By Eisha Vatsal • January 05, 2017•Writers in Residence, Features, Advice on Passing the Bar Exam, Myths & Truths
October 14: Day of Results. It is one of those “where were you” moments. I was in India, of all places, as sleep deprived as I could possibly be. As I waited for the results to load, I made jokes to lighten up the mood, saying that the suspense was literally killing me (side note: my dad and I hate the improper use of the word “literally”). Finally the page loaded and I scrolled to the bottom of the list to find my seat number. It wasn’t there. At first I didn’t believe it, I thought it was a mistake. I reloaded the page and tried again. Still nothing.
What came after ranged from tears, anger, frustration, and self-pity. It didn't help that it was my last day in India, as I was surrounded by relatives. It was supposed to be a joyful time (my cousin got married), but I wasn't happy. I was miserable and wanted to lock myself in a room and cry until no more tears came out. Instead, I forced those emotions down, put a smile on my face, and pretended that my sleep deprivation was the reason I was so quiet. I remember the ride to the airport. The sunglasses hid my tears, but my parents knew I was crying. They knew I had to travel back to Michigan by myself. Traveling internationally is already stressful. Add the emotions I was struggling to keep at bay, and let's just say that I was a mess. But I learned something about myself that day. By the time I arrived in Chicago (and after sleeping for 14 hours), I was ready for the next steps. With Starbucks in one hand, I wrote an email to my bar course rep, asking about the Feb bar course open date. I also wrote an email to a professor asking for tips to pass, knowing that the MBE was the reason I didn't pass. As I waited for my next flight, or when they announced the flight was cancelled and I had to drive back to Michigan (a story for another day), I googled programs and books for the MBE. Long story short: I was determined. The stubbornness in me prevailed.
It was short lived. I told a handful of people and let the rest figure it out. I felt ashamed; this was the first exam that I failed. Walking into the State Bar of Michigan Monday morning, where I work, was extremely difficult. I felt like I disappointed everyone. Before I left for India, I was finishing up projects, ready to leave. Instead, I walked into my boss’s office and asked if I could stay. As I tried to get through the day, I realized how alone I truly felt despite knowing a few people who also did not pass. Dreams had to put on hold while I thought about what retaking the bar really meant to me. I had an interview set up that Tuesday, but I knew the organization needed an attorney asap, so I had to call the hiring coordinator to cancel my interview.
Days and months passed, and yet I still feel like I am alone. October 14 was the day that separated those who passed from those who did not. The distinction isn’t intentional, but the feelings are. I became closer to those who didn’t pass, and at the same time, became distant from those who did. I remember talking to a professor about my lack of motivation, but I couldn’t figure out why. It wasn’t until I was talking to a friend that I came to the realization that my lack of motivation stemmed from my feelings of being alone and distant, and I was tired of feeling this way. Subconsciously I thought about this too much, which prevented me from focusing on what was important: passing the bar. But there is a reason why I felt this way, ashamed, and that no one understood.
“What happens if you don’t pass” is never truly discussed. It seems almost taboo. It’s understandable why; everyone expects to pass. But for those who don’t, the cloud of despair and feelings of being lost sets in, which, in turn, affects studying and preparation. The goal of my blog is to destroy this taboo. The story I provided of my experience is to show that this is real. It is raw. It happens and it affects people. I'm not asking for sympathy. In fact I don't want it. What I want is for bar courses, professors, and the legal community to talk about this. I want there to be conversation, so when examinees fall into this group, they don't feel alone. They know that it happens and know that they have a support group, even if it includes my blog.
Now that you know about my experience: What's next?
Motivation: find the motivation to study and relearn the same material you previously studied with. If you find yourself falling behind, change it up. Write everything down, make a game out of it, or decorate your walls with colorful post-its (as mine currently are).
But don’t give up. All those feelings of being lost and alone? Throw them away because you are not alone. There are many successful attorneys who had to retake the bar (hint: First Lady Michelle Obama). We may not have passed the first time, but we will conquer it the next time.
I know I will.