By Jannet Matthew • May 30, 2018•Careers, Other Career Issues, Law School, Other Law School Issues, Issues, Balancing Private and Professional Life, Other Issues, Features, •Advice on Passing the Bar Exam
A Personal Thing, but a Family Affair
I’m a December graduate of Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles and took the February 2018 California Bar Exam. The month is May but I've been an emotional wreck since February. I write this post sitting two days away from knowing my fate and an alien feeling has come over me - my emotional wreckage is finally settling. The closer I’ve gotten to the result date, the more I let go of my anxiety, fear, numbness, and desire to control. This is a major breakthrough I'm profoundly proud of because I've been disempowering myself for months now. Wasting precious energy focusing on everything I didn't have or know, instead of everything I was so abundant in. All through bar prep up until now I've been trudging in waist-high mud. Mud that I subconsciously carried around for no reason, but hindsight is always 20/20, I guess. The uncertainty of passing and the fear of knowing that I have to open myself up to people and networking (but more on that in a later post) has had me in a mental funk from exam week until now. Something just came over me. It was the realization that I made a huge mistake during bar prep: I got in my own way and sabotaged myself by carrying unnecessary pressure. BTW, that's actual footage of me vibrating at my lowest energetic level during bar prep.
I’m the first person in my family to graduate from law school and it’s a HUGE deal. I was born in Miami to a small family from very humble beginnings. They came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, like most immigrants, to chase the promise of opportunity: to create, to self-sustain, and to thrive. Part of chasing that opportunity includes placing their hopes and dreams in the next generation and my family is no exception. As one of two members of the next generation (I'm talking about my immediate family here), this is both an honor and a curse.
All that to say, the fact that I was able to accomplish a J.D. fills them in ways that, as an American born citizen, I probably won't ever fully understand. But as proud as I am of my accomplishment, and as happy as I am to bring my family bliss with my academic achievement, lugging around others' hopes and dreams of prosperity is exhausting when you let the constant whispers of expectation usurp your inner voice. And that's what I did. I failed to tune in, so I spiraled out.
It's true that my family doesn't pressure me in any particular direction, but the pressure of expectation is truly lost on them. I'm always disarmed when they say things like, "Pressure? What pressure? I don’t say anything to you. You do what you want to do," or, "You need to let go and stop putting so much pressure on yourself." ...Right. Unpacking the expectations and my family's immigrant trauma attached to those expectations is so far beyond my ability that I simply remain silent, filling my soul with debilitating stress, frustration, and anxiety. Hence the spiral and emotional wreckage.
During bar prep, I lacked the self-awareness to separate my feelings from my thoughts so I pushed through it, and the exam, and the months following, consumed with doubt and depleted of confidence. Interacting with other humans was painful. Talking to my friends and family was a chore. Acts of kindness and encouragement were far too warm for my self-inflicted cold heart. I just wanted to disconnect and this was the most counterproductive attitude for one of the most critical times in my life, the time marking my passage from student to career-woman.
I felt a weight - and to some extent still do - that I don't even know how to describe, I just feel it like an imaginary anvil chain. The weight comes in large part from simply belonging to an immigrant family. There are frequent reminders; of all the great things I’m expected to accomplish with my degree; suggestions for side hustles that can help me pay my bills; how my J.D. will improve my family's quality of life; the sacrifices made by those who came before me so I could graduate with an elite degree; and simply, people are watching. I'm not saying that without these pressures I would have studied harder or been more energetic about the process; had I any bit of awareness, my approach to pre, during, and post-Bar Prep Season would have been filled with proactive positivity instead of my sitting-around-waiting-for-my-surly-mood-to-magically-shift approach.
Ultimately, I know my family always has the best intentions when they advise me on my future but my legal academic journey taught me an invaluable lesson to practice while adulting: I cannot be afraid of the fact that every decision I make may not be in alignment with my family's vision for my life. Letting go of that weight allows me to live a life that is authentically mine. While it's true, I do need to consciously let go and stop putting so much pressure on myself, it's also true that some lessons have to be learned through sensory engulfing experiences that obliterate your thought pattern and make way for a new one (aka the hard way). For me, it was five months of misery that changed my perspective on how I can better reconcile my life and career choices with my family's expectations. I wish the answer was more complex but it really is as simple as letting go.
Next time I’ll let you know if I passed the exam, what next, and how.