We recently suffered through another losing Cleveland Browns season. Some chose to mock our team’s failure by holding a parade “celebrating” our winless season. Others are resigned to perpetual failure and have given up on our team. They are wrong.
We Americans are pretty good at dealing with success, but we’re awful at dealing with failure. I was reminded of that recently when a large majority of our law school graduates passed the Ohio Bar Exam, the rite of passage to the legal profession. We were very proud of them, and, of course, I congratulated each of them on their success.
I then asked my colleagues and staff whether past deans also have reached out to those who failed the bar exam. To my surprise, the answer was “never.”
All our graduates, whether or not they passed this time, are important to us, and all will experience failure in their lives. At least I hope they will. Because, at the risk of sounding trite, you can learn more from failures than you can successes. How you react to that failure determines whether you fail down or fail up.
Below is the email I sent to those of our graduates who did not pass.
I know that Friday was a difficult day for you. I want you to know we share in your disappointment, but we continue to believe in you and in your ultimate success.
Each of you has been a high achiever in your life, and, for some of you, this may be your first failure. Unanticipated and unwelcome developments in a career path can open new doors. It may not feel that way right now, but you can turn this into something positive. Think critically about the factors that affected your performance, take advantage of the resources to assist you and move forward on the path that is best for you.
I don’t pretend to know or understand how you are feeling, but I want to share some thoughts based on my own experiences.
Although I’ve had the great privilege of serving in state public office for 18 years, I also had my share of setbacks along the way. From president of Fernway Elementary School through my first 14 years in public office, I never lost an election.
All that changed in 1994, when I barely lost my re-election for Ohio attorney general. I was stunned and for a while I not only experienced loss, I felt lost.
In 1998, I barely lost my race for governor. I was hurt.
In 2010, I lost my race for the U.S. senate. I was disappointed.
Each time I lost, over 11 million people knew that I had failed to pass my election exam.
But each defeat led me to a new, unanticipated, exciting opportunity, and my last defeat put me on a path that led me to where I am today — the best job I’ve ever had among many great and fulfilling jobs. Each time I lost, I reached out to family and friends, who were willing to share not just in my joy, but also in my pain.
I’ll never forget what my then-4-year-old daughter, Jessica, said when I lost my first election in 1994. Jessica was crying, and said, “Does this mean you won’t be my daddy anymore?”
Her words helped me understand that my loss didn’t define who I was. Each time I lost, I failed up, not down, because I refused to allow my defeat to define me.
Don’t let this define you. You were not given this opportunity; you earned it. You met our high standards for admission. You met our high standards for graduation. You are a proud graduate of a great law school, and you will succeed.
You pursued your dream by living a few years of your life like most people won’t so you could spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.
Please know that our career planning and bar preparation teams are here to support you as you move forward. If the job search is your focus, we are available to help you. If focusing entirely on the February 2018 Bar Exam is your plan, we support you in that effort. I’m copying our entire faculty because I know that they stand ready to help and support you.
Some friends are like your shadow — they’re only with you when the sun is shining. We are always with you. We are your law school for life.