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Tales of the unexpected: Tornadoes and law school grades

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Tales of the unexpected: Tornadoes and law school grades

It was the day after Christmas, and the last thing I had expected was to look out my front window and see a tornado swirling in the sky across the highway.

You’ve probably heard about the huge tornadoes that ravaged Dallas on December 26 and took 11 lives. Well, one of those tornadoes touched down just a couple miles from my home! The lights in our house started flickering, a big “tornado warning!” flashed on my phone, and I was huddled in a corner of an interior closet, waiting…

It was eerie. The winds were howling and I could hear tornado sirens echoing outside. If you’ve never heard a tornado siren, it’s not a sound you want to hear. You know those old post-apocalyptic movies where a siren sounds and everyone heads into a bunker? You know that creepy feeling you get when you watch it happening? That’s how I felt.

2015 Tornado
A photo of a tornado in Mesquite, Texas, which is east of Dallas, taken by Adam Goebel in December 2015.

My husband is a bit braver than I am, so he stayed by a window, keeping lookout. Right across the highway, he could see the dark form of a tornado that was lit up every now and then by the power lines it was tearing down.

This was definitely not the “gift” I expected for Christmas, nor was it part of my New Year’s resolutions! I’m thankful to report that we escaped unscathed, but the whole thing reminded me of an old saying we’re all familiar with: “The only thing constant in life is change.”

As the New Year begins, we’re making a lot of goals and resolutions. Yours may be to get a certain grade in law school classes, find a job, or get a raise. Maybe it’s a more personal goal, like finding more self-confidence or getting healthier and working out every day.

I remember my first year of law school, waiting forever after my Christmas vacation before I finally got my grades in from the previous semester. In fact, one of my classes took so long that I was already getting homework from a new class before my grades from last year were reported! I complained about it on Facebook, of course:

By the time all my grades came in, I was happy, but I wasn’t thrilled. Some of my friends had gotten better grades than me in the same class, but they were still complaining on Facebook about how they did. That made me feel kind of bad. “Gee, I was proud of my grade until I read your comments…”

Over the years since then, I’ve come away with the following life lesson: One key to success (and happiness) is expecting change. Some situations – like giant tornadoes or a huge recession that destroys jobs and salaries – are outside of your control. The only thing you can control is your reaction to it.

Interestingly, sometimes your attitude can make a huge difference in the end result, even for something that’s technically out of your control.

Take a terrible economy, for example. No, having a positive attitude doesn’t mean you’ll get that job you’re applying for. What it does mean is that if you don’t get the job, you’ll be more resilient. Taking control of your thoughts gives you more creativity to come up with new and unique ideas for jobs you can apply for or even businesses you might start.

Facebook postSo here’s my suggestion for a New Year’s goal: Expect change and be ready to handle it. What does this look like? It can be as simple as the following:

If an unexpected loss or negative change occurs, I will do the following:

  • Give myself a few days to just mourn and grieve the loss
  • After that, I will:
    • Start working out to build positive endorphins
    • Find a friend who believes in me and schedule coffee or a movie
    • Make a list of steps I can take to mitigate the damage and find new opportunities

Sometimes change is really bad, and it’s OK to mourn the change or be angry. In fact, it can be good to give yourself a day or two to do nothing but feel bad. But at some point, you’ll have to pick yourself up even if you’re not actually feeling better.

How you handle things at this point can make a huge difference. For example, if you get an unexpectedly terrible grade in a class, don’t label yourself as a loser or assume the grade will end your chances for getting a good job. Look for what the grade tells you about your skills and your strengths and weaknesses. What can you learn?

Similarly, you lose a job, don’t label yourself a failure. Labels are the enemy of success. Instead, let yourself mourn the loss and then look ahead for new opportunities.

Change will happen in 2016. Try resolving today to expect it and have a plan of attack for when it hits. And when it does happen, in the words of this amazing greeting card by Emily McDowell: “I wish I could take away your pain. Or at least take away the people who compare it to the time their hamster died.”