The Courage to Make Mistakes NOW

Our first date ended with her car getting towed.

She was the type of person to schedule her showers by the minute because of her absurd rotation schedule in med school. Yet she had taken three hours out of her life to meet me again.

I wanted to hold her hand so bad. A perfect pretext to see how she felt about me… that I ruined because I lacked three seconds of courage.


My brain was screaming at me to grab her hand. “Do it! Do it RIGHT NOW. Maybe later? It’s almost over, you shit. Her hand’s just a couple inches away. Ohhh my god, why aren’t you doing it??? Wow you got a goodbye hug, nice going asshole.”

Nerves firing so hard that I could feel tingles on my hand. But my ego wouldn’t let me. It couldn’t let me because maybe possibly perhaps it would have given me bad feelz.

Rejection… embarrassment… discomfort! That must NEVER happen, right?

Oh, if only you knew how horrible I am at singing… I don’t even sing to myself because I don’t want to embarrass any ghosts who might be around. 

Sometimes your brain is too protective for your own good. It’s like your parents have moved in with you inside your head.

Your parents would rather choose safety than excellence for you, 99 times out of 100. Of course! They don’t want you to get hurt. Preservation of capital is the first rule of investing, and you’re the portfolio that carries their hopes and dreams.

Your ego wants the same thing. It’s a perfect check and balance against doing or admitting things that show your weakness. It wants to prove your worth by maintaining a mental News Feed with a cherry-picked curation for optimal self-humblebrag.

It’s your nemesis in your quest for excellence.

What’s so bad about discomfort? What you gain from discomfort is remembered long after discomfort has faded.

I’ll never know what could have happened if I had activated those three seconds of courage. It couldn’t have been as awkward as when I took her to the impound lot. Instead, I resigned to stalking her Facebook profile and exchanging long texts until I had to ghost her.

I was so mad and ashamed at myself after those fails. But lessons were well learned and well applied in the future. No pain, no gain… but only if you utilize that pain.

"I was feeling down in the dumps a few weeks back but your post about making mistakes NOW, not during the bar exam, really helped me focus and put aside my negative feelings. Thanks again."


The Courage to Make Bar Exam Mistakes NOW

We all need temporary discomfort sometimes. It’s payment to make things happen. It just takes a moment of strength for the lifetime privilege of being called a lawyer.

Like my three seconds of temporary discomfort, I see two layers of courage you need when preparing for the bar.

First, compression of attention.

It’s the courage to dedicate 2-3 months of consistent focus in exchange for enough mastery over the law, enough mastery over the way you approach problems, enough mastery over how to do each portion of the bar.

Right now, comfort takes a backseat to your immediate priority—passing the bar exam.

If you have family or relatives to take care of, need to maintain a full-time job to support yourself/family or save up a runway, or have to take a week-long vacation from studying… if you have some real shit going on, take care of it until the bar becomes an actual priority for you.

Once you make the bar your priority, you might as well do it right and get it over with. And to do it right, it helps to have that courage to be uncomfortable over the next several weeks. Courage is taking that first step to do what you know you should do.

Trying to pass the bar isn’t sexy; it’s hard work. It can be mentally, emotionally, and financially draining. But it’s not just about the “hustle.” It helps to have some insider know-how.

How to gain 20/20 hindsight

Imagine that you could know what you should do before it’s too late. How do you gain that type of hindsight? Where do you find a crystal ball?

It’s your predecessors who successfully passed the bar—but not just anyone. Seek to probe the wisdom of those who have revisited hell and lived to tell the tale.

Not just me—all second (third, etc.) timers who passed have their regrets. They say things like “I would have passed sooner if I’d known that…” or “Here’s what I did to pass this time…” or “I passed this time thanks to…!” That’s your cue that you’re in the “between the lines” territory—the part most people don’t tell you about.

What if you’re a repeater already? You have prior experience to refer to. Did something not work last time? Do something differently until you find something that works, then keep doing it.

The way to bounce back from failure is to study your failure. Reconsider and question yourself when you catch yourself going through the same motions over and over, convinced that doing so will produce the outcome you want.

