If you know me personally, you already know that I’ve been preparing for the Union Public Service Commission’s Civil Service Exam for quite some time now. For those on WordPress who don’t know about the UPSC CSE, it is a highly competitive exam that gets you into the coveted Indian Civil Services. If you get through, you work for the government, for your country and her people. As simple as that. I can actually visualize some people I know saying, ‘oh but there are other ways you can work for your country and her people, right?’ Why UPSC? Of course there are other ways. And I am sure all of us are, in some way or the other doing something for our country, which is nice. But is it enough? Having seen and read about both the good and the not so good public servants in the country, I know what kind of positive drivers of change bureaucrats can be. I can go on and on but this blog is not about why I want to become a public servant. This blog is about my repeated failure at the CSE exam.
Every year lakhs of aspirants take this exam. And like a lot of these aspirants, I’ve day-dreamt and day-dreamt about passing this exam and telling everyone about my journey. I and my fellow aspirant friends have always joked about what we shall talk about in our speech. ‘We’ll say this, say that. We’ll be very honest about our journey. No bluffing like I studied for 16-17 hours every day.’ Sadly I never passed to tell everyone about my journey. But I’ve decided that I wont let my failure stop me from talking about my failure. So here it goes..
So before I thought of my failure as a rainbow-coloured phenomenon, it was everything sad and depressing. Crippling even. And I spent quite some, no, long actually, a very long time feeling ashamed of my failure. And somedays, thanks to my failure, also of my life.
Why did failure have so much power over me?
I want to say I don’t know. But I do. I do actually know why failure hit me the way it did.
All my life I looked at failure as something that could not touch me. And since I was someone who always scored good grades and never missed a distinction, I knew it in my heart that as long as I studied the way I studied, I could get through any exam. And I am in no way saying that like ‘oh, I am so smart, I can do anything.’ No. Not like that. I’ll give you an example. So everyone knows, there are two types of people in this world. The ones who are good at Maths and the ones who are not. All my school life, I belonged to the latter category. I scored an A/A+ in every subject except Maths. So during my last year in school, I realized if I wanted to get into the college of my choice, I had to conquer Maths. I went from 90+/150 in my first semester to 141/150 in my final exam. So you see my point, I knew, given the required effort and sincere practice, I thought I could pass any exam. I was confident of my abilities. I had faith in myself.
All of this came crumbling down when I failed at my first attempt. If you’ve read my blog Plankton 🌈 , you’d know what I am talking about. Honestly though, I knew I was going to fail even before I took the exam. I knew because I was underprepared. So so underprepared. To begin with, I was intimidated by the exam. I didn’t know what exactly to read and where to read from. When to finish what, when to revise and when to write tests. They say the UPSC syllabus is so vast, you are supposed to know everything under the Sun. And they practically convince you to believe that.
Secondly I was misguided by some coaching class people who I thought knew the ABC of UPSC. They didn’t. And they charged money for all the misinformation they fed me. Looking back, this horrible coaching class owes me both money and time. My heart weeps for all those months I practically wasted under their sub-par guidance and low quality lectures.
Thirdly I relied a lot on other people’s, especially UPSC toppers’ strategy to tackle the exam. Didn’t work for me.
works for some, for some it just doesn’t. A lot of trial and error happened during those first few months.
Fourthly, I was overwhelmed by the expectations everybody around me (including myself) had from me. For the first time in my life, I realized I was letting everybody down. And it broke my heart.
Fifthly, getting into the services was all that I wanted ever since I was in school. So I never made any backup career plan for myself. As the realization, ‘If this fails, what do I do?’ hit, I felt helpless and lost.
Lastly, My brain kept on reminding me that out of the lakhs that take this exam, hardly a thousand get into the services. And out of those thousand only the top hundred-two hundred get the IAS.
And so I failed. And I failed and failed and failed yet again.
