Darren Chen is a third-year law student and author of the novel “The Good Guys”. He spends his time trying to balance the arts and the law – the jury’s still out as to whether he’s any good at either.

Dear younger Darren,

I want to tell you a story about your time to come in NUS Law, and it’s going to be a story about spaces – the kind made for you, the kind you find, and the kind you make for yourself.

You’ll first encounter this when you walk through the shiny gates of the Bukit Timah Campus (it’s not very shiny, and three years on you’ll have yet to find an actual gate). You’ll soon find that life in law school is exactly as advertised – you were naïve enough to ask for rigour and challenge in your entrance interview and you will soon find that you have more of both than you can handle. You were a good Navy commander but you’ve never been the brightest bulb in the Christmas tree, and this will become all the more apparent when you start receiving the worst grades in your life. You have always struggled with public speaking, and so you try mooting. It does not go great. You will struggle to fit in, and while you have no problem with working alone you will struggle with being lonely. Where others succeed you will fall short – again and again. This, then, is the space foisted on you for humility. Being humble is one of those fleeting things that you have never been friends with; here in Law you will become its close acquaintance.

All of which does sound rather depressing, but there is still room for hope! You do not have to lead the pack, but you still have to run the race – the friends you find will pull you across the finish line. They will have judged you: As the guy who is both awkward yet boisterous, as the guy who laughs too loud and says strange things, as the guy who is weirdly obsessed with the sea. They will take you as you are, and they will not find you wanting. The good ones will be there for you at both the lows and the highs – the rest will teach you how to winnow the wheat from the chaff. While the act of mooting won’t be your jazz, you’ll find that taking Trial Advocacy will feel great. And then you go into Alternative Dispute Resolution, and the pieces all start falling into place when you find a niche for yourself as a negotiator – you don’t like playing with the law, but you do like telling stories. These are the spaces you find, and in them you will find a safe space.

A final point about stories. At some point you will find that all of this is not enough, and we’re not even going to talk about how a pandemic will turn your life on its head and change the way you view the law – both its study and its practice. But it will slowly dawn on you (take your time) that there is a life inside the law and a life outside the law, and sometime in the future you will find that you live best in the interstices between both. Do not forget the passions central to your identity! Before you were a law student you were a sailor, and before both you were an artist. There’s scant time to draw, but you can write – stay disciplined and you will soon realise your old pipe dream of becoming an author. It’s not as difficult as it seems. This is the space you make for yourself, and it is here where you should learn to treat yourself a little less harshly. Yours is a story of spaces. You have spent your whole life making great and beautiful things for the people who deserve it; give yourself the few years that follow to learn to count yourself in that number.


P.S. Run more. You have all those blue tank tops in your cupboard for a reason. Some spaces you want to leave empty, and one of those is the gap around your waistline.

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