Funny story. I was scrolling through my newsfeed last night after we tucked in the little ones, and I saw an article about Florida International University having the highest percentage bar passage rate in Florida for the third straight exam. I stopped to think about why that might be the case and whether law schools should “teach to the test” and what that approach could mean for BarBri and school rankings. It was only after I continued to scroll that I realized what the article meant for me.
HW helped me find my bar number and I pulled up the page. I did not expect to see a “pass” next to my number, but some part of me definitely thought it might be there. Miracles happen every day. Anyway, as my eyes moved down the numbers to find my own, I had a brief moment of panic. What if I did pass? What if, by some miracle, I passed? If I passed, I would have to take the MPRE (ethics exam for lawyers), and I would have to get the board the rest of my paperwork (transcripts, etc.), and, worst of all, at some point I would have to get a job working as a lawyer.
All of those thoughts swirled in a matter of seconds, and when I saw the “fail” next to my number, I literally breathed a sigh of relief.
I told HW the news, he hugged me, and I smiled. It was kind of a sarcastic smile, or at least a skeptical smile, but it was genuine. He did not seem surprised. I told him I felt relieved. He said, “I know,” and hugged me again before walking to the kitchen to open a bottle of champagne we were saving for a rainy day.
By the time he made it back from the kitchen my feelings had changed. Well, not so much changed, but grown more complex. It went something like this.
I’m relieved. That’s weird. Why am I relieved? I failed at something. Twice. I should be in tears or berating myself or angry or frustrated or something. Why would I be relieved? What a selfish, arrogant way to feel. There are people who would do anything to have the opportunity to take a bar exam and practice law, and here I am, happy I didn’t pass? All of that money and time an energy spent on a law degree, and on bar exam fees and preparation. What a waste. People are struggling to get enough to eat and I’m wasting resources and happy about it? And what if I really did want to pass, but I’m telling myself I didn’t because I was afraid to fail? But I do feel relieved. I don’t want to be a lawyer. I don’t want to practice. I don’t think I ever wanted to practice. I wanted to go to law school, but I don’t think I ever thought about what it would be like to practice. I thought I was so smart…
HW kindly interrupted my thoughts at about that point, and I caught him up. He shook his head and said something like, “So, let me get this straight. You’re now making yourself feel bad, because you don’t feel bad?”
I had to admit that was true. That’s exactly what I was doing. And even after I admitted that, I tried to justify it. First I tried to use what I wrote above as a legitimate reason, and when that didn’t work, I started to worry about changing. If I don’t care about passing a bar exam, or about passing any sort of test that objectively measures my worth, who am I? If I’m honest with myself, that kind of thing has always motivated me. I don’t think it was so much the fear of failure (although I’m sure that was a factor), but the desire to succeed. If I’m not motivated by that, and at one point I even used the phrase “kept in line by that,” which is clearly telling, what will prevent me from becoming a lazy, complacent, waste of space? Even if that fear wasn’t entirely healthy, I can probably thank it for a lot of my successes, and maybe even blame its absence for my recent failures.
I know, in my own mind, that being a grown up is a process, and it involves letting go of some of the coping mechanisms we relied on when we were young (mostly because HW gently reminded me). I know I’m not a bad person because I don’t want to practice. I know my worth as a person doesn’t come from my ability to pass a bar exam, or my desire to succeed. I know all of that, and I still think I should be more upset.
And maybe I will be. Maybe as the days go by, I will feel a sense of regret at not studying more (although if I had to go back to do it again, I wouldn’t study more), or struggle with failure in other ways. I was considering going back to school (again), and maybe all of this will motivate me to figure out what I want to do or what I don’t want to do. Maybe I’ll curl up on the couch with a giant bowl of crap food and binge on terrible television. Maybe the guilt will kick in and I’ll register for another round. I don’t know.
For now, I’m going to try not to look for reasons to doubt or be upset with myself.
I failed. At something I didn’t want to succeed at. I spent a lot of years believing I was meant to be a lawyer. I don’t feel that way now, and I’m going to sit still until I know what I do feel, or at least for the next ten minutes.