I used to joke that graduating from law school was like finishing a triathlon and being told that your medal, banana, and sports drink were a town over, and there were no buses to get you there. You had to walk. I can’t remember if I wrote that in another blog post, but it feels so accurate I just keep reiterating it. The brass ring was so far from where I finished it might as well be its own race – and it is. The problem is, we don’t really get to revel in the fete that is getting through law school before we are thrust into this exhaustive summer or winter of relearning everything from first year.
When I took my last final, I was so relieved. I knew there were three more hurdles to being done with school (grades coming out, graduation, and the bar), but I didn’t know how to shift into each of those stages. By the time graduation ended, I was still swooning over being done and no where near the mindset I needed to be in order to study for the bar. It didn’t help that my mother had decided to stay in town for an additional week, we were sharing my car, and I was pining to spend time with her and my family.
The second time I took the bar, there was no prior graduation, but I still had to figure out how to mentally shift into bar prep. Below are the steps I wish I’d taken before the bar the first time that might have made a world of difference in my studying.
Savor the Time Before Graduation
If your school is like mine, you finish classes, get a few days to study for your finals, and then there’s a two-week period between the end of finals and actual graduation day. Enjoy that time. Seriously savor it. Plan to sleep in, visit with family and friends, and get as much vitamin D as your climate will allow.
Vitamin D deficiency is linked to depression, unhappiness, sluggishness, sleepless nights, and aches and pains in your joints. Loading up on Vitamin D – from the sun – can increase your ability to control your mood, let little annoyances roll off your shoulders, and get you into the right mindset to spend 9-10 weeks studying.
I’ve talked a lot about self-care during law school and bar prep, but the one thing I really wish I had done leading into graduation and throughout my bar prep, was take more time for me. I traveled home to South Florida right before graduation and filled my time with family strife, sleepless nights, and a lot of joyless days complaining about having to go through the bar exam.
What I wish I had done was restart my gratitude practice, focusing on the things that made me feel good. I was reading a book the other day, and the author said the problem with most people is that we only focus on the joyful moments when they happen, but we never look for them in the hard times. Your whole perspective can shift when you focus on the positive while going through something particularly negative. I chose to do that during my second round at the bar, and it made a huge difference.
So, start a gratitude practice, learn to meditate for a few minutes a day a few times a day, and concentrate on getting some movement in each day (preferably outside while getting some vitamin D).
Keep the Big Picture in Mind
The long-haul goal of the bar exam is to pass. It’s not to pass with a perfect score. It’s simply to pass in the jurisdiction you’re hoping to pass in. If you focus on taking it one day at a time, it not only goes by faster, it helps you keep that goal in mind. By keeping the big picture in the forefront, you’ll be able to quell your anxiety and push through. You’ll remember there’s a reason for this uncomfortableness you’re putting yourself through, and you’ll know you can make it.
While bar exam prep will feel like it is a million years long, and you will have moments where you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, you have to remember this is a very small portion of your long life. The average person lives nearly 28,000 days. The bar exam is two days. Two days! That’s nothing. Bar prep is less than 75 days long. The entire bar experience is only going to be 0.0027% of your entire life.
Bar prep is the season you’re in, but seasons change. Focus on being present in your life before graduation, remember to find gratitude even when you’re stressed out, and take it one day at a time. Remember, this is just a portion of your life.