I am a bar exam failer. Nearly three years ago, I, like you, fruitlessly scanned the list of numbers to find that one had been omitted. Mine. 364.
“Maybe I had the wrong number!” I thought, as if I could possibly have somehow mistaken the number that appeared in literally every form imaginable in my dreams for the last two months. I, like you, frantically searched through my bar exam book box on which I had unceremoniously scrawled, “see you in hell” at the end of February and thrown in a basement, pulled out my plastic baggie with my timepiece, a thousand pencils, a small lucky rubber coyote (obviously), and a gigantic white label with my number clearly printed on it. 364.
So it was true, I had failed.
If your day was anything like mine, it started with stress baking five dozen zucchini muffins and ended with lots of vodka and possibly a little vomiting. Don’t tell my mom. In the middle there may or may not have been a part where you cried for an hour on the floor of your kitchen, then spent the next two writing back to all the inquisitive and then awkwardly encouraging texts. I personally chose to go with the thumbs down emojii. Or the skull. Or the alcohol bottle. People got the picture. They stopped texting. No one knows what to say.
Because what can you say? Here’s how you feel: this is the worst day of your life. Nothing worse can ever happen to you. This is a total disaster. How will you ever recover from this? You can never go on.
But of course you will go on, you can go on, and here are some things to keep in mind:
1. This is not about you. You are lovely, clever, smart, and interesting. You have hobbies and interests. Maybe you like sports. Or you have a really nice garden. Or you are an excellent chef. Or you are very well-read. Or you’re a big deal on twitter. So you had a miss. A bad day. An arbitrary number does not change who you are. You are not “the dude who failed the bar exam.” You are not your score. You are a person who struck out the first time at bat. You studied and wrote practice essays and stayed up all night making flashcards and some yayhoo who told you at the exam that he just hadn’t had a chance to look at Contracts yet is getting sworn in next month. This is spectacularly unfair. You are right, and this brings me to my second point.
2. The Bar Exam is spectacularly unfair. You’ve been saying it all winter, and you are not wrong: why do we need to memorize this when at work I will have books and google to find out what I need to know? (If my boss is reading this, just kidding, I never google legal terms I can’t remember.) The Bar Exam is a terrible horrible rite of passage thought up by mean horrible people who do not have your best interest in mind. They merely want to torture you as they themselves were tortured by multiple choice questions with four wrong answers asking you to choose the “most correct,” or an essay on corporate voting (still mad about that). The Bar Exam has absolutely no bearing on whether or not you will be good at being an attorney. You have many other qualities and characteristics that will make you good at your work. You are caring, conscientious, tenacious, and thorough and no multiple choice question on the difference between robbery and burglary can discern that. But the people you help will know that. And they will never care if you know the difference between robbery and burglary. (Unless, of course, they are burglars.)
3. You have not let anyone down. You haven’t even let yourself down because you tried. You took the chance, you put yourself out there, and you weren’t afraid to fail. You suffered and succeeded through three long years because you aren’t afraid to try to do something hard. You know how many people don’t even try? Thousands. Millions maybe. But you did. And you know what? Everyone is proud of you. So many of your friends and family members cannot even fathom doing what you’ve done and you did it. The Bar Exam is hard. No one doesn’t believe that. Your classmates that are celebrating right now fully believe, and most are correct, that they passed by the skin of their teeth, and are shocked they did. No one thinks badly of you because you failed. No one is upset. Your friends are still proud of you. Your mom still loves you. And the good news is that for the next six months at least, people are going to continue to go out of their way to be really nice to you. Some of those are because they saw you have an absolute crying breakdown over a compliment one day in January, or they ran into you at the library and you had eight pencils in your hair and your sweatpants were covered in highlighter marks. But all of those are because they love you. I am now, two and a half years later, finally to the point where I can crack a joke about failing the bar, and you know what my friends do? They feel awkward and smile encouragingly and fall all over themselves to be nice about it. Still. Everyone loves you and no one sees you any differently today than they did yesterday.
4. There will never be anything worse than failing the Bar Exam. The Bar Exam is easily without a doubt the most public way you can fail at something everyone knows you were trying to do. Your Facebook statuses all winter have been about your horrible miserable exam anxiety. You went the whole month of February without seeing another human being that wasn’t delivering a pizza. “Can’t do (insert awesome fun activity), I’m studying for the bar,” you told countless numbers of people. And then they go and post a damn list on the internet. Even your grandma can read that, if she’s particularly good at computers or you have a mean cousin. But the good news is, this is the worst that can happen. Let’s face facts, for a lot of you, this is probably the first time you’ve really failed at something. You’re probably going to be pretty gun shy and the idea of trying things is not very appealing to you right now. I get that. But when the smoke clears you’ll see that, why the hell not? If you try something (a job, a relationship, a new city) and it doesn’t work out, so what? You’ve failed before. You can handle this. You will not die because you failed the bar and you will not die if living in Trenton, New Jersey doesn’t work out. Which, let’s just face it, it’s Trenton. Maybe give that one a pass. Try and succeed? Great. Try and fail? Oh well. Move on to the next plan.
5. There will be many many things worse than failing the Bar Exam. I know it’s impossible to see right now, but at the end of the day, it is just a test. A stupid, horrible, evil, dark test, yes, but a test. In life, awful things will happen, sad but true. Your marriage may end, you will lose beloved family members and pets, you may have an illness or an accident, your house may burn down, they may cancel Mad Men. Most, if not all, of these things will be worse than the day you failed the Bar Exam. You will get through those, and you will get through this.
Mostly anymore, I don’t even think about it. I have given up glazing over the details of why I didn’t get sworn in with the rest of my class. I’m not even upset anymore when I’m Facebook stalking and see pictures from the swearing in that should have been mine. I stopped wondering if things would have been different if I passed. Sometimes I’m even glad that I failed the bar on my first go round. It’s not a wake up call or a warning sign or any cliché people will throw at you in the next few days and weeks. All it is is something that happened to you once. A small glitch in your life plan that was undesired and unanticipated, but ultimately overcome.
The good news is, the second time is quite a bit easier. It’s still hard, sure, but you’ve already proven that you can do hard things. And ironically, when you do pass, you’ll probably end the day with lots of vodka and possibly a little vomiting.
So wallow for a few days, then put it behind you and onto the next one. Because what’s the worst that could happen, you could fail? Please. Bring it on.