How should people deal with screw-ups?
July 29, 2013 10:17 AM   Subscribe

I am a recent law school grad, who went in with the intent of going into government/politics (i.e. not to be a lawyer) and was fortunate enough to find such a job. I did not want to take the bar, nor needed to, but decided to do so anyway because it seemed like I should (I know, terrible reason). I know for a fact that I have not studied enough and am going to fail.

I could not figure out at first why I was being so self-destructive but now think (after therapy) that it's because I didn't feel I had control over my decision. Instead, I felt I was being obliged to do something I didn't want or need to do, resulting in resentment and thereby a lack of desire to work.

I think the feelings of obligation come from my upbringing - my parent's love seemed conditional, and I "owed" them certain behaviors (e.g. no debating politics) because they were providing me my lifestyle (home, clothing, etc.). It has not helped that I have never left home (again, obviously a terrible decision in retrospect, but was appealing at the time in terms of less loans, etc.) - fortunately, that will no longer be the case in about a month.

My screw-up has made me realize that I need to recognize I have full ownership of my decisions (e.g. I chose to take the bar, whatever my reasoning). That realization has made me feel like I'll be able to study appropriately for the bar re-take.

I still have, however, anxiety/guilt over my screw-up. I figure I should feel really bad because I screwed-up; at the same time, I recognize there's nothing I can do now, and feel like I should appreciate that I've used this experience as fuel for personal growth.

I tried to explain all of this to my mother (seeking understanding, I guess?) and received backlash of basically how much I suck. Again, I can't figure out if that response is relatively appropriate (I did screw-up) or not (given I'm aware of the screw-up and am seeking to improve). If it is inappropriate, I'd like to know how one should act, as I find myself doing the same thing to my younger sibling sometimes.

So, three questions:
1. How bad should a person feel when they screw-up like this?
2. How should you support someone when they screw-up like this?
3. How should I move forward (making sure I hold steady for the next bar, and dealing with my mother)?

Thanks for any help everyone.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You move on. Things happen. The bigger defining feature in life is how you respond to adversity and how you learn from your mistakes.

That being said, why can't you just cancel and NOT take the bar? Taking a bar exam is a miserable experience, and it's also something that you shouldn't do if you aren't fully prepared.
posted by Happydaz at 10:20 AM on July 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

The reaction from your mother is not appropriate. If you are moving out in a month then I would just roll my eyes, ignore her, chalk it up to "my mom be crazy," and then not go to my mom with stuff like this.

I can't even see in here where you "screwed up" really. Just don't take the bar, this one is pretty easy to fix. Taking ownership of your decisions is a good idea definitely, you need to understand that you are responsible for getting yourself into certain situations but when these situations are super easy to fix you just fix it and move on. If you decide to take the bar in the future now you know you really need to be prepared, if you continue to make the decision to take it without being prepared then you have a problem.

(I'm not a lawyer but is failing the bar a big deal if you don't actually need to pass it for work? Like does that go on your "permanent record"? Or could you just fail this one and take it in the future if you really need to?)
posted by magnetsphere at 10:30 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Forgive me, but I don't see a screw up, per se here. I see someone who isn't required to take the bar for their job, decided to take it anyway and may now not have studied hard enough to pass.

The bar is neither the end nor the beginning of a law career and it sounds like you were fortunate enough to find a position that didn't require bar passage.

I would recommend sitting for the bar - you've already sunk in the cost of the application, character review, etc - and see what happens. If you pass, great! If not, who cares? The worst that can happen is that you fail and decide maybe a few years down the road to take it again.

(Also, I think it would actually be worse not to take it at this point since I suspect it's being administered very soon and there are draconian cancellation policies usually at that point. I also would not want to get in the bad graces of the Law Board).

Answer to Question 2: see above.

As for your mother, don't give her the power to make you feel bad. She is obviously not interested in helping you look at the situation rationally and so as far as I am concerned, she's not entitled to give you her opinion anymore.

TL/DR - this is not a screw up in my book. This is some possibly poor decision making with a side of procrastination, but hardly a screw up. Be kind to yourself.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 10:34 AM on July 29, 2013

1) If you screw up and cause other people pain, then feeling bad (somewhat) proves to the other party/parties that you realize you've done wrong and at least improves the likelihood that you will not hurt the other person(s) again. That's not at all the case here. There are no victims.

