Waiting for your bar results can be the most stressful period of your life. Last year, I failed the July administration of the bar exam, but I went on to pass the February exam. I cannot undermine or ignore how devastating it was to fail, but the process of correcting what went wrong the first time — cliché, I know — taught me a lot about myself. Here are eight things I learned.
1. How to Get Out of My Brain
The first time I studied for the bar, I allowed my own stress to become all-consuming. I became convinced that I could or would fail, and those thoughts made me unable to focus on the work in front of me. The second time around, I was technically under more stress, because the stakes had been raised after failing once. However, I learned to compartmentalize my stress, so that I would be able to focus on the task in front of me. If I had just been able to turn my brain off the first time, I would have been able to process enough information to pass.
2. How to Own My Own Failure
Failing the bar was the first real failure of my life. I had been rejected from one college and a few law schools, but I was accepted by others, so I didn’t even have to bring it up if I didn’t want to tell people. This was the first failure that affected my life. I had many people in my life awaiting my bar results, and I had to tell them that I had failed. I learned that telling someone about your failure with confidence in your voice gives you all the power in the exchange. It’s harder for someone to make you feel bad when you do not invite pity or disdain.
3. People Are Willing to Help
Going through a difficult time can make you realize who in your life is supportive when things get rough. I was able to see who made my situation the butt of a joke, and who was there to help or support or listen. I was also introduced to people who were relative strangers but willing to help me through this weird period. People who have been through something difficult are more willing to help out someone who has been through that same situation, even if that situation is the only connection between those two people. I found support from loved ones and strangers.
4. No One Thinks I am an Idiot
When I was afraid of failing the bar, what I was most afraid of was that everyone would think I was actually stupid, despite my seven years of higher education. When I did in fact fail, the response I got from most people was that they still thought I was smart, and this was just a set-back that I would overcome. I had thought my failure would be the opportunity for people to say that they were surprised I had even graduated from law school. Instead, people told me how surprised they were that I had failed and how sure they were that I would pass the next time. It was the one thing I was most afraid of, and it ended up being a boost.
5. Lawyers Don’t Think You Will Be a Bad Lawyer
Along with no one thinking I was idiot, no lawyer thought failing the bar would affect my ability to be a good lawyer. I was constantly met with stories of someone from the office or from school who had failed the first time and then done something incredibly impressive, like becoming a judge or a millionaire or Secretary of State. It made me believe that I had not ruined my career, just delayed its development.
6. It’s Important to Believe You Will Succeed
The biggest problem for me the first time around was that I was sure I would fail. Now, I don’t believe in The Secret or most hippie/athletic maxims about visualizing success. However, my fear about failure overrode my belief in my own success the first time around. So, the stress became paralyzing, and any effort I spent felt like a waste. When you think you are going to fail, you start to conserve energy. When you believe in your own success, you work as hard as you think you might have to, and there is no consideration that you are “wasting” time or effort spent. Also, you become able to manage the stress because you feel like you are working towards something you want. The second time I studied, I told myself I would pass, and every effort that followed was directed towards that goal, and any stress became manageable.
7. I Need a Release When I Work
The summer I studied for the first time, the only thing in my life was studying. I lived with other people studying, got drinks after class with other studiers, and lived in a town consisting of nothing but studying. The second time around, I did stand-up almost every night, watched movies with non-lawyer friends, and worked part-time. For me, that meant that when I worked, I worked furiously, and when I took breaks, they were real. When I made studying my whole life, most of the time I was not working, I was just feeling guilty about not working. It was exhausting. Having a release valve on the task at hand made the work I did better.
8. I Work Best Alone and Unmonitored
The first time I studied for the bar, I was living in the small town where I had gone to law school, and I lived with two of my best friends who were also studying for the bar. Emotionally, it was nice to be surrounded by people who were going through the same thing. Psychologically, for me, the experience was paralyzing. I constantly compared myself to other people, which either made me feel inadequate or complacent. The second time around, I took all the same materials from my test prep company, and I borrowed a schedule from someone who tutors second-time test takers. I maintained my schedule best when I didn’t have to report to anyone, and the final two weeks were the most productive of my life because I set the goal of doing as many different things each day (between subjects and assignments), and I chose my tasks on a day-to-day basis. I had to learn the hard way that I work best when I am unmonitored by any external force.
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