Making Choices

November 30, 2011 - 12 AM

M.L., 2L

Yale can be an overwhelming place to attend law school sometimes. On the one hand, it's difficult not to appreciate some of its benefits - the lack of traditional grades, excellent job placement, and the small student faculty-ratio. On the other hand, it's also difficult for even the most laid-back person not to feel the pressure sometimes, and I don't actually mean pressure from other students - what I'm describing is the pressure that comes from having the multitude of opportunities that Yale affords every student, and from having to make choices as to what exactly you will pursue in your three years here. Classes, academic papers, activities, journals, lectures, and interesting people to meet on a nearly-daily basis - it's hardly possible to take advantage of it all. Strange as it may sound, one can't help feeling that even the small choices that one makes have significant opportunity costs, either immediately or potentially down the line in one's career.

It was perhaps fortuitous then that I recently took the time from paper writing (my own primary focus here) to attend an event put together by Yale Law Women: a talk on happiness by Gretchen Rubin. A graduate of Yale, Rubin was tremendously successful in law school and the law itself, by all the “standard” measures: among other things, she served as Editor-In-Chief of the Yale Law Journal, then went on to a judicial clerkship with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. But, despite these accomplishments, she found that she wasn't really as happy as she could be practicing law, and she decided merely a few years after her clerkship that she wanted to pursue writing. So, she did, and eventually she would go on to write her bestseller, The Happiness Project. It was precisely on how to be happy - and particularly how to be happy while pursuing legal careers - that she gave her talk, one I was grateful to have taken the time to hear.

Among the many things she said, what stuck with me most is her addressing the subject of making choices. As I earlier stated, many times choices are a cause of stress for everyone at Yale. On the one hand, she argued that, indeed, it is important to be cognizant of the choices, big and small, that one makes in law school and beyond - including recognizing that, in fact, there are opportunity costs to all of those choices. On the other hand, realizing that there are costs to giving up amazing opportunities does not entail that it is “right” for everyone to pursue certain opportunities, even if they can succeed marvelously at them (like Rubin). Above all, it is important for every individual to assess what s/he actually wants to accomplish - and, at Yale, ideally it is not achievement for the sake of achievement.

Thus, her talk reaffirmed for me that the array of opportunities that Yale provides should not serve as a paradoxical source of stress, or as a double-edged sword, but should be viewed only as this: nearly infinite chances to pursue exactly what one hoped to get out of law school, in whatever area of interest, and more - and to be happy, of course. In this manner, I was reminded of something I had heard about Yale when I was a prospective student: two classmates at Yale can have the exact same goals, but end up pursuing them - and spending the three years of law school - in completely different ways. And they'll both come out swimmingly in the end.