As if you didn’t already have enough to deal with, right? Self-isolation, the accompanying stress that goes along with that, inaccessibility of your usual coping mechanisms like the gym or hanging out with friends. . . And, piled on top of that, you just found out you failed the bar exam! What a recipe for disaster.
If you’re dealing with bad news about the bar during the Coronavirus, this post is for you!
Here are some things you can do to start feeling better:
1. Wallow in grief, with limits
Failing the bar is horrible, demoralizing and painful. There’s no way around it. You may not even feel up to getting out of bed in the morning. That’s okay. You may be too sad to go take a shower. Hey, no judgment.
You have full permission to wallow in despair. Take a week. Take two if you need it. Maybe even longer. Deciding on next steps and making concrete plans is premature when you’re too depressed to function. So, take it easy on yourself for once.
2. Get some perspective
You know who failed the bar? Your idol. Seriously, look it up. Tons of brilliant, eloquent, charismatic and dedicated future-lawyers did not pass the bar exam on their first shot. Right now, I’m reading Michelle Obama’s memoire, Becoming. Think she passed the bar the first time? Guess again.
If you failed, you’re in good company. And you know what that means? Your life is not over. You can still go on to have a fulfilling career, a happy life and maybe even some fame and fortune. It’s not over, so do yourself a favor and stop acting like this is the end of the line for you. It’s not.
One of my favorite quotes about failure is:
“Success consists of getting up just one more time than you fall.”
Why do I say this quote is about failure instead of success? Because “success” is something that usually happens after lots and lots of failures along the way.
Okay, so you fell down. Right now, you’re in the dust. You feel terrible. The bar exam knocked the wind out of you and you feel like you can’t breathe. That’s okay. This is part of the process. Don’t judge yourself by this moment because this is not the end of your story.
3. Count your lucky stars
It’s true that our own misfortune is not diminished by the fact that others are even less fortunate. There will always be someone out there suffering more than you and someone else suffering less. That’s not the point. What I’m talking about here is being grateful that you even got this far.
You are lucky enough to be safe, warm, fed, clothed, and on top of that educated and poised to enter an elite profession in a first-world country. When people say “first-world problems”—this is sort of what they’re talking about. I’m not saying you should be glad you failed or thankful you failed, but take a step back and look at your life right now. If this is the worst it gets for you, you’re still pretty fortunate.
4. Choose your script
It’s easy to imagine that everyone in your social circles is waiting around with bated breath to see if you passed. They’re not. Failing is a big deal to you, but I promise no one else is losing sleep over this. As bad as failing feels right now, it will get better. And until then, it’s your choice what information you’re comfortable with sharing.
Only you really know why you failed. Once it’s time to study again, it’s crucial that you do some soul searching and figure out why you didn’t pass so you don’t repeat the same mistakes. But for now, feel free to create your elevator pitch about why you failed so when your Great Aunt Mildred or your neighbor asks how you did on the bar you have a stock answer ready to cut through the awkwardness with.
Personally, I think it can be really powerful for yourself to own failing and just say “Yeah, I found out I failed, and that’s hard news to take, but don’t worry, I’m setting up a plan for next time and I’m fine.”
Then again, if you don’t feel comfortable admitting failure, then don’t! That your prerogative and no one would fault you for keeping sensitive business to yourself. Just remember, in a couple of short months or years, no one will ever ask you if you failed the bar and no one will care.
5. Confide in a non-judgmental supporter
Pop quiz, who is someone in your life who is happy for your successes and who lifts you up when you feel down? Anyone who can keep a secret, avoid gossip, suspend judgment and just listen as you wade through the various stages of grief? Maybe a friend, relative or colleague jumps to mind? Seek out this person and talk to them. Bonus points if it’s someone who has also suffered professional failure in some sense because they may understand you better.
Right now, the last thing you need is anyone telling you, “But you’re so smart! I thought you’d pass for sure!” Because, let’s face it, that can feel like even more pressure. And besides, the bar exam is not about being “smart.” What you need is someone who will say, “This part sucks, it truly does, but don’t worry, it won’t always feel as bad as it does today.”
6. Stay positive
When it comes to failing the bar, you are your own worst enemy. It’s so easy to give way to what one of my favorite law school professors liked to call “your evil twin.” Everyone has one. This little monster looks just like you, speaks with your voice, and is hell bent on commandeering any shred of self-confidence you have. They whisper in your ear “You’re not good enough.” “You’re a failure.” “You will never come back from this.”
But you know what? These little echoes are just your worst fears playing tricks on you. You’re going to be fine. I’ll say that again. You’re fine. It will all get better. Today is the worst day and every day after this will gradually get easier. It’s your job to banish that “evil twin” and take charge of your own mindset.
When all else fails, treat yourself the way you’d treat your dear friend or younger sibling who failed the bar. Be patient. Be gentle. Show kindness. Offer encouragement. Embrace the uncertainty and come up with some healthy coping strategies.
Next time, we’ll discuss some concrete steps you can take to get back in the bar exam saddle, but until then, don’t despair. You’ve got this.