Reach out to Mentors, Especially While You Are in School

A colleague told my students to go to observe court proceedings, and introduce themselves to judges. He said that most judges love to speak with and advise students (while they are still in school and still “cute”).  Ironically, just days after my colleague’s remarks, a  judge friend of mine offered to speak in my class. Without any sort of compensation, simply out of his generosity of spirit, this judge drove hours to give of his time to a group of future lawyers.

A few days ago I read that the great drummer Charlie Watts, visited students at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. According to the University of Miami News and Events, “Watts, one of the founding members of the Rolling Stones, spent an hour afterward graciously talking one-on-one with students, posing for selfies and photos, and talking shop about drum gear, life on the road, and his love of jazz.” http://news.miami.edu/stories/2016/03/rolling-stones-legend-jams-with-frost-students.html  I can’t imagine a greater honor for any music student!

If there is anyone you are interested in talking with, anyone whose life or work you want to learn more about, try. Ask to meet someone for coffee, or invite an accomplished person to come speak to your class. The worst someone can say is that he or she is busy. And, you would be surprised at how many super stars (famous or otherwise) would be delighted to share their experience and wisdom.

Set yourself up for success. Start on finals preparation now!

Many law students and college students are in the home stretch now, with final exams in the next two months.  That seems like a long way off.  It is not.  Now is the time to start thinking about finals –not the week before the exam.

It is an empowering feeling to walk into a final exam ready and prepared to the best of your ability.  It is an uncomfortable destructive feeling to go into an exam knowing you are winging it.  The choice is yours.  Start now!

How to take advantage of the lead time?

  • Prepare a timeline.  Note when any papers or other assignments are due between now and final exams.  Note when each of your exams will take place.  Write what each exam will test and in what format.
  • Try to clear your calendar as much as possible to prioritize your studies in these last laps. Tell people (family, friends, etc.) you will see them more in June (or after your exams are completed) and lay the groundwork to declining all social invitations when you need to prioritize studying.  Say No to any new commitments such as with organizations, clubs, and internships.
  • Plan a study schedule that allows you to spend time on each course respectively –paying attention to factors that allow you to determine which finals (which courses) will demand more of your time and energy to adequately prepare.

Future posts will provide other final exam preparation tips, but, for Today’s Tip of the Day, as part of your slow and steady final exam preparation:

  • Find out if any of your professors have released any of their former exams and if so, get copies of those exams.  Exams given by your professor(s) in the past will often give you insights into how particular professors test, what might be covered on the exam, etc.  In addition, it can be helpful try to obtain “practice exams” from other professors who have taught the same course.  It can be helpful to take past exams as practice exams, under timed conditions, to prepare.

Set yourself up for success.  Start on finals preparation now!

The Power of Peers: Network with those who are a year or two ahead of you.

In school, it can be most helpful to talk with –and network with– those who are just a year or two ahead of you in school. For juniors or seniors in college, and for 2L and 3L law students, talking to recent graduates can give you a leg up on what to expect, and how best to prepare for success. If someone survived freshman year successfully, they may have great advice for you who are now in your first year.

Why?  There’s a good chance, you are not the first person to struggle with whatever challenges you are currently facing.  And, a peer who is just a slight bit ahead of you may seem more credible than a professor who may have been where you are decades prior.  (I happen to believe that with age comes wisdom and thus seeking advice from those who are much older can be tremendously valuable.  But I do understand that many of my students find recent graduates particularly credible.)

I sponsor an Alumni Speaker Series in a number of my classes, hosting recent graduates to come back and share their bar exam and professional challenges, and wisdom.  Their stories help current students see what troubles may be lurking and provides advice on how to avoid the pitfalls and potholes in the road just ahead.

Recent graduates empower current students to believe that they too can navigate the rough waters and prevail.

If your have formal opportunities to meet and network with recent graduates seize them.  Ask questions!  Make your own plans based on what you hear worked and did not work for others.  Do adjust the advice of others to fit your own needs.  (“One size does not fit all” in life, law, or college.)  But, do listen.  Why repeat mistakes that just spending a few minutes hearing someone else might help you avoid?

