Failure = Not This.

Last night, I had therapy, and we focused on how I could regain my self-respect.

There was the question of how I lost it in the first place. It came down to the fact that I failed the CA bar exam twice.  It didn’t matter that I was very close to passing each time.  It didn’t matter that I took the test both times with seizures that were so severe that I actually fell out of the chair during one of the exams.  I deeply, irrationally, believe(d) that regardless of any of that, I *should* have passed because of how hard I worked, and that by missing the mark, I have legitimate, definitive proof that I am a loser and am not worthy of anyone’s respect. (And yes, as I see that written out, I do see how fucked that thinking is.)

We spent the majority of the session exploring what failure means to me, and attacking each statement individually.  There was a lot of irrational bullshit in there… plenty of ANTs. Some of the ways that I felt were genuinely silly when I saw it written out on a whiteboard. One that really sticks out, even the next day, is this one: “Failing the bar exam means you suck at life.”

My therapist said then, “So in order for a person to be good at living, they must be a good test taker, have gone to college and law school, graduated both, and passed this test? Well, I fail. I didn’t choose law. In fact, most of the people living on this planet would fail immediately.”

Apparently, my inner bully suggests that I will not respect myself until and unless I finish what I started — meaning that I think it’s okay to hate on myself until I’m a licensed attorney, or at the very least am on the path to becoming one.

When it comes right down to it, I worked my ass off for 3 years for my J.D. and prepared for the exam 3 times. I’ve invested thousands of dollars and immeasurable emotion in pursuit of this license.  In my mind, you’re only really a failure when you stop trying... and I had, until last night, given up on the prospect of being the entertainment attorney that I’ve wanted to be for the better part of my adult life because, frankly, taking the test is expensive, and after the second try, we didn’t have the money for me to try a third time.

But my situation has changed: I am not currently having seizures (which were a big part of why I failed in the first place – both the seizures themselves and the medications that I took to help control them) and I’m not taking Topamax or using weed for seizure control anymore, and I now have the opportunity to earn the money that it would cost to take the IL bar exam and try again.

So here are the questions I have to answer:

  1. Am I willing to cowgirl up and try again, accepting that it’s going to take a year to save up for it and 8 weeks of intense study, knowing that I am in a different state where it will be more difficult to be an entertainment attorney?  
  2. Do I dare to hope to simply re-take my life where I left it off before physical and emotional shit hit the fan, acting like it was just a hiccup in the story of my life? Or am I just fantasizing about wiping my slate clean by proving my worth through gaining a state “seal of approval”? Something about that concept rings true — and if that’s the case, it’s not a good reason for taking a licensing exam.
  3. Am I just trying to force myself into this because of how hard I worked in my past, or do I genuinely want to be an attorney?
  4. And if I choose not to try to become an attorney, can I even make that decision with my head held high? Do I actually have the option to not take the test? Is it “law licence” or “no self-respect” for me? Frankly, that doesn’t seem healthy or right…and because of that, I’m almost inclined to say “No” to taking the exam because I’d be doing it for vanity — just to prove something to myself. And that’s bullshit.


Why my inner bully chooses to fixate on this exam and not on being a successful professional musician is beyond me. I put way more time into music, but for whatever reason, am at peace with the idea that I’m not the rock star I thought I was destined to be when I was younger.

I keep asking myself, “What do you want out of life? How will being an attorney enrich your day-to-day? What will ‘being an attorney’ bring to your life that you don’t have now?” And the truth is, for whatever reason, I still feel like I should be able to support myself and my family.  And yes, that’s a “should” you see. Irrational thinking — an ANT. But it was one of the big reasons I chose to go to law school. I wanted to be financially independent, so I would never need to depend on anyone else for my livelihood.

Right now, Adam is the breadwinner, and that’s not a bad thing… but I don’t respect myself because I currently couldn’t live without his support. I am not independent.

The thing is, it only matters that I be financially independent if I believe there’s a possibility of being on my own again. So, those thoughts come straight from protective barriers I put up for myself after my first husband left.  Currently, I am living happily in a secure and loving marriage… so those protective barriers and ideals of what I “ought” to be don’t really apply. It’s old garbage from a bad time (and more “ought/should” thoughts which are not helpful!).

