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Steel-Toed Boots and Cigarettes: My Brief Attempt at being a Full Time Tradesmen and Law Student

“I convinced myself I could manage a full-time job as well as a full course load.

I was wrong.”

William Mathieson discusses how to work full time with a full course load. Or, in this case, how to not.

My time at the Law school of ANU has been a complete rollercoaster.  One of the world’s shittiest rollercoasters, where there is the tiniest of inclines before it levels out for an unbearable length of time.  During the fourth year of my law degree I found myself working over forty hours per week at a Fyshwick steel factory. It was long, arduous work, often leaving me caked in industrial grease and dust from the open-door warehouse. I like to be busy, as well as working with my hands, so I convinced myself I could manage a full-time job as well as a full course load.  

I was wrong.

A typical day for me would look like this: wake up at 6am, get showered, shaved and dressed, put on steel-toed boots as I step out the door, collect two or three co-workers from neighbouring suburbs, drive in to work, have a coffee and a cigarette, have another cigarette, and another if time permits and then prepare to work from 8am until 5pm.  Where did my university studies fit in, you might ask? Well, the truthful answer is, they didn’t.

Pass, Pass, Credit, Distinction.  Those were the grades I received in the second half of 2017.  I’m sure you can guess which two of those results were from the law school. I did literally none of the readings for any of my courses that semester, nor did I attend any lectures.  They wouldn’t fit alongside my hectic work schedule. During one of the mandatory tutorials I had to attend, I remember being berated by the tutor in front of the class for checking my phone. My priorities were obvious, I was physically at uni, but I was wearing my bright fluorescent workers’ gear and my steel-toed boots, checking my phone because of an angry text I’d received from my boss.

At the end of class, I talked to the tutor to explain my situation, and they begged me to cut back on work.  They empathised with me, saying they too had worked long hours during university, and told me that if I wanted to pass the course, I had to be attentive and that would ultimately require less work.

In hindsight, maybe I could have scheduled my time better.  People look back at their past selves all the time, and maybe they can truthfully claim that they tried their hardest.  But I’m not one of those people. The reality for most of us, and something law students particularly tend to ignore, is that we can’t juggle it all.  I certainly couldn’t.

My performance is much better now. I am allowing myself proper time and space to attend the lectures, read the course material, engage with my tutorials and work casually throughout the week.  If I can pass on any advice to someone who is trying to juggle their time in this way while attending law school, I’d want you to really assess what is important in life.

Once I had changed work and the stress had subsided, my partner and my mental health became my  priorities. University will receive a significant portion of my energy, however its time in my life is only temporary. I refuse to allow it, or anything, dominate my time in the same way my old workplace did.  Maybe for some people it is possible to do everything at once. But for most, it is vital to recognise what is the most fundamentally important thing for you as a student: your health and wellbeing. Because, in the immortal words of Billy Joel: Slow down, you're doing fine, you can't be everything you want to be before your time.  Dream on, but don't imagine they'll all come true.

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