I forgot how important it was to remember that there is life that exists outside of the law not only to give us some perspective, but also to remind us of why we chose this pathway in the first place, writes Monash law student Flynne Tytherleigh.
For my 18th birthday, I was fortunate enough to have parents who wanted to get me something special. They asked me whether I wanted money for a car or an exotic holiday or something sparkly in a little blue box. I had diligently worked at KFC as a waitress since I was 15 and was a good saver, so I could realistically buy these things if I had really wanted them.
So, instead I asked Mum to give me life advice. I asked for the things that she always wished someone had told her when she was 18 to equip me for the next few years ahead. So, true to form, she produced a colourful book of all the wisdom she had learned over the years and it is the greatest present she has ever given me.
It hasn’t been my finest year. In fact, it’s probably been one of the most emotionally and physically challenging years of my life. It’s almost comical how many things have gone the exact opposite way I would’ve planned. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been through the wringer this year. Many of us have lived through multiple rejections or train wreck semesters.
We’ve lived through existential crises and doubts about whether we’re on the right path. We’ve been thrust into forks in the road, which have forced us to make scary decisions or have scary decisions made for us.
It is at these moments in my life that I pull out her book of life advice and pour over the pages and I try to figure out what I’ve learned from the pain. What greater meaning I can find in my experiences and whether I’ve learned the lessons she handwrote in the pages. And I try and figure out how to blossom into the butterfly she had in mind when she took coloured pencils to paper when I was just shy of 18.
The first thing I learned is that there is a lesson in everything. As law students and lawyers, adversity is an everyday ingredient of our lives. We’re either going to win or lose, get the job or not get the job, succeed or fail. Despite this, and I can only speak for law students, but it seems that we are rather out of our depth when it comes to dealing with a thing we so often encounter. I’m sure most of us would put it down to going from being fabulous fish in small ponds to average fish in fabulous ponds.
But at moments where rejection forces us onto a different path, I have come to learn there is a reason this has happened. There are doors that close so others can open, or doors that just open and doors that slam shut without reasonable explanation at the time. And we need to learn how to deal with the discomfort of this and accept that the lesson may sneakily reveal when we least expect it.
I had also lost sight of the fact I was so much more than the degree I was studying. I was more than a moderately achieving law student struggling to get a clerkship. I had friends to whom clerkships didn’t matter and thought I was fantastic for applying seven times for the one job, let alone once. I was part of a family who loved me even when I stormed through the house and ugly cried at the TV and left multiple pairs of shoes everywhere.
I had hobbies that had absolutely nothing to do with studying law, and how well I did at these pursuits were measured by how much I enjoyed them and not by how “good” I could be at them. I held opinions about feminism and the environment and fashion that were often stifled in conversations about studying law. I forgot how important it was to remember that there is a life that exists outside of the law not only to give us some perspective, but also to remind us of why we chose this pathway in the first place.
However, perhaps the most important page of my book is the one that says that you have to do what makes you happy. I think a lot of us struggle grappling with the juxtaposition of what we think should make us happy and what actually makes us happy. Our pathway often leads us to believe that the clerkship at the top tier firm or the high distinction or traineeship is what should make us happy.
But I’m not afraid to admit that I’m sceptical of this “gold standard”. I’m sure it works for some, but I don’t think this “one size fits all” approach to happiness is really all it’s cracked up to be. For some people, happiness is measured by these things, but for others it’s not. For others, it’s about inner peace or the quality of their relationships or their ability to make others happy.
But whatever it is that makes you happy, the most important thing is that you’re doing it for you. That it’s measured on a scale you decide. That it is unapologetically yours.
As I put on my brave face for the final three months of my spectacularly terrible year, I still manage to feel a sense of hope and gratitude. I’m hopeful that I can change the world volunteering in Vietnam over summer, something I’ve always wanted to do, and figure out a pathway that makes me happy from the inside out.
I’m so very grateful to my friends and family who have tirelessly picked me up again and again over the year and showed me how to be fearless. But most importantly, I am hopeful that I will continue to flourish into the strong, complex and empowered woman I was always meant to become, with my mother’s book of life advice in tow.
Flynne Tytherleigh is a law student at Monash University and the founder and owner of men's accessories brand PocketMan.