Failure and the path Forward.

We have reached the end of 2018. For some this may have been a great year, while others may have had a difficult year. Personally, I experienced a lot of growth in 2018. I started this blog!! This blog gives me a creative outlet and allows me to talk about things I enjoy (Fashion) and things that matter to me. I also completed a leadership program, have been active in my sorority graduate chapter, co-hosted an event, and gave to causes I believe in. I have also been retrospective this year and I have thought about previous seasons of my life that provided a foundation for where I am today. One of those seasons, is my bar exam experience.

In 2009, I graduated from law school. I cannot believe I will celebrate my 10 year anniversary of graduating from law school next year. For the most part, my last year of law school went well. I did well in my classes, made the dean’s list, and was an officer in multiple organizations at my law school. I had a full law school experience. Once I graduated in May, I immediately started bar prep classes. I continued with my classes throughout the summer. I studied day and night. I didn’t really take breaks or watch TV. I was deviating from my normal study habits but I felt I was putting forth my best effort for the most important test I would ever take.

At the end of July, the bar exam is held across the United States. In Texas, where I took the bar exam, the exam is 3 days and takes place during the last week of July. Bar Prep moves by quickly and before I knew it, it was time to take the bar exam. I took the exam and my nerves were a wreck. I started worrying that I would get caught in an elevator and not make it to the exam on time, so I considered only taking the stairs. (In retrospect, this is funny. It was far from funny at the time.) I took the exam and felt I had done my best. Now if you have taken the bar exam, you know that once the exam is over you have to wait all the way until the end of October or early November, depending on which state you are in, to get your results. I didn’t have a job after graduation so I shadowed attorneys, I assisted on campaigns, and waited on my results.

Mid-October I had a dream that my bar results came in the mail, they don’t come in the Mail in Texas but did in my dream, and when I opened my results I discovered I had failed. This planted a seed of worry as I waited for my results. In Texas, its slightly different now, you used to go to the Texas Bar examiners website and check the official “Pass List” to see if your name and test number were listed. There was no notice as to when results would come up, people would just check the website all day and hit the refresh button looking for the Pass List to show up. I checked the website daily. One day when I was randomly checking the website, I saw the pass list was posted. It only took a second for me to see that my name WAS NOT THERE. I looked and looked and I still didn’t see my name. I had failed. After a minute or so, I looked up my friends names. Almost every friend I had passed the exam. The bar exam is a pass or fail exam and in 2009, a passing score in Texas was 675. I found out in a few days once my results came back, that I had failed by less than 20 points. It was a true disappointment.

I am unsure if I was in denial or shock but I didn’t cry when I found out I didn’t pass. Not one tear. I just said that I was happy for those who did pass and said I would just take it again. I was fine for the first several days after the results came out. I laughed and enjoyed life. I went to a Joyce Meyer conference. Then when I was in the shower a few days later, I felt like I was going to lose it. Why had God allowed me to fail the bar? Why? Why did I care so much? Why couldn’t I just deal with it? I did everything right. I studied the way I was told should result in me passing. I slept and ate the way everyone said I should. I sat there in my bathroom and cried, a it was a deep cry. I felt the dream I had since I was an elementary school student, fell apart. (I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but that is what really happened.)

In the months that followed, I went through a difficult time and felt frustrated. I went from a mountain top experience, graduating from law school, to the valley…in a matter of months. I struggled with preparing to study and take the exam again. Should I even take the exam again? I felt like a failure and it was scary to start over. What if I failed again? Honestly, I wanted to be sure that I would pass before trying. Unfortunately life doesn’t work that way. I had to try, and risk failure, if I wanted to know if things would work out. I realized several things on my path forward:

  1. I cared way too much about what people thought of me.  Did people think I was stupid? Did people think I wouldn’t be a good lawyer? Were my professors disappointed in me? You name it, I thought about it. Once I realized that I couldn’t control what people thought, I was able to focus on what I needed to do so that I could pass.
  2. I am not in control. Most of us love to feel like we are in control, this is especially true if we are type A personalities.
  3. You can do all the right things, the right way, and things still not work out. This is tough but true. You can prepare and plan and things not work out. That doesn’t mean you are a failure, it just means it things didn’t work out.
  4. Faith requires having unanswered questions. Having faith means that you will deal with uncertainty. For me, that meant trusting God would guide me as I studied for the exam again.
  5. I failed the bar but I didn’t fail at life. I had put so much emphasis on the bar exam that I didn’t appreciate the fact that I had graduated from law school and college.
  6. IT IS JUST A TEST. The bar exam may be the deciding factor on if you can practice law or not, but the reality is that it is still just a test. (And it is a pass or fail test at that.)
  7. I wasn’t the only person who has ever failed the bar. This was an important realization because it meant I wasn’t alone and it also meant there were people who understood what I was going through.
  8. This wasn’t the first time I had failed and it won’t be the last. When I was able to look at other times that I failed, or didn’t get where I wanted to be in the time frame that I wanted to be there, I realized that I could handle the uncertainty with studying for the bar exam again.
  9. My self worth shouldn’t be tied to accomplishments. I realized my self worth was attached at some level to passing the bar and becoming an attorney. When we attach our self worth to our accomplishments we can lose ourselves. I realized that I was worthy even if I never became an attorney.

Here is what I did differently the second time around:

  1. I tried to relax mentally and kept a realistic schedule. I worked out early every morning, then I reviewed material, ate lunch, took a short nap, and studied until early in the evening. I prayed, listened to sermons, and read devotionals. (Failing the bar truly developed my faith.)
  2. I opted to type the written portions of the exam. The first time I took the bar exam, I didn’t type the written portions of the exam and after talking with the bar prep company and one of my professors, I knew I needed to type the exam the second time around.
  3. I identified sources of stress and took necessary measures to eliminate them from my life. I tried to enjoy life within reason. The first time I took the bar, I tried to avoid watching TV and didn’t want to talk to anyone. I realize this didn’t work for me, I needed balance. Once I had studied a certain number of hours per day, I stopped studying. I would wind down by watching TV and resting.
  4. I asked for help. The Bar prep classes I took had resources available for people who were second time test takers. I used all of the resources available. I talked with one of my law school professors and discussed how to prepare for the exam.
  5. I surrounded myself with things and people who encouraged me. My parents and friends prayed for me. I am so thankful for all of the support I received.

Once I got used to my new routine, I felt pretty good overall preparing for the exam again.

However, the month of the bar exam I had to get a root canal. And the week before the exam, my uncle passed away out of nowhere. I almost decided not to take the bar exam. BUT, and this is where my faith really takes over, I wasn’t in control. I realized that if I passed it would be an illustration of God’s grace and favor in my life. I even remember taking a study break at the funeral home. Despite all of that, I took the exam and honestly felt I had passed. I found out in May of 2010, one year from when I had graduated from law school that I had indeed passed the bar exam. I found myself crying again, but this time with tears of joy.

What if I had given up? What if I had said, I won’t try again. I wouldn’t be an attorney today. Failure made me a lot stronger than succeeding ever did. I am thankful that I failed. I’m thankful for a season where I felt lost, broke, and a little sad. I can appreciate my life now and I can testify to others that failure can lead you forward. My failure in this case might have been a failure in the worlds eyes, but it was an opportunity for me to grow. You may be ending 2018 wondering how to start over. The easiest way to start, is to go one step at a time.

I am thankful for ending 2018 with greater perspective and for getting more opportunities to grow and I look forward to growth in 2019 for all of us!