…and there should be more to wanting to be an attorney than just wanting to be financially sound.  Being an advocate is all about helping others, and I would have hoped that would have been my focus, but it’s not. I can get a job that makes good money, without a license to practice law, and be financially solid.

I dunno.  Last night, my therapist was helping me figure a timetable for this goal: a year to get a job and save up enough money to take the test, then taking the test in July of 2014.  But right now, as I write this and re-read it, I’m smelling the scent of my own bologna.

I think it might ultimately be more beneficial to me to learn how to accept and respect myself  just as I am than it would be to cave to the demands of an inner bully that is motivated by vanity and greed.

2 thoughts on “Failure = Not This.

  1. Rae,

    Having been through this, both in spite of your advice in the way bad, and partly because of it in the nearer-past, I can honestly say that there are few people who have any idea wtf you’re talking about.

    The thing is, your therapist can’t compare her program to yours. Because you know what? Other than MAYBE the GRE and MAYBE getting into her *first choice or second choice school* there’s just not the level of competition and vehemence and nasty in her profession as in ours. And yes, you’re part of it. You’ve just been out of commission for a while.

    To be honest, I do suspect that this is about vanity. And I think it’s about “What other people think of me” and I think it’s about “I’m a law school graduate, probably smarter than you and better than you at any number of things, but I”m not a lawyer.” At least, it would be for me.

    So what I’m saying is that…it’s all bullshit. I know you can pass, especially given your current health improvement. But the thing is–it’s not worth it.

    Unless it is. Is the cookie of signing “Esq” worth so much?

    I’m considering just-about-anything. That includes teaching high school, for goodness’ sake. There’s about four jobs out there.

    I guess…what I’m trying to articulate and doing a piss poor job of is that (1) it probably feels incomplete because it’s basically “the end of law school” in a certain sense. (2) It’s okay not to do this. There’s no reason you should be compelled to do so unless you’re super-committed to doing it for the right reason. (3) You should love yourself enough to realize that you have a right to fuck up sometimes. And if you fucked up and bad shit happened to you and you’re not an attorney as a result, then, you know what? It’s not your fault. ***IT IS NOT TRUE, NOR HAS IT EVER BEEN TRUE THAT THE REASON YOU ARE NOT AN ATTORNEY IS A LACK OF CAPACITY OR SKILL OR KNOWLEDGE*** The reason you are not an attorney is because you were sick and took it; and sick and took it; and in the hospital and couldn’t take it. (4) Love yourself enough not to put yourself through this for the wrong reasons, please.


    • Tamara, thank you so much for what you’ve written. It really means a lot to me.

      You’re right. I have a hard time explaining that I went to law school, but that I’m not a licensed attorney. That hits surprisingly hard in the “what other people think about me” area. It’s very humbling. It feels like having to tell people I’m not smart or that I don’t work hard enough to be on the same level as the majority of my classmates — and that simply isn’t true.

      As for the “cookie” of signing “, Esq.” I really honestly could give two shits about the title.

      At the end of the day, this struggle that I’m having is really all about whether it’s more important to finish what I started or to accept myself as I am. And when I see it like that, it’s pretty clear to me that it’s more important to learn to forgive myself for not meeting my own expectations than it is to “get the cookie.”

      In an ideal world, I could do both.

      But the thing is: I’ve really liked not being constantly stressed and dealing with conflict. It’s been very good for my health. And lawyering is all about dealing with conflict — in fact, inserting yourself into other people’s conflicts so that you can make things better for your client.

      So even though my mom and Adam are right when they say that they see me wanting to help other people, and that getting the license will enable me to do so, I can think of tons of ways, other than by becoming a licensed attorney, that I can make a difference.

      I really appreciate that you took the time to wade through this entry and reply as fully as you did. I think being “out of the game” for so many years made me forget, just a little, about the vitriol and competition.

      There’s just very little “happy” about being a lawyer. So why do it?

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