If screwing up causes difficulty for you, as this may have it you've spent money on taking the exam that you can ill-afford to lose, use it as a teachable moment. Failing the bar exam is not a life-altering event. Lots of people who prepare for it fail, especially the first time, so lack of prep this time around, just like all of your other decisions, good or bad, is just going to be a minuscule half-memory by the time you reach my grand-old age (of probably slightly double yours). Feel as bad as you need to in order to get you to make behavioral changes that are good for you. Either knuckle under and prepare for next time, or don't take it next time. (And find out if your already-paid fee can be deferred to a later test date, like next year.)

2) "Should" depends on people's backgrounds and styles of parenting and support. My mother would say, "Well, what will you do now to make it better in the future?" and then she'd feed me cake. Sounds like your mom isn't so good at offering succor. Maybe she'll feel bad at some point about screwing up being supportive of you. But thinking about how she should have supported you will just make you resent her, and that's not going to really make you feel better about what you've done to your own situation.

3) Get an accountability partner to keep you on schedule. (I'm a professional organizer and do this for my clients, but you can just as easily ask one of your friends who likes to keep you on target to help you with this. Take bar prep classes. Create study schedules. Figure out how to add structure to your life so that you don't feel so adrift.

You didn't do anything to anyone other than yourself, and this is not a BIG thing. It's just a thing. You made a decision not to prepare. Now make decisions regarding what you want to do next. It's going to be OK. And get your emotional support from people who know how to give it well.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 10:37 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hey, here's the thing: You graduated law school in a terrible economy and, despite that bad luck, got the job you wanted. That's awesome.

Having been blessed by good fortune, you went ahead and signed up for the bar exam, an experience that is sublimely awful. I'm admitted in two states (from two different testing cycles, so I had to do the MBE and the state exams two times, instead of just two states and the MBE once). I have to say I hated 1L more than the bar, but they're both horrible.

It shouldn't come as a great surprise that having won a good job (again, nice!) you've had a bear of a time studying for the bar. You don't need to pass the bar to go do your job.

This doesn't seem like a colossal screw up--maybe bad time management or lack of motivation, but no worse than failing the MCAT, another test you don't need in your chosen career.

Absolutely chalk this up as a learning experience. It sounds like you're learning already. Absolutely do not treat this as a referendum on your value or abilities. You'll do fine at things that matter; this bar exam does not matter for you.

Also: don't count yourself out for this bar. I know from where you're sitting, your failure seems written in stone--but it's not. At the very least, you're going to waltz into the testing room and be surrounded by people whose lives depend on their frantic scribblings. You can go in and treat it as the low stakes, no stakes event it is. You'll be more calm and collected. That's greatly to your advantage.

And, as crazy as it sounds, people do pass by the skin of their teeth. When I sat for the MA exam, I had a friend who, because of work commitments, studied for only one week. Before the exam started she said she was happy that MA did not test commercial paper or partnerships, because she skipped those subjects entirely.

The first essay question was a combined commercial paper / partnerships clusterfuck. I felt terrible for my friend sitting some rows behind me.

My friend passed, all the same.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:38 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not following the question. If you're not going to be practicing law, there is no need to take the bar. Lots of people graduate from law school and end up doing something non-law-related for a job and so never take the bar.
posted by dfriedman at 10:38 AM on July 29, 2013

Agreed, I don't see the big screw up you're talking about. You chose (for whatever reason) to try to complete something that wasn't necessary for your chosen career path and you aren't going to be able to complete it....

so? You don't need it anyway, it sounds like you were doing it because other people thought you "should" or that it was some right of passage. You don't need to. Let that go. You can choose to look at is as though you decided to take a foreign language course to maybe supplement your law degree and you weren't able to pick the language up fast enough to be able to pass the course. That scenario should also warrant a "so what" response.

So basically, you are beating yourself up over a totally indifferent "oh well" situation. Your mom is being incredibly unkind and unfair to you. I am very glad that you are moving out of that living situation, it sounds really toxic. I suspect her pressure and attitude is the bulk of your problem here, not the bar exam. If she wasn't going around telling you how you suck and you are a failure, etc. you would probably have a much more moderate (and appropriate) reaction to this situation.

