About 9,70,000 candidates applied for the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Civil Service Examination (CSE) 2021 Prelims. Of which, 10,000 candidates qualified for the main examination.
Every year the number of aspirants only seems to increase. But what happens to those who don’t succeed?
Shruti Pandey (26) appeared for the UPSC CSE in 2017 for the first time and subsequently in 2018 and 2019. As someone who enjoyed the process of studying for the examination she says that the entire experience of appearing for the prelims and main thereafter was a dampener, which led her to make life-changing decisions.
Speaking to The Better India, she says, “Wanting to appear for the UPSC CSE was completely my decision. As someone who enjoys multidisciplinary study I thought that the examination would satiate that desire. While the process of studying was great, appearing for the examination was not so much.”
Shruti persisted and appeared for the examination thrice before she decided to pursue another line of study.
“My early days were divided between Chitrakoot and the outskirts of Allahabad. My upbringing was in small towns, and like many others I grew up chasing good grades and various milestones. I am not entirely sure if I even knew what I was running after at that stage,” she says.
Shruti’s parents were neutral to her decision of wanting to appear for the UPSC CSE and she says that it was entirely her decision.
From 2013 to 2017, Shruti pursued her B Tech degree and it was during the final year that she started preparing for CSE. “I did not take up any full-time assignment post the completion of my B Tech and decided to use that time to prepare for the examination,” she says.
‘I enjoyed my preparation journey to begin with.’
“When I started preparing for the examination I remember feeling so engrossed. I would sit at a stretch of close to 12 hours a day to study. It was something that gave me immense happiness,” she says. This continued for a good two years of her preparation journey and she says that the fatigue set in only after that when she was studying the same material over and over and not clearing the examination.
She soon started feeling bogged down by it. “I was doing it because I had to clear the examination and not because I was enjoying it. That was when the entire process started feeling like a burden. Towards the end of 2018 I was drawn outwards and was totally exhausted,” she says.
Having written the exam thrice, Shruti says that with each attempt she became slightly more disillusioned. “In 2017 during my first attempt I was fresh out of college and could be called a total novice. Despite that I managed to clear the prelims and get to the mains. In 2018, I was well prepared and felt that the stakes for me were higher as well. This time as well I cleared the prelims and got the chance to attempt the mains. However, the last attempt in 2019 was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back – I did not even clear the prelims and that was when I made up my mind to not do this again.”
She says that just to put an end to this chapter in her life she took a trip to Mussoorie to bid adieu to Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA). “It was a cathartic experience for me. I stood looking at this great institute and made my peace with the entire process,” she shares.
UPSC CSE – Not a one size fits all exam
“Once I got over the shock of not clearing the prelims in my third attempt I started looking at what other avenues I could explore. Up until then I was solely focussed on the exam and never thought beyond it,” she says. After a very long period, Shruti started reaching out to her friends who were pursuing other career prospects.
She says, “When I was preparing for the UPSC CSE my world had shrunk to only include other aspirants. I had stopped socialising and that was a mistake I made. Not clearing the prelims in my third attempt was a nightmare that came true.” Picking up the pieces after the failure was difficult but one that Shruti says taught her a great deal.
“Until I decided to move on I wasn’t even sure what the options for someone who chooses to quit the UPSC was – I had only seen people appear for other competitive examinations and get placed. So, the journey was a lonely one. I knew no one who had quit the UPSC and become successful,” she says. It was after almost six months in 2019 that Shruti decided to pursue a career as a data scientist.
“I was severely under-confident and was battling my own share of mental health issues. It took me almost 20 days to write my Statement of Purpose (SOP) for colleges. I was not armed with a degree in computer science and did not have the names of any big company on my resume. I felt insecure but nonetheless took the plunge and applied for my Masters,” she says. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at Duke University in North Carolina, US.
Words of advice from Shruti:
1. Analyse the ‘sunk cost’:
“To save the ‘sunk cost’ (money or time spent that cannot be recovered) one tends to invest more time and energy to clear the examination. If after many attempts you feel the examination is not for you, opting out would be the best thing you can do,” she says. Do not continue to stay invested in writing the exam on account of how much time you have spent. Shruti emphasises that in the larger scheme of things, it does not matter.
2. Think of why you want to clear the examination:
“There are times when after not clearing the UPSC CSE one starts looking at other State and bank administrative examinations to appear for. Do so only if you have the inclination for it and not because it is the next option after UPSC,” says Shruti. One must take the time out to figure out what plan B could be. Do not just go with what you are told.
3. Do not become myopic:
“Look at the larger picture. A few years of preparing and even failure is not of any significance when you are looking at the next few decades of your life. You can choose to change the track at any time you feel like it. Do not be burdened to follow through just because you have started preparing for UPSC.” Think about the next 50 years of your life and not the immediate five, she adds.
In conclusion she says, “Always remember that UPSC is a qualifying examination for administrative posts. It is a chapter in your life and not your whole life. Fail with pride. You are worth more than the exam.”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)