How to Move on From Failure and Rejection: Law School Style

I have a secret: whenever I’m feeling down, disappointed, or frustrated I think “What would Frank Underwood do?” While many people wouldn’t see the House of Cards character as anyone enviable, what I appreciate most about him is his relentless tenacity. (Or as he would call it: “ruthless pragmatism.”) 

After countless job rejections, cold calls gone wrong, and less-than-stellar grades on your midterms, it can be difficult to stay positive—and even more difficult to feel like you “belong” among your peers. Frank Underwood may have been a bad man, but he was good at getting things done. Here’s what he does when faced with failure and rejection, and how you can implement these strategies during law school to help you through it with the least amount of suffering possible.  

  1. He keeps it in perspective. Every failure isn’t monumental; while you may feel you “ruined your entire career” by making a fool of yourself in class, it’s important to remember: no one else really cares. In a classroom where everyone is cold sweating for fear of being called on, it’s highly unlikely that an incorrect answer, someone tripping over a backpack strap, or getting yelled at for eating fried chicken in class will stay in your classmates’ memory for very long. (Just kidding, I remember that one vividly.)

    To keep your law school failures or shortcomings in perspective, remember that law school is supposed to be painful. (Masochistic, I know.) It’s a time for growth and humility—half the point of the program is to realize that you can’t (and don’t) know everything. You’re not expected to know every answer throughout your practice, but you are expected to stop and say: “I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head. Let me do a little research and get back to you.” 

  2. He keeps it close to the chest. In one of Frank Underwood’s more poignant line he remarks, “We are nothing more or less than what we choose to reveal.” This next bit of advice might be a bit controversial, but if you failed a test or had some other sort of academic setback, don’t tell your classmates. You heard me: don’t tell them. While it’s fine to mull things over with your partner, your parents, or your mentor, advertising to your colleagues that you failed to master a subject area inadvertently screams, “hey! I’m not as smart/good/studious as you!”

    This advice is especially important for women and first generation students. In an environment where we already feel “less than” other students, it can be difficult to champion our wins—but that certainly doesn’t mean we should broadcast our losses.  

  3. He keeps it real.  Frank Underwood doesn’t stress about where he’s been because he knows where he’s going: to the top. Law school is just a stepping stone on the path to lawyer, the concrete piece we must all pay our dues to before continuing on to our own form of fulfillment. Part of dealing with failure and rejection in law school is remembering that this day-to-day minutia doesn’t really matter. 

“Keeping it real” with yourself means continually re-evaluating your skill set and career ambitions. It means acknowledging your limitations, like the fact that you likely won’t end up with a prestigious job right out of the gate with a 2.5 GPA: but that doesn’t mean you should stop trying. 

If you haven’t seen House of Cards this advice should still resonate: getting through rejection and failure is an experience we all share. No one—and I mean no one—gets through law school without a few scratches. (Even the son of a prestigious firm owner who seems to have it made.) Just keep it in perspective, keep it close to the chest, and keep it real with yourself: slow progress is still progress. And remember, as Frank would say, “You build your future, it isn’t handed to you.