How many people would have thoroughly screwed their lives up by giving UPSC (IAS) exams?

Hand writing
By Atul Roy, 4 UPSC Mains & 2 Interviews | Head, UPSC at Gradeup

Well. I have exhausted all my attempts now and that makes me fit to answer this question. I reached interview stage twice and missed the final selection by a very narrow margin. I wasted (if you look at it that way) almost 6 years of life for a dream that after a certain time no one could see except me, my brother and father (even my mom gave up on me) and some very close friends who stood by me like a rock. I left lucrative placements in college after completing my MBA in Finance, I didn’t join as RBI Grade B Officer because I wanted to be an IAS, I slept in UPPCS Mains (because I was not interested in joining PCS, and never gave PCS exams again), I never appeared for any other exam like SSC/Bank etc because I didn’t want to settle for anything less than IAS (and only IAS and not other services).

Here is my journey through all these years and attempts:

2010: While still in college pursuing my MBA I started preparing. I was not serious, but since I had very good general awareness since my early childhood, I cleared Prelims very easily. I had no preparation of my optionals, and hence could not clear Mains.

2011: I was going through some personal problems and hence could not focus very well on Mains preparation. Failed in Mains again.

2012: Prepared well. Reached till interview stage. Got good marks in Interview (186/300), but got butchered in optionals (till date 2012 Geo paper is regarded as one of the toughest Geo papers and many couldn’t touch even 3 digits in Pub Ad paper 1). Missed final selection by 19 marks.

2013: Just when I had got the hang of the exam, and I was certain that I will ace it in the next attempt (and I was totally determined because it was my last attempt), UPSC dropped the bombshell on us by changing the pattern totally. In other exams say CA Exam if ICAI changes patterns they give you an option to continue in the previous pattern for 2–3 years because they know how difficult it is to prepare and get a hang of a colossal exam like this. But UPSC didn’t care at all. So I didn’t have any choice but to drop for one year because I didn’t have the courage to risk my last attempt in the changed pattern.

2014: Due to the largess granted by Rahul Gandhi, we got two more attempts. I prepared with all my heart. Poured everything I had into this exam. But made two vital mistakes. The mains papers asked us to write close to 4000–4500 words and 20 questions, whereas people like us (old Pattern) were used to writing 3000 words with comfortable time pressure. We could simply not write those 4000 words in the exam because we were still caught up in the old pattern (whereas new aspirants who started from the new pattern, they prepared with the same mindset as the exam wanted them to) and so my marks in Mains suffered. But still reached interview. Got good marks again in interview (189/275), but missed the final selection again. I was totally devastated.

2015: I came to Delhi from Lucknow. And after being totally devastated, I had a spat with my brother, who accused me of not preparing with seriousness. I slipped into depression, even crying myself to sleep on many days. I simply could not not feel like studying at all. I neglected CA, did not revise properly and I could not even read newspapers regularly as I was going through a harrowing phase. Consequently I failed in the prelims by 3 marks. This came as a rude shock to me. I had never even failed prelims, and coming on the back of interview, I could see the writing on the wall.

2016: Battling lack of motivation, depression, financial problems, personal issues and what not I tried to prepare. I revised everything this time. But this years paper had disproportionate amounts of CA questions and that too from previous 1.5 years, and since I was not in regular touch with CA and newspapers from the past one year, I didn’t have a good grip over the CA. I got 108 marks according to various keys and failed prelims again. I am sure it must be by 1–2 marks. But I was so exhausted by this point of time that I was prepared mentally. Moreover one part of me even wanted this ordeal to end. So when I failed I kind of felt so relieved because finally I could do things I always wanted to do. Finally I could do what normal people do. Finally I could enjoy myself. So did I screw my life or my career Absolutely not.

Let me elaborate why

When i started preparation in 2010, I was an entirely different person. And I am not at all proud of what I was. I was arrogant, with superficial knowledge, a man with questionable morals who didn’t believe in honesty and who felt that taking dowry was acceptable. I had passed out of a tier 2 MBA college with not so good employ-ability (not in the league of the very best in India i.e. IIMs). I didn’t have a good opinion on issues. I wanted to join IAS just because it had been a childhood dream and not for the public service aspect. Even though I wanted to rub shoulders with the very best, I was simply not in their league. I lacked empathy and compassion. I never thought about the millions who were languishing and suffering in our country.

