Doing a law degree is great – you’re surrounded by like-minded and incredibly smart people. But then comes the questions that inevitably begin to plague your mind …how is my mate getting a better grade than me? Why can’t I understand the content like they can? Should I be sharing my resources with them, at the possible chance that they’ll get a better grade?
As law students, we are stereotypically characterised as competitive, high-achieving students who are strongly motivated to get the best grades we can. For some, it is to meet the standard expected of us – from our friends, family, and often ourselves.
In an ideal world, meeting that standard would mean improving ourselves relative to our past performances, with complete disregard for how our peers are going. Sounds pretty unrealistic, right?
Quite often we may find ourselves comparing our progress (yes, our understanding of that tricky piece of legislation) and our results to the person sitting next to us. Sometimes, you may find comfort in the fact that you and your friends barely reached a credit in that essay. Other times, comparing yourself to your friend’s HD may result in those ugly emotions of envy and self-doubt. That is completely normal. We’ve all been there.
When I reflect on toxic competition, I believe that problems only really begin to arise when you unfairly project those ugly emotions and feelings onto others. If you indulge in your envy, you can very easily let your toxic competitiveness impinge on your relationships with others throughout law school. Shining a negative light on others for their personal achievements is counter-productive, and you’ll likely find yourself alone by the end of your degree!
So how do I cope with such a competitive environment and maintain my friendships?
I don’t have a one-size-fits-all solution, but I’ve come to realise that while I’m allowed to feel disappointed in myself when I don’t achieve what I intend to, I am the only person who is in control of my path towards improvement. My progress is entirely independent of my friend’s grades, nor is it a product of their individual efforts and unique style of learning. Acknowledging this key, mutual exclusivity has helped me put less emphasis on other people’s achievements, allowing me to celebrate my friend’s achievements with as much enthusiasm as if they were my own!
This has a flow on effect – your friends will also return that same positive energy!
Competition is somewhat inherent with a law degree. While it has the potential to rear its head in ugly forms, competition can be healthy and productive. Create an encouraging environment – push each other to improve (and watch those lectures)! It all starts with acknowledging that we have our own unique pathway on our law school journey. Do this, and you’ll start achieving that reasonable standard.
Written by Ben Kang