By: Tori Santoro, Guest Blogger November 14, 2015
image via whisperedinspirations.com
Middletown, Connecticut is no cultural hub, but it was where my college years played out. Nestled in between Boston and New York, my friends and I took frequent trips in both directions. I was lucky; for me, college was filled with exploration, fun, deep friendships, intense learning, and a whole lot of tennis. I studied abroad in Paris for one semester during my junior year. And when I returned, things were decidedly different. Nothing had gotten worse, but there was a new layer: seriousness.
Suddenly, my peers were focused on securing jobs and applying for graduate school. They were concerned about paying rent after college and agonizing over what city to move to. Suddenly, I had to make these decisions, too.
For as long as I can honestly remember, law school always felt like a natural choice. While I was in Paris, I fortuitously bumped into a Wesleyan alumna who told me “Go to law school. People think you know something if you go to law school.” (Which turned out to be true.) More importantly, everyone close to me seemed to think I’d be a great lawyer and would be able to use the degree for a higher purpose. (The higher purpose also turned out to be true.)
Thus began a four year journey to a J.D. that was filled with some of the most difficult moments in my life. The applicant pool for spots in law school is, as you may imagine, intelligent and incredibly driven. If I thought being accepted to college was a big deal, this took that anxiety and multiplied it ten times over.
I began to understand the competition that I would face when I started my preparation for the LSAT (law school admission test). I had targeted some schools in the northeastern part of the country, and had a goal score that I knew I would have to reach if I had a prayer of being accepted. The process of preparing for the LSAT begins with practice tests. If there was one thing that gave me a swift kick of reality, it was these practices tests. Abruptly, I realized how much work I had to do, and how far I had to go, if I wanted to achieve my goal.
Others seemed to take easily to the LSAT and all the rigors of preparation that the test entailed. On top of that, others seemed to have their application materials organized and their transcripts ordered and uploaded and ready to go. There were many moments during these months that I thought, simply, I was not good enough, or organized enough, or even smart enough, to reach my goals for the LSAT and to secure a spot at a law school.
Disheartening. This is how it felt. I was not jealous of my peers who seemed to have this all under control. But I doubted myself and my abilities and became listless and disheartened every time I had to refocus and continue studying. I spent too much time comparing myself, comparing my performance, and worrying if I would do as well as some other person. There are many processes that are designed this way; to set you up as a competitor against all those attempting the same feat. It’s unfortunate and difficult to maintain the right perspective. I had certainly lost my perspective.
My joy of learning that I had developed so much during college seemed to deflate before my very eyes. I thought I clearly hadn’t accomplished that much if this process was so difficult for me. And then the questions began about law school itself. Even if I managed to get in, would I even do well? Would I succeed? Would everyone else do better than me and I would fail to get a job after graduation? I was at the beginning of my life, and questioning whether I could achieve any of the things I wanted.
Through great friends, and a supportive family, and one incredible LSAT tutor, I muscled through the test-taking process. Then I muscled through the application process. And then I waited, anxiously. An anxiety I had never felt before because this is really what I wanted to do with my life. I had put so much effort and focus, time and attention into preparing for law school, that the idea of not achieving it filled me with dread.
Instead of self-doubt, I practice self-belief now.
I’ll never forget the day I was accepted. It was a sunny spring day, I was standing with my best friend on our college campus. My mother called to say she had received something from Boston College and she read it to me right there on the phone while my friend and I stood on the sidewalk.
It wasn’t just the test preparation process. To me, it all came home, that I had spent 21 years preparing myself for this. Practicing on the tennis court, studying for tests, doing my homework. I enjoy learning; it is something I will never let go of. But I also love teaching my mind to persevere. To push through tough spots, to maintain focus, to take small steps towards your goals every day.
Law school was certainly difficult, but not nearly as difficult as I had imagined in my mind while I was struggling through the LSAT. But what I learned about myself during that year of preparation was where to keep my focus: on myself. The number one person you can always rely on is yourself. Doubting my abilities and intelligence did not help me get ready for the LSAT, or for law school, but it taught me everything about looking deeply inward and forging your own path forward. Without those intense and disheartening months, I never would have learned so much about my own reserves of strength. Reserves I now rely on all the time in my career, and in my life.
Instead of self-doubt, I practice self-belief now. Every time the going gets tough, I strengthen that self-belief muscle a little bit more. I look into myself, take some deep breaths, and tell myself: I can do this. So can you.
Confidence is one killer #InnerStyle accessory. Tell us about a time you gained more confidence and be sure to check out our conversation with Lea Michelle in this month's InStyle where she talks confidence, self-love, and more!
Victoria Santoro is a trial attorney who practices law in Boston. She is also a teacher, speaker, and writer, maintaining her personal blog The Limber Lawyer, and contributing to various legal publications. Victoria is passionate about helping young girls and women not only succeed but also find contentment and purpose. In her free time, she can often be found training or competing for half-marathons and triathlons.
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