I don’t think I’ve heard anyone else ever say something like that. I’ve heard them talk about the aches and pains. About whether school prepared them for the Bar and for actual lawyering. But I’ve never heard anyone say that it was a good thing on a personal level. That it helped them grow as a human being.
It’s been doing that for me.
It takes almost no time for new people in my life to recognize I struggle to ask for help. They usually diagnose me with a pride issue, assuming that I just hate to admit I can’t do everything, but it’s actually a really different thing than that. There’s probably pride in it, but the fears that play in my head when I know I need to ask for help aren’t people finding out I’m finite and human. It’s more like: “Ahhhh! He’s going to hate me for taking up his time! She’ll say yes to be polite, but secretly resent me forever. Ahhhhh!”
I’m making light of it, but it’s actually a paralyzing thing for me. I often would rather miss out on an opportunity than run the risk of having someone feel irritated by my presence.
This year, I’m writing my substantial paper (a.k.a. note). It’s pretty much the same thing as a dissertation. It’s a 30-35 page paper required for graduation and for various certifications (there is a certification for Juvenile and Family Law, for instance) . Also, for students who write for a law journal, there is the chance of being published.
I feel a little bit overjoyed and even giddy about it for a lot of reasons. My topic is something I’m truly passionate about. It’s a complex issue that combines constitutional law with juvenile and family law, plus I get to delve into the psychology of domestic violence. Academia is not over-saturated with articles on the topic, so it may be publishable. Also, I love to write.
For my note, I have an assigned student editor from the journal I’m on and I was required to find a faculty member willing to supervise me. My editor is delightful and super helpful, but…
Problem: I would rather have my fingernails torn off one by one than risk causing a professor to feel irritation.
It really wouldn’t be out of the question for a professor to be irritated with note supervision. After all, the nature of the relationship is such that I (an inexperienced lawyer-in-training) will be writing about something I am in the process of learning, and which the professor should know like the back of her hand. It’s a time-consuming endeavor of reading each draft I write, correcting legal and writing errors and making sure I write something worthy of transforming me into Kathryn James, J.D. (or, if I’m real fancy, Esq.). If I am not the sharpest tool in the shed, suck at legal writing/legal research, am lazy, or simply get off on the wrong track, the supervising professor is supposed to guide me back into the realm of competence.
It can be a great collaborative experience, OR it can be the intellectual equivalent of Student climbing into a potato sack and asking professor to drag her carcass from one edge of the desert to the next.
I really wanted to work with my favorite professor. She used to be the dean of the whole law school. She brings so much to the table in every discussion. She is smart and kind. She approaches the law with an admirable intellect tempered by empathy. She sees and articulates both sides of the issue.
She is pretty much the greatest thing since sliced bread, and I want to be just like her someday.
When I started thinking about asking her to supervise me, though, all I could imagine was how much she would grow to hate me for asking her to drag my carcass across the desert. I also assumed that all the fancy students who are in the top of the class would be asking her to supervise their notes and she wouldn’t have time for me. I also assumed that because my topic isn’t fully in her area of expertise, she would tell me to ask someone else.
And yet… I forced myself to ask.
Within minutes of sending my email, I received a response: Yes, but also consider talking to ______ and _______. They can help keep you on-track on areas outside of my expertise, but I would love to work with you.
Woohoo! She said yes!
I felt extreme terror at having to ask two more professors (neither of whom had taught me previously) for their time, but I did it, they said yes, and all seemed to be on-track.
My first real deadline was a couple of weeks ago – the first ten pages were due.
I felt like I hadn’t worked nearly hard enough. I felt inadequate… lazy, even. My paper was probably embarrassing. Laughable. I just hadn’t the knowledge and wisdom to realize it yet.
When I submitted my pages,* I assumed they would be returned to me bleeding of edits and feedback.
“Your first ten pages are beautifully written. I usually provide students with sentence-level edits even at this early stage in the process, but I don’t have any for you. You really are a good writer.”
I nearly missed out on receiving one of the greatest compliments of my life… for fear of asking for help.
*I finished up my ten pages while sitting upstairs in a small town coffee shop called Appalachian Java. That day was the first day of my fall break, and I told my mom that I would need about 4 hours of study time that day. 8 ish hours later, I finally submitted my ten pages, having not eaten at all that day and having subjected my mom to a full day of sitting nearby, wondering when I would finish.