I would like to clarify at the outset that this article does not address the content of preparation but the motivation aspect of this exam. I feel there are many people who have written extensively on what to study and how to prepare. They have done an excellent job of it. So I would not venture into those territories. What I will discuss here is the non-academic qualities that you need in order to succeed in the UPSC Civil Services Exam.
Mind Over Matter
To start with I have met a lot of people who gave the exam, some who cleared it and even read many blogs. By now I have realized the simple fact that there is no one way to go about it. Everyone has their individual journey. Some people never read the paper, some people did it with a job, some people did it without coaching, and some exceptional ones even did it with children. So the path you take depends on what you are comfortable with as an individual.
It also goes to show that your background in terms of language, degree, college, gender or region has absolutely no influence on your result. However one thing that seems to be common in each individual who successfully clears the CSE is their dedication and commitment. There are no half-hearted battles here. You have to be all in. Most of these people were cut-off from the world a large and remove distractions. So essentially if you could find one thread running in common in all the successful candidates, it’s their will and determination to do well. This exam is at least as much about the heart as it is about the mind, if not more.
Persistence is the Key
The nature of the exam- in terms of syllabus and the cycle itself, which takes a whole year, is such that it tests one of the most important qualities desired in a civil servant: persistence. The process is grueling and tiresome but you absolutely cannot give up! To wake up every day and read the newspaper, to put in at least six hours of studying and to not be let down when the results seem to not match up to your expectations. It is all a test of your strength of character. Once you have decided to tread down this road you accept the challenge and be true to yourself. That is the key. It doesn’t matter that your neighbour thinks you study or your parents think you study. They might care about you but nobody is going to be affected by this process as much as you. So it is absolutely imperative to be honest to the one person that matters: yourself.
There is this dialogue in the movie Rocky that I wrote down in front of my study table which always put things in perspective:
“You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”
It is all about getting up after the fall. For most of us will fail, whether prelims, mains or interview. Most of us do go through that phase once and what matters is how you pick up the pieces from there and build yourself up better. On a smaller level one practice test that you score lesser in or a prelims mock test or a bad mock interview, absolutely anything can pull you down but the essence is the positivity that you keep and work on making yourself better. In fact I think the best thing to happen to a person is failing and specially failing early because the spirit with which you rise after that is just wonderful.
Another important aspect is to constructively be critical of oneself. When things go wrong it is so easy to blame your circumstances or the unfairness of the process. The most difficult thing is to introspect and understand what you did wrong. Let’s not play the blame game because that will never end. We need to accept that there are things we could have done better and move on and do better next time around!
Consider It A Journey
CSE is not a destination but a journey. This sounds like the most clichéd nonsense anybody could ever say but ask the people who got through and they’ll definitely agree. The process will build you as an individual: emotionally and intellectually. You will learn to empathize towards sections of the society you didn’t know existed. You will learn to motivate yourself. You will learn to draw strength from your inner self. This process will never be futile, no matter what the result. I know that everybody wants to succeed and nobody likes listening to this. But that is just the truth. This exam is not the end of life but just a small part of a much larger scheme of things. So don’t build that kind of pressure on yourself. Yes it is important but life is much bigger than an exam! So essentially what I am saying is enjoy the process, the learning and the challenges. Put your best foot forward and everything else will follow.