How to Overcome Failing the Bar Exam and Change Your Reality

A law firm was about to give me a job offer.

Turns out they had a strict GPA cutoff of top 10%. Even the partner who pushed for me got in trouble for ignoring their antiquated policy.

The gatekeepers said: No.

That’s OK. A different firm had given me an offer the day before.

I accepted it. I withdrew from yet another interview process.

But there was an issue with a conflict check that took nearly a month to conduct. They rescinded the offer. I had already moved apartments to be closer to the new firm.

Blue balled at the last minute again! Three birds in the hand, nothing to show for it.

“Who the hell are you to compare my failure to yours? Waa… at least you still have a job!”

I’m not invalidating your feelings.

These decisions that were out of my control felt just as devastating as finding out I failed the California Bar Exam in 2013. A landscape of nightmares with no light in sight. An infinite cycle of hope and despair.

Except this time I didn’t cry because I was at work and had to pretend nothing was wrong.

Except this time I became overbudgeted and couldn’t bum off my parents because I’d just entered a new lease with 2x the rent and a commute 5x as far as my old place.

All this because I turned the page to a new chapter in my choose-your-own-adventure. They said the conflict check probably wouldn’t be a problem (this was the firm of Knobbe Martens btw).

It hurt my feelings because life felt like a joke.

Nothing is certain. Not a job offer. Not the outcome of the bar exam.

You will face difficulties in your legal career, too. I’m sure of it.

The way legal practices are run, the bureaucratic structures, the culture, the billings and invoices, the clients, the gatekeepers, the ethical obligations, the changes in rules, the responsibility (forming an attorney-client relationship makes you a professional scapegoat), finding enough work, managing down since paralegals are higher on the hierarchy, managing up because your supervisors never want to do things on time, the times the “other side” makes an excellent point and you want to join them instead…

These things all conspire to make you feel like the gray bar on YouTube, always being chased by the red bar.

Well, this is what you signed up for. You can see this as GAME OVER or CONTINUE. Are you going to continue? The normal reaction when you die in the game is to try again. You’re not going to let your future self talk shit about you, right?

The gray bar eventually makes it to the end of the video. But it’s always being pushed around. You could become the red bar instead. The red bar is persistent, proactive, and in control.

I know which one you’d rather be. There’s no need to feel like you have no control over this. Because you do have a say in the matter.

Here’s how you become overcome the despair that comes from failing the bar exam:

1. Choose your reaction

Shitty events are GUARANTEED to happen over your long life. You can’t prevent an earthquake from happening. So what do you do when the unavoidable happens?

It’s about how you RESPOND and what you do NEXT, not what happened. [Click to share on Facebook]

It’s not about whining and feeling sorry for yourself. You can certainly do that—but only for one week MAX.

BTW, in an ironic twist of fate, I got to get the responsibility and seniority I’ve wanted at work now. Maybe TOO much. Nothing is perfect.

Don’t despair prematurely. Whatever you’re doing now, do your best. You never know what can sprout when you fertilize your soil with shit.

2. Happiness = reality / expectations

I stole this one. Now you can steal it from me.

You can’t change reality as easily as your expectations. The lower your expectations, the easier you’ll feel content with your situation.

I don’t mean that you should settle. Of course I want you to pass the bar.

Think of it this way:

  • There are people who needed to take the bar 5, 10, even 20 times before finally passing.
  • It’s pretty much normal nowadays to fail at least once.
  • There are people who would KILL to be in my situation.
  • I improved this time. I’ll keep going.
  • Something didn’t work. I’ll change what I’m doing.
  • I can continue that part-time internship and build my resume.
  • I can finally take a break from that job I hate.

This rule works INSTANTLY. Try it! Send me a list of at least 3 positives or expectation shifts you made out of your failure.

But don’t focus on these unrealistic, not-guaranteed expectations:

  • My friends passed. Why not me?
  • I’m smart, so I should have passed. Failing doesn’t happen to people like me.
  • This should be easy.
  • I’m going to be unemployable.
  • I thought I was going to be set for life with praises from everyone and a dream job and a loving family with 2.5 dogs…

Stop curating an Instagram feed with your imagination.

Never compare yourself with others’ highlight reels. There’s always more to the story.

Besides, if comparing yourself to something you desire makes you sad, comparing yourself to something undesirable should make you feel thankful.

Anytime something doesn’t align with what I think it SHOULD be, it feels like someone kicked me in the heart. My expectations were too high. Stop should-ing all over yourself.

3. Become the ultimate sore loser

Whining and complaining just makes you a sore loser.

The way to become the ultimate sore loser is to overcome your setbacks using your failures. Use the past to guide your future.

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald

Found out you failed the bar exam? The way to become the ultimate sore loser is to overcome your setbacks using your failures. Use the past to guide your future.

“If you learn from defeat, you haven’t really lost.”—Zig Ziglar

Failed by just a few points? So close… but close is better than far. Your score says you know the material, so you’re set up to knock it out of the park next time!

The past is just a stepping stone toward your future.

This is a new opportunity. A privilege. A test of patience. The next bus. Take it or leave it.

Bowing out is also a valid path. It’s your choice. 

It’s OK if things are difficult right now. As long as you’re alive, you can find a way.

Your future is greater than your past. I’m going to do my best to be confident about the future. What about you?

You don’t need to go at it alone. It helps to have friends in your corner who understand. If you don’t have friends, hang out with us in the private MTYLT group.

If you want to keep up to date directly with me, sign up here to get coupons (UWorld, AdaptiBar, BarEssays), a free Performance Test guide, and my famous weekly emails.

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