If there are no formal opportunities, go on your own and seek out recent graduates or students in classes ahead of you.  Ask your ASP faculty or your favorite professor or Dean for the names of recent graduates they would recommend you talk with.  Ask a former leader of an organization you belong to, to sit and share his/her experiences.  Talk with someone who has just started working in a field that interests you.

And, be sure to send a Thank You after meeting with someone.  You will be surprised at how your networking opportunities expand your current successes and your potential for success in the future!

Time Management Tip of the Day: Study Before Taking that “Time off”

How many times have you said:  “I’ll just stop by that party for a couple of hours, then I’ll study.”  Or, “I’ll study after work.”  Or, just generally, “I’ll study tonight.”  Then, when the time comes to pull out the books, you are too tired to focus well and end up either not studying at all or not studying effectively. (Ever read that same sentence six times only to realize you still don’t know what you are reading?)

I have worked with hundreds of students who re-claim control over their study schedules by a pointed strategy to start studying earlier, before partying, before work, or before the day takes its toll and makes us too tired to absorb what we are studying.

“Work before play.”  Sounds like just another old person lecturing at you, right?  Well, don’t view it that way!  Consider it as a power tool strategy to do more of what you want, effectively.

It’s one thing to “do it all” then see mediocre results.  It’s another thing to “do it all,” do it well, and have fun!

Note that at some points in time, you simply cannot “do it all.”  There are legitimate “crunch times,” for example during midterms, finals, or while studying for the bar exam, where everything but studying must take a back seat.  More on times when you must “hibernate” and do nothing but study in another Time Management Tip post.  But, for much of the academic year, a more strategic balance of study and extra-curricular, and more strategic timing, can propel you to achieve greater success and enjoy the process!

If you are in school, college or law school, you likely want to succeed. Let’s make that assumption!  You want to get high grades on papers and exams, you want to do the reading and come to class prepared.  You also want to party with your friends, to go to all the organization events you care about, and you likely need to work (paid jobs and internships).

So, try this for a bit.  Try putting in at least an hour of studying first thing in the morning, right when you wake up.  Try also studying at or around noon.  (While others may be eating, just grab a quick (healthy) meal and head to the Library for a couple of hours.)  And, then, after your day time commitments, before any evening activity starts, find a quiet place and study for an hour or two more.  Even if you get there a few minutes late, you will enjoy yourself much more at an evening event,  party, or socializing with friends if you arrive after having finished a concentrated study block, and after having completed whatever is due the next day.

The other way around, trying to work late at night after the evening activities is often a no win: you go out feeling at least a little guilty about the fact that you did not complete your work.  Result?  You don’t get your work done and you don’t have as much fun.

Some readers may be thinking, “I don’t feel guilty.  I just do ‘all nighters’ after going out.  Studying all night may be something one must do on occasion, but hopefully it is not a habit.  Even occasional all nighters are typically not as productive as regular study blocks at times when you are most wide awake and alert.  And repeated all nighters take an eventual toll on your health as well as your productivity.  (They can be especially dangerous for students who commute and drive to and from school on no sleep.)

Instead, try fitting studying in earlier in the day.  See what happens.  I often meet with students who tell me their dedicated study time is between 9pm-midnight.  I ask them to just *try* for one month studying at least one hour in the morning, one hour at noon, and one hour between 5-7pm. Almost always, people come back at tell me that they feel more in control, and they retain what they are studying much more effectively. Give it a try!

What is your Time Management Tip of the day?

 

Success is built by slow and steady hard work, not miracles.

Yesterday, I posted about the tortoise and the hare in connection with bar exam study and success. (http://www.passlaw.com/taking-the-july-2016-bar-exam-think-tortoise-and-hare/).  Today, thinking about how that bar exam advice applies in so many other places. Here are just a few:

-Mastering a sport, or an artistic talent.  Sure, natural ability helps.  But ask any determined, successful athlete or actor just how many times he or she made a mistake, got back up, and built their success, slowly and steadily, and you will find that nature was greatly assisted with practice. This Michael Jordan quote comes to mind, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

-Getting into a good college.  This is a process –slow and steady.  For many people, it involves years of building a background worthy of being accepted into a great university: years of studying for classes and pursuing good grades; years of participating in (and serving as a leader in) student groups; months if not years of studying for admissions tests; weeks if not more of working to write effective entrance essays and complete complex applications.