This means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel because you can look ahead through the crystal ball. You’re not a special snowflake with unique needs. You’ll hear common themes as you investigate your predecessors. You can implement that know-how for 80% of your approach and experiment with the other 20%.

The second layer is the courage to enjoy mistakes.

You’re going to get issues wrong and forget the relevant rule and recite the incorrect rule and pick the wrong answer choice and run out of time… This isn’t fun, especially as you self-grade and you find out what you missed, one by one. 

You’re preparing now to rock the bar by minimizing your risk of failure. But trying to avoid all risk is absurd. Now’s the time to enjoy your mistakes when they happen.

It’s not the most fun thing, but you don’t need to be in agony. You’re getting the failures out of the way now. Defeat is fodder for your inevitable victory. It’s not a failure. It’s an experiment.

Give yourself permission to do the things that matter and be bad at them NOW. That’s why you’re studying. If you’re already good, what are you doing? Don’t pretend to be ready before you’re ready.

There’s a stage where you get 50% (or less) MBE questions right and miss all sorts of issues on your essays. Not good enough but let’s keep going.

Then a stage where you’re hitting 60% and you can recite the law well. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Then you continue to improve to get 65% or even 70%. And your essay outlines look like model answers. That’s progress!

If you’re already scoring 70% on the MBE from the outset, you’ll have to keep that up or else you’ll feel like you’re regressing.

Even worse, if you’re going easy on yourself on purpose or inflating your numbers to make your results look good, that’s just self-pleasure and doesn’t serve anything but your ego. You can stroke your ego all you want after you’ve passed the bar, but you haven’t earned that right yet.

Could mistakes actually empower you?

What would it look like if you added up all your mistakes? How will you feel on the hot seat on bar day knowing that the sum total of your failures and defeats is greater than its parts?

Whenever I saw that I missed an issue or got something incorrect, I would be like “ah damn, I didn’t know about that” or “nice, that makes sense” or especially “I really need to remember this because I messed this up last time too”  (which is why you shouldn’t be afraid to redo problems to make sure you actually get it).

And the gaps I filled in during this time would be caulking against the torrent of shit during the bar.

Let me be clear here. Mistakes and bad decisions (not just on the bar but anywhere) are inherently not good things. So let’s not glorify mistakes and pretend we want to, or should, make mistakes. Don’t go after them on purpose.

What I mean is, when they inevitably happen, let’s be humble and leverage our mistakes against our opponent to improve. That’s the hard part… and part of doing it right. Experience is useless unless you learn from it. Otherwise, they will stay just that—bad decisions.

Good martial artists don’t just practice their form in the corner, getting to know the theory. Good form builds a good foundation, but they also learn how to make those attacks effective and defend against them by sparring against a live opponent, getting hit in the ring. It’s also fun to use what you learned!

Here’s a relevant scene from The Lion King: (“The past can hurt…”)

Can you be honest with yourself? Your ego doesn’t want you to be wrong. Your brain is too protective for your own good.

It’s hard to be wrong. It’s comforting when you’re reading outlines and “studying.” It can feel productive and give you a sense of security, but “studying” isn’t necessarily “learning.” On the actual exam, you’re not tested on how to take notes on lectures or memorize rules, nor is “knowing rules in theory” useful past a certain point.

I failed the first time because I spent most of my time on such minutiae. Yes, you definitely need to know the rules, but that’s merely the cost of entry.

You don’t get better at taking the bar without practicing and improving what you actually do on the bar—identifying relevant issues and applying (recalling) relevant rules. That’s literally all you do on the bar. Rinse and repeat.

Have the courage to do what matters and make mistakes. It’s liberating to know that only you are responsible for the outcome… that you can take control and steer toward it… and that it doesn’t matter if you’re not fully prepared yet. Who says you can’t work backward? You get infinite lives to try. You keep all your progress and don’t have to start all over from the beginning if you die.

Your ego won’t like that you keep fucking up, but would you rather fail now or when it actually counts?

Bar Exam Mistakes - Josh

Bar Exam Mistakes - Melissa

Keep doing those practice problems. Keep finding out why you’re wrong. Keep invoking those three seconds of courage.

As Eminem says, keep writing.


PS. If you know someone who you think would benefit from this article, could you share it with that person today?

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