Sunday evening in New York is Monday morning in Seoul. And so, when I call my mother for our weekly phone calls, she often steps out into the emergency stairwell of her office, and listens (with supernatural patience) to my incoherent monologues – monologues about all the “storms” inside my head, fueled by violent winds of conflicts and uncertainties about my career, my every day life, and my personal life.
A few weeks ago, amid one these monologues of mine, she told me something that shed light on the origin of these “storms”:
“You know, when you were little, you never questioned your intuition like this. If there was something you really wanted to do, you just went ahead and did it, without even thinking twice about its risks or consequences. I mean, granted your dad and I were the ones who had to take care of the aftermath…but that’s beyond my point.”
She then reminisced upon the time, when I was five-years-old, discovered a bucket of paint in the hallway of our apartment (my parents were still in school at the time, so we all lived in grad school housing), and decided it would be a good idea to recruit my three-year-old sister to “decorate” our neighbor’s door with the paint.
“You can’t even imagine how terrified I was when I saw you two proudly trotting into the apartment with white paint up to your shoulders! I mean, you two were tiny, and the paint could have been POISONOUS!
My mother’s description of my childhood behavior was essentially the legal definition of recklessness: “the state of mind accompanying an act that either pays no regard to its probably or possibly injurious consequences, or which, though foreseeing such consequences, persists in spite of such knowledge.”
In our case, there were consequences: “And oh, don’t even get me started on the damage control…your dad frantically pumping up water from the basement to scrub down your neighbor’s door before they got home – and this was during his finals – while I was trying hysterically to scrub the paint off your arms…”
Even so, she concluded: “Point is, you need to stop questioning and overthinking everything! Just go ahead and do what feels right for you. ”
I have been told multiple times during my 1L year that law school tends to make people more risk-averse. Perceiving this as a warning (although, in retrospect, I question whether it was actually a warning), I thought I would be immune to this. As it turns out, I was not.
Law school teaches us to be hypersensitive to the costs, benefits, and risks that entail certain actions. In our classes, we analyze what someone should or should not have done (and numerous derivatives of these actions), and what the legal consequences were because they did or did not do that certain thing.
This way of risk-averse thinking can trickle into our every day lives, even our personal lives, at the expense of our happiness and sanity. The ability to overanalyze risk can be a virtue within the classroom, but outside the classroom, it may be a curse; risks often turn out to be blessings in disguise, and the seemingly safer roads often lead to dead ends.
Since this conversation with my mother, I have been on a mission to find the right balance between “recklessness” and risk-averseness. It has been a work in progress, and has not been all that easy. I know that it will take time – it may even end up being a career-long struggle, and at times, it will require supernatural patience like that of my mother’s (which I can only try to emulate).
Countless are the opportunities and relationships, big and small, which slipped through my fingers over the past two years because I was too afraid of its risks – the risk of failure, the risk of mediocrity, the risk of heartbreak. I admit this with deep remorse, but also with utmost hope, for I now realize that staying true to my intuitions (as opposed to using multiple colors of highlighters) is the right way to add “color” to my legal education.
So there it is: one key to staying sane in law school is to have more faith in your intuition. (Even if this entails, as it does for me, leaving some space in your mind to be “reckless”.) Don’t cower to the “probabilities or possibilities of injurious consequences,” because if you do, these “storms” of hypotheticals may bleach all the color out of your legal education.
If you like doing something, then give it your best.
If you hate doing something, then stop wasting your time on it.
And most importantly, if you love someone, then stop thinking and just start loving.