Staying the course

Second-year law student Andrew Arbuckle

Life has a lot of moving parts. Sometimes those parts move incredibly fast. Other times moving parts are relatively slow. Every so often, they move in totally unexpected directions. It can be hard work to even keep up at times. This is especially true when the unique challenges that law school presents are added to the mix. There isn’t a uniform best strategy to adopt to succeed. Finding what works best for you is a highly personal determination. However, those who routinely achieve their goals, regardless of their chosen means, share one common element: consistency.

To be consistent means to fully commit yourself to a sustained effort of action over a period of time until the moment your objective is achieved. Law students’ primary objective is twofold – to learn the material and to get good grades. Time is precious – maintaining consistency requires planning ahead to determine the steps you’ll take. Develop a plan at the outset of each semester that details your objective, priorities and a schedule to follow. Sticking to your plan can increase efficiency and accountability while acting as a guidepost directing your efforts. As the semester marches on, the ever-mounting workload can make it hard to see the road ahead, but as you keep going, it gets clearer. Stay the course as the fog of readings and assignments dissipates.

Planning and keeping your eyes on the prize are important, but what makes consistency the key to success is the grit it requires. Fully committing doesn’t mean spending every waking second and every bit of energy grinding in the library. Not that there aren’t times where that’s necessary, but doing so throughout the course of law school would be unsustainable and unnecessary. Don’t try it. Rather, it means always showing up, always giving your best effort and honoring your commitments in the face of all misfortune life throws at you. Some days it’ll be easier to pull the sled than others. Regardless of the bandwidth you’re bringing to the table on any given day, just by showing up, you’re confirming what you really want. Showing up familiarizes you with what you’re working toward. Familiarity breeds confidence. When you’re familiar with something, it’s easier to engage with. The easier something is to engage with, the easier it is to forge ahead even on your worst days. Simply, the more you do something, the better you get at doing it.

Not mentioning the human elements of consistency would be a colossal oversight. Remaining consistent in law school can heartily test your patience and question your self-efficacy. Staying patient over the long haul isn’t easy. Modern technology allows us to forego patience almos entirely in many respects. Law school, however, requires a great amount of patience – as does anything fulfilling, really. Managing your expectations about the time the learning process takes before realizing progress, is paramount. Beginning is always the hardest because it’s easy to feel like you’re just spinning your wheels. But if you stick to it, before you know it, you’ll recognize breakthroughs and be glad you took the time to do it right. Trust the process.

Stumbling is unavoidable in law school and is nothing to dwell on. Easier said than done. Self-efficacy, or in other words, your belief in your abilities to accomplish what you do set out to do, plays an especially major role in nailing down daily responsibilities. Floundering a cold call or receiving scathing feedback on a brief that you were proud of can sting, but you can’t let those little things make you doubt yourself. Everyone comes up short every now and then. Shortcomings merely reveal where you can improve, not that you’re incapable. Putting such a positive spin on what’s more easily viewed as a negative event makes getting up and dusting yourself off all the easier. Though that can be especially challenging depending on the circumstances, it’s never impossible. Consistently reassuring yourself that you’re capable when confronted with setbacks will, over time, build resiliency, the characteristic that empowers people to overcome difficult situations. Speak it into existence.

There are many ways to be a successful law student, but all roads to success are paved on a foundation of consistency. By committing to achieving a goal, always showing up, always giving your best effort, and never doubting your ability to succeed, you are developing character traits that attract a fulfilling life. Above all else, you owe it to yourself.

— By Andrew Arbuckle, a 2L from Mulvane, Kansas and a KU Law Student Ambassador.

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