It is final exam season at Pepperdine University School of Law, and you can cut the tension with a knife (except we are a weapons-free campus, so I suggest doing your best with a spork). I am almost embarrassed to admit that I kind of like the feeling of stress in the air because it reminds me of the fluttery feelings associated with the big game or big performance, but there is a particular weirdness to law school final exam stress brought on by a forced curve, a brilliant set of students, and a solitary grade for an entire course. Admittedly, that kind of stress feels more like an unexpected phone call from your doctor than a piano recital.
As a law student, I discovered that worrying about finals was not particularly helpful, although I sure gave it a good try. The better approach consists of a good strategy, discipline, and the many hours that follow.
My law school days came later than most and happened to coincide with my youngest daughter’s matriculation to middle school. It was nice to go school shopping for pencils together. I remember a day when my daughter received an uncharacteristic poor grade on a school assignment, and in my best attempt at being “dad,” I asked if she had truly done her best. When she said that she had, I told her not to worry about it: that her very best was all anyone could expect, and that’s all she has to give anyway. I was proud of my good advice—and then went back to sulking about my prospects of doing poorly in law school.
Thankfully, two seconds later, it occurred to me that I should heed my own advice: Give it my very best, and be satisfied. For the most part, I did, and I was.
Fear is the enemy of life, and fear of failure is troublesome because popular definitions of success are such that so much is out of our control. But what if success and failure were based on doing your very best with what you have been given?
I’m spreading that word in a law school, on social media, and in my own little brain: Reach for the stars. Take what you get. Learn from it. Reach for the stars again.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
– Winston Churchill
The State Bar of California released its July 2015 bar exam results over the weekend, which impacted the lives of a large number of people that I know and love. California is famously the last state to release results and the one with the lowest passing statistics (and this year’s was the lowest July pass rate in three decades). This combination produces enhanced euphoria for some and a particularly hard punch in the gut to others. It is a weekend of tremendous highs and tremendous lows, and with friends in both places, I never know exactly how to feel. It is easy to celebrate the good news, but it is those who are hurting who maintain center stage in my mind.
I try to do all the right things: Give time, then reach out, then wait patiently, and then, when engaged, try to be helpful. As a former pastor, grief counseling is familiar territory.
Truth be told, the answer in the end is simple and involves climbing back on to the bicycle or horse or whatever metaphor you prefer to have fallen from and go at it again. “If at once you don’t succeed…” is technical truth, but it takes time to hear it without punching someone.
There is more. Success after failure is even sweeter. I recall an old article that identified resilience as a key characteristic of the most spectacular figures in history who overcame great challenges and failures on their unforgettable journeys. Of course failure can destroy a person, too. But it doesn’t have to.
Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University tells of a high school in Chicago that gives the grade Not Yet as opposed to Fail. I know this makes some people scream, “Kids need to learn how to fail!” Exactly, and then they need to learn how to get back up again. That is the genius of Dr. Dweck’s groundbreaking research on the importance of mindset when facing failure, which she describes as having a “growth” mindset instead of a “fixed” mindset.
How do you respond to failure? Those with a fixed mindset typically take it personally (e.g., “I’m a failure.”) or blame some external factor (e.g., “It’s your fault that I failed.”). Those with a growth mindset respond with “Not Yet” and determine how to improve to reach the goal.
Posted in Original Essays, Uncategorized
Tagged bar exam, california, carol dweck, courage, failure, fixed mindset, grief, growth mindset, law school, resilience, stanford, state bar of california, success, winston churchill