How I radically reshaped my life

When I failed the Bar exam in 2006 and 2007, the comfortable optimism of becoming an attorney vanished, replaced by shamehumiliation, and inadequacy. Fixated on financial ascendancy, I had attended law school for all the wrong reasons. In that hypercompetitive environment, I became singularly focused on comparing myself to others, status, and making money. But when chaos reared its ugly head in the form of repeatedly failing the Bar exam, I realized I would have to radically reshape my life.

What my soul sought was made manifest in my failure, and I very likely would have never realized it had I not failed the Bar exam. I had to consider how, if at all, this failure might be ennobling. I had neglected to guard myself against envy, avarice, selfishness, and insecurity. I almost completely accepted the false premise that failure was my lot in life and that I would be unworthy of happiness. My spirit had not been healthy enough to cope with the effects of failure. If I was going to stop the downward spiral and somehow reshape my life, I would need to forgive myself. After the financial and temporal investment of law school, I thought there was no way to change course in pursuit of a life I thought I wanted, driven completely by my own short-sightedness and fixation on financial ascendancy. Unsurprisingly, given the superficiality of those goals, failure was extremely difficult to endure.

Striving for Better
The qualitative distinction life had foisted upon me meant I needed to strive for something better, at least better than who I used to be. I will not naïvely tell someone that they should accept who they are; that they are and will be OK. I was in the group that had failed, and I was not OK. I was bitterly unhappy with myself and the world. All I knew was that I had to pivot and change direction. Only in retrospect did I come to realize that in my failures lay opportunity. Once I realized it, my entire view of the world changed. It was the epiphany that the very thing preventing me from achieving or pursuing a goal had something to teach me that took me to a place that forced me to pursue a higher ideal.

Here was a chance to change my attitude so I could realize certain value potentialities—the world as it is versus the world as it could be. The devastating experience of failing the Bar exam was, in fact, the value potential to transform who I was.

Even though one’s encounter with chaos may be involuntary and unwanted, it is an opportunity—an opportunity to willfully and courageously confront it and creatively explore the unknown. Only by transforming one’s interior life will you begin the process of mining the experience for some kind of significance so that you might be able to draw meaning from it, and hopefully, by doing so, be an example and help others find meaning in their own suffering.

Where to Seek Validation
The individual seeking external validation asks himself: Am I who you want me to be? The unique characteristic of the Marine Corps is that the service’s identity is personified in the individual.

It is the only branch of service where the title of the organization is the same title given to each person. Each is called “Marine,” and therefore identifies himself as one. Being a Marine is not simply something one has done or passively undergone. It is something one is. Every Marine attempts to personify those traits that the archetypal Marine represents. Being motivated by external validation to be called Marine, just as external validation to be called lawyer, does not guarantee success in earning a commission; one must adopt individual traits. Only after an internal transformation, and likewise validation of truly personifying those traits, will he be considered part of the group. Until then, he is outside the group and no amount of desire, checking the boxes, or superficialities will gain him admittance.

Everyone must constantly ask: Am I upholding the principles and embodying the traits of the ideal? Internal validation comes from how well one measures up to the standards one holds for oneself; measuring oneself against those things held at the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual core. They cannot be taken away or removed by the institution. They are held forever because he or she has adopted these traits as a part of his or her own character. Internal validation asks: Am I who I want to be?

The question life was posing to me was: How do I conceptualize myself as one who can confront chaos and overcome failure? My inability to answer this question meant I risked remaining full of insecurities and self-doubt, and fear of the unknown. Shirking my responsibility to respond to this question would prohibit me from finding the meaning of my failure. If I refused to respond, then I would always be plagued by the question of whether I am worthy of my sufferings. My internal validation meant I had to forge meaning on the anvil of suffering. The irony was that I had been conditioned and comfortable in an environment where external validation was my raison d’être, which only made me more selfish and insecure. External validation developed in me the trait opposite of altruism. Only by becoming part of something greater than myself did I realize I might become my ideal self.