FWIW my sister has her masters in law and has never written the bar exam. Like you, it wasn't necessary for the direction she wanted her career to go. She has been extremely successful in her career, working all over the world, gaining a huge amount of international respect from those in her line of work to the point that people travel from the other side of the planet to attend the conference she organized (but mostly just to hear her speak at the conference).

So for real, you are right. You don't need to pass the bar to be successful. Walk away from this one without giving it another thought. I wish you great success in the career path you have chosen for yourself!
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:43 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

You wasted some time and money by signing up for the bar exam and then not preparing for it. That is all you've done! It will not be the last time! You will buy a car that totally doesn't meet your needs. Or you will fly cross-country to a friend's wedding and realize you don't really like her any more. Or you will go to a movie that sucks. Or you'll convince yourself you know how to count cards and lose a paycheck or two at a blackjack table.

It seems to me like you've already learned what you need to learn from this experience: i.e., do or do not, there is no "sign up and then faff around not studying." Decide whether you want to take the exam or not this time, and if you don't take it this time decide whether you want to take it at all. That's all you need to do. You don't need to feel bad about it.

And next time, just don't tell your mother about this kind of thing.
posted by mskyle at 10:43 AM on July 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

3. How should I move forward (making sure I hold steady for the next bar, and dealing with my mother)?

Why take the bar if you don't need to? It's okay to change your mind about taking it; that's not a screw up.

And: Stop turning to your mom for this kind of support. If she can't give it, don't ask her for it.

You made a mistake and nobody died or even got sick. You learned something from it. Quit beating yourself up and move along.
posted by rtha at 10:44 AM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

On a scale of 1-10, this is a 1. It's nothing.

Do whatever official thing you need to do to move the test date, and be done with it.

When you have difficult parents, you learn to parse out information into digestible bites. So next time you'll know to say, "Oh yeah, I'm not taking it next week, I decided to move it to December because I've been SWAMPED at work."

Really, they're on a need-to-know basis, and if they don't need to know, then you can keep it to yourself.

What you have is an anxiety thing, that's what's causing you to beat yourself up. Now, you may just be taking over where your parents left off, in which case...stop it! Or you may have a chemical imbalance that manifests this way, in which case, get some Prozac or Celexa as it works wonders.

You will fail in this life. At something. You know what? Lots of people do. It doesn't make you a failure!

So you blew this. Luckily the consequences for blowing it were zilch. So many interesting things are going to happen to you in the coming years, so many great experiences, so much good stuff. Why on earth would you spend an ounce of energy on something so minor.

You may decide NOT to take the bar after all. That's okay too. Now, how does that thought make you feel?

When you are a grown up, you get to decide what you're going to do, how you're going to do it and when you're going to do it.

So savor being a grown up, take yourself out for a beer and celebrate not having to deal with taking the bar. Yay!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:44 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Take the bar - you've paid the fees, you're just out of law school, just take it. If you fail, so what? Your job doesn't require it, you can retake it if you feel like it. Some of my former colleagues failed the first time and still kept their lawyer jobs (most large firms give you two tries before they kick you to the curb). Now, I'm in a tangential field and not "practicing" per se; there are people here who failed a number of times and were never admitted, and no one cares. As someone who basically didn't study and passed -- it's a bear of an exam, but it's really not that hard if you just relax and have some confidence.

If you went to an ABA accredited law school and have never previously failed a bar exam the passage rate is extremely high (in NY for example it's 89%). You seem like a native English speaker -- a lot of people taking the test are not. Remember this. So you didn't study? You speak English and you went to law school in the US. You have a much greater chance of passing than failing.

May the odds be ever in your favor.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:50 AM on July 29, 2013

As someone who has felt growing up that love was conditional, I relate, except it kind of paralyzed me from even trying sometimes. When I asked for comfort, I'd get a lot of:

"What did you do that for? You should have done this and this!" Instead of what we needed to hear, which was, "oh well, shit happens."

I think it stems from pressure. There's a lot of pressure to be perfect, and get things right first time. That pressure is meaningless and 100% external. Try not to let it get to you. Even if you fail in life, there are always other avenues to be what you want or get to where you wanna go.

Even if you fail this exam, your self-worth doesn't hinge on passing or not. It really doesn't. It doesn't mean you are not worthy of your success or the job you're in now. It doesn't make you an imposter.

