Serena holds an LLB from the National University of Singapore (NUS), is a Certified Social + Emotional Intelligence Coach, and has life coaching and NLP qualifications from The Coaching Institute, Melbourne. She is a Midlife Career Mentor and Amazon bestselling author, and works with professional women in their forties to create an exit strategy that enables them to transition from corporate work to business. If she had not entered law school, she would probably have been a psychologist, writer, or counsellor. Serena has called Melbourne home since 2006.
This letter is addressed to her 21-year-old self who is going through law school.
I know you’re feeling anxious and questioning whether you made the right decision choosing Law. I know that when you look at your peers, you feel completely out of your depth. You stare at your textbook but nothing seems to go in. You are terrified of being called upon in tutorials and found inadequate. Everyone else seems so savvy and confident, so sure of what they want to do after graduation, while you seem to be forever in survival mode. You wonder if you even belong here.
Here’s the lesson you will learn as the years pass: everyone has the same kinds of anxieties and fears, and what you’ve experienced is no different from what others struggle with. It’s time to face your fears and do the very things you’ve been avoiding. Instead of letting fear rule your life, decide that you will step up and step out. Reach out to people you don’t know well. Laugh more, speak up more, and volunteer your services, instead of hiding and lurking on the fringes of conversations and activities. If you need help, ask. There is no shame in not knowing all the answers. Give yourself permission to be okay with feeling uncertain, with looking foolish sometimes, and have a good laugh because this too shall pass. Seek out a kindly mentor, perhaps a senior or a tutor, and ask if they are willing to share their experiences and the lessons they learned in managing the academic, emotional and social challenges of Law School.
Remember why you chose Law as your first option when you got your ‘A’ level results, how you thought that being able to serve others and advocate for their wellbeing and rights would be a fine and worthy thing to do with your life. Your years in public service will prove you right, and offer you numerous opportunities to live up to your aspirations. They will not always come wrapped beautifully: Some tasks will seem boring, repetitive and pointless. Some clients will be disagreeable. Some days you will ask yourself “What am I doing here? Is this all there is?” and you will start to look further afield for inspiration and answers. You may leave the legal profession altogether and do something you have no prior experience or background in, simply because it feels like the right thing to do. This too is part of the journey of self-growth.
Should you decide to switch careers and give up law, know that you will have mixed emotions about it. There will be relief and excitement, but also trepidation and self-doubt. Every time you hit a roadblock, you will wonder if you made the right decision, or whether you should have stayed on the path you were familiar with. Know that everyone who makes a change and reinvents themselves in any significant way has experienced similar emotions. It is through giving yourself permission to stumble, fall, and get up again, that you become more aware of what works for you and what to do differently next time.
Being in Law School is a privilege – not everyone who applies gets a place. This is your opportunity to learn a set of skills that will serve you (and others) well wherever you go, so make the most of it. Learn as much as you can while you can, with all the enthusiasm and dedication and focus you can muster. What you learn in Law School and in the years of public service to come will be an asset to you professionally, even if you do decide to leave the legal profession. You never lose what you learn.
What is more important than your grades and career success is your attitude. How will you show up in the world? Will you show your best self only when you feel motivated, or will you consistently demonstrate a spirit of personal and professional excellence regardless of external circumstances? How will you use your hard-won knowledge to serve others and change lives?
This seems like a lot to think about when you’re already snowed under by your Third Year workload, knowing that you have just one year left to make your time count before internship, graduation and the Postgraduate Practical Course in Law (PLC). So remember to balance it with fun, friendship, and things that add meaning to your life. In 20 years’ time, it will be the memories of your happy times in the Arts Canteen enjoying ice jelly and beef char kway teow that you will be fondly recalling, not how many B’s you scored (or did not score).
All the best,