The Bright Side of Failing the Bar
Exam . . . Success!!
(Embrace Failure and You will Conquer
the Bar Exam)
By: Krystal W. Abbott
You are in Great Company!
Something good always comes out of failure.”
Anne Baxter - American Actress
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; John F. Kennedy, Jr.; Attorney General of California Jerry Brown; former dean of Stanford Law School, former Harvard Law School professor, an author of a case book used in law schools, and an advocate on many occasions before the U.S. Supreme Court, Kathleen Sullivan; former Governor of California Pete Wilson; former Mayor of New York Ed Koch; former Mayor of Chicago Richard Daley; Attorney General of Florida Charlie Crist; Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa; Massachusetts Democrat, Kevin D. Callahan; 1999 Soldier of the Year, Nick Scott; and Emily Pataki, daughter of former Governor of New York George Pataki . . . oh and how could I forget Princeton and Harvard Law educated First Lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama. They each have one thing in common . . . they each have failed the bar exam before eventually passing it. So what?? You may ask yourself “what has the failure of these individuals got to do with me and my bar exam experience?
Despite the fact that a lot of good has come to these highly successful individuals following their failure of the bar exam, learning of their progression from such academic defeat to ultimately conquering the exam likely provides little solace to the law school student who is scheduled to take the bar exam for the first time or who has already taken the test and failed. Well, there is something positive you can take away from this successful group of peas in a pod. . . . the fact that they found success! “Significant success requires failure, but failure must be regarded in a whole new light.” The Power of Failure, Charles C. Manz, (San Francisco; Berrett-Koehler, 2002), p. 1. In other words, failure must not be denied or redefined, but rather it must be embraced so that the resulting success can be revealed.
Successful failure can become an important part of living a full and successful life. Every significant new venture, new skill learned, or exciting opportunity pursued will bring with it the likelihood of experiencing short-term failures along the way. These setbacks can become important building blocks of success.
The Book of Positive Quotations, compiled and arranged by John Cook, Grammercy Books, 1999, p. 105
One of the best forms of solace when it comes to failing the bar exam is knowing that you are not alone . . . that other people went through the same agony . . . that other exam applicants who you would expect to pass the bar exam were unsuccessful . . . that individuals who were unsuccessful got through it and ultimately passed the exam as long as they kept trying. Whether you failed the bar one time or ten times, failing at anything is a pretty miserable and humbling experience. But if you think about what failure really is, bombing the bar exam can be brought into a clearer perspective. In the publication When Smart People Fail, the authors defined failure as follows:
“Failure is a judgment about an event.
It is a word used to define a stage.
It is not a condemnation of character.
It is not a permanent condition.
It is not a flaw.
It is not a contagious social disease.
It is a judgment about an event.”
When Smart People Fail, Carole Hyatt & Linda Gottlieb, (New York , Simon & Schuster, 1987), pg. 38. So many times, we internalize failure and equate it with who we are and that could not be further from the truth. Just because we fail at something does not mean that we are failures. We are only failures when we stop trying . . . we are only failures when we give up.
Look at who we are in good company with! Would you consider Hillary Rodham Clinton or Michelle Obama failures? What about the famous individuals who went on to become attorney generals and governors? Are they failures? Of course not . . . and the reason they are not is because they did not let failing the bar exam define who they were as people. Presumably, they defined their failure on the bar exam to be just what failure is . . . a judgment about one test . . . a temporary setback! The objective is to reach the goal . . . complete what you started . . . GET THAT LICENSE TO PRACTICE LAW! FIGHT FOR IT!! Don’t let defeat defeat you!! Use that failure . . . use that loss . . . and use it as a motivator to work harder . . . push harder . . . nail that exam and GET THAT LICENSE. It is your ticket to future successes whether it be in the legal field or not.
The ambitious and famous group of individuals who experienced failure on the bar exam refused to be denied bar licensure. They used their failure to achieve even larger success. So, if you have failed the bar exam, it’s o.k. ; and if you are afraid to fail, don’t be. “[E]very apparent disappointing failure glows with a bright and beautiful possibility within.” The Book of Positive Quotations, compiled and arranged by John Cook, Grammercy Books, 1999, p. 112. Surely, if the famous politicians mentioned in this chapter can bounce back from failing the bar exam in the manner in which they have, you certainly can! And knowing their story should encourage you to not fear bar exam failure.
Fear of failing the bar exam is a law student’s worst nightmare. Why? The resulting unemployment, embarrassment, depression, and bewilderment rocks the confidence and spirit of any budding lawyer. But if you focus upon the how important failure is to achieving success, the idea of failing the bar exam is not a bad thing at all! “Sometimes the capacity for the greatest successes comes from wrestling with large, even overwhelming challenges.”The Book of Positive Quotations, compiled and arranged by John Cook, Grammercy Books, 1999, p. 27. How well you cope with failing the bar exam will determine how you will move forward in your personal and professional life. It is how you manage and grapple with the prospect and reality of failing the bar exam that will shape your destiny . . . not the fact that you failed the bar exam.
Embrace the idea of failing the bar exam and don’t fight it . . . being in that mind set will serve you well while preparing for the test and will result in a carved path to victory and success!!