“I must have been crazy to consider going back to school at 41 with two young children at home.”
“Even if I had gotten into law school, it would have been an insane amount of work, a lot of time away from my family, and a long haul ahead.”
“I should have spent more time studying for the LSAT.”
“I could have done a better job prepping for that law school interview.”
Relax the shoulders; relax the back. Let go of any tension you are holding in your body. And if there are any thoughts that aren’t serving you here today – let them go.
Karen’s words intrude on my negative train of thought, and I feel mildly annoyed because I’m in a funk, and while I know these thoughts “don’t serve me well”, today, I am determined to be angry. I crank up the tension on my bike a full turn, settle into my saddle, and through gritted teeth, push hard against the weight of the pedals.
You chose to come here today. What was your intention? Ask yourself: why am I here?
Ok, I am here, because I’m ticked. Four weeks ago, after being wait-listed for ten weeks, I found out I will not be attending law school this September. After I got the news, oddly, I wasn’t as disappointed, upset, or as depressed as I thought I would be. Maybe it’s because I assumed acceptance was a long shot to begin with, or perhaps after being in limbo for so long, rejection was a welcome relief. But today, I woke up mad. And this morning I came to spin class because I am angry with myself. But being ticked wasn’t my intention; it’s just how I’m feeling now. So, why am I really here this morning? I’m here to work it out – my frustration, my disappointment, my emotions – all this through gnashed jaws with the intention of feeling better by the end of my sixty minute spin class.
The decision to go back to school at my age is not an easy one, but I can say going through the process of applying to law school, studying and writing my LSAT, and seriously contemplating the possibility of attending school full-time for three years with a young family, was at once both daunting and exciting. I’ve certainly learned a few things on this ride, and no matter what age you are, or where your academic pursuits take you, I hope I can impart a few words of sage advice that might help make your journey a much smoother ride than mine.
This is the beginning of your ride. How are you going to set it up? Think about what you need to do this. Decide: How you are going to take this ride?
Lesson One: Develop a realistic action plan.
Assuming you have gone through the process of what your academic goals are and why you are choosing the path you have chosen, you now need a solid action plan. Develop a plan with tactics and deadlines to help you achieve your end goal. Map it out, use technology, block off time in your calendar, organize your time, and use it well. Oh, and I can’t impress upon you how important it is to be realistic about your time. In my case, having to sit down and study again after being out of school for fifteen years was an unexpected shock. Working toward corporate deadlines, doing laundry, making lunches, and doing homework with my nine year old had in no way prepared me for sitting down at the library for hours and training my mind to think a certain way so I could ace the LSAT. If you think it will take you 8 weeks to study for your LSAT, MCAT or GMAT – double that time. Of course there are exceptions, and this may not be the case for you, but life is busy. You may be completing your undergrad while studying, working part-time or even full-time, depending on your situation, but in life, unexpected things arise, so mitigate your stress levels by assuming you need the extra time up front, and pace yourself appropriately.
Dig down into your core, take a deep breath, and find what you are looking for. It’s somewhere between ease and effort. Don’t think about what’s coming next. Find your breath, find a spot in front of your bike, and focus on this ride.
Lesson Two: Think about one goal, one objective; stay focused, stay on task.
We’ve all got distractions and weaknesses, and for many of us it’s easy to procrastinate, especially when it comes to doing hard work. In my case, the challenge was related to my familial demands, but I have to be honest here – at times it wasn’t just because my kids were demanding my time; rather they became my inadvertent excuse to procrastinate. Sure, my kids would love to have me 24/7, but did I have to volunteer for all those pizza lunches? Speaking of pizza, I could have ordered in a few of those for dinner, instead of spending 90 minutes making that Dijon rosemary rack of lamb with grilled veggies. And did I really need to be home to tuck them in and read them a story every night of the week instead of heading to the library with my LSAT books, when my hubby could have managed just as well without me? I can tell myself that I’m doing all this for my kids, but there were times when I used them as an excuse to avoid studying as much as I should have. Why? Because studying for the LSAT is much harder than trying out a new recipe, or reading my 5 year old ‘Green Eggs and Ham’. Be honest with yourself about what your distractions are and don’t lose focus. This may mean putting tools in place to keep you on track. Get a study buddy, remove distractions (or remove yourself from distractions), and stay on track with your action plan.
Focus on your pedal stroke. There’s always a weaker side. Now focus on that weaker side, make it better, make it stronger, and even it out. Ask yourself: What can I change today? What do you need to do on this ride, to go for better? What are you going to do differently? Change something.
Lesson Three: Assess your weaknesses honestly; and then act on them!
Be honest with yourself about what you suck at. If that sounds critical – it’s meant to. Let’s be honest, we all naturally like to focus on what we do well, and keep doing more of that, because it’s easier. But we all have things we need to improve on. In my case, and with regard to the LSAT, it was logic games. I was honest with myself about my weakness, but what I didn’t do was act on it. Instead, I avoided it. I decided to cut my losses and improve on the areas of the test I already excelled at – because let’s face it, it was easier, and frankly it made me feel better about myself. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Find your weakness, figure out what you need to change, and tackle it until you get better.
Remind yourself of your intention, and why you chose to come here today. This is going to get heavy – push through! You’ve got some momentum here, stay with it, and keep this pace. You’re building this. Your endurance, your strength, every stride makes you stronger – this is how you build it. You can do this!
Lesson Four: Don’t slack off, and stay positive!
If it feels hard, that’s probably because it is. Obtaining a higher education isn’t supposed to be easy. If it were, the end result wouldn’t be so rewarding. Remember: it’s competitive, it’s demanding, and if you can’t get through the entrance exams and the application process, then you won’t have the mettle for law school, med school or any other comparable academic pursuit. Yes, it will feel tough at times; in fact, in my case there were many times when I felt like giving up. Remind yourself what motivated you to pursue this path in the first place, bring your focus back to your goal, stay on task, and stay positive!
This is the end of your ride. You’ve got something here. How are you going to go for better?! Let’s take this home!
Karen’s words jolt me back to the present. I look down and see a pool of sweat under my bike. Ok. So, I didn’t get into law school this year, but it was quite possible that I could have. I also could have studied harder for my LSAT, done a better job prepping for my law school interview, and put more thought into volunteering for a cause — that would have provided a more relevant and tangible perspective for my future career pursuits. Next time, I will go for better.
So, this is your ride, how are you going to take it?