Bar Preparation Is Emotional Preparation: How to Turn Your Emotions into Something USEFUL

The bar exam might be the dryest subject on the planet, but it’s also full of emotions.

Joy when you pass. Sorrow when you fail. Frustration, hopelessness, anxiety, and overwhelm in between.

Naturally, this can be a new and unique life challenge!

The thing is, these feelings are all temporary. 

When you pass, you’ll celebrate for a day or two. You’ll probably forget how much you struggled and despaired. You’ll start to worry about other first-world problems like how to get sworn in, or finding and keeping a job, keeping clients happy, and so on, as life goes on.

You might even excitedly thank me and say that you’ll do anything to repay me, that you’ll give me feedback, that you’ll donate essays… then never respond again when I ask for a simple writeup. The high will wear off very quickly.

That doesn’t mean these powerful emotions you’re feeling now are useless while they’re happening. How do we leverage them (especially in the times of corona)?

What do these have in common?

  • Failing the bar exam
  • Having cringeworthy interview moments and getting rejected for jobs
  • Breaking up from a long-term relationship
  • Getting ghosted after four dates

These were all emotionally and psychologically intense events that happened to me, searing the experience into my brain and soul. Lessons were well learned from these experiences and well applied next time:

  • I passed the bar exam (and continue my crusade years later)
  • I changed my strategy and got a job offer (but got conflicted out, story for another time)
  • I make the time to develop personal relationships outside of work and MTYLT
  • I’m chiller and less needy and rediscovering my playfulness (ladies)

You must fail to grow. Strength blooms only in adversity. 

You can’t just “think your way through” and expect real changes. This is especially tempting and problematic for intellectuals like you.

There’s a degree of separation from a full understanding of something without associating it with an emotional reaction. In fact, true understanding is an emotional event, not an intellectual event.

For example, you may “get” it when you read an outline. “That makes sense,” you say. Then you try to answer an essay, and you’re like “WTF” and don’t know what the right issues to bring up are.

But if you’re like me, next time you’ll use that experience to definitely remember what facts trigger a discussion of an “ultra vires act” (a Corporations issue I missed completely during practice).

(Or if you’re struggling to hit those issues consistently, try the essay cooking shortcut to focus on the core skeleton of an essay.)

Don’t fail, but fail early if you’re going to.

I had a coaching consult client get frustrated about not being ready right away:

He still passed btw

There will be contingencies that will torpedo you out of nowhere, even if you did your best preparation. You’ll get lost. You’ll forget what the 13th Amendment said. You’ll run into issues you’ve never seen. You may even continue to suck at Civ Pro despite weeks of work.

It’s good that he got frustrated early. This feeling is a signal that he should pay more attention to and do something about it.

You’re going to suck on the first day and even the final month. (Especially now when time has dilated and given you less confidence than you might have if the exam still happened in July.)

But you’ll suck even more if you stop trying.

Reframe and welcome your failures because they will give you a better sense of what to do next.

So to give yourself the best chance of passing the bar, I want you to prepare EMOTIONALLY.

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Are you feeling frustrated because you got a question wrong or can’t remember yet again what that hearsay exception was? Shocked to see that you got half the MBE set wrong?


Bar preparation isn’t just an intellectual exercise. It’s emotional. It’s mental. It’s also about mastering your ego and psychology.

You’re a human who operates on emotions, no matter how rational you believe you are. Take advantage of your emotions. 

Take advantage of your emotions, but don’t let the emotions take over you.

I’m not saying to ready your heart to meet your maker or anything like that (that’s for when you’re sitting in the exam hall). I’m saying, notice when you’re feeling a certain way, and make it something positive, like a lesson you teach yourself on what not to do next time.

One of the biggest differences between my first and second attempts was how relaxed and in flow I was. How are you supposed to learn if your brain is occupied with anxious hormones hammering at your neurons?

The humbling reality of failure grounded me. I started from zero ego.

We will recover from the natural recessions of life.

The assumption we should adopt is that our future is greater than our past. The past is a stepping stone toward your future.

Optimism and resiliency are indicators of success. We must act the way we want to feel before we feel that way.

One way I used the past as a stepping stone was asking for honest feedback from an interviewer. He said he couldn’t see himself having a beer with me after work. Ouch!

We may feel discomfort at the brutal truth, but the truth is the greatest generosity and gift.

Get in there. Fail now. Try things. Be patient. Don’t let short-term discomfort cloud your long-term vision. Embarrass yourself as you get half of your MBE questions wrong. Embarrassment is the best way to learn a lesson. You must struggle to truly grow.

“No [one] is more unhappy than he who never faces adversity. For he is not permitted to prove himself.”—Seneca

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And most important, don’t waste your suffering. Learn from it. Do something with it. Like a muscle, growth comes from breaking down and rebuilding your deficiencies—and feeding it.

Growth happens by doing things you are unqualified to do.

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