Work-life balance keeps first-year student sane

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In law school, there’s a saying that goes: “The first year, they scare you to death; the second year, they work you to death; and the third year, they bore you to death.” As a first year, I can’t personally speak for two-thirds of that statement, but I can definitely attest to the first portion. Day one seems innocent enough – everyone’s getting to know each other and the wonders of this magical land they call law school – but that quickly changes. Tomorrow’s readings are exponentially greater than today’s, professors assign additional assignments and projects on top of your usual class preparation, and students whisper about how strenuous so-and-so’s final exam is. What results is tension and anxiety that’s thicker than your casebooks.

It seems overwhelming at times, but unless you’re some superhuman law school demigod, constantly pushing forward isn’t sustainable. To keep yourself from burning out, you have to take care of yourself mentally and physically. Thankfully, student organizations at KU Law offer numerous social outlets for de-stressing, from pub crawls to charity events. However, sometimes I just need time to myself, to do the things I enjoy, so I can better focus on the week ahead.

Books

It sounds counterintuitive, but with all the reading I’m doing for classes, recreational reading helps me sane. After reading so many early-20th century cases, I sometimes find myself speaking what I’ve been reading. You know you’re in deep when you talk about “the motley stuff of life” or “hooting throngs,” only to receive weird looks from non-law school friends. Reading things that aren’t heavily steeped in legalese helps keep my vocabulary, and sanity, in check.

So, what to read? Well, it really depends on the individual. I grew up reading comic books, and keeping up with that has helped immensely. Every other Wednesday, I head into town to catch up on the latest issues of "Batman" and "The Walking Dead." Law school seems like its own planet sometimes, so immersing myself in another world – whether it’s Gotham City or a post-apocalyptic America – comes as a much-needed relief to a hard week’s work. Being a philosophy and international relations junkie, I also subscribe to magazines like "The Economist" and "Foreign Affairs," which also helps keep everything in perspective.

Food

When case readings and outlining dominates your schedule, it sometimes becomes difficult to maintain a decent diet. Take this past week, for example: with a seminal first year writing assignment due at week’s end, I found myself eating out all week. Not that it’s a problem – Lawrence offers a plethora of delicious and healthy options – but sometimes, I crave homemade food.

After so many years of living on my own, I was getting tired of constantly getting burgers and ordering pizza (believe me, you’ll have plenty of pizza in law school), so I began cooking for myself. Now, I make it a point to cook something new each week: sushi bowls, cucumber salads, roasted pork, and so on. It doesn’t have to be anything complex, either, just doing something that’s different from my daily routine helps break the monotony that builds up over the semester.

Gaming

In keeping with my nerdiness, I also play "Magic: The Gathering" competitively. Magic is a card game where players compete with cards representing fantastical creatures and spells; however, underneath its fantasy flavor is a comprehensive game about logic and numbers. Much like chess, players have limited resources and are faced with a finite set of choices each turn; winning simply means being able to manage your resources better than your opponent can.

Being able to mentally engage this way is not only refreshing after a long week of digesting cases, but it also fosters decision-based critical thinking skills that I’m told employers love. I play whenever my schedule allows: sometimes that means several games online as a study break, while other times, that means traveling around the region to play in person. The point is simply to channel your stress elsewhere, and if that happens to benefit your law school career, all the better.

Now what?

The takeaway isn’t to specifically read or cook or play, but rather to find something you enjoy. Experiencing life outside of Green Hall is necessary to truly appreciate what the school has to offer. So, don’t be afraid to take time to care for yourself today so that you can walk into Green tomorrow ready to go.

If you happen to see me around Green, feel free to stop by for a chat!

- Steven Wu, 1L, is a KU Law Student Ambassador. Contact him at steven.wu@ku.edu

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