I recall one of my most difficult run-ins with failure. It was during my final semester as a 3L, into the summer in which I prepared for the bar exam. Finishing out my law school experience with no job in sight, I was amazed at the opportunity I received to interview at a Real Estate law firm I truly aspired to work for. I essentially committed my all to preparing for this interview and made it through the first round over the phone and three additional rounds in person. Yes, I completed a total of four interviews, ultimately meeting with the majority of the associates and partners on staff in both an individual and group setting. This experience was rigorous to say the least, but by the time I made it to the final lunch interview, I was hopeful. I mean, I was essentially waiting for them to tell me I would be receiving an offer on the spot as I would try to casually contain my excitement over the ham and cheese sandwich I consumed.
However, all I received was an email a few weeks later advising me that they would not be moving forward with me as an applicant. This was crushing. I was no stranger to the experience of failure, but after the time and effort I put into preparing for these interviews I was at a loss. So what did I do? I immediately fell into the same self-deprecating pattern I resorted to after a failed experience. I blamed my lack of abilities and knowledge as the reason for this failure and only foresaw this conclusion recurring for any future job prospects.
Have you been here before? If you’ve failed the bar exam, I know that you are in an especially difficult space right now. Failure is never an easy concept to face head on especially if we blame ourselves as the source of this failure as opposed to accepting this occurrence as a part of the “shared human experience.” Failure is also difficult to accept if we neglect to thank ourselves for making it to that point of our journey. This concept of removing the blame from ourselves and being kind to ourselves despite this setback, is an aspect of “self-compassion,” an act of mindfulness that not many people know about. In fact, I first learned about this term just about two weeks ago. Self-compassion, is not necessarily something that’s easy to put into practice especially after years of doing the opposite. But it’s an act that can undoubtedly aid in improving your mental health and set you on the path to success as you prepare to re-sit for the bar exam.
So What Exactly is Self-Compassion?
Self-compassion is treating ourselves as we would want others to treat us. It requires us to first recognize the pain that we are experiencing and to offer understanding and kindness to that pain because we realize that this pain is a part of the shared human experience. To make this more clear, think back to the last time your friend went through a breakup, lost a job opportunity or even failed the bar. If this was someone you truly cared for, I’m sure it was second nature for you to quickly acknowledge that this loss or failure exists and that it was by no means their fault. You likely had a shared story of the time that you experienced similar pain or someone you know experienced something similar to ease their fear of thinking they were all alone in this. You may also have found countless reasons to praise the amazing things they did while they struggled through that experience and point to that source as the impetus for them making it to the other side. That is compassion for others. This is usually quite easy for us to do for loved ones, but self-compassion asks us to apply the same care to ourselves.
The three major tenets of self-compassion are: 1) self-kindness vs. self-judgment, 2) common humanity vs. isolation and 3) mindfulness vs. over identification.
How do we apply these tenets?
1. Be Kind to Yourself and Understanding
If you’ve failed the bar exam, instead of blaming yourself for this failure, self-compassion requires you to be kind to yourself instead. You just made it through ten weeks or more of preparation, which is a major accomplishment. Thank yourself for this tenacity. Praise yourself for making it to this point. Self-compassion also requires you to be understanding that failure is inevitable. You are not the first or the last person that will fail the bar exam, and some of the world’s most successful people have proven that a bar exam failure was by no means a road block to their success. So pat yourself on the back and understand that you are not alone.
2. Recognize that You are not Alone
This step doubles down on the second prong of step one. Don’t view this failure in isolation. Feeling as though you are the only person who failed, only causes further frustration and doubt. It is likely that you know someone very well who has also failed either during this round with you, or a practicing attorney who failed in the past. Take this time to talk things through with that person. Shared experiences are a clear source of strength so take advantage of this to boost your mindset.
3. Be Mindful About this Failure
Finally, self-compassion requires us to be mindful about our experience. Mindfulness within this context is recognizing that the failure exists and to simply observe it as existent without suppressing it as a source of shame. However, this step is a balancing act, as in our observation we should try not to get pulled into negative thoughts. I personally find this step to be the most difficult. However, there are many mindfulness techniques and of course traditional therapy that can ease us through making this balance.
Remember, no one is perfect and self-compassion serves as a reminder that perfection is not necessary for success. So good luck in your preparation for the next round of the bar exam. I hope this practice serves you well.