About a year ago, I started to think seriously about law school. After long conversations with mentors and family, I decided that it was the right path for me: an education in law would give me a toolset that would allow me to actively be part of building a better world. Naturally, I began to think how exactly this path would express itself and realized that I had a opportunity to go to a top law school. During undergrad, I took my studies seriously and had a competitive GPA to prove it. (The fact that I generally enjoyed studying international relations was also a huge boon.) In the world of law school admissions, GPA and LSAT reign supreme. There is certainly some nuance to this statement, but, for the sake of understanding, it’s useful to buy into the model. As a result, if I were to net a competitive LSAT score, then I could find myself at one of the elite law schools in the country and with an excellent springboard for finding meaningful work. That is, after all, why I was going.
I didn’t really take the SAT seriously when I was a junior in high school. If I remember correctly, on the day of the test I arrived at the center an hour early and looked through the math section of one of the many prep books jammed in the trunk of my car under a heap of soccer bags. I (remarkably) ended up getting a decent score and was admitted to Carnegie Mellon as a result. Despite attending a university of privilege, occasionally “what if” scenarios played in the back of my mind. What if I had done really well on the SAT? How might things be different? I always brushed away these scenarios. Regret truly is a useless emotion.
When I began to study for the LSAT, though, I was committed: the occasional regret of the past was channeled into the possibility of the future. I did everything I could to give myself the best shot at a good score. I completed an online course. I paid attention to sleep, exercise, and diet. I took practice tests in the center where the real one would be administered. I consistently meditated to hone my capacity to focus. Anything to pick up a point or two was fair game because when the dividing line between an LSAT score that opens doors and leaves you in the cold is razor-thin, every one counts.
After a nervous first take, I knew I could do better and geared up for a retake. More practice tests. More hair-splitting over what makes one answer right and one wrong. More simulated test environments. On the retake, the nerves were crowded out by sheer determination and I netted a very competitive score to match my GPA. Needless to say, I was really excited at my prospects at getting into the likes of Yale, Harvard, and Stanford. These three law schools are somewhat fabled to be in a league of their own and I thought I might just find myself at one of them.
It was in this moment that the primary motivation for applying to law school - finding a way to meaningfully engage with the world - found a creeping competitor in the background: the prospect of prestige. Carnegie Mellon is a fantastic school and I am incredibly grateful that I had a chance to grow with my peers at such a dynamic place. Still, the idea of going to law school at “prestigious” institutions like Yale, Harvard, or Stanford - now a distinct possibility - became incredibly alluring. I sent in my applications, confident that I was going to be accepted to at least one of the three top schools.
Good news rolled in pretty quickly. I was accepted at NYU, Berkeley, Penn, Columbia and finally Chicago: all incredible institutions that would offer me a world-class legal education. Despite all of this good news, I was still waiting to hear back from the top three. Then, in quick succession, I was rejected by Yale and waitlisted at Harvard and Stanford. Admittedly, I was a little surprised. Yes, these are the best law schools in the country; of course cracking their admissions would be a challenging venture. Despite this acknowledgment, the string of non-acceptances stung. The allure of the prestige had creeped beyond the secondary, not quite to the primary, but enough to injure my pride.
It was in this headspace where I stumbled upon a time-worn truth: the world requires us to hustle indefatigably. I had learned this lesson well growing up on the soccer field. Talk is cheap; hustle is paramount. Your opponents might be on a better team, wear the best boots, or have complicated plays up their sleeves, but if they don’t hustle, it’s all for nothing. When an underdog team hustles, an upset can take both teams by surprise. There’s a reason why sports metaphors are so powerful: they’re almost always true. The hustle creates results that matter. Nothing else. Not prestige, not money, not fame, the traps that we fall for along the way, attracted by the false promise they each offer. When the rubber meets the road, it’s just the hustle that counts. The hustle for a healthy family and for a community in a time of confusing connection and disconnection. The hustle for meaningful work. The hustle for a more just world, for tomorrow.
Note: this next paragraph was written a few weeks ago but I wanted to include it as a promise to myself:
I had forgotten that the hustle was what it was all about. That’s why I was going to law school. I had been blinded by the temporary brightness of prestige, a projection of meaningless status. With my senses firmly regained, I began to think through what the future might have in store. Of my available options, NYU is best suited for the hustle. I have no passion for any iteration of corporate law and NYU has arguably some of the best institutional support for its public interest students in the country. So, I turned down better “ranked” schools (Chicago and Columbia) for the real chance to hustle at NYU. There is still a non-zero chance that I end up at Harvard or Stanford, accepted off a waitlist, but I won’t lose what I have gained in the process. I would do myself a favor if I only learn this lesson once.
That non-zero chance was realized: I was accepted off Stanford’s waitlist. With the mentality gained through the process, I was able to weigh my two options objectively. Stanford will, without a doubt, advance all of the goals that I care about and I am positive that I am starting law school with clear eyes and a full heart.
Welcome to the hustle, Daniel. Don’t forget it.