It’s Not Failure. It’s Just Success Delayed

We all want to succeed. We’re wired to believe that we need to succeed. But what happens when we don’t? Recently I received my results from the Texas Bar Exam and learned that I’ll have to retake the exam in February. I’ve never failed at anything in my life (or at least in my mind I haven’t)… until now. Devastation, shock, and disappointment are only a few words to describe my reaction. All my life I’ve set a goal and I’ve reached that goal. However, an email I received from a friend put it into perspective – it’s not failure, it’s just success delayed. It’s only failure if you give up on your goal. My goal is simple; I want to be a practicing attorney.

I can sympathize with those in the same situation as I am in. The feeling that you’ve not only let yourself down, but let others down including your family and friends can be overwhelming. The loss of a sense of direction in life is highly disorienting. But it’s not the end of the world. Does it make the journey more difficult? Yes. Does it make the goal unreachable? No.

There have been plenty of notable people who have not passed the bar exam the first time around, but still went on to become highly successful people. Examples include, Abraham Lincoln, Hillary Clinton, Michele Obama, and John F. Kennedy, Jr. – but when people think of those people they think of their success – not their failures.

The trick to success is figuring out why you didn’t meet your goal. Thomas Edison made over 2,000 attempts before successfully creating the light bulb. Each time he kept what worked, discarded what didn’t and tried something different. In my case, I know I didn’t study near enough due to an untimely family tragedy in June. I also know now that I’d have benefitted greatly from taking more practice exams and essays rather than focusing primarily on the study materials alone.

Almost every piece of advice from the blogosphere that I’ve read regarding retaking the Bar has said to study for it as if you were taking it for the first time (again). If you focus solely on the areas where you did poorly, you end up being under-prepared for the other parts of the exam.

One of the biggest problems that Bar re-takers run into is finding the time to study. Most of us have found full-time jobs of some sort and have any number of other commitments to go with it. Statistically the pass rate for second time takers drops to roughly 50% – simply because so many re-takers just aren’t able to invest the time into the test that they need to.

If you’ve made up your mind to re-take the exam in February, then you need to realize to what you’re committing. It means carving out time every day to study as if you were taking the test for the first time. This challenge itself can be daunting, but it is something that has to be done. Take time to figure out where you went wrong, what you can improve upon, and what you need to tweak to make sure that you make the most of your time when studying.

Go into this with a positive mindset that you can and will pass this time. If you approach the exam half-heartedly thinking that it can’t be done, then you’re probably right. You’ve got to have the desire, determination, and a strong commitment to reach your goal.

To all of those, like me, who didn’t pass the Bar, I would encourage you to give it another shot. Failure once, does not mean failure permanently, it just means success is delayed. Those delays only become failures when we choose to give up on reaching our goals. Don’t give up, pick yourself up and give it another go, but be aware of exactly what you’re committing to when you do make that decision.

I wish a very hearty congratulation to all of those who did pass and also the best of luck to those retaking it in February.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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16 comments on “It’s Not Failure. It’s Just Success Delayed

  • I’ve been unable to sit for the last two sittings of the NYS Bar Exam due to various reasons including severe food poisoning arising from a dinner out with friends the night before the exam to relieve stress. I, like you, am planning to sit for the February exam and will have to study while working full time as well as trying to be a good husband and father. Your perspective mirrors mine. Good luck on your delayed success.

  • My condolences, Jack. I know how hard you worked and how badly you wanted to pass on the first try. You CAN do this. It will require focus and dedication, and you need to commit almost every spare second between now and then to bar prep. I wish you luck, strength and determination, my friend.

  • Don’t give up. Concentrate on the multi-state subjects. There will be some Qs among the essays to see if you can distinguish federal and state law, but you’d rather sweat a couple of those than the multi-state. If you know the multi-state subjects well, you will likely manage the rest. Good luck!

  • My father, admitted to the New York bar in 1926 @ the age of not quite 22, failed the exam twice. He only took ikt the third time only because you got three shots for your fee in those days. He always said he got one of the highest grades in the state that third time. I don’t know how he knew this; maybe they published scores back then.

    I passed the Indiana bar first time around, which confirms something I already knew: that I am a pretty good test-taker, especially if I followed all the directions for preparation. What does this mean for my ability to be and readiness to be a good lawyer–or the lack of those things? Absolutely nothing. I am an old man, so I will take the privilege of offering advice: look on this as the hazing you have to get through to get to the important stuff. It is a meaningless ritual, but you have to do it. If you graduated from law school, you are able to do it if your emotions and fears don’t get in the way. Take a good prep course, follow the course-giver’s directions regarding practice and study, and you will be O.K.

    -Dan Reuter

    • Jack, if 43,000 graduated this May and roughly 20% don’t pass, that means you are helping 8600 others just like yourself who are feeling distressed after getting results of their bar exams. It takes real guts to put yourself out there with this post and know that others appreciate what you have to say.

  • Jack, It is all about the positive.
    Visualize the exam and the questions being easy and you knowing all you need to know. Studying is one piece, visualizing the event and the positive outcome is just as powerful! Don’t forget the mindset. Your post shows you are 1/2 way there. Remain positive and do the mindset, the Bar will be a piece of cake.

  • Jack,

    That totally sucks but you are right, its not the end of the world. You will pass on the next go around, I’m sure of it!

