Getting Comfortable with Failure

In the latest installment of my often countercultural blog posts about law school, I want to talk about learning how to fail. By learning how to fail, I simply mean learning how to get more comfortable with being wrong and making mistakes. This has been quite the journey for me, as I (and I’m sure many others who are naturally drawn to the practice of law) have often prided myself not only in ‘always being right,’ but in ‘never making a mistake.’ One of the most challenging (and rewarding) aspects of law school thus far has been learning how to become comfortable with being wrong and making mistakes. As always, I am a work in progress in this area, but I wanted to write about what it means to face elements of failure in an academic experience and career path that prides itself on succeeding, being right, and, to a larger degree, ‘winning.’

I often call myself a ‘recovering perfectionist,’ a term coined by Dr. Brené Brown that I have identified with since reading her book The Gifts of Imperfection, many moons ago. If you haven’t heard of her, I highly recommend her Ted Talk, which you can find here. Anyway, from elementary school through college, I have often placed value on myself in direct correlation to how close I am to meeting the exceptionally high (and often unrealistic) expectations I set for myself. For a long time, it worked really well. I always did well academically, I rarely ‘made a mistake,’ and I was able to avoid the uncomfortable pangs of shame that often come with failing in ways both big and small.

Law school has been a transformational experience for me on an academic and personal level because, truth be told, I don’t think I’ve ever been this wrong or made this many mistakes or failed this many times, ever. I’m not even just talking about falling short of academic expectations here. For example, in what is now a hilarious story to me (but was initially mortifying), I misread my schedule for a class that I was waitlisted for this semester (and very excited to be taking!) in thinking it met on Thursdays instead of Tuesdays. As a result, I missed the first day of classes. And just today, I accidentally picked up bagels for my Journal a full month earlier than I was supposed to (to be fair, February 28th and March 28th both fell on Wednesdays this year, but regardless, I was yet again mortified). Each were small scheduling blunders and honest mistakes that I can now laugh at, but both experiences were a huge practice for me in accepting myself as fully human. At the end of the day, I think learning how to deal with them on this small scale is preparing me for the inevitable mistakes and failures that come with living life more generally.

More importantly, it’s forced me to re-evaluate the ways in which I used to value myself, and to see that even though it felt much safer to live life avoiding failure/mistakes at all costs, it was much more limiting than the life I am living now – one that allows for both mistakes and mishaps, but also lesson-learning and growth. I know I’m being Pollyannaish in saying that “failure is the greatest teacher of all,” but I want to say something a bit broader than that, which is: “you can be wrong and you can make mistakes, and you can still be successful.” For so long, the tape running in my head was “you have to be perfect in order to succeed.” Now, what I’m learning is that the only way to truly succeed is to live your life in a way that not only allows for failure, but welcomes it, because it’s just another opportunity to learn something new and to practice self-compassion.

Here’s the thing: at some point, we are all going to do or say the wrong thing, make a minor or major mistake, and come to feel the sting of disappointment that comes with failure. It’s an inevitable part of being a person. All we can do in the face of mistake or failure is to take a moment to feel sad or disappointed, realize that we were doing the best we could, and move forward with the lessons we’ve learned and with conviction that despite it all, we are good enough. In an academic and professional environment that usually advocates for the opposite, I have only come to lean deeper into accepting my imperfections and practicing resilience. I know that this is likely just a shout into the void in a field (and society) where failure and mistake-making are not valued, but it’s been yet another unexpected growth opportunity in my educational journey that I wanted to share in this space.

Glimpses of Spring

You can never know what to expect from a Boston winter. The Farmer’s Almanac said this past season was going to be a wet one, and we had our share of winter storms. Mercifully, the feet of snow that have dropped over the last few months have quickly been washed away by warm temperatures and light rain, so snowboots were only needed a few times this semester.

One of the great joys of a cold winter is the excitement that surrounds the first glimpses of spring, and we finally saw them this week. Temperatures climbed all the way into the 70s on Wednesday, and the city couldn’t get enough of it. Even the sparrows seemed to celebrate with a sort of bird block party, with dozens of them were singing from the branches of the tree just outside my window. On campus, hundreds of BU students laid out on the BU beach overlooking the Charles, taking in their first doses of Vitamin D in a while. I had no classes in the afternoon, so I wandered downtown to see what was happening in the heart of the city.  The Boston Common and Public Garden were bustling; the ice rink at Frog Pond was still up and running, so people of all ages were ice skating in T-shirts. Dogs were chasing squirrels, kids were chasing dogs. It felt like spring again, if only for a day. By Thursday, snow was back in the forecast.

