I'm back after another hiatus. And again it was because I was travelling. This time to Bombay.
If any of you have read my "About" page, you will know that Bombay is the city I love, and the city that loves me back. So this trip obviously was a special one. What made it more special was that I got the chance to spend some quality time with 2 of my 3 school friends, that I'm very close to. The icing on the cake came in the form of my address to the students of the Political Science Department at my Alma Mater, St. Xavier's College and my felicitation by the Principal.
In college, I was one of those people that organised such events for guests, and so being the subject and centre of such an occasion was quite, how do I put it mildly, strange for me. Being invited on stage and standing in front of curious kids, is not something I'm used to. But it turned out to be a wonderful experience. I was glad that I didn't bore anyone to sleep, I cracked an occasional joke or two, and most importantly, nobody was afraid of asking me a question. I was so happy to see that more than 10 students were actually interested and knew well enough about the Civil Services. This was quite in contrast to my own batch mates from 5 years ago who didn't know even the C of Civil Services and couldn't tell the difference between the UPSC and a UPS, much to my chagrin, to be honest.
Now that I think back, all this glory is a result of three years of dedicated effort. In fact effort is a small word for what it took for me to get where I am. The English language has no word to describe what I went through, but Hindi does : tapasya. And that brings me to the subject of this post.
In my last post on how to deal with the newspaper, I signed off by stressing on how important it is to trust your self and be confident during this preparation. I am going to elaborate further on how I dealt with stress and moments of self doubt during my preparation.
In my first year of preparation, I spent half my time attending coaching classes, which in retrospect was pretty much a disaster. I was left with no choice but to take an accommodation close by, since travelling from my parents' house to the coaching institute drained the life out of me. This turned out to be an even worse decision than taking coaching. My experience was, to say the least, unpleasant. The only positive was that I met some nice people in the coaching class, that are now some of my closest friends.
And here I shall point out, rule no. 1: if you are someone that is close to their family, like I was, and still am, then shifting away from home is not a good idea. In my case it was a worse idea since I was losing out on valuable discussions and inputs from very erudite and learned family members. As I mentioned in my post on how to prepare for the exam, coaching classes are becoming quite useless quite fast. And since you no longer need to take coaching any where, there is no point in staying away from family. However, if you feel like your family is more distracting than constructive, then you may consider your options.
During my preparation for the second attempt, this one where I cleared the exam, I reworked my entire strategy, moved back to my parents' house and started from scratch. Let me tell you, it was very difficult. It would be wrong to presume that I had a head start from the previous attempt. I really didn't. I had to take a whole new approach to my preparation and start with a clean slate.
Here comes rule no. 2: do not take what you have read or studied in the past for granted. What you read is only information. It becomes knowledge only when you reflect upon it, question it, and are then convinced of it's veracity. And so, even if you are giving your second or third attempt, or are studying an Optional that you have studied before, take a fresh perspective on what you study. Rewrite your notes if you have to, I did, and read your books again.
I had several instances where I would call up one or the other friend at night, after a tiresome study marathon, and tell them, "bhaiya humse na ho payega", and my friend would counsel me and tell me that I could do it. I would often pen down my thoughts and feelings in my journal, feeling dejected and hopeless. I would look at my friends making progress in their lives, either getting married, working or pursuing higher studies and feel like my life had been stagnant for two years. Nobody really understood my position at the time, and nobody who isn't in that position can understand. Now that I'm not in that place anymore, I may not be able to truly empathise with my friends who are going to give this attempt.
This brings me to the most important of all rules, rule no. 3: you are the best person to pull yourself out of misery and low phases. I know it is hard to feel optimistic when the pressure is so great, but the fact is that you alone can convince yourself that you deserve the best from life for all the hard work you put in. In my case, whenever I felt low, I would look back at how my life had turned out. I have a family that adores me, my friends love me for all my flaws, and my hard work had helped me excel at almost everything that I ever set my mind to. And then I would realise that the Civil Services Exam is no different. If I put in the effort, it will bear good results for sure. This is crucial for those of you that stay away from your family and friends having moved to Delhi from your hometowns. While you do your best to handle the pressure on your own, do keep in touch with your closest friends and family so that they can provide you the moral support that you need to undertake this long and strenuous journey. But the greatest encouragement you need will come from your self confidence. Trust your instincts, as I have said in the previous post, and keep working hard. Every time I felt low, I would just tell myself that next year I'm going to be where I want to be, and power on. I would pick up my book and resume my studies. The best way to deal with psychological pressure for me was to keep myself busy and interested in what I was studying.
Now, rule no. 4: make your subjects interesting. I would try to use as much of audio visual aid as possible thanks to Google and YouTube. This made even the most boring of topics easier to study and understand. And the joy you get on understanding a topic is unparalleled. As you knock off topics and subjects one by one with full dedication, you will find that your confidence also rises. When you go to the exam hall to write your exam, you will be so Zen, that it will make you perform much better. A tensed mind cannot function at it's optimum level.
Rule no. 5: take a break when you feel saturated. I did not stretch myself beyond my limits and took a break once a week to either meet a friend or to spend time with relatives or just watch some sitcoms. We all have a saturation point and I ensured that I never breach it. And this is something I would advise all aspirants. It's ok to take a break once in a while, after days of hard work, because we're not superhuman. We have batteries that need recharging from time to time. But don't let your breaks be disproportionate to your effort. Late nights out are not advisable unless it's your birthday or something, since it has the potential to disrupt the momentum.
Rule no. 6: stay fit. I made it a point to take a brisk walk in the evening and to exercise. I followed a healthy diet and controlled my sweet intake, since I have a bit of a sweet tooth. I realised that as I created a physically healthy regime for myself, I also got into better mental shape. I felt good about myself since I had managed to keep an active metabolism without compromising on my diet too much. A healthy body is a prerequisite for a healthy mind. But please don't starve yourself to the extent that your clothes begin to fall off your body. The key to everything in life, and especially this exam, is to maintain a balance. This includes having enough sleep. I did not sleep more or less than 7 hours in a day and having a regular sleep pattern was helpful. During the preparation for my first attempt I had a very unhealthy sleep cycle. I was functioning on a Western Hemisphere time zone and that often made me very cranky because when I was awake, everyone was asleep, and when others were awake I was asleep. This left me with almost zero contact with human beings. Feelings of loneliness would surface very often causing mood swings and wastage of time. So becoming an owl is a very very bad idea!
Rule no. 7: don't give up your hobbies. We all have some hobby or the other. For me it was singing and listening to music. I would listen to songs that reminded me of good times and made me happy, every time I took a break from studying and I would also sing regularly to relax myself. If you are into a sport or any other hobby, do make time for it every day, even for a little while. You will find that it really energises you. And if nothing else, play some fun music and just dance for yourself!
Rule no. 8: don't be afraid. What's the worst that can happen? You won't become a civil servant. Is their nothing else left for you to do in this world? I'm sure there is. I always kept myself aware of this reality. I mentally prepared myself for the worst and just kept doing what I had to do, study! In my first attempt, I remember, I went to write my Prelims not having slept properly because of nervousness. My hands were shaking and my fear was apparent. But I was completely different the second time round and at every stage of my second attempt. I was calm, composed and didn't worry about anything. I had put in my 100% and that was good enough for me. As it should be for you as well.
I had no "psychological strategy" so to speak. I just tried to give my 100% in whatever I did. And it has worked for me. There is no alternative to hard work. Reject short cuts and be prepared to rely on nothing or nobody else but yourself. If you have any further questions please feel free to write to me at email@example.com