Dealing with FOMO and knowing when it’s alright to say no


[ Stephanie Baldwin, 2L at the University of Arizona ]

FOMO Law Student Style

I think, as law students, we can suffer from a unique form of FOMO(osa)… the fear of missing out (on school-related activities). Unlike in the past where our FOMO might have been about social events, now, at least for me it has a focus on law school-related events, with a special emphasis on those special “gold star” law school opportunities like journal, moot & trial court, clinics, and similar activities.

We know that these activities are important for our resume building, in fact sometimes essential, depending on the sector we want to work in after graduation. Plus, we know how difficult it can be to earn these special “gold star” opportunities. For this reason, I think it can be unthinkable to turn down any of these opportunities. But sometimes we need to, and this is one of those moments for me.

As I talked to some of my fellow 2Ls, we talked about how difficult it was to navigate these decisions and how it could feel like a huge mistake if we didn’t say yes to every opportunity presented. The truth is, sometimes we need to say no. Here are some tips to help you navigate these experiences.

First, Be Honest With Yourself

Here, I was pretty sure I needed to say no. Not because I couldn’t take on the challenge, but just because it would be too much. But, as a first-generation student, I did not want to say “no” without realizing what I was saying no to. Does that make sense?

To be honest, this was a big step for me. I think it is hard to admit when you do not know something, which is why seeking advice is important. Then beyond that, you have to be really honest with yourself about when you can and cannot take on more in a very objective way.

I did not know the “ranking” or importance of my competing activities, so it was essential that I reached out for help, to make sure I did not make a naive misstep.


Next, Reach Out to Those Who Have Been There Before

If you are struggling and are not sure which opportunities to say yes to or decline, turn to your trusted allies. I am a first-generation law student, so there is no one in my family I can turn to for law school advice. Beyond that, I do not even have any family friends who are lawyers. So, for me, this is why creating relationships at my school and within my legal community have been essential, and likely why I blog about it so much.

As soon as I was offered this opportunity, I was immediately torn. I want to do it, I knew the prestige attached to the activity. But the sacrifice and potential impact on my other activities would have been substantial. While I am usually a person who is always willing to rise to the occasion, this time, I realized that this might be something I couldn’t problem-solve my way out of.

I reached out to two professors, my bar association mentor, and my career advisor (who is an alumnus who had experience with what I was contemplating). I sent them a detailed letter about the pros and cons and asked for their advice. All of them were happy to respond and provided phenomenal advice. They also all commented that they could tell I already knew the answer. Which was to decline.

Saying No

Saying No, May Open Other Opportunities

It is SO easy to become overextended in 2L, plus for me, I think saying “no” is hard in general. Add in the fact that you know you may be turning down an amazing opportunity. Or something you are really interested in, it makes saying “no” even harder.

I think that it is also difficult to recognize that as a law student, we do have limits. But I think learning to say “no” is a part of our professional development and something we have to learn. It’s great to participate in activities, but we have to understand the “cost” of participation. I recognize that saying no to this opportunity at school will have its costs. But I also know by saying no, I am opening up the possibility of other doors that could lead to permanent things outside of school. Plus… there is always 3L and I think that can be easy to forget! As one of my wise professors said: “give each opportunity its own full moment!”

Have you had a similar FOMO struggle? Let me know over @The2LLife.

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