Not saying you need it at all, but therapy might help. Feeling guilty for being a failure is a big part of negative self-talk and is a tough pattern to break. CBT or the 'Feeling Good' book that is often recommended here may help you to beat yourself up less.


1. Not too bad. Just chalk it up as a learning experience and see what you can take away from it.
2. Say "hey shit happens, you'll get it next time." Especially if you can tell they already feel bad and they already realize it's their mistake. Rubbing it in won't help.
3. Again, CBT may help, especially with issues of your mother.
posted by Dimes at 10:51 AM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Once you've been out of your mom's house for about a year, I predict that you will look back at this post and wonder why you ever thought this was something to worry about. Then you'll go back to your awesome job and awesome life and you won't have a thought to spare for the bar exam.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:56 AM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

The most basic (and yet often most difficult) change to make is that when you have personal issues to which the desired response is legitimately valuable constructive criticism or even just bland sympathy, do not bring them to a person (your mom) who has proven frequently in the past to be incapable of giving you what you need. I know it fucking sucks to have a parent for whom nothing you ever do will ever be any good, and I know how much it sucks to be unable to tell them about problems and issues and fears in your life, but it is rare IME that situations such as these resolve themselves the way we want them to. In the long run you may find that what is best for you and your mental health is to engage in a more superficial relationship with your mother.

Also if you are living at home, move out as soon as you can.
posted by elizardbits at 11:02 AM on July 29, 2013

Note for anyone who isn't familiar with bar exam schedules: the exam is presumably tomorrow.

1. You're not alone, this has happened to other people, and you should try not to get too down on yourself about it. At least you're not required to pass to keep a job you need, right? You're much better off than a lot of the people who are sure they're going to pass the exam. You don't know yet that you've failed (you haven't even taken it!) but if you want advice on how to feel about yourself if you believe you've failed: think of how you would treat your friends if you learn that they failed the bar exam, and treat yourself the same way.

2. Studying for the bar is a miserable experience, and the best support from others is mostly about making sure your health doesn't go totally down the toilet. Try to eat decently and exercise a bit. Enlist others to help with this if you can.

3. Please feel free to MeMail me about plans for your next exam, should you fail this exam and choose to do it again. I would genuinely be happy to help whether you do this again or not.

It's too late to do much for this exam (I mean, it's tomorrow) so the best thing for you right now is to do a bit of studying early in the day and then knock it off and have a good dinner and a good night's sleep. Make sure you've got everything you'll need packed and ready to go in the morning, and good luck. (You really can get lucky with the material, so don't lose heart. Go in and give it your best -- you might be surprised.)

If you really need to for your mental health you have my permission to ditch if you must, but at this point, why not have the godawful shared experience you've already paid for?
posted by asperity at 11:09 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

In my opinion, your mother has programmed you to be just as self critical as she always is. This is not a great way to live. Work on separating YOUR inner voice from hers. I suspect you will find a lot of the more questionable things you are doing are cause of her voice inside your head, not yours.

In general, relax. We will never be perfect, and most of us do not expect you to be perfect either. Learn which mistakes will cause significant problems (driving drunk, hard drugs, punching cops, etc) and which are just embarrassing but basically harmless. (Not passing a test you are taking for, small social mistakes, etc)
posted by Jacen at 11:11 AM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have two reactions to this.

The first is the one that most of the other commenters have had, namely, it's really not a big deal. Your current employment (which is a miracle in its own right) doesn't depend in any way on the results of the exam, so if you flunk it this time, big deal, try again when it actually matters. Yes, the further out of school you are the harder it will be because of the attrition of little bits of bullshit property knowledge and whatnot, but it's not only not the end of the world, it's not even really worth sweating over, except for maybe the loss of money spent on registration and study materials, and the miserable 2-3 days you'll spend actually taking it.

My second reaction is this: I wouldn't be so sure you're going to fail it. I passed the July 2011 NY bar having studied for literally two weeks, and my studying consisted of reading a chapter of the condensed BarBri manuals for NY and the Multistate (which I borrowed from a friend) every day until the day before the exam. That's it. Literally, maybe an hour and a half a day.