Still, the warm weather this week put the bug in me to get back outside, so the Saturday forecast for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the 50s was all I needed to hop in the car and head out for a walk in the woods. This time, my girlfriend and I headed up to Minute Man National Historical Park, a strip of land the follows the route the British marched from Boston to Concord on April 19, 1775. Appropriately, the main path through the park is called Battle Road, as the march out of Boston that day turned into the first battle of the Revolutionary War.


The national park itself is unassuming, nestled in the local landscape in such a way that you could drive right through it and think it was just another suburban backroad. But getting out and walking along the path, history felt present. Old stones mark sites where soldiers and militiamen fell in battle and were buried. Several of the original houses that bore witness to that historic day still stand, while the foundations of others dot the trail. The spot where Paul Revere’s famous ride came to an end at gunpoint is marked by a small monument, and the tales of several local merchants-turned-militiamen are told on plaques along the route.

You may never know what you are going to get with a Boston winter, but it’s easy to make the most of a Boston spring. Whether you stay in the city or head out into the surrounding towns, the warmer temperatures make for a great excuse to take in some of the natural beauty of this New England town—and some of its history as well.

Class Recommendation: Mediation

I wanted to try something new and write about a class I’m taking this semester that I’d recommend to anyone in law school, regardless of interests or concentration area: Mediation. I met with an attorney-turned-academic last spring to learn more about her path, and when I asked what general courses I should take in either 2L or 3L, she recommended mediation as a course that is helpful not only in the practice of law, but in life more generally. As everyone who knows me or reads my blog posts can probably surmise at this point: I view the learning that takes place outside the classroom as important (if not more so) as the learning that takes place inside the classroom. Therefore, when she said it would be helpful both academically and personally, I was hooked and knew I wanted to take it as a 2L.

The Mediation course at BU is pretty small (I think that there are about 12 students in our class total), which is great on many levels – the first of which being that its ideal for all of the role play exercises that we do in class. We are typically assigned to either be a party, attorney, or mediator prior to class and are sent facts of the dispute at issue so that we can prepare. Then, we break into smaller groups and take on the roles of whichever person we are assigned in the dispute, and attempt to reach a settlement. To be totally honest, I was not comfortable at all during the Lawyering Lab when we had to take on role playing and I volunteered to either take notes, redline our contract, or do anything else that involved not directly negotiating. However, this class has forced me to take the reigns when I have either been assigned the attorney or mediator in any given case. It’s been the best thing for me, proving yet again the value of stepping outside of your comfort zone (a lesson I will likely learn and relearn until the end of time).

Another thing that I love about the class is its overlap with psychology.  A lot of the exercises involve learning how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and really hear what they are saying to you. In life in general this can be challenging enough, but when emotions and money are involved in the types of disputes that typically lead to mediation, the stakes are much higher and parties are all the more willing to dig their heels into what they feel they deserve (and thus are all the less likely to be willing to listen to the other side’s story). The practice of active listening has been stressed in class, as has taking time to try to distill what the other party is truly seeking in the dispute (it may seem like a dollar amount at first, but could boil down to an apology or a healing on an emotional level).

I think that in our society in general (and in law school specifically), it can be really easy to always think you’re right. I myself have said the phrase “I’m always right,” more frequently than I’d care to admit. The beautiful thing about mediation is that it teaches you the value of what can happen when each party steps back and truly hears the other side out and listens to their wants and needs. It is only then that the most constructive and mutually beneficial solution can be reached. Needless to say I would highly recommend this class for any 2Ls and 3Ls because its applicability is just as strong in the school of law as it is in the school of life.

Extra Extra…..curriculars

Although my time at BU Law is rapidly coming to a close, I can still vividly remember my time as a 1L. Moving from Florida to Boston where I knew no one, I was nervous about not only doing well in school but also fitting in. The first few months were very hard and I wondered whether I would ever know anyone outside my classes–let alone make friends other than the few I had. It didn’t help that I was constantly stressed about school and, when I wasn’t studying, spent time worrying about whether I should be studying more.