Fast forward 6 years.

Today I have a decent knowledge about everything and a balanced opinion over issues. I can understand almost everything from environmental issues to economic issues. I am an unbiased and neutral observer who can see both the sides of the coin. I have left behind almost all my fellow school/college mates in terms of knowledge, understanding and empathy towards social issues.

I stay with two Teach For India (TFI) Program Managers and know many more of them. I discuss with them ideas as to how we can solve the educational disparities in our country. I am working with 3 TFI Ex fellows on a social not for profit venture called Raah, in which we are working with women from underprivileged backgrounds in Seelampur area of North Delhi in which we are trying to give them livelihoods and skill training. I regularly talk and discuss with some of the finest minds in the country (from ivy league colleges like IIT, IIM, Harvard etc) who gave up lucrative jobs in order to serve the community and children better. I am planning to go for MPP program from JFK School of Public Policy, Harvard University after working for 3–4 years with the community. Do you think I could have done all this without the knowledge and understanding which I gained from this preparation? Absolutely Not.

This exam made me what I am today. It propelled me ahead in life. It made me a far better person than I used to be. It made me conscious of the problems and issues faced by poor and underprivileged millions in my country. It made me empathetic to their cause and gave me the strength and compassion to work for them. And I certainly don’t think that means screwing up in life by any stretch of imagination.

I would like to end this with what a friend of mine told me once: “If you had become an IAS without this journey just because you were intelligent and smart, you would have caused a great harm to the country (because how bad a person I was), but today even though you are not an IAS you will do a world of good because you are a much better person.”

I hope it helps others in undertaking this journey towards self enlightenment and growth. Always remember that the journey you undertake for this exam will always make you a better person than you already are.

I might have failed to become an IAS Officer, but I succeeded in becoming a better human being. And that to me is not screwing up in life at all.

Thanks for reading. Do share your views as to what you think in the comments below and I would try to respond.

EDIT 1: Many of the aspirants have asked me about the financial pressures I faced and how I coped. So let me tell you. I come from a lower middle class family and my father was a worker in SAIL IISCO. So I always faced financial difficulties while preparing. When I started preparation after my MBA I had planned to go to Allahabad and not Delhi because I could not afford Delhi. But a friend of mine from the same college offered me to come to his place in Lucknow and prepare. So for the next four years we stayed together and and prepared. I did not have to pay for anything while I was staying there. His family treated me like their son. Without him I wouldn’t be able to sustain myself at all. I could prepare because they helped me with everything. My family could send me only 2000 Rs per month. There were times when I couldn’t afford to pay for a Root Canal Treatment for a tooth, because it was too expensive and consequently I lost that tooth. I had to take a loan from relatives when I came to Delhi to prepare. I couldn’t even buy new clothes for a long time now. I literally gave my blood, sweat and toil (and tooth :P) to this exam.

So yes. Financial support is as important as emotional and moral support in this exam. But always remember if you deserve it people will support you. At one point of time your dreams become theirs. My friends stood by me like a rock. They pitched in with whatever they had. They even paid my cab fares, restaurant bills because I was not earning. A huge shout out to them. So don’t let any constraints deter you in chasing your dreams. I would like to quote Dumbledore here “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it” And it applies to life as well.

EDIT 2: Whoa! 1k upvotes in 3 days! Thanks for the tremendous response guys. I am humbled by the beautiful comments and messages I have received. Guys I will surely try and respond in a few days. Thanks.

EDIT 3: Some people have expressed concern in the comments that whether I got any job to make a living or not after all these years. So I am pleased to tell them that I have joined gradeup as UPSC Community Manager and Mentor where I would be helping UPSC aspirants in their journey. I thank everyone for their concerns and I am really happy that I could connect so much with the UPSC community. Cheers!

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