Moment of Truth: You Can’t Do Anything You Set Your Mind To

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the phrase, you can do anything you set your mind to. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Working hard and being dedicated is important in order to accomplish your goals, but I don’t buy the claims that people can do anything if they just work hard enough.

I have not always been so skeptical of this phrase. Truth is, I used to believe that no matter what was going on, I could “out work” anyone around me in order to accomplish whatever it was that I wanted to accomplish. Maybe it was part of that whole being invincible misbelief, but law school served as a giant eye opener. It turned me into someone who rolls his eyes every time that phrase is uttered.

I did believe that I could “out study” everyone in law school, I figured everything was set, and that I would be able to get one of those high-paying jobs at one of those big downtown law firms.

Just like most law students who are first starting law school, I paid attention to the standard requirements the bigger firms looked for in order to get interviews, and hopefully a future job. Law students weren’t even allowed to interview with those bigger firms unless they met those requirements. Students had to be in the top 20% of their class. They had to make law review. They had to participate in the moot court competition, and they had to become leaders in student organizations.

Being in the top 20% of the class meant that 80% of the students were automatically eliminated from those jobs.  However, being law students, we all had giant egos and we all believed we’d fit in that top 20%.

For many law students, that first year of law school truly a real eye opener. Studying for a law school class isn’t like studying for a history class. Students can’t just memorize a bunch of facts and end up acing the exam at the end of the semester. Doing well in law school requires an awakening of sorts. Students have to learn the law and then learn how to analyze the law. It’s a process that schools refer to as thinking like a lawyer.

For many students, they never get the process. It won’t matter how hard they work, they just can’t flip that switch and think like a lawyer. For others, the switch comes quick and easy. And for others it comes far too late to ever have a chance at the top 20%. Not all of the students who misunderstand the process are necessarily hard workers, but I watched as many put in the same hours as me fully believing they could do anything they set their minds to, and then they ultimately failed.

I ended up meeting all the requirements. The process clicked about halfway through my first semester of law school and then I studied like my family’s life depended on it, which it did. In the end, do you know how many real interviews I got from those big downtown law firms? One.

I applied to over 250 law firms spread out across the United States and I only ended up with one interview, and the hiring manager who conducted that interview tried to kill the interview before it started. (The firm had extended all of its offers to other students the week before my interview.)

Don’t get me wrong, I love where I work now. The job I have is absolutely perfect for my family, and I am 100% certain that if I had ended up with one of those jobs at a bigger firm I would not be married right now. I only live a short 5 minute drive from my office, and my employer has no problem with having Addie hangout with me at work all day. In fact, at one point when my boss asked me to cover a hearing for him and I told him I couldn’t because I had Addie at the office, he said, “Don’t ever worry about that, she can hang out with Lisa [his secretary] if you ever have court.”

The disappointment that comes with being rejected 250 times, and not even just rejected but not even given a chance, took a real toll on that whole “being able to do anything” belief. I am confident that there isn’t a thing I could have done better or different in law school that would have increased my chances of getting one of those jobs  In the end, there was nothing I could do to change my future. And as a result, my daughters will never hear me make such the ridiculous claim that they can do anything that they set their minds to.

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