There are probably a million ways I could start this post. But if you are reading this, the only appropriate opening is a congratulations! You finished the bar exam.
While a congratulations is a nice thing to hear, the words may fall flat in the weeks after completing the bar exam. But why? The world is full of congratulations, and I can’t remember the last time it wasn’t music to my ears after completing something I had spent countless hours working towards – a sporting event, a musical performance, even just at graduation after completing my law school career. So why does it feel like one of the biggest feats in your (or my) life not worthy of such recognition?
As you transition between completing the bar and waiting for results, consider the mental gymnastics and emotional rollercoaster that you just involuntarily signed up to get on.
Post-Bar Exam and The Whiplash Effect
“You should be celebrating!” “What are you going to do next?” “You’re free!” These are all statements that are almost as crippling for me as hearing “How did the exam go?” Why you may ask? Because all I want to do is curl up in a bed or fall into an unhealthy binge session on Netflix to distract myself from the horror of the 48 hours the bar exam took from me. Oops, did I say 48 hours? I meant three grueling months.
The comforting thing is that this is normal, so join the club. After experiencing the intensity of eight hour study days (and I’m talking 8 hours of studying, and 10 hours sitting in the same spot more or less) and then the unutterable halt of the day after the exam would give even the nimblest person whiplash. This experience is what I call the Whiplash Effect.
In the weeks following, I remember one minute I was enjoying brunch with friends and the next I stopped mid laughter, feeling guilty for having fun when my potential career hangs in limbo. Understanding that this Whiplash Effect is occurring may help you to brace yourself for other moments that are likely to come as well.
Listen, being micro focused on anything for an extended period of time will lead to a period of feeling lost, or without, after the focus has ended. Just think about how you felt when your favorite singer hadn’t released new music for years (I’m looking at you Rhianna). The bar exam isn’t any different. I breathed, slept, and ate bar exam topics. I was addicted. And there is no slow come down from the intense emotions of the bar exam. This is an important concept to understand so that you can prepare a way to slowly come down.
The reality is that I wish there was a seatbelt that could protect you from the jolting around that is the post bar exam rollercoaster, but I unfortunately have not found one. All I can offer is to hold on tight, but it won’t last forever.
Post-Bar Exam and The Ellipses Effect
While waking up to a post-bar exam life is liberating, it is an awkward freedom. The few mornings after is the time period where, what I call the Ellipses Effect takes places. The high of not opening a book wears off and the waiting, mental pacing, and the all uncomfortable unknown sets in. An Asterix now sits in the top right corner of the completed bar exam task. We haven’t passed the exam, even though the exam is over. Enter the dot . . . dot . . . dot.
Ever since the beginning of our educational careers, I would venture to say kindergarten, we were told not to celebrate an uncompleted task. I for one remember my dad emphatically telling me that doing half of my math problems was in fact not completing my homework. So how can I accept a congratulations for only achieving half the goal?
So, join the club if you feel like you shouldn’t accept a congratulations. But there is a difference between feeling hesitant to embrace a congratulations and demanding that you don’t deserve one. Because you do! You took the bar exam, and that in itself deserves a pat on the back.
As normal as it is to feel a hesitation upon hearing “Congratulations,” just remember that you do deserve the gesture. One way to try to avoid feeling as though you don’t deserve such praise is to refocus and channel your energy effectively during the weeks after the bar exam. This may help alleviate the cycle of convincing yourself you didn’t pass and thus won’t and don’t deserve any praise.
Even though the inevitable waiting game has started, there are ways to replace these ellipses with dashes, or periods, or really anything other than a hesitation mark. For example, get a jump on all that laundry that I know started piling up, or finally make time to go to the DMV since your only excuse earlier was bar prep.