Will I survive law school?

I feel like it's killing me, but I'm in my last year

Published December 2, 2011 1:00AM (EST)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I feel like I need my own declaration of independence, something I believe everybody else has when they realize they're in some kind of minority. I know myself to be very different from everybody else, something I used to take pride in. But now my pride has abandoned me and I am often tearfully unhappy.  

My unique personality was actually measured by the Myers-Briggs test, if you believe in that sort of thing. Not only did the results show I was a very rare personality, the INFP role variant, my score was also clearly that, the clearest example of an INFP the counselor had ever seen.

Perhaps as a 12-year-old, my Myers-Briggs result would have been what I hoped for. Somewhere along the way, however, something went wrong.

My preferred writing style nowadays is stream-of-consciousness. My attention span has become that of a kitten, and no amount of writing over a paragraph interests me. As a result, my academic performance has suffered and though I'm in my last year of law school, I now feel like I'm doing something I don't want to do.  

I don't dwell on that problem, though. I have many thoughts now, all in disarray. Now I have stumbling speech, outbursts of intense anger, shock and sorrow. I'm swollen with emotion. As one of my law professors observed, watching me was like watching water boil. I felt my chin quiver after he told me that.

What bothers me is that I am 25 years old and I have never had a relationship with a woman. For the life of me, I dwell on this every hour of every day. My dreams, my ambitions, have been overtaken by bitterness and stunted emotional growth.  I blame the girls that avoided me, rejected me, laughed at me, led me on, and the girls that kissed me, only to leave soon to find other boys. You all will make it out fine. Your coddled kind always does. But I also blame my family for making me believe that sometimes we're stuck with a dull bird of youth.

When I relate to others these problems, I always get a hackneyed response like "act like a man," "stop being so sensitive," or some mystical nonsense like "just let go." These lazy, capsule phrases have no meaning to me and I don't know what to do with them. I constantly ask for advice and now I'm asking for yours.

I am a big fan of your writing and please know your words are a big deal to many people. I hope you keep on writing happily and I eagerly wait your reply.


Tangled Up in Blue

Dear Tangled Up in Blue,

Thanks for the Bob Dylan reference. One site suggests that, like you, Dylan is an INF type -- an INFJ.

How they came to that conclusion I do not know.

Maybe they used their intuition.

Imagine Dylan in law school. He doesn't belong in law school any more than you do. But you're there. You are in your final year. It is important to finish. You can do that. You can finish law school.

You probably feel like it's killing you, and in a way it is. You're being asked to relinquish your preferred mode of being for one that feels alien and difficult. You say that your preferred writing style now is stream of consciousness. That makes sense. The stream of consciousness is your lifeblood. The study of law demands that you reroute that lifeblood, that stream of consciousness, into the rigid confines of logic and precedent.

It must feel like it's killing you! Indeed, you are undergoing a kind of pedagogical extermination. But you can get through it. So do not give in. Find ways to satisfy your nature in the few moments of freedom available.

Your unconscious knows what you need. So sit down and let your mind wander; write down what comes to you, or draw it, or sing it or mumble it to yourself. Things that come to you might include movies or walks; images may come to you; perhaps an image of a lake will come to you, or an image of a painting, or a woman. Pretend you're Bob Dylan. Let this crazy stuff come into your mind. Let these images come to you and see them as needed information from your unconscious. See these images as your unconscious placing an order: These are the things your soul desires. See what you can do to satisfy your soul. Your soul doesn't want to make sense. It doesn't want to settle contracts or put a killer on death row. Maybe it wants to sit in a dark movie theater and watch avant-garde movies; perhaps you need to get into nature for a day or two and feel the crunch of pine needles under your heel. It might help to crawl into a tent and sleep there under the stars. It might help to connect with a close friend. The key is to get in touch with your own needs and be forthright about them and seek to satisfy them, however inscrutable they may seem to others. If you are destined to fall in love with a woman, this will lead you in that direction.

Meanwhile, you must  take care of yourself. Law school will not take care of you; its mission is more the opposite, to break down your native habits of feeling and thinking and replace them with the exacting habits of legal reasoning necessary to the profession.

So allow yourself some craziness, enough craziness to sustain you through the rigors of law school. Then graduate. Then find a job where you can be who you are.

Not all of us are cut out to practice law. Some of us must occupy the stranger regions, the nebulous folds of cinema and music and literature, the mystical realms of comix. Some of us must dance and some of us must roam the forest.

This list of attributes and favored and disfavored occupations for INFPs rings true for me and perhaps it will for you as well. Perhaps your law degree will allow you the option to choose some suitable life among the favored occupations listed here. Here are some best careers for INFPs. Another, more structured approach to careers for INFPs appears here.

The important thing, above and beyond -- but dependent upon -- finding a congenial occupation, is that you fulfill your human destiny. Your destiny is at root nothing more than a set of instructions in the form of images, inclinations, preferences and rewards.

The things that you love and are drawn to -- these are instructions. Follow them. They seem to come from some ancient and high agency, and perhaps they really do. Such a thing can't be known with certainty. But it can be known that to find harmony in your life, you must read the signs of your own predilections. Personality type, dream work, the study of symbols and literature and art, all these things can help you find your way.

Good luck. And, again, thanks for alerting me to a tune I hadn't listened to in a while. Maybe that means something, too.

By Cary Tennis

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