Food for Thought: Failure Doesn’t Define You

I hate the people who subscribe to the notion that failure is not an option. Scratch that, I hate the people who promote this idea and push it on others. We don’t plan to fail, sometimes it just happens. Sometimes things are beyond our control, sometimes we mess up and failure is accidental, and sometimes we psych ourselves out or didn’t put in enough effort. No matter what, we don’t deserve to have someone tell us “failure is not an option.” Duh, dummy. But it can be someone’s reality.

My biggest failure was not passing the Ohio bar exam the first time…or the second. At first, I cried my heart out. I had spent three years in law school studying this stuff and then another three months re-learning. When I failed the first time, I let that failure consume me. My anxiety and depression took over. But I knew everyone expected me to try again, so I did. The second time around, I was more determined. I studied harder, did extra practice essays and exams, and lost myself in the studying process. However, I failed again. I was less than 2.5 points from passing. This time, I was livid. I had mixed feelings about taking the bar exam a third time. It’s an expensive process, but obviously something wasn’t working.

Something changed in me the third time around. I began to question whether or not this was a life path I wanted to pursue. In law school, I always said I never intended to be a practicing attorney. Maybe failing helped guide me in a different direction. I still don’t know if I passed the July bar—results will not be released until the end of October. But I know this time, that failure doesn’t define me.

My advice to you if you do fail: let it happen, absorb it, deal with it, and then let it go. Because our failures help shape us into the people we are or want to become. No one is perfect, despite the front they put up.

I’ll admit that I kept quiet about failing a second time for so long because I thought the world would judge me. There are numerous fantastic attorneys that failed the bar once or more. At the end of the day, a bar license is a bar license, no matter how long it took to receive it.

Unsolicited advice about going to law school and taking the bar: law school is stressful. You might be lost your first year, but it gets better. Find something you love. For me, it was joining moot court, writing appellate briefs, and competing in national competitions. The bar exam may ruin you, though. You spend three months focused solely on studying the law. But remember to take breaks every now and then. You cannot stress yourself out too much or wear yourself too thin. And in the last two weeks leading up to the exam, you will be miserable. I’m sorry. No one tells you how hard the bar exam is when you’re applying to law school. No one tells you all the minute details you’ll need to remember from your 1L year. But, believe in yourself and your capabilities. And if you can’t, I’ll believe in you.

If you hung on this long, thank you. I’ll get back to my original point. I spent months in despair because I thought failing meant that I was not good enough. But you are more than your failures. When you get bogged down with the worst, think about all the things you’ve accomplished to date. Nothing is too small.

I was afraid to reach out to people and talk to someone, because I was embarrassed. I hope no one else feels this way, because it’s horrible and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I didn’t realize that I needed support. Instead, I was just tired of hearing things like “you’ll get it next time,” “you’re smart, you’ll do better next time,” “I heard it’s a hard test, doesn’t everyone fail?” When people who have no idea what you’re going through try to comfort you, they usually only make it worse. And you’ll grow agitated with them or exhausted because you’re over hearing about it. But know, they mean well.

No one experiences failure the same way. We might fail some of the same things—exams, life changing tests, marriages, a job. But no one knows exactly how you feel. How defeated you are, how deflated your ego is, how bad your depression gets. Even if you haven’t hit rock bottom with your failures, don’t let the fear of trying again hold you back.

I’m just trying to remind you that failure doesn’t define us wholly, it’s not my or your only quality in life. And no matter what, you at least have one person who is willing to hear you out or even cry with you—me—no matter how big or small, reach out and I will listen.

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