-Building a Successful Professional Identity.  This does not happen the day you get your first job, or the day you become a college graduate or a lawyer. This involves years of proving oneself, showing colleagues by coming through day in and day out successfully, proving that you are reliable and smart, networking, publishing, speaking or otherwise publicly demonstrating your skills or ideas, and much more.

-Raising children. This is surely a slow and steady endeavor, with a need to be there, every day –strong and consistent, to provide, nurture, and support.

There is no shortcut for most great things in life. Pete Seeger’s Maple Syrup Song perhaps sums it up best: “Everything worthwhile takes a little time….”

Do you have a five-year plan? A one-year plan?

In Chapter 2 of PASS The Bar Exam: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals, I wrote about developing your Plan for Success.  That plan for success, I said, starts with looking at the timeline of what must happen between where you are now and your goal in order to achieve what you desire.

I wrote about how to get the most out of every step on your way to achieving your goal –sorting out what is critical and what may be distracting.  The choices you make along the way can make achieving your goal much easier or much more difficult.

Then, after looking at that big-picture timeline, I recommend drilling down and looking at two months prior to achieving your goal, and taking a week-by-week snapshot. Often times where people get derailed or give up is just prior to achieving success.  Those last few weeks are critical.

 

A mentor of mine once suggested that at all times, one should have a one-year plan (with one or more goals), and a five-year plan.  I have taken this advice to heart myself and talked with many of my students about the same.

As a college student, law student or graduate student, it’s fairly easy to develop these plans around your curriculum while you are in school.  At the beginning of school, when you start in your first year, your longer term plan may be to graduate from the program of study doing your very best. But, do you stop and look at each year, one year at a time?

If not, I urge you to give it a try.  What do you want to accomplish each year of school?  (If you are having difficulties setting these goals, picture yourself one year from now talking with someone who asks you how last year when and what you accomplished.  What will make you happy to look back on and describe for that person?)  Do you want to be able to say:

  • You got good grades,
  • You were accepted for a certain internship,
  • You volunteered for a cause you believe in,
  • You networked (made lifelong friends with classmates, got to know professors, met professionals in the field you intend to pursue).

Then, consider a five-year plan.  Where would you like to be working?  What work environment would you like to be in?  What would you like your personal life to be like?  Do you have health or fitness goals?  Do you have community service goals?

A well-known driving safety tip is to keep your eye both on the immediate road ahead and at the same time on what is in the distance and surroundings ahead.  The same principle applies in goal-setting and achieving success.  Focus on today.  Knock off as much as you can on today’s To Do list.  But develop both a one-year and a five-year plan.  Even if they change radically (which is fine as unforeseen opportunities may come into your path at any moment!) it will still help you steer the vehicle that is you safely and successfully toward your destination.

 

Goal Setting: Freeing or Oppressive

I gave a talk last week at GW University to a group of the most amazing an accomplished freshmen imaginable. I will post a series of reflections on the talk, and share some of the responses I have gotten back since then. I would like to start with this idea that goal setting can be freeing:

Reflecting on the talk…and wanted to take this as an opportunity to reach out and say thanks. I had never considered goals as freeing, they really do seem like binding contracts from the start …. Having the perspective that goals are just an opportunity to prioritize opens up your life to focus on what’s important to you not just what you think you have to do. It is so freeing!

How do you view your “goals” ??

Seven Suggestions to Avoid Study Burnout

Note: This post is relevant to everyone studying. Whether you are in high school, college, law school or any other graduate study, if you are giving it your all, you will burn out from time to time. Here’s how to re-charge!  

You are perfectly normal if you are thinking, “Not another day of this stuff!  I cannot handle any more studying.  Not another lecture, paper, or practice test.  I need to sleep.  I need a day off.  I need my life back!” You will have your life back when exams are over.  But, for now, “Another day of this” is precisely what you must do. Another, and another, and another –all in  high gear.  You must remain totally motivated, batteries fully charged, util the last “time” is called on the last day of your last exam.  For the upcoming bar exam, that is a full month away still.  So you have lots of time.  But you must make the most of it.