I was successful not because I'm some genius, but because the bar exam isn't a test of substantive knowledge designed to insure that members of the legal profession have a sufficient background in a broad range of legal disciplines to be competent practitioners. Rather, it is a hazing ritual, a clumsy, shitty, pointless hazing ritual. It doesn't do a very good job of punishing ignorance; I'm sure plenty of people who failed the exam I passed knew the law much better than me. Instead, it's best at terrorizing those people who get stressed out by exams, who second-guess themselves so much that they lose time or talk themselves out of right answers.

I'm not sure what state you're taking the test in, but here in NY the standard for passing is "minimum competence," meaning that with just a bit of studying and a nice calm approach you have a very good chance of coming out just fine. Stay calm, remember that there's not very much at stake, and there's at least a decent chance that you'll pass.
posted by saladin at 11:18 AM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

1. How bad should a person feel when they screw-up like this?
You have in no way screwed up, so it doesn't really apply but: not as bad as you feel now.

2. How should you support someone when they screw-up like this?
Wait until you know there is a screw up. Then do not try to actively make them feel worse.

3. How should I move forward (making sure I hold steady for the next bar, and dealing with my mother)?
The only way out is through; you don't even know that you have to take the bar again yet. Take each thing as it comes. Dealing with your mother: cut down your contact with her. She is not going to help you cope; she is going to add to your stress.
posted by RainyJay at 11:25 AM on July 29, 2013

My screw-up has made me realize that I need to recognize I have full ownership of my decisions (e.g. I chose to take the bar, whatever my reasoning). That realization has made me feel like I'll be able to study appropriately for the bar re-take.

But you're not taking ownership of the decision: you're blaming your parents' conditional love (or something) for your failure to study, and you're still planning to retake the bar exam later even though you've said multiple times that you have no reason to take the bar exam. That's pretty muddled, on both sides.

1. How bad should a person feel when they screw-up like this?
2. How should you support someone when they screw-up like this?

Don't think of it like this. Feeling bad is valuable only insofar as it prevents you making the same or similar mistake again; anything beyond that is just wallowing. There's also a strange sort of implicit "feeling bad makes up for the mistake" quid pro quo going on in this kind of thinking, which is just not a useful way to deal with things.

When others do this to you, or when you find yourself doing this to others, try not to glom so many different variables onto the problem; just focus on what actually went wrong. (In this case: you didn't study enough, and therefore might fail a test. That's all. Conditional love, resentment, parental obligations, self-destructiveness, all that is just window dressing. It all may be contributing factors to what got you to this point, but the contributing factors aren't the problem; the problem is the problem.)

3. How should I move forward (making sure I hold steady for the next bar, and dealing with my mother)?

Move out. Make your life decisions based on what you want, not what she wants. Don't look to her for support, and don't make major life decisions in order to please her; find friends who will support you emotionally and make decisions in order to please yourself. Take the exam this time around, since it's here and maybe you're just having last-minute jitters and are better prepared than you think you are; wait until after that before you make the decision whether or not to retake if you fail (and try to make that decision based on whether it will do you any good careerwise or personally, not based on some obligation you feel to others.)

Most of all, move out. You'll be amazed how much less your parents' opinions of you will bother you when you no longer live under their roof.
posted by ook at 11:42 AM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

1. How bad should a person feel when they screw-up like this?

Not that bad. Loads of people need to take the bar multiple times.

2. How should you support someone when they screw-up like this?

This is a faux-question. What you're really asking is "My mother's lack of support sucks, amirite?" and yes it does but you are not going to be able to change her attitude. Also take on board that it is not her job to validate your work in therapy.

3. How should I move forward (making sure I hold steady for the next bar, and dealing with my mother)?

Stop discussing it with your mother. Otherwise, there is tons of advice on Ask about prepping for the bar.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:58 AM on July 29, 2013

Lots of people flunk the bar. It doesn't even matter in your case. Please don't worry about it. Do what you need to do, and move on as necessary.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:09 PM on July 29, 2013

Oh darling. This is a lot of pre-exam freakout.

I know for a fact that I have not studied enough -- yes, I suppose this is something you could know.

and am going to fail. This is not a fact you know to be true.

Am I reading your question correctly that you don't even need to take the bar exam? Then to hell with it -- this is just an exercise in "maybe I can, maybe I can't" if it won't stall your career right now.

