Fear of Expectations: A First Semester Perspective

When I committed to law school, I committed to making my experience different than undergrad. I wasn’t going to allow fear to prevent me from joining clubs and participating in programs that I found worthwhile. I decided to graduate with more than just a law degree. I promised myself I would leave law school with a network of advisors and meaningful experiences. I had a plan for how to succeed in law school.

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As an undergrad I frequently felt lost in a sea of 35,000 students on campus. I never challenged myself, for fear of the competition. This developed into an overwhelming fear of not measuring up to others’ expectations.

Fear kept me from applying to programs and participating in clubs that I was interested in. It kept me from meeting people. After four years, and no professional connections to show for my time at a major state university, I found my degree had very little value.

I was more anxious for the first day of law school orientation than I can remember ever being in my short two and a half decades of life. I’m thankful that I biked to class, because the sunshine and the fresh air helped ease my nausea. In my short two and a half decades I’ve also learned that what I expect is never what reality reveals. When I asked for my nametag and orientation folder from Student Services, I could barely speak; I was so afraid that I was already doing something wrong.

In expecting to be immediately challenged by everyone around me, needing to prove why I belonged, I began my law school career. I’m not sure of the moment that this feeling changed, but by the end of the first day, I was no longer anxious. I was repeatedly welcomed by upperclassmen and faculty who were happy to have the new 1Ls arrive. This was the first time my expectations did not match the reality of law school.

As classes began, I found myself lost in planning mode. I wanted to be organized and strategic about how my time was spent. But planning is just a guise for trying to make expectations match reality.

Part of my plan was to force myself to go to social functions. Fortunately, those functions didn’t turn out to be as nauseating as I expected. Our 1L class was broken into twelve “law firms,” small sections where we discussed study-tips and legal citations. My law firm quickly became close. Suddenly I wasn’t alone at those social functions. I was able to find solace in being with other people who were just as anxious about going to a social event as I. Yet again, my expectations did not match the reality of law school.

What I learned was expectations are never going to match the reality of law school. These expectations only serve to give your mind some sense of control in what is a very a chaotic reality. It’s tempting to try and control every aspect of your fate to ensure inevitable success, but this can be a disservice to your success when you are paralyzed to imagine anything but your own expectations. It is much more manageable if you use preexisting expectations to inform you on what might lie ahead in your first year. There’s no reason for your expectations to hold you back from even trying. Just as your expectations never match reality, reality is never quite as bad as you think it will be.

Written by: Arie Mielkus

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