How to re-charge?  How does one maintain that kind of persistent motivation?   It’s not easy.  I remember the first week of July when one of my classmates said, “Just bring it on already.  I am so [expletive] sick of studying.  I just want the test now.  I’m tired.”  I have to confess at the time I felt so un-ready for the Exam that I could not relate at all.  I wanted every single day that remained to practice.  I wanted every minute to get ready.  I was happy to wait.  But, I can relate now.  Thousands of students later, I see how some people have just had it even by this time.  Others want even more time to pull it all together.  (They wish the exam were two more months later.) Wherever you fall on this spectrum, give yourself a break if you are feeling stressed and burned out. Stress and burnout are normal

Bottom line, you have no choice.  You are taking this exam at the end of this month, are you better believe with all your heart, soul, and might that you going to pass!  Done deal.  No options.  (To quote Apollo 13: “Failure is not an option.”)

What will you do on actual bar exam days?  You will go in and do your very best. That is what you owe yourself.  That is what must be done.  So, how do you get through from now until then?

Here are 7 Tips to Prevent Bar Exam Burnout:

1) Exercise. 

Most people are stressed, quite normally so.  The best way to burn off the excess stress is to burn it out, with exercise.

Do something active every single day.  Walking, yoga, biking, swimming, weight lifting, jogging, spinning, skating.  Whatever you do, don’t skip a day.  You must think of time exercising as an investment in your own success.  It is never a waste of time.  (If you simply cannot justify taking “time off” to exercise, then study while you are on a treadmill, or walk while playing a bar review lecture in headphones (or listening to a recording of yourself reading rule statements, see below.)

2) Pace yourself. 

Take breaks.  Remember even during the bar, you get close to a 2 hour lunch break between the morning and afternoon sessions.  So, feel free to take long lunches now, each day.  Stop fully and relax.  Then get back into it.  And, when you’ve put in a full day of studying, take off at night to relax before you get a good night’s sleep.  And, make sure to get a good night’s sleep, each and every night.

3) Reward Yourself –daily and weekly.

Give yourself some daily reward.  At the end of each evening, do something before you go to sleep that acknowledges a hard day’s work.  (For some, that’s a mindless TV show.  For others, a glass of wine.  For others, a few minutes on social media.) And, give yourself a bigger treat to mark the end of each week of hard work.  Every Sunday night, for example, go out to a really nice dinner, or watch a movie.

4) Plan (and book) an after-bar vacation.  For those in college or graduate school, plan something fun for Spring break and summer!

Schedule something as soon as possible after the exam, something you really look forward to.  Just thinking about that and knowing that you have something definite in August will help alleviate some of the burnout today.  It can also be a great way to reward family and a significant other for letting you have time and space to study this June and July.

5) Shake up your study routine.

If you are tired of reading quietly, read aloud to yourself.  One of my students found the way to keep motivated (and better retain the material) was to read aloud in a funny accent and record her voice reading rules.  She played them back to herself  while driving and laughed while learning.

Try charting, try flashcards, try re-typing sample answers.

Study in a different location one day.  Explain the rules/theories you are most afraid will be tested on the bar exam to a lay person.  (If you can explain something correctly to someone else, likely that means you have mastered it.)

Variety can go a long way to helping stop burnout before it drags you down.

6) Get comfortable with “practice test days.”

Practice days are critical.  They will help you train the skills to pass.  And, if your practice work has simulated the intensity of the real thing, you will be able to walk in to the actual exam with power and strength.  You will have a  ”been there, done that” attitude and confidence.

7) Above all, be kind to yourself.

This IS one of the hardest times in your life, one of the steepest mountains you will ever have to climb.  The good news is, once you get through, it’s a lifetime license.  You never have to do it again.  Just pay your yearly dues and remain ethical, and you’ll keep your license for life.

PS. Be sure to eat lots of chocolate, and ice cream!  It won’t add brain cells, but it should put a smile on your face!!!!!