I didn't study for shit. I passed. Good friends of mine did not study and failed. Other good friends of mine studied diligently with Kaplan and Bar-bri and failed.

Wait to beanplate your next approach until you know for sure what you're next approach needs to be. And since that won't be until what, October, stay calm, review what you already know and don't panic at this point about what you think you don't know, because you're not going to learn it between now and the bar exam.

Pack your lunch, gather your things and go take the bar exam. When you're all done, have yourself a nice long drinky with your friends, then just enjoy your job until you know for sure if you passed. If you don't, THEN assess what you feel your weaknesses were this time around and change them before the February bar.
posted by mibo at 12:18 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm taking the bar exam tomorrow, and I actually need to be barred for my job. Here are the things I've been reminding myself over the last couple of days:

1) the bar exam is not a test of my worth as a human being, or of my smartness, or of how good I'll be at my job.

2) the bar exam is also not really a test of how much I know about the law. I don't feel like I've studied enough, but I don't think anyone ever feels as though they've studied enough for a test that asks you to memorize thousands of pages of bizarre facts that bear no relationship to the way law is actually practiced.

3) the bar exam is a test of minimum proficiency. Unlike nearly every other test I've ever taken in my life, there's no reason I need to be trying to get an A on this test. I only need to get a D- to pass.

4) on the multiple choice questions, the strategy is like every other multiple choice test I've ever taken (my scores on which were good enough to get me into college and law school): read the question carefully, eliminate any answers I know are wrong, and then make an educated guess between the remaining answers. I do not need to know for sure what the right answer is to get the answer right. They don't subtract points for guessing.

5) on the essay questions, the strategy is like every other essay test I've ever taken (my scores on which were good enough to get me through law school): break the question down into its constituent parts, and then for each part, decide what I think the law probably says, and then write something that sounds lawyerly, applying that made-up, hopefully close to right, law to the facts I'm given. I do not need to know for sure what the right answer is to get the answer right. The bar examiners will give partial credit if you get the law wrong, but apply your wrong law well.

6) If I fail, my life will not be over. I will have to take the exam again, and that will suck, but five years from now, one way or the other, this will be a tiny blip.

As for your mother, stop talking to her about this. She's never going to be supportive of you. There's no reason for you to talk about the bar with her. Don't explain to her. Just say that you're taking the exam tomorrow, and that you'll talk with her later. Then, move out, and don't expect her to be supportive. If she were supportive, she'd be telling you all the things people in this thread are telling you: that your life sounds awesome and that the bar exam doesn't matter and that you should try your hardest and cross your fingers and hope for the best. That's what supportive people do. And that's what you should do for yourself and for the people you love in the future. And that's what you should demand from the people around you. If people make you feel bad about yourself, they don't deserve to get to spend time with you.

No matter what, you will be just fine. So will I. We all will. Feel free to MeMail me if you want to commiserate about how much the bar sucks.
posted by decathecting at 12:26 PM on July 29, 2013 [10 favorites]

I know for a fact that I have not studied enough and am going to fail.

As yet another MeFite getting ready to take the bar tomorrow, I have to agree with other answerers that you really don't know this for a fact at all. As others have suggested, the bar exam is basically an elaborate hazing ritual where you have to memorize a large amount of useless bullshit and try to get through the 2-3 days of intense testing without suffering a nervous breakdown. After last year's bar exam, I can't tell you how many people I heard or saw on Facebook saying, "Well, I just failed the bar exam." About 95% of those people ended up passing.

I can't presume to speak for all law students/lawyers, but I would say that a large majority of us feel like academic achievement is strongly within our comfort zone, and we are used to feeling very much in control of any exams we have to take. The bar just isn't like that because the amount of material is so enormous that you can't possibly be on top of it all. Everyone feels out of control to some degree, and many of us think we're going to fail. But most of us won't fail, and even those who do will just take the damn thing again.

If you still have time to cancel, you could definitely do that. But you could also just give the exam a try and see how it goes. The stakes are practically nonexistent for you because you don't even need to pass for your work. Even if you fail, you will lose the registration fees and the 2-3 days, but that's about it.

Regardless, please stop worrying and be kind to yourself. You have a job, and it's a job that you wanted. You are already in better shape than at least half of your fellow graduates. You are going to be fine!
posted by Carmelita Spats at 12:53 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

2. How should you support someone when they screw-up like this?

This is a faux-question.

