By Jillian Smith
Do what you love is common advice for us college students. We are told that is how you will find happiness. But what I found on a blustery cold January morning in Tampa is that sometimes the greatest joys can be found in doing the things you think you may hate.
Arguing about the Constitution to a panel of judges is the last thing I wanted to do when I came into college. Moot Court, which this was, sounded intense, intimidating and mean. I was born a middle child, which made me a woman of peace and very conflict-avoidant. I hated arguing for these reasons, but most importantly I hated it because I was convinced that I wasn’t smart enough to do it. I managed to avoid moot court debate successfully for two years.
I finally chose to do moot court because I was told it would be the best preparation for law school, which I had roughly honed in on as the thing I would say to avoid answering “watching cat videos” when people asked me what I planned to do with my future. My first practice made me entirely certain that I should probably stick with cat videos. I detested it.
A room full of some of the smartest people I had ever encountered in my whole life was what greeted me. People were shouting over each other. They were waving their hands wildly while talking about things like the sherbet test, which had to do with First Amendment, not the delicious frozen treat. I felt in over my head.
Week after week went by with me cleverly finding a way not to argue because I felt there was no way I could do so in front of my experienced teammates. Somehow, though, I chose to do what I hated. In the vague back shadowy recesses of my brain, I knew that doing the hard thing was ultimately the better thing.
There were many arguments I presented when I sounded utterly incoherent. There were others where I became so nervous that I had to grip the desk because my knees shook so badly. There were times when our coach, the judge, would ask me questions and I felt like a teeny speck of unknowledgeable dust. But what was amazing about all of those is that doing it over and over and over again had given me the calm I needed when I started to crumble.
It is amazing to think about what most of us will do to avoid discomfort. Doing the thing I hated forced me to stare into my fear. It forced me to realize that I could either do the hard thing and fail but then maybe succeed, or sit in the comfortable ignorance of having never tried at all.
Fast-forwarding to that blustery January morning, my partner and I managed to qualify for the National Moot Court Competition in Tampa Bay. We had debated two rounds before that, and our score was such that we had to tie in order stay in the tournament. I felt confident … until I found out that the other team was the defending national champion. Immediately, all my earlier feelings of not being smart enough or tough enough came back.
But doing the thing you fear over and over again has a funny way of forcing you not to retreat into yourself when confronted with it again. My partner reminded me that in fact, I did know this stuff. It was tempting to work myself into a panic and say that I just lost the round because of that. But through the countless hours of doing the uncomfortable work, I was able to stop and calm myself. I was able to take the anxiety and fear I felt and channel them into energy for the discussion. I was able to hold my own when the judges questioned me about the law.
Ultimately I was able to deliver 10 minutes of pure, clean, blissful argument. We ended up debating what was the most incredible round of our entire careers and were able to tie the former champion team.
Doing that thing I hated has made me no longer hate this thing. I love moot court because it is my constant reminder that avoiding things is no way to know myself. Not only can I argue now, but I also know I am smart enough to do so. It might have been nice to have continued avoiding moot court and stayed comfortable, but it was much nicer to learn how to argue well, and in doing so, tie with the national defending champions. Also, sherbet tastes better knowing it is also a First Amendment standard.