1. You Feel Unequivocally Alone.
The short version? You failed the Bar and are now living on the tiniest one-person island. Drifting aimlessly, helplessly, in a sliver of existence you never knew you’d be trapped within. And it sucks so damn much.
The long version:
People suck. You failed the Bar and now, suddenly, many of the people who were cheering you on and trying to encourage you through the long wait before the pass-list posted are now nowhere to be found. Not all of those individuals are law grads, either. Sure, you can tell yourself that those “friends” don’t know what to say, and that’s why they haven’t called to check on you because they’re speechless.
Well, let me be the first to say – FUCK THEM.
Friends stick around. They’re the ones who say, “Well, shit. That’s crappy news, but I’m here whenever you need me.” Or, “I don’t know what to say, but I love you and this test does NOT define you. I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but it’s going to be alright.” Even a sincere facebook post is better than not saying anything, jeez.
Friends are there, for the good AND the bad.
If you found yourself alone, adrift, and feeling like you’re the dumbest person in the world right now because you failed the Bar exam – you are NOT alone. I failed. I missed the mark by 3.5% and I must say, what a spectacular fail that was. In Texas, the Board of Law Examiners sends out 1 email if you passed and 2 emails if you failed, usually within just a couple of minutes of each other. I received one email and waited nearly two hours for a second one. I thought I was safe, but when I opened my message from the BLE, after several hours of technical difficulties and even a removed login button on the site to keep it from crashing, my letter said:
Yeahhh, I don’t quite know if I’ve ever gone from feeling elated to what appears to be my rock bottom in a nanosecond. I couldn’t help but cry. The tears came up hard and fast and the sobs that racked my body felt like they would never stop. There’s a gaping hole in my ego now. Maybe I needed it, deserved it even. Maybe one person is not allowed to be so incandescently happy. I went through every “maybe” I could muster, every maybe except the one my deep-dark critic wanted answered: “maybe I didn’t work hard enough…”
I posted my failure publicly because I knew that I wasn’t the only person in Texas to fail and just couldn’t bear the thought of someone feeling this lonely without knowing they can reach out to someone who’s going through the same thing. Because let me be clear: you’re going to feel alone for a while.
Even my husband didn’t know what to do or say. He held me and let me cry for what felt like forever. After a while, I finally said “I think I’m done. I need to stop crying.”
And his response was “why?”
So I said, “because it’s stupid. Crying isn’t going to change anything. I need a plan.”
And this man said, “you need to acknowledge how you feel. Just feel all of it and then we can move forward.”
So — feel this failure. Take a beat and re-set. Then, when you’ve grieved this setback in your career, start your preparations to tackle this mountain in the next go-around. We will get through this; even though it feels like it right now, I promise you – you are NOT alone.
2. You Get Unsolicited Advice.
Some people want to help, so they’ll encourage you. Those individuals have a special place in my heart because that small kindness and daring to say “hey, I love you even though you’re not a lawyer yet and can’t really help me with anything” truly melted a bit of this self-loathing away, ultimately making it easier to step out of this bleak reality of having to mount up for a second attempt at the hardest exam of my life.
But then there’s nitwits who can’t argue their way out of damn cardboard box – who passed the exam – and want you to know how much better they are for passing on the first try, so they have to give you their study advice. The kind of cringe-worthy tips from people who probably don’t know you, your study habits, couldn’t tell you where you sat in class, and are just trying to tout their success in your face. To all those jerks – you can go shave your back now. Yeah, I’m looking at you, classmate.
You need to remember this: there’s all sorts of reasons why someone fails the Bar exam. You could have given that exam everything you had, but still failed because some subsection of your mind refused to focus on family law spousal maintenance rules because you were terrified about your grandfather’s stage 4 cancer diagnosis. Or, you might have been worried about the results before you got through day one, trying to calculate what passing or failing might do to your life; putting a wedding on hold, adding a little one to your family. Quieting your mind may be a herculean task. There’s a litany of causes for a bad exam day. Don’t feel like you have to take the advice being hurled your way, because you may have done everything right and still faltered. Just do your best to push past the bullshit advice some people give you and hold tight to the nuggets of wisdom that make you feel better, which encourage you in the right direction to passing the exam next time. I want you to remember how truly shitty this feels, so that when you do pass the bar, you don’t become one of the assholes giving out fudgiscles of “advice.”
3. You Either Start Planning or Start Panicking.
I’m a planner. But I have some friends that are freaking out. Either reaction is valid. I needed to feel more in control, create a hit list of things to review, practice, and make corrections moving forward. With everything going on in my life at the moment, I do not have the emotional bandwidth to freak out. For me, I go wiiiiide and the panic just becomes a cacophony of never-ending reasons why I’m not good enough to make it through this exam. So here’s my new mantra: You already did. Taking the Bar exam again is completely surmountable.
4. Your Finances Might Take A Hit.
I think the most terrifying aspect of failing the Bar is the simple fact that I won’t be able to begin paying down my loans for several more months. My budget got a whole helluvalot tighter and I’ve had to add the stress of prepping for the February Bar on top of making calls to my student loan lenders (because, private school loans are a beast), hoping against hope they will grant my extra forbearance.
For those worried about whether they can do this again, I suggest you take a hard look at your bills and other needs. Prioritize what you can, make calls for those loans, and apply for a bar exam loan. Look at every option at your disposal and tackle the problem. You are brilliant. You are educated and fully capable of getting yourself through this shitstorm of an experience.
5. Everyone Is Awkward Around You.
Everyone. Your mom. The Professors. Friends who passed. I’ve been walking around in a foggy mess, trying to save myself, all the while pretty much ignored by some of the people who I felt I needed most. I say felt because I’ve made it this far without some of you and I don’t plan on begging for a friendship that obviously wasn’t important enough for you to reach out. Adios, pseudo-friends.
The awkwardness goes away when you approach it head-on. Take that with a grain of salt. I’m not trying to fight anybody, but the second my intelligence was questioned for this failure I stepped to that plate right damn quick. This exam is not the great equalizer. As my mentor told me, “there are plenty of shitty attorneys that passed the Bar.”
Failing this exam does not make you lesser. Some people are awkward around us because they are trying to figure out what they would want to hear. I mean, what the hell do you tell someone who’s entire vision for their life and career was just up-ended in splendid fashion? You can’t send a meme. You sure as hell can’t laugh it off…not yet anyway. To all those people struggling to figure out a way to help re-takers through this haze, I implore you: offer a hug, a smile, or a text with a simple “I’m here for you.”
Do something, damnit. Even if you can’t find the words.
Those small actions can go such a long way to making us feel like we aren’t alone. Knowing we have someone rooting for us, after this setback, means everything.
6. You Put Yourself Through It Again.
I want to be a licensed attorney. I know you do, too. So here’s the thing – we’re going to do the damn thing again. Only this time? We’re going to pass. Set yourself up to study more efficiently and effectively. Practice more questions. Do whatever you need to do and correct your shortfall. Meet with your Bar Readiness professors, even if seeing them makes you feel bad about yourself. Just go. Put yourself on the best path to ace the Bar next time. Make the necessary adjustments and then smoke it like a cheap cigar.