Then one day, in an effort to branch out and do something other than study, I decided to stop ignoring one of the emails I received from the tons of student organizations I signed up for at the Student Org Fair. The email was from the BU Law Softball team and it invited people to come out for a softball practice. To this day, attending that softball practice was one of the best decisions I have ever made in law school. Not only did I get to play a sport I’ve loved playing my entire life, but I made new 2L and 3L friends (as a 1L too, which is pretty remarkable I thought) in the process.

Fast forward two years, and now I am President of the BU Law Softball organization. What I thought was going to be attending one practice ended up being the start of my law school softball career. From the Battle of Boston softball tournament to the University of Virginia softball tournament and all the practices in between,  I’m forever grateful for the experiences this organization has given me and the friendships I’ve formed because of it.

If you’re a current student who believes that you’re only here to get a law degree and nothing else, really reconsider that mentality. BU Law has a ton of student organizations for a reason: to keep students involved in more than just a legal education. I know it seems like just another commitment you’re responsible for that will be time-consuming and distract you from studying, which in reality is true. But becoming a member and participating in an extracurricular organization is much more than that. It could be a stress-relieving outlet, a resume booster, a worthwhile cause to support, or even just a group of people you can fit in with. Whatever your reason, there’s an organization for you amongst the multitude that BU Law offers. So definitely stop ignoring those emails!

Why I didn’t submit my student government nomination form… And then why I did.

If you’ve read a few of my prior blog posts/are my friend on Facebook, you might be able to guess what 25542348_2003760326565793_2807905199129879445_omotivates me to do most of the bold, advocacy-type, stand-up-for-myself things that I do: I do them for
unionization drives. What you might not yet know is that the Boston University Graduate Student Workers have launched their own unionization campaign, joining graduate student teachers and researchers across the country in fighting for the respect their work deserves from their administrations. These students are asking for a seat at the table in negotiating fair hours, working conditions, intellectual property rights, healthcare, dental care, and family leave, among other things. And, just in the past year, graduate students from Columbia, The New School, Yale, Brandeis, Tufts, Boston College, American University, and several others have joined together to vote #UnionYes. Moreover, these numbers are likely to grow in the coming months, with many more campaigns having been launched, including one at Boston University.

Prior to law school, I worked on the unionization campaign for the Harvard Graduate Students Union. The story of their union drive is a long, ongoing one, and I could write a whole labor law dissertation, never mind a blog post, on everything that has occurred there. However, my experience with the Harvard Graduate Student Union helped further illustrate to me a principle that I had already realized to be true 19390694_1456423567749738_4873740164336643548_oin my unionization experience at Plimoth Plantation – namely, the critical importance of open dialogue between both sides of the debate, management and staff, or administration and student. At a school as large and decentralized as Harvard, students who served on student government had a chance to speak directly with the administration about the concerns and viewpoints of their individual departments, bringing supportive student voices into conversation with anti-union administrative voices, and even vise versa. These graduate student representatives used their positions to fight for the same seat at the table they had with the administration for the rest of the student body.

I originally decided to run for student government because I wanted to be that person at BU Law. Confession though… I dropped the ball. When the elections were announced, I downloaded the form, saw that I needed to get 20 of my peers to nominate me, and decided I was too shy and awkward to ask people. I let the deadline slip by. However, then I got lucky. The deadline was extended… And I realized I needed to run.

Disclaimer: I’m writing this post now, before the vote, not because I want to convince anyone to go vote for me. I am running against several amazing candidates, all of whom I would be happy to have beat me. Instead, I am writing this post now because I want future students or candidates to go through the same thought process I did, and so I want to write it now, irrespective of how the vote turns out. Campaigning and putting yourself out there is awkward and hard and… vulnerable, in a way. But, in the end, I decided I needed to push past it, risk losing, and run because the things and people I want to advocate for are more valuable than my pride. We live in a day and age where people, particularly strong women, with ideas, vision, and passion cannot afford to sit on the sideline and hope that other people will protect those interests. Advocacy begins at the local level, and for me, that means serving the community and the school that has already done so much and been so much for me. Without the support of one of my friends, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to get the form signed. Without the support of another, I might have chickened out on turning it in. These people and all others in my community deserve to have their voices heard, and I am someone who can do it. I owe it to them, and I owe it to me to try. So I’m running. You should too!