Cory Bettel (2L)
Maybe it’s whimsical and obscure and makes me a little weird… but I’ve spent my entire life obsessed with reality television. Survivor in particular. My fandom is so obsessive that I can tell you, for example, that Brice Johnson was the third person voted out of the 28th season or that a tribe was once named Mogo Mogo. You’re probably laughing at me right now. Go ahead: get it out of your system. I’ll wait.
Admitting that I’m a gigantic Survivor nerd has always been something of an embarrassment, but it has legitimately shaped my approach to life and to law school. My natural inclination when I started at U of T was to compete and strategize and even manipulate my way into achieving good marks. Somewhere along the way, I adopted a philosophy that is standard for the prototypical reality-show contestant: I’m not here to make friends.
On my first day of law school I constantly reminded myself of this mantra, focused on obtaining some magical permutation of HHs and extra-curriculars that would make me objectively win 1L. I know I’m not the only one guilty of this: of being not only rationally self-interested but irrationally competitive at the outset of law school.
But this story has a happy ending. Even by the end of my first few weeks, I had realized that law school is a weird pressure cooker of high highs and low lows. It is really hard to know what it’s like to be in law school unless you’re actually in law school. And it is basically impossible to go through such an isolating, unique experience and not bond with the other people going through the same motions you are. So my main honest advice, and I promise I’m not bullshitting you, is very simple: Make some friends.
Talk to them, learn about them. Ask how many siblings they have or which Kardashian sister they like the most (my answers: two and, obviously, Khloe). But seriously, taking a study break to sort my classmates into Harry Potter houses and joining a law school trivia team were certainly more memorable for me than learning about negligence or the parol evidence rule.
My other honest piece of advice, beyond friendship, is to learn to actually trust the people around you. I know, you think everyone is a shark that smells blood in the water. But they totally aren’t: they’re human, too. They have the same fears that you do—of disappointment, of rejection, of failure. So share your maps and the Dropbox of notes you got from that nice upper year. Have study sessions where you answer each other’s questions and bounce ideas off of each other for your LRW papers. Go to the library and sigh at each other because re-reading your notes for the millionth time is boring AF. Law school may not be a team sport but, if you treat it like one, you’ll feel way less intimidated and alone.
Look, I’ll level with you: there’s pragmatism in law school friendships, too. Nobody has ever won Survivor without making an alliance or two along the way. If you all compile your notes and trade exam strategies, it only increases your likelihood of success. You may think that giving anyone else even the slightest bit of help is going to condemn you to a transcript full of Ps. But your grades aren’t quite so binary. And there’s a huge chance of oversight if you try to do it all by yourself. Having a couple of ride-or-die friends to watch my back not only gave me a fuller understanding in each of my courses, but also calmed my anxiety that I was totally missing something.
Sure, you can continue to villainize the competition, to pretend that everyone around you is an emotionless automaton. But don’t. Seriously, just don’t. Because the truth is, I may not be here to make friends… but I’m really glad I did.
PS: For your reference, there’s a great supercut on YouTube of contestants from just about every reality show incessantly uttering the phrase “I’m not here to make friends.” It’s wonderful and hilarious and a little bit tragic. You’re welcome in advance.