Even if you fail, don’t forget to be proud of your successes

Irene Ly, a senior majoring in psychology, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.

That was it. I thought I’d completely screwed up my plans to go to law school when I opened up my email to see my second LSAT score – three days before Christmas no less. I still hadn’t gotten the score I wanted.

For the majority of winter break, I was in panic mode. What should have been a few weeks of relaxation and relief from non-stop studying for the LSAT while balancing a full load of classes, a work-study job and extracurriculars became an overwhelming feeling of depression, anxiety and worst of all – failure.

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This consuming sense of failure forced me to take a step back and seriously evaluate my worst-case scenario. In my head at the time, getting into law school was my top priority. Not achieving that was beyond belief. But as juniors and seniors begin to plan their futures after graduation, we must remember that our worst-case scenarios are truly not as bad as we think.

Last semester, I took a stress management course to help handle my hectic life. My professor emphasized all throughout the semester that anything can be stressful, but only because we perceive it to be that way. She asked the class what was the worst that could happen if we didn’t get our dream job or into our ideal graduate school the first time around. At the time, hearing that question gave me a pang of anxiety. Quickly, I brushed it aside to prevent myself from going down a rabbit hole of negative emotion.

After wallowing for a few days during the break, I realized it was time to seriously consider my professor’s question from the fall. The answer was simple really: Life would still go on. I would follow the back up plan that I created months ago of attending courses to receive a paralegal certificate and work for a year before applying again in the next application cycle.

But what was arguably more terrifying than thinking of the logistics of my future was coping with the feelings of failure I had internalized. I looked at fellow students I knew who had studied for a few months, killed the LSAT on the first try and then got into a top law school. It seemed straightforward and easy for them, and I wondered why my application process had been such a stressful one with just a fraction of their success. I had studied for almost a year after taking a prep course last spring. I’d worked a full-time internship at a law firm in the summer and studied every day when I got home. When I was not satisfied with my first score in September, I studied about 15 hours a week on top of the more than 40 hours dedicated to my classes, job and extracurriculars during the semester – yet I was still unhappy with my final score.

Although we may not admit it, the reality at such a competitive school full of ambitious students like GW is that we are all struggling. That struggle and hard work translates to more immediate success for some, but for each of us there is at least one thing we can be proud of – even if it’s just our increased ability to better manage time and stress. This is a lesson I learned the hard way but wanted to share with students so they can see that they don’t need to pull their hair out, like I did, from this crushing desire to do better.

Looking back, I shouldn’t have been so concerned that just because I didn’t get my ideal LSAT score, I’d completely ruined my chances of getting into the law schools I wanted. Thankfully, my application process had a happy ending. Toward the end of winter break, I started receiving acceptances to law schools, despite what the pessimist in me expected. Opening those acceptance emails left me overjoyed and relieved, but quickly my perfectionism and obsessive desire to succeed moved on to hoping I would get into my top choice schools.

But I’ve learned my lesson. I am trying to relax the often unhealthy expectations I set for myself by focusing on what I have accomplished. For the first time, I can genuinely say it won’t be the end of the world if I don’t get into my dream school. I won’t let myself succumb to depression and feelings of inferiority again.

And that’s because I have a lot to be proud of that I haven’t fully acknowledged. I have proven people wrong and set high expectations that I achieved. I will graduate this spring, even though my high school counselor once told me, “Honey, GW is a really good school. Maybe you should apply elsewhere.” And on May 20, I will become the first person in my family to graduate from college. I decided toward the end of my freshman year that I wanted to become a lawyer, despite having no relatives or any personal connections who were in the profession growing up. But when I met my constitutional law professor my first semester of college, who I am still close to, I knew this was what I wanted.

There were many odds stacked against me. But I get to sit on the National Mall for commencement in 89 days and tell myself that not only am I the first in my family to graduate from college, but the first in my entire extended family to attend law school. The specific school is still a detail to be determined, but – no matter what – I will end up somewhere great and I will quiet any voices in my head telling me I’m not good enough. Going forward, I know to be proud of myself and grateful for the people who helped me get here. As we countdown the days to graduation, every graduate should be proud they made it too.

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