Guest Post by Baylor Law Student Samantha Chaiken
The following post is a book review written by Samantha Chaiken, a student in our summer 2021 Leadership Class. As I reflect on Samantha’s thoughts below, two points seem particularly relevant to our discussion this month on the importance of wellness:
- The author states that the training of our law students becomes their baseline to which they will revert when under pressure. What if we do not address the need to prioritize wellness? Shouldn’t we model and teach them how to do so? We know our students will have challenging times ahead. Let’s help them develop healthy coping mechanisms to be better prepared to weather their storms in law school and beyond.
- A favorite lesson from the book was about the danger of ‘comparison left unchecked.’ Comparison, which is built into the fabric of law school, is often necessary and constructive; yet an environment of constant comparison can be taken too far and lead to unhealthy feelings about one’s self-worth or abilities and can rob us of our joy. Leadership development programming can help our students learn to cope as we emphasize developing grit, resilience, and a growth mindset to encourage students to view feedback constructively and failure as a normal aspect of their progression.
I hope you enjoy this book review as much as I did. – Leah
Chop Wood, Carry Water by Joshua Medcalf, is exactly as advertised. The book truly takes you through, chapter by chapter, how to fall in love with the process of becoming great. This leadership book is a quick read with each chapter providing a powerful lesson.
The book follows the story of John, a boy who dreamed of becoming a samurai warrior, specifically, an archer. John traveled to Japan where he enrolled as an apprentice to a small community of samurais. It is there that John meets a friendly old sensei by the name of Akira. Much like the Karate Kid, rather than “wax on, wax off,” Akira taught John how to “chop wood, carry water.” In each chapter of the book, Akira teaches John an important lesson that brings John closer to his goal of becoming a samurai warrior.
Although there are many, one of my favorite lessons from the book is that “comparison is the thief of all joy.” One day as John was struggling, he was jealous of how easy things seemingly came to his peers while he had to work so hard and still not do as well as his peers. Akira pulled John aside and told him that he must focus on his journey and his alone. Otherwise, he would run the risk of not only losing his joy, but also losing any chance of true success in the long run.
One of my favorite quotes was Akira telling John, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” This lesson truly resonated with me. As law students, we are constantly placed in positions of comparison. We are constantly comparing grades, class performance, titles, positions on Law Review or in student organizations, and in many other aspects of our law school experience. With so much comparison, we lose our joy. We forget our prior successes that led us to law school in the first place. We diminish our accomplishments while in law school because there is seemingly always another classmate who did better than us. We fail to put our experiences in perspective.
This same phenomenon happens to lawyers in the real world as well. Only the subject matter of the comparison changes. That is why it is so important to take a minute to reflect on your own personal journey and the progress YOU have made. Otherwise, comparison is going to steal all your joy.
The book also teaches that “under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training.” As I read through the chapter, I had to take a moment to be thankful that I attend Baylor Law. Though the training may be rigorous, and perhaps feels impossible at times, I know that under pressure I will be able to perform at an extremely high level.
I highly recommend this book – to law students, lawyers, or to anyone for that matter. This book will teach you, test you, and bring you to tears. Each lesson truly packs a punch. I had the opportunity to read this book during my time in Practice Court. I think it helped me to keep my journey in perspective. There were so many days when I would start reading and could not help but cry because the lesson was so applicable to what I was going through at the time.
If you are seeking to improve your leadership abilities, you must first look within yourself. This book will assist you along your journey of becoming great. However, even the book itself provides a warning that it is not enough to simply read the book and learn the principles, you must apply them in your everyday life no matter how challenging it may be.