Law School

Self-Motivation In the Face of Discouragement

We are on the cusp on making history. Hopefully soon, a new SCOTUS Justice will be confirmed and we’ll have the first Black woman on the bench. If you watched the confirmation hearings you saw that Judge Brown Jackson was grace under pressure and one response was a beautiful description of what it was like to feel so out of place in distinguished spaces. I encourage you to watch it here, which starts around 17:08. But today I want to talk about what happened a few minutes before (around 14:50).

Senator Padilla starts his question with a comment about when he was a in high school a well-meaning counselor discouraged him from applying to MIT because he didn’t want him to be disappointed. He said he turned it into motivation and graduated with his Bachelors in mechanical engineering from MIT. You could tell it still hurt him, even after all these years.

This comment leapt out at me because it felt so common and I know it does to many others who are “firsts” in their family. Often when we decide to embark on a career path, like law, family or friends who feel protective towards you may discourage you from trying because it seems so out of reach.

And when that happens–it is a punch in the gut and so disheartening. While there are people like Sen Padilla who can take comments like that in stride and keep going–there are so many who are dissuaded when the people who should be their biggest advocates reveal that they have doubts.

I’m not a psychologist but in my experience this behavior is often rooted in a few factors. Maybe parents feel guilty that they can’t afford to help you; or there’s real fear that you may go on to what’s perceived as better spaces and feel embarrassed about your upbringing. For others there may be some racism or classism at play that causes someone to discourage you from pursuing your goals.

Whatever the reason, it still stings! The system is already stacked against you and to realize someone isn’t in your corner really hurts.

How do you overcome that? How do you turn it into motivation? It’s easier for some than others, but what I have found that helps the most is recognizing when a well is dry and stop trying to force them to believe in you. i.e. boundaries. Don’t waste the energy. If each time you give someone good news about your life or seek them out for advice you end up feeling defensive then it’s a cue that this is not a support system for you. This isn’t just family or friends, it’s also the systems in place–if you go to your college counselor and they vaguely discourage you from law school (but can’t articulate your specific circumstances) considering finding other guidance.

I’m not saying you should surround yourself with yes men, because of course we have to be realistic and prepare appropriately. But this journey is no joke–that’s why there’s still so few of us and I’m sad for those who were ever discouraged enough to not continue towards their goal. That’s why you have to  be protective about letting other people’s worry and doubts cloud your self-confidence; even if they think you’re being outlandish for considering the law–sometimes a little naivety and faith in ourselves is all we got and we can’t let anyone take that from us.