    I took the bar while clerking for a judge full time (I spent the summer after law school in Thailand instead of taking the bar cause I desperately needed a break). Everyone told me that you can’t pass the bar if you have any other commitments. That is bogus. I developed a strategy of studying from 5-7:30am every weekday morning, studying during the lunch hour at work, then I studied from 5pm to 9 or 10pm every night. I took Friday nights off to spend with my husband, then studied for 10-12 hours Saturdays and Sundays. Like Debra said, I also visualized passing. By the time I entered the exam hall, I just knew I was going to pass. I felt like it was already mine for the taking.

    A solid strategy of sleep, eat, work, study with occasional breaks and positive thinking will result in your passing in February. I’m sure of it.

    And I agree with Susan, kudos to you for putting yourself out there during this vulnerable time. I know so many have benefited from your willingness to share.

  • Jack,

    I am truly am sorry that you did not pass your first time out of the gate. I, too, had a death in my family before I took the bar exam and whether I realized it or not, it truly took the stuff out of me.

    As for the real skinny, you did not pass on your first try. BFD.

    I have a friend who took the California bar four times before she finally passed. Soon after getting her results on her successful try, she was asked in a job interview how many times she sat for the bar. She told the truth and the response was, “that’s great! You really wanted to be a lawyer.”.

    You’ll do it, and it won’t take four times!

    • P.S. Some of the worse lawyers (that I know) in California passed the bar on their first try. Why? They think that passing that bar exam on the first try entitles them to rest on their laurels.

      These lawyers never open a book again. And, you can always guess who they are. They are the ones who sign in for CLE courses and then take off to the nearest Starbucks or read the newspaper during the presentation.

      The good lawyers know that the practice of law is an ongoing process.

  • I remember that you had a personal tragedy right before the bar exam. You cannot discount the impact of something like that on you work. Back in college,I took statistics – considered a very tough course -and I worked really hard, and brought my grade up from a low B- to an A by the final. My grandfather died the night before the exam and I remember that I couldn’t stop thinking about it on the test. I choked. It happens. We are human, not robots.
    Still, if I could choose between failing the bar and all of my other subsequent failures – botched cases, failed efforts to get the job or client or result I wanted, I’d take failing the bar any day of the week. It’s finite and it’s fixable. On the studying, as others have said, you will make the time. I crammed for the Maryland Practitioners’ exam with a 2 and 5 year old. On weekends, I took a 4 hour review class, Sundays, I did exam questions over and over, and I studied 2 evenings a week from 9 until midnight. It’s an easier test but I also had less time. Set the schedule and just stick to it. Good luck.

  • I failed the bar this time, too.
    This post helped a lot.
    I feel like I let everyone down. I allowed this test to make me feel like I could never be a good lawyer. I need to stop.
    This isn’t failure – it’s success…delayed.
    And that success will taste even sweeter when I have had to work for it so hard.
    Best of luck. To both of us.

  • I’m glad this article was able to help you! I just sent my re-application in today – I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t having doubts still lingering in the back of my mind even now. BUT the alternative is much worse – I know if I gave up and decided not to retake that I’d spend a lot of my time thinking “what if”. Chin up and best of luck to us both!

  • Jack:

    Less than two months before my wife and I took the Bar exam we (or mainly she) gave birth to our first child. We were working. We both failed the Texas Bar exam the first time. Surprisingly, we both failed different parts. She failed the Multistate and I failed the Texas specific questions of the last day. In any event, let me assure you of a couple of things. The devastation is from your perspective. It does not matter to others and nobody ever much asks. Also, we passed it the next time and you will too. Sometimes going through it once gives you a better perspective.

    The frustrating part is that it just slows you down for six months. In the long run I participate with the Bar, give papers and conduct CLE in my field of expertise, and when it failing the bar comes up it usually because I chose to joke about it all of these years later during some seminar presentation.

    I did had it come up once in my life soon after I was licensed. I remember getting ready to try a case in front of a jury in New Boston, Texas. A big Dallas law firm was on the other side. I overhead the other side in the lawyer’s lounge speculating on their chances. I remember they said, “This lawyer does not have a chance. We have two ivy league law degrees on our side and this guy failed the bar exam”. I remember being so upset I could hardly catch my breath. I went into the restroom and talked to myself in the mirror for a good long time. I essentially told myself to get myself together because I have a family to feed. I went into that courtroom looking good, feeling good and smelling good. And, I took those two ivy league bastards down, along with their client. I did it because in East Texas people do not care about ivy league law degrees, and they do not care it took you more than once to pass the bar. They care that you care and that you can help them.

    So, my advice to you is not to fret about it, and avoid thinking of yourself less for it. Just knuckle down for a few months and get it done.

    Last February that little girl that nursed on her mother while we tried to study for the bar exam every night took the Texas bar and passed it with flying colors. I told her that it was not a fair comparison because she had been studying for the bar exam with her mother and I from the day she was born. The best to you. And, that is the truth.

  • What a great story Chuck! Congrats to your daughter and thank you for all of your encouragement!

  • Thank you so much for posting this article. My fiance and I are retaking the bar exam in February. We had a beautiful baby girl before we took the bar exam this summer and we both fell a few points short (single digits) of passing the bar exam. Articles like this are great to let one know they are not alone!

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