If somebody had told me I was going to fail again after that first attempt, I would have quit there and then. But I didn’t. Not even when I did fail again. I didn’t because some dreams are too dear to let go. And honestly, I don’t have many dreams. Just a few, and I want to see them come to life. I so want to see them come to life.
Over the years I’ve realized that I’ve become friends with my failure. And It has in many ways helped me grow and shine.
The best thing that failure did to me was make me more of an empath. If I see someone who has failed at something, my first instinct is to tell them that it is okay. It is okay to fail. Don’t let it stop you from trying again. Smile at your failure, learn the lessons and try again.
My failure has in many ways helped me better myself. Not just as an aspirant but as a human being. I am more humble and yet more confident now than I ever was.
I realized Failure, no matter how big or how consistent, could not break my spirit. If anything it made me stronger and smarter. It helped me look at my weaknesses and flaws with a renewed spirit and gave me the courage to tackle them. Strange, right? failure being all motivating :p
By writing all of this I am in no way saying, ‘Oh failure, thou beauty, what did I do to have you?’ No. Not at all. I am not denying what kind of unpleasant experience failure is and can be. I am just saying, it is not so bad either, people. It really isn’t. I know this is going to sound clichéd but you’ve come so far, might as well keep reading 😉 There is no greater teacher than failure, there truly isn’t. I’ve learned more from my failure in these last few years than I did in my entire academic life and I say this having studied at some of the really good educational institutions in India. What my failure has taught me is priceless. Failure has its own colours. It is not just black and grey.
I am no one to advice fellow aspirants but I will say this. Don’t let your failure at the CSE define you. You are not your failure. You are more.
Don’t be intimidated by the exam. It is in the end just an exam. four letters, one word.
Keep the fire and the passion burning, okay? You’ve come this far, never forget that.
It is okay to feel overwhelmed by the booklist and the exam. It gets easier, I promise.
Don’t be afraid to take tests. It is only by scoring less and then working on those same tests and again scoring well is when you feel confident. Tests are here to help you, not to demotivate you. It took me some time to understand that.
Be patient with yourself. Be kind. Be your best friend in this journey uphill.
Hang out with the right people. Not the kind who continuously question your life choices and drain your precious energy. I know of some people who don’t care about keeping in touch all year but suddenly on result day they would text and call to enquire whether I passed or failed. Some people have nothing better to do than gloat. Let them go.
And last but not the least, don’t stop being happy because you haven’t reached your goal. Stay happy and may be you’ll reach there faster.
To people who are not UPSC aspirants but still need to hear this,
Failure can be crippling, I know. But it is still better to fail than to not try at all, right? Failure builds character. It makes you stronger. Failure is a friend here to teach you things, high-five your friend for now, learn your lessons and when the time comes and I know for sure it will, let your friend go with a smile. I choose to dwell in that possibility. It gives me peace. 🙂
As for the people who still wonder if I will ever give the CSE again, these are also the same people who’ve been asking me to quit since my first attempt..
One life, right? Why should I give up?
May be I won’t crack the exam Or may be I will. But at least I owe it to myself to try. Try till I am still eligible. Try till I still have my attempts left. Whether I will give the exam the next year or not, I don’t know. I am still out exploring new things as of now. But I will at some point get back because I’ve realized if you don’t fight for your dreams, nobody will. I hope you fight for your dreams, I hope they come to life.
P.S. – Not proud of this but this is the truth and needs to be told. Growing up I gave a lot of importance to good grades and I looked at people who scored less marks or people who failed with a sense of condescension. I am sorry for that. I truly am. I wish I knew better. I hope you find it in your heart to forgive me.
P.P.S – A huge shout out to Anudeep Durishetty, UPSC topper for the year 2017. I occasionally find myself reading and rereading his blog. Here is the link to one of his best articles, My UPSC Journey : from Despair to Destiny
Also, I know P.S. follows a letter and that this is not one, but hey! I am back on @LifeisOneWodehousestory after ages. I can get away with a blunder or two.
Thanks for reading. 🙂