Yohanna Romero Baca of ‘Bar Exam Coaching by Yohanna’ On Becoming Free From The Fear Of Failure
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
Don’t be afraid of your greatness. You are great. You are smart. You are talented. You have a gift. You can do hard things. You are on this earth for a reason. Whether you are a hairstylist, a doctor, an artist, or a homemaker, what you do matters. What you do is important. What you do changes lives. Own it.
The Fear of Failure is one of the most common restraints that holds people back from pursuing great ideas. Imagine if we could become totally free from the fear of failure. Imagine what we could then manifest and create. In this interview series, we are talking to leaders who can share stories and insights from their experience about “Becoming Free From the Fear of Failure.” As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Yohanna Romero Baca.
Yohanna Romero Baca is Founder of Bar Exam Coaching by Yohanna LLC. After failing the bar exam the first time, Yohanna went on to pass it in three states. Looking back on her experience, she realizes that failing the bar exam was one of the biggest blessings in her life. Overcoming this challenge made her the person she is today. Yohanna now helps JD grads pass the bar exam so they too can go on to make a living and an impact as licensed attorneys.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
Hi! I’m so happy to be here. I’m originally from Nicaragua. I came to the United States in 1993 to attend Smith College. After college, I moved to Washington DC where I worked at a big law firm as a paralegal. I loved my job and decided a legal career was for me. I attended the George Washington University Law School in the evenings while working full-time at the law firm.
After graduating from law school, like most JD grads, I signed up for one of the big box bar prep courses so that I could sit for the Maryland bar exam. I followed the course to a tee. Unfortunately, things did not go as expected and I failed the bar exam the first time. Naturally, I was devastated and embarrassed. I was at work at the law firm when the results were posted online. I felt all 300 eyes at the law firm were on me thinking I wasn’t smart enough to pass. I stormed out of the building crying. I felt I let down my bosses and my parents. I felt I had failed those who had encouraged and supported me all along my law school and bar exam journey. It was one of the worst experiences in my life.
After a few weeks, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I decided I wasn’t going to follow the steps outlined by my main bar prep course. After all, trusting that process had clearly not worked out for me. I opted instead to trust myself and decided to change 3 key areas of my bar prep journey. My method worked so well that I successfully sat and passed three bar exams (Maryland, Florida, and Texas) in a 4-year period. This is how the framework I now teach my clients was born.
What I realize now is that although I failed the bar exam the first time and was devastated at the time, there was a part of me that didn’t see it as a failure. There was a part of me that viewed the failure as “now I know exactly what NOT to do again.” Armed with this this valuable information, I was in a better position to find a creative solution to my problem — one that was outside the traditional bar prep route.
I’m so glad I had the courage to do things differently because passing the bar exam in three states gave me some of the best years of my life! It allowed me to work as a practicing immigration attorney in Miami, FL and Houston, TX reuniting families one at a time. I loved going to work every single day of my life because it was fulfilling work. I was making an impact in people’s lives while making a living.
I never expected my bar exam journey to lead me to what I am doing today. Passing the bar exam in 3 states after failing it once is now allowing me to help shape the next generation of attorneys. As a bar exam coach, I get to help JD grads pass the bar exam so they too can go on to make an impact and a living as licensed attorneys. I know that when they live a fulfilling life as a licensed attorney, they will make this world a better world for my son and for everyone else’s children. In the end, this is what life is all about.
The law has always been a part of my life. I come from a long line of attorneys and law school professors. My dad, grandfather, and great grandfather were all attorneys and law school professors in Nicaragua. My dad is now in his 80’s and retired from the company where he worked as in-house counsel for many years. After retirement, he started teaching at a local law school in the town where he lives. To this day, he teaches a law school class on Friday nights over Zoom! In other words, after long careers as practicing attorneys (his longer than mine), we’ve both gone on to teach the next generation of attorneys what took us years to learn.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
The main lesson I’ve learned from working both as an immigration attorney and now a bar exam coach is that there is a mission entrusted to me on this earth and that it should not be fear of FAILURE that holds me back from fulfilling this mission. If I am afraid of failing, I remind myself to have faith in my mission instead. This helps me see failures as valuable lessons I need to learn now to carry out my mission on earth on a grander scale later. The challenges we face are situations we need to up-level and grow as a person so that we can fully step into our purpose. As I said, it’s not always easy to adopt this perspective as you are experiencing a “failure.” My goal is to one day get to the point where I automatically see the valuable lesson first.
