In It Till I Win It
Yesterday evening, while [CM] and I were taking a nap, I received an email. It showed up in the notifications of my phone. It basically said, thanks for your interest, but regretfully, your application for clerkship will unfortunately not be progressing further at this time.
Sorry, and good luck.
I’m all out of clerkship opportunities for this year. Yes, that means game over. I will not be getting a clerkship, and that’s all there is to it.
I went to judo after that to see if I could distract myself a bit, and that was an interesting experience: I was total crap. I had no fight spirit and no focus. Without those things, I was crap. Normally, for the other people of my belt grade, they usually have superior physical stats in terms of speed, reflexes, strength and weight– the only way that I really take them on is through concentration and tenacity.
But I didn’t have any of that. As a result, I felt myself constantly being simply overpowered. People were breaking my position easily, my counters lacked sharpness, and I was burning through energy at an incredible rate that left me feeling totally gassed halfway through the practice.
At a certain point, when sparring with [Curt], I just had nothing left.
“I have no idea what you’re trying to do,” he said. I didn’t either. I apologised, and excused myself, saying that I was just too exhausted.
I sat on the bench for the next round of randori, just catching my breath and pausing to think a bit. It’s something I know about my own cycle of effectiveness– it ebbs and flows. And at times, it goes from a total hurricane to a complete drought.
This was the drought. It was the point at which everything about me felt parched and stagnant. All that fire from that that self-motivation for months on end, it had burned away everything. All that passion, all that desperation and “one last heave!” after another– it took away everything.
As I sat there on the bench, watching others fight, I felt sublimely empty. Not so much like a car without gas– but as a big organic machine that had simply been dehydrated of all spirit. No ordinary refuel could fix this.
I thought about this for a while. Focused on my breathing. Slowed down my heart a bit so that the sludge would flow more regularly.
In one sense, it’s back to square one.
I thought about the situation in judo. Whenver a part of my life is totally out of my control and doesn’t make sense, then I try to solve it using parables from other aspects of my life. Martial arts have always been one of the major sources for analogy, especially when it comes to reevaluating the causation between hard work and results.
And these are some of the things that I figured out.
- No, I hadn’t managed to land a clerkship.
- In retrospect, it was simple arrogance that I would allow myself to expect a position in such a terrible market on the basis of my merits alone.
- While I am unique as an individual, my individuality can be broken down into proficiencies and experiences– and for the purposes of an HR department, there are plenty of people with similar proficiencies and experiences, in different combinations. In that respect, my uniqueness doesn’t matter. What matters more is their search for a particular blend that suits them.
- One of the companies gave me a bit of feedback when I asked for it– they told me that I hadn’t demonstrated, as strongly as other candidates, that I was ready and willing to work with a majority of younger lawyers. The implication was that because of my long work experience, I had come to develop a particular understanding of ways that I liked and didn’t like to work. In that sense, their guess was that I would have more difficulty working with a team of young lawyers than someone who had no previous experience.
- In the end, it means that I had much more realistic expectations, and that didn’t fit the bill– they wanted someone more malleable.
- I don’t necessarily agree with that. ANd I probably never will. But what I do need to understand is that I have to learn to play the game their way if I want to get a job. That means, initially, that I have to sell myself as being able to play that game.
- In a sense, experience became my handicap. I didn’t get feedback from the other firms, but maybe this is what they sensed– was that my experiences gave me certain expectations and a certain way of working.
All the above realisations came from a bit of a judo epiphany. My attacks and my deffenses in judo are all thinking in two dimensions– well, lengths and widths of ground coverage, basically. I try to tip people over me, trip them, sweep them, counter them… but what I realised was that the brown belts in the class had a completely different dimension. Up.
From my experience in striking arts, up was never a useful direction to go. The basic motions are forward, backwards, sideways, and circling (relative to the opponent). And so all my mechanics in judo basically came from that understanding.
Then I realised, from looking from the sidelines, that the higher class judoka were using that third dimension, the vertical one. On one hand, by using well timed sags in weight, they were making themselves unliftable. Conversely, when an opponent could not be taken out with the first two planes of movement because they were blocking or dodging, they lifted their opponent’s feet off the ground. And once in the air? Their opponents couldn’t use any footwork to dodge or block.
I think I always knew that an element of judo was lifting, but, until I got to step outside and watch it really closely I wan’t really able to see just how important it was. In a sense, the realisation on that bench was that I would have to reconceptualise everything. My past experiences were actually what had prevented me from seeing this simple reality much sooner.
The truth of the matter is, the whole clerkships thing is a combination of two things– what they want, and who I am. Both ends of those things are in flux. The only thing that is really in my control is the thing in between– how I present myself. But that depends on what I think they want. Sometimes, it’s not apparent because they don’t tell you– sometimes, they make you think you want one thing when really, they want another.
Depending on who is interviewing you, they’ll want different things, regardless of what the corporate values are. I don’t think that it’s actually possible that there is a candidate who has “everything” and is “everything.” There is just the persona that the interviewer and the interviewee compromise with, without breaking the fourth wall.
What the interviewr wants will change depending on the market conditions. I looked up the stats for what I was applying for– ultimately, the actual offers made out of applications for all the firms that I applied to was literally between 1% for the smallest firm to 3% for the largest firm. It’s a tough market.
But it’s not enough to say that it’s a tough market– in a sense, I am, and will continue to blame myself for not being among that 1%~3%. That element I mentioned– being the difference between me and my experiences and the average recent graduate who had no previous work experinece– that could have been the thing that cost me.
So during the next year, I’m going to integrate it into my life to make sure that my experience doesn’t get in the way of me working with these “young lawyers.” As with martial arts, all it is is practice, so that when the time comes, the performance comes naturally.
I’m moving on to plan B.
That means that clerkships are out. This means that I have to apply directly for graduate positions next year.
It is a bit of a setback not to do this the “easy way,” but I am not out of options, and I am determined to fight for this all the way to the end.