Every time I receive grades, the first thought that comes to mind is a story my mother told me from her high school days. It was the first time she ever received a “C” in a course, and she was reprimanded severely by her mother. To this day the incident remains a profound memory for her—not because she was reprimanded, but because of what came after. Her father, a man of few words, actually took the time to come out and talk to her. “Did you do your best?” he asked. Honestly, I can’t remember what she responded, but the last thing he said to her was “That’s all that matters.”
Like my grandfather, Scripture also tells us that “If [you] give away all [you] have, and if [you] deliver up [your] body to be burned, but have not love, [you] gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:3 (ESV).
When reflecting on the above passage, I cannot help but think about what my grandfather told my mother all those years ago, or the impact the story had on me growing up. You see, giving your all (or doing your best) means more than just what is at the surface. It also includes the heart we put into the tasks before us. In order to do our best, we have to have our heart in something because the human heart is at the core of who we are. It allows us to experience the world and all its emotions. As a law student, these principles are important for many reasons, including (a) serving as a measure of what you gave, (b) serving as a measure of what you’re willing to lose, and (c) showing you where your heart still lies. Knowing these things about yourself then serves as the foundation for which you can build upon your self-knowledge, exercise better judgment, and learn compassion, not only for others, but also for yourself. For how can one be a leader and be able to lead others without first understanding him or herself?
Did you give your best this semester? If you find yourself saying no, I challenge you to take the time you would be beating yourself up and, instead of asking where you went wrong, ask where you went right. What distractions did you face that prevented you from giving your all? What did you learn about yourself because of those distractions? You may have a “C” in a course, but you may also have taken on increased responsibilities such as managing your children during the day. Perhaps it wasn’t children, but you have trouble focusing outside a classroom environment, or you have pets that demanded attention after not seeing you for several months. Whatever it was, think about where your mind was, and you may find that you didn’t or couldn’t give your best to classes under the conditions you were in. Yet you still passed, didn’t you? You’re still on the same path, and with a much better understanding of your limitations.
For those who did well, I also have a challenge. Ask yourself: What did you give up? Why were you able to perform at your best? Is the way you practice sustainable in the long run? For example, how much sleep did you get a night on average? Were you able to enjoy other activities outside of law school or did you eat, breathe, and dream in legalese? Did you study every day or did you give yourself a sabbath?
Whether you made the grade or fell short, be honest with yourself in your analysis. Remember, law school is just the first step on this journey into the legal profession. Grades and ranks are important, but to remain sustainable one must be sure to have balance in his or her life. The more you are willing answers to these questions and reflect, the greater likelihood of long-term success. Let these questions become your template for practicing a well-balanced life and for sustaining a fulfilling career as leaders in the community and in the legal profession itself.