For example, when I worked as an immigration attorney, not all of my cases were approved, especially in my early days. They weren’t approved not because the case wasn’t approvable but because I wasn’t communicating my ideas effectively in writing. In the process of getting some cases approved and others denied, I was forced to learn to communicate effectively in writing. This valuable lesson — necessary for me to succeed and to successfully help even more clients later — was embedded in a perceived failure.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The 3 character traits that have been most instrumental in my success are determination, patience, and confidence.
When it came to passing the bar exam 3 times, dogged determination helped me show up for myself day in and day out when I had to study all day for 8 weeks. Studying for 8 weeks is not easy because there are always a million other more pleasurable tasks. Even taking a break to get a root canal sounds pleasurable when you are studying for the bar exam. It takes determination to play the long game rather than give into activities that bring immediate gratification. It takes determination to give up the things you want to do in the short term, to make the bar exam the number one priority in your life, albeit temporarily.
Patience was another character trait that was instrumental in my success. I had to be patient with myself. I had to patiently sift through the material and teach myself aspects of the law that for whatever reason I had not learned well in law school. I had to put in the time and effort it took to digest the material well even if it was “boring” and “dry.”
Confidence was the third character trait that was instrumental in my success. I believed in my ability to pass the bar exam. Even though it didn’t happen for me the first time, I knew I would pass if I put in the time and effort required. Confidence in my ability to pass the bar exam didn’t come from thin air. By the time I took the bar exam, like most, I had already accomplished hard things throughout my life. I lost sight of this the first time when I viewed the bar exam as a big bad monster that was difficult to overcome.
Standardized tests such as the bar exam get a bad rap but the character traits of determination, patience, and confidence that I had to draw from to pass the bar exam are the same ones that come in handy as a practicing attorney when you handle a difficult case…and in life, in general.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the concept of becoming free from failure. Let’s zoom in a bit. From your experience, why exactly are people so afraid of failure? Why is failure so frightening to us?
People are afraid of failure because we don’t want to be negatively judged by others. We want to be loved and liked by everyone. This fear of judgment holds us back. We think that if we fail, we will lose the love from our parents, spouses, kids, family, co-workers, etc.
Our brain is designed to keep us safe…and to put it simply, it uses fear — in a generic way — to protect us. That’s its foremost and default position. When we are afraid of failing, our brain is simply doing its job. It’s trying to keep us safe and loved by having us play small, by putting the fear of failing in us.
Although that’s one of our brain’s main functions, it is wonderful that we can control our brains rather than have it control us. It’s easier said than done, of course, but we can learn and get in the habit of controlling our thoughts.
What are the downsides of being afraid of failure? How can it limit people?
The downside is that when we are afraid of failing, we don’t accomplish things we are perfectly capable of accomplishing. We become static. We stay stuck even though we have the capacity to be more, to do more.
Additionally, when we operate from a place of fear, we close ourselves off to creative solutions and infinite possibilities. We are so afraid of failing that we in effect put a lid on creative or alternative solutions. We close ourselves off to solutions that have been inside of us all along.
In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the fear of failure can help improve our lives?
Becoming free from the fear of failure opens a whole new world where we try things that are outside our comfort zone. We embrace doing scary things because we know they will offer knowledge and the best opportunities for growth as a person.
Shedding a fear of failure allows us to live less stressful lives. Instead of fretting over failing, we live knowing that all failures will bring a lesson newly learned. We live knowing that even if we have to redefine our objective, it is a new possibility for success.
Becoming free from failure also allows us to make progress faster. When we are willing to do things without the fear of failure, we learn faster if something works or doesn’t work. If it doesn’t work, then we can try something else, experiment, and test alternatives. In other words, the faster we fail, the better! I wish I had learned this lesson sooner in life. Many times, the fear of failing kept me stuck and in inaction for far too long.
We would love to hear your story about your experience dealing with failure. Would you be able to share a story about that with us?
Upon failing the bar exam, I had to grow as a person. I had to become a different Yohanna, so to speak. I had to step into the next level version of myself. And for that, I am grateful. I wouldn’t have experienced that breath and depth of growth had it not been for failing the bar exam the first time.
