LL.M.: Adventure in times of uncertainity

By Desiree Jaeger-Fine

What a whirlwind these past few days have been. Whether you are already doing your LL.M. or are applying for it, uncertainty may dampen the excitement for what is supposed to be a great adventure. Rather than being on campus at a U.S. law school, you suddenly find yourself looking at a professor on a computer screen.

Rather than studying for the TOEFL test, you worry whether test centers reopen in time for the application deadline.

I can understand that some of you feel angry and sad. I want to take this opportunity to talk about finding peace amid uncertainty and still remain enthusiastic about your law study abroad.

Where does the fear of uncertainty and the future come from? Why is “not knowing” so frightening?

Studies have shown that people would rather get an electric shock now, than live with the notion that they may get shocked later. The studies showed that there is greater nervous-system activation when waiting for an unpredictable shock than an expected one.

We grasp and cling to an idea of how things should be. Our expectations give us a sense of comfort. We have an idea of how our LL.M. program or the application process should move along. But if what we thought should happen becomes unsettled, we will feel the pain of change. But it’s not the change itself that’s the problem — it’s our urge to resist change and of wanting things to be as expected.

How can we overcome the fear of uncertainty?

First, we can recognize that this fear is part of being human. But we can avoid getting caught up in it or being paralyzed by it. We can refocus. Here are two tips for doing just that:

A growth opportunity

Flexibility and resilience are highly valued skills in today’s legal market. People who are adaptable and resilient adjust to changing environments or demand, handle stress well, and are positive even when faced with setbacks.

We have ample opportunity to use challenging situations to adapt to our changing environment and keep pursuing our goals while forcing ourselves to remain positive. The current situation is one of them. Let us make good use of it.

An opportunity to see beauty

In every situation, I try my very best to find something beautiful to focus on. In our current situation, I focus on how people become gentler with each other, how people are more inclined to lend a helping hand, and how we feel closer to each other.

Even as the globe appears to separate us through flight cancelations and travel restrictions, I feel closer to my peers around the world than ever.

I receive photos, audio messages, and skype calls from friends in Italy who are locked in their homes. We spend time together now more than ever. Law school employees, although competitors, share information, support, advice. This is multiplied through millions of random acts of kindness by others around the world.

We are all in this together, and we can feel a greater sense of community. Your LL.M. adventure may look a little different than expected, but the full storm of excitement remains there for you to enjoy.

Desiree Jaeger-Fine is director of International Programs at Brooklyn Law School and author of "A Short & Happy Guide to Networking" (West Academic Publishing) and "A Short & Happy Guide to Being Hired" (West Academic Publishing).