It is not, actually, since the OP expresses concern about mimicking the mom's unsupportive behavior:

I'd like to know how one should act, as I find myself doing the same thing to my younger sibling sometimes.

Without a good model for supporting someone who's done a boneheaded thing, the OP does not know how to treat people who've done boneheaded things, except "like they suck." And recognizes that other people are being harmed by this.

OP: going forward, the way to treat someone who's messed something up will vary, depending on the person involved. But generally,

1) express sympathy (oh dear, that's too bad.)
2) evaluate whether there's anything to be fixed/done
3) if yes, decide whether you can help with any of those things
4) if no, offer (again) sympathy, help them put things in perspective, and maybe brainstorm ways to avoid the issue in the future.

Very very very seldom do people make mistakes that actually mean they're bad, hopeless people. So it's best to just assume that they're ordinary good-but-flawed humans who made a straight-up miscalculation or misjudgment.

How would you have LIKED your mom to react? That's how you should react to your brother.
posted by like_a_friend at 1:03 PM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just because people feel bad doesn't mean you've DONE anything bad. It took me a long time to figure this out, and I still am reactive when someone's "disappointed" in me, especially my mom.

I don't think you did anything wrong. Even the money you spent on the bar exam is "research money" in my book. By the time you take your "real" bar exam, you'll know exactly what you're in for, right?

I don't have any advice on how to make your mom's BS not triggering- when I find out I'll tell you, right after I make a million dollars on the book deal- but what helps make it less triggering is to get feedback from other people who aren't as wacko. I need about a 10:1 ratio on that, alas, though you may be a stronger person than I.

Get out of the house. Find people who don't attach your accomplishments to your worth (meaning just about anyone but family, probably) and live your life.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:21 PM on July 29, 2013

Also, usually people feel really crappy without any help, so I try not to add anything that will add to the crappy feeling. So- nothing but sympathy, basically. Personally I like it when people add an anecdote about when they did something completely dumb, but other people take it as some sort of one-upmanship (one-downmanship?) so YMMV.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:26 PM on July 29, 2013

I don't think you did anything wrong. Even the money you spent on the bar exam is "research money" in my book.

I had a similar situation with a different exam. Did not pass, but got more familiar with the testing environment, structure of the exam, etc. If I take it again, I won't have to spend time during the exam dealing with those things, I'll be less stressed, and know what the procedures are for getting a tissue or extra scratch paper.
posted by yohko at 1:48 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Showing up after the fact to offer support and commiseration, as this is me as well and I almost posted a similar Ask.

I am in the same position. I put off the July bar because I decided I was underprepared and didn't feel like being herded into yet another law exam I felt unprepared for; especially one that doesn't have to be taken now if I don't want to (unlike the forced march of final exams). I brought up my MBEs to a good range, but my essays continued to suck right up until a week away from the exam.

So I made a serious self-evaluation and decided to wait until February. I have all my prep materials, so there's no need to re-do a full bar prep. I plan to continue improving my essays over the next few months, which feels much more under control now that I can work at a human pace, and when the February exam gets closer I will sign up for some essay and PT grading through one of the many companies out there.

It sucks to have to deal with people's (especially my former classmates, and other, licensed, lawyers) greetings of "SO! HOW WAS THE BAR! HAR HAR HAR?" for now, but ultimately I'd rather not have to acknowledge that I failed first time around for the rest of my career.

And I'd like Bar study to be a confidence building experience that coalesces my understanding of the areas in which I'm weak, rather than it be a desperate attempt to heave myself over one last hurdle to land in a crumpled mass of exhaustion and bewilderment, relying on exam tricks and ultimately forgetting whatever I don't employ in practice. Which may be the end result anway, but hey, nothing ventured nothing gained. Whereas there's nothing to be gained, in my opinion, from taking the exam when you know you can't reasonably expect to pass it.

Feel free to memail me if you want to chat.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:51 PM on August 20, 2013

(Not the same exact position, but you get what I mean. My decision to postpone the exam flew in the face of my family's expectations and now things are awkward. If I had gone forward, I'd be feeling the feelings you are feeling.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:58 PM on August 20, 2013

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