On a basic personal level, I had to take a long hard look at myself. The first step was to admit that I feared failing the bar exam again. I knew that if I didn’t get this fear under control, the bar exam would have me in a chokehold once more. This led me to make major adjustments to my mindset and wellness routine because fear is experienced in both the mind and the body. I figured out how to get my mind and body out of fearing mode by incorporating yoga, meditation, and exercise into my bar prep routine. To be honest, taking care of my mindset and releasing fear from the body was more than half the battle. Once I got out of fearing mode and started breathing again, I was able to focus and absorb the material.
The second step I took to overcome failing the bar exam was to evaluate the situation objectively rather than through the lens of fear and judgment. Once I saw the situation objectively, it allowed me to see clearly that the shortest and best route to passing the bar exam was by leveraging the written portion to my advantage because of its predictability. On the bar exam, 50% of your score comes from multiple-choice questions and 50% from a written component. I evaluated my strengths and weaknesses in a non-judgmental way. I came to terms with the fact that multiple-choice questions weren’t historically my forte without putting myself down for it. I recognized I had not studied correctly also in a non-judgmental way. Once I viewed the situation objectively, I was in a better position to course correct and come up with a strategy that would get me a passing score every time.
Finally, and to come full circle, the last step I took to deal with failing the bar exam was to find the courage to do things differently. I found courage within to do it my way even though it wasn’t what the big box bar prep companies were teaching. I believed in myself and in my solution to the problem. I had to bet on myself because nobody was going to come save me or hand me my bar license.
How did you rebound and recover after that? What did you learn from this whole episode? What advice would you give to others based on that story?
I know mindset has been a popular topic for many years but the importance of having the right mindset really is one of the biggest lessons I learned from this whole episode. And it has been a lesson that has served me well in other areas of my life from weight loss to childbirth. If we change the way we think about our challenges, we can change our lives. Our mindset has to change before we see the outcome we want.
My advice to anyone who is struggling with a difficult situation is to first change the way you think about the situation. Most people who are in a problem simply want the steps and the strategies they need to get out of the problem. I can give you the best strategies in the world but if you don’t change the way you view your problem, it will be difficult to get a different outcome.
For example, I decided to no longer be a victim of the bar exam. I took responsibility over my actions and inactions and reassumed my agency. I changed my mindset and saw that I had a say in the matter. I couldn’t control what would be tested on the exam but there were plenty of things about my bar prep journey I could control. I could control how much and how well I studied, exercised, and took care of myself.
When it came to weight loss, I decided to no longer be a victim of a donut. I took responsibility over my relationship to food. Once I changed my thoughts about food, the weight came off. No diet in the world was going to help me if I didn’t change how I thought about food. Again, I used mindset to get me the desired outcome.
In overcoming failing the bar exam, I also learned to TRUST and believe in myself. I discovered my own attorney voice and trusted it was good enough. Many bar exam takers are waiting until after they pass the bar exam to feel good enough. My advice to them is to not wait for the external validation. You must believe you are good enough before the bar exam grader sees it too.
My advice to anyone who is afraid of failing is also to trust yourself. Trust in your ability to do hard things. If you have a desire in your heart, it is there for a reason. There is no way you can fail. There are only lessons to be learned along the way that once you learn them, will get you closer to your goal. Stay the course and what you once feared will be one of the biggest sources of joy in your life.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that everyone can take to become free from the fear of failure”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Look at your “failure” as a blessing and an opportunity for growth. Think of at least 3 ways this “failure” may be considered a blessing now or in 3 years or in 15. For example, after failing the Maryland bar exam, I decided to go to Miami for 8 weeks to study in my sister’s apartment while she was at work. I ended up loving Miami and moved there right after I found out I passed the Maryland bar exam. The move to Miami changed the course of my entire life. It forced me to take the Florida bar exam which once again tested my determination, patience, and confidence. A year later, I met my husband, moved to Texas, and took the Texas bar exam. Several years later, our son was born. In other words, had it not been for failing the bar exam, I wouldn’t have the family and the bar exam coaching business I have today.
