Wow. In what I hope is the wildest summer of our lives (because no one needs a 2020 repeat), I am still sad to see this year’s Summer Series come to an end. But the end of something isn’t always bad, especially when we get a gem like today’s guest writer. Genesis Palma is a law school grad who planned to grow this summer. And she did just that. I am so excited to share her piece, which discusses coming to terms with the damage law school can cause, taking a moment to reflect on what is best for you and our mental/financial help, and always, always recognizing the strength and perseverance of which you are capable.
When I volunteered to be a guest writer, I was sure I was going to accomplish my summer goals. However, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and it remains rampant. Nevertheless, I was hopeful of accomplishing my goals. Now, I can tell you my goals have shifted.
In May, I wanted my summer to focus on two things: professional development and healing. At that time, I found out I failed the California Bar Exam for the second time. I was hurt and grieving the loss. I felt like a complete failure. I felt like a disappointment to myself and my family. Consequently, I decided to take a break from the exam and shift my focus to my professional development. In other words, I was going to distract myself with work and financially recuperate from the exam. It is now July and I still have not returned to work, so my summer has been dedicated to healing.
Law school was not easy for me. I am sure my story is not uncommon either. I am a first-generation Latina law school graduate. I am technically a lawyer, but I cannot practice law until I have my bar license (if you’re curious, I want to practice immigration law). I knew law school was rigorous, but I felt capable because I had always excelled in school. Within the first week, I realized this was not going to be pleasant. Fast forward three years and I graduated bruised and jaded.
Like other first-gen students, I had to navigate this process blindly and with minimal guidance. During law school, I had a bad case of Impostor’s Syndrome. I always felt like I was not good enough or that I was a weak student. I had to study twice as hard just to get a passing grade. I envied the students who did the bare minimum and passed with high marks. I always felt unworthy of the education and the profession. I often questioned if I made the right career choice. Despite all my moments of doubt, I got by with the help and support of my two best law school friends. With them, I knew I could cross the finish line. Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki Gracias a Dios, we did.
So how have I been focusing on my healing? By talking about it. I am the type of person who buries their feelings in the depths of their soul. However, I learned that does more damage than good. With the help of my therapist, I have been facing the hurt. Little by little, I have been removing the shame from failing the bar exam twice. I am gradually coming to terms with it.
When I started therapy back in December 2019, one of my goals was to be discover and embrace self-kindness. I remember asking my therapist, “What does that even mean? What are the tools I need to be self-kind?” She remained quiet leaving me to figure that out for myself. Eventually, she described self-kindness as trusting in yourself and having confidence. Uhhh, okay?
I did not realize what self-kindness was until I found out I failed the February 2020 California Bar Exam. After a few days of living in the hurt, I decided not to sit for the upcoming bar exam. I was too burned out, hurt, and unmotivated. On top of that, the California Bar Examiners had no idea how they were going to administer the exam in the middle of a pandemic. It was too much stress on top of the shame of not passing. Lastly, I needed to save money to pay the exam and sustain myself while studying.
It took a lot for me to come to this decision. I thought by not taking the upcoming bar exam I was giving up. I thought I was letting my family and myself down. I thought I was being weak. However, I realized I was being kind to myself by making this decision. I am allowing myself to grieve, rest, and accept the outcome. I am listening and trusting myself again. I am regaining the confidence I lost. My decision to take a break does not mean I am never taking the exam again. Rather, I am learning to be kind to myself by trusting what I know is best for me.
I’ll say it again: I am two-time unsuccessful applicant of the California Bar Exam. I hope by publicly saying this removes the stigma and shame to others who have unsuccessfully taken the exam more than once, especially for BIPOC. Yes, it sucks but can you see how strong and resilient you are for having to take it more than once?
Although I was hoping to grow professionally, I am focusing on my emotional and mental health. I am learning that my chosen profession does not determine my worth as a person, nor does it define me. I am more than a bar card. I am a Mexican/Salvadoran-American mujer who had the audacity to graduate from law school and fail the bar exam twice.