned the hard way during my first year of law school 14 years ago.
I had always been a good student and so I began my first year with all sorts of aspirations of academic success and accomplishment and nothing was going to stop me. I studied from 8am until midnight six days a week, read every word of every text, took copious notes in class, and created what I thought were pretty good outlines. All of this really paid off at the end of my first semester and I was within the range of the goals I had set for myself. But then came the second semester. I continued that same routine of 16 hours of obsessive study habits each day, but by the end of the year it was clear that something was terribly wrong. As I was studying for my 5th and final exam over a 7-day period, I had a complete mental meltdown, and found myself in a fetal position miserably sobbing because I couldn't jam one more bit of information into my head, and I knew I was going to fail everything I had worked so hard to achieve. I felt so helpless and lost and was literally weary and faint.
Fortunately, mental burnout aside, I actually got through all my exams, including that last final, and miraculously passed every single one, but was still devastated when I ended up far from my academic goals that I had worked so hard to achieve. After the dust settled, I re-evaluated my goals and study habits so that I could better navigate through the next two years without repeating that total burnout scenario. I thought the first year of law school was as busy as it could possibly be, but somehow the next two years were each increasingly busier than the last. In addition to regular classes and homework, I was asked to serve in the Young Women organization in my LDS ward, I was involved in co-curricular activities, I began to practice yoga, and eventually audited some religion classes with my undergrad sisters during my third year of law school.
Consequently, I was forced to better manage my time and did so by setting aside specific blocks of time for study, for yoga, for church activities, and so forth. By strictly observing this schedule of blocked out times rather than aimlessly studying non-stop for 16 hours a day, I became a better student, my exam grades improved, and I was able to find sufficient time to devote to all of my chosen co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Once I finally began to learn how to find moderation and balance in life, I was much happier and at peace. It was such an amazing contrast to that first year.
So, my advice to the 1Ls each year is that even though the next three years will feel impossibly busy, it is critical to make time for a short walk, yoga practice, or whatever they choose to do that will force them to close their books and get out of the building, even if it's just for 15 minutes a day. In addition to that, I also advise them to moderate their studies by setting strict blocks of time so that their study time is focused and purposeful. I promise them that by practicing moderation in their studies and by making time to enjoy other activities, even if for a very short amount of time, they will return refreshed and ready to hit the law books and outlines again (and eventually their exams) with renewed intention and success.
Now while I routinely give this advice to first year law students, this advice doesn't end with law school graduation. No matter what we are doing in life, we all continue to have many demands on our time and energy, but just as I've promised the first year students, I promise that as you find some balance and practice moderation in your daily responsibilities and activities, you will run and not be weary, and walk and not faint.