- Trust your intuition. Don’t be afraid of doing things your way however unconventional they are. In fact, it’s difficult to fail when you are following your gut and your intuition. It’s when we DON’T follow our intuition that we get into trouble. Many times, we turn to everyone we know for advice and don’t stop to listen to our own inner voice. It’s good to seek advice but not at the expense of listening to the knowledge you have within. There are different types of knowledge, not only the one that comes from studying or learning. There are things I KNOW by listening to what every cell of my body tells me. There have been many important decisions I’ve made where I didn’t use logic but rather my intuition. I can’t say my intuition has ever led me astray.
- Get clear on your goal and WHY you want to accomplish it. Overcoming the fear of failure becomes ten million times easier when you have a greater purpose than your own. If you are a bar exam taker, think about WHY you want to pass the bar exam other than to say to your family, friends, and colleagues that you are a licensed attorney. Connect with WHY you decided to invest thousands of dollars in a law school education in the first place. Remembering your why is what will help you show up for yourself when the going gets tough. You can use this to get you through an excruciating workout. Think about why you want to stay fit or get in shape. Is it so that you can play with your kids and grandkids one day? Connecting with your why will help you keep going every time.
- Don’t be afraid of your greatness. You are great. You are smart. You are talented. You have a gift. You can do hard things. You are on this earth for a reason. Whether you are a hairstylist, a doctor, an artist, or a homemaker, what you do matters. What you do is important. What you do changes lives. Own it.
- Do what you say you are going to do. Do it even if it makes you feel uncomfortable. The uncomfortable things you don’t want to do are where you grow the most. Convince yourself that everything you want is on the other side of that discomfort. Do it despite being afraid of failing. If you are afraid of being judged when you fail, think about who those people are exactly. If they love you, they are rooting for you, not judging you. If they don’t love you and are negatively judging you, do you want them in your life, controlling your life’s decisions?
The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “It is possible to fail in many ways…while to succeed is possible only in one way.” Based on your experience, have you found this quote to be true? What do you think Aristotle really meant?
I wasn’t familiar with this quote but I have found it to be true. It is possible to fail in many ways because we find many ways to self-sabotage. We are afraid of failing and of being judged. We suffer from impostor syndrome. We overwork ourselves to the point of burn out. We procrastinate. We choose anxiety and overwhelm. In other words, we find many ways to shoot ourselves in the foot before we even get started.
The one way to succeed that I see is to focus on having FUN! It’s hard to be in fear of failing when you are having fun. Every morning when my 9-year-old son goes to school, I tell him to have fun at school because I know that if he’s having fun, he’s learning. And when he steps on the basketball court, I tell him to have fun because I know that if he’s having fun, he will score lots of points. The same thing applies to my bar exam coaching clients. When I hear them say they are enjoying bar prep and living their best bar prep life, I know their success on the bar exam is inevitable! Your success is pretty much guaranteed when you are having fun along the way.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would inspire a mindset revolution called Happiness is a Choice or Happiness is an Inside Job. Choosing the opposite frame of mind keeps us living in fear of failing. It keeps us from accomplishing the great things we are meant to accomplish during our lifetime.
If everyone were operating from a happiness is a choice mentality, we would all be a lot happier! We all know people who remain happy and optimistic despite their circumstances. This is not to say it’s an easy choice or the choice I make every time, but it is always a choice. I remind myself of this daily.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
Now that I’m an entrepreneur, I would love to have a conversation with Mark Cuban. He seems down to earth. This is a quality I admire in everyone including those who’ve achieved financial success. And my son is a big fan of the Mavericks!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
On Instagram @barexamcoachingbyyohanna. Send me a DM. I would love to hear from you.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.
I am grateful for our conversation.
About The Interviewer: Savio P. Clemente coaches cancer survivors to overcome the confusion and gain the clarity needed to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit. He inspires health and wellness seekers to find meaning in the “why” and to cultivate resilience in their mindset. Savio is a Board Certified wellness coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), stage 3 cancer survivor, podcaster, writer, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC.
Savio pens a weekly newsletter at thehumanresolve.com where he delves into secrets from living smarter to feeding your “three brains” — head 🧠, heart 💓, and gut 🤰 — in hopes of connecting the dots to those sticky parts in our nature that matter.
He has been featured on Fox News, and has collaborated with Authority Magazine, Thrive Global, Food Network, WW, and Bloomberg. His mission is to offer clients, listeners, and viewers alike tangible takeaways in living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle.
Savio lives in the suburbs of Westchester County, New York and continues to follow his boundless curiosity. He hopes to one day live out a childhood fantasy and explore outer space.