My UPSC Journey: From Despair to Destiny

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Sometime in February 2016, UPSC declared that I had failed in the Civil Services Examination. That was my fourth attempt and third failure. The result didn’t seem as bad then, convinced as I was of my own supreme ability and UPSC’s blatant bias. My inner voice immediately went about searching for excuses. “I must have flunked the language paper. Or some clerical mistake? Surely I must have been wronged!

I eagerly looked forward to my marksheet, mostly to confirm my own prejudice. When the marksheet finally arrived, the scores read as follows, starting with marks in Essay: 100,74,66,91,68,75,91. A grand total of 565, way behind the cutoff. If there were an individual cut off for each paper, I would have probably failed in all of them.

Thus at the end of four gruelling attempts and five years of toil, there I was. I get my worst result in the year I had worked the most. In that moment, the marks didn’t seem so bad— I knew I had failed that year anyway. What difference does a marksheet make?

But like a potent poison slowly making its way to my head, it was only in the hours and days later, I could truly grasp the scale of my defeat. I didn’t just miss the cut, I was nowhere near the competition. My failure was undeniable and total, and it shook me to the core.

Most of us begin our Civils preparation treating it only as an exam. But slowly and surely, as we face hurdles and endure suffering, the exam takes center stage and getting through it becomes our only objective. So when we are defeated in this exam, we almost feel defeated at life. And so it was with me.

The failure crept inward into other aspects of my being. It eroded my drive, confidence and morale. Both professionally and personally, I turned indifferent and underconfident. My day to day life became lethargic, timid and was one of mere existence— I was a walking dead man. And within no time, I unconsciously fell into the most crushing of traps: I was convinced that I am not good enough.

This is the sinking feeling every failed aspirant goes through. No one comes into the preparation thinking of giving this exam twice. That is why for many of us, first failure comes across as shocking, the second humbling and the third absolutely devastating. I was indeed devastated.

At that point in 2016, for me to give another attempt was to risk another failure, and I couldn’t afford it. I wanted to save whatever little confidence that was left in me. I simply didn’t have the courage to carry on, and I knew I had hit a dead end. Within days, I decided to quit. I packed my papers, bundled my books, cleaned my shelves and dumped them in an obscure corner just so that I don’t even accidentally catch the sight of them— for they represented symbols of my inadequacy and collapse.

From that abyss, it took me a couple of months to recover. I realised that life was slowly drifting away, and I didn’t want to standby as a mere spectator. I focussed on work, learnt taxation laws, pursued my interests diligently and took up meditation as a hobby. In meditation, you train your mind to see things clearly. And I did begin to see things clearly.

I realised that I was so absorbed in this relentless exam cycle that I didn’t recognise my own hubris. For all my failures, I kept blaming UPSC, the examiner, my optional, my pen, the clerk entering the marks on the system— everything and everyone apart from me.

Blaming UPSC or someone else only gave me a false sense of satisfaction, made me feel good about myself, and did not in anyway help my cause. Thus, instead of wallowing in self-pity and victimhood, I decided to own up to my failures and accepted that I failed because I didn’t deserve. Once I had accepted this, the inner voice that was so adamantly justifying my failings simply faded away.

The break helped me see that my failure was not that I couldn’t clear in previous attempts, but that I had learnt nothing from it. Year after year I kept repeating the same mistakes. I toiled hard, but hardly made any progress: I was running on a ground that was fast shifting beneath me.

*****

In December 2016, eight months after my debacle, I sat down to think hard and think deep to understand why I failed. It was not an exercise to avenge my defeat, I just wanted to know why.

Prelims couldn’t have been a problem— I always got a good score. Personality test was ruled out too: in the only interview I had given, I got 204. The conclusion was inevitable— I sucked at Mains. It stood like an impenetrable wall against which I had been hitting my head all these years. So I drilled deeper to diagnose my problem.

I downloaded toppers’ answer booklets and invested endless hours going through them. After a while, one thing became evident: Their answers weren’t in any way extraordinary (If you see my answers now, you’d realise the same). I zeroed in on the fact that it wasn’t because of lack of knowledge, and that my failings lay elsewhere.

My optional scores were a big problem too. I’ve always felt my optional Public Administration was treated unfairly. But this time I faulted no one, and I had to do something about it.

In Jan 2017, I decided to take up Anthropology. It was a bold decision: I hardly had 9 months to prepare an entirely new subject. On the other hand, I loved Anthro and it ignited my spirits and breathed intellectual fire into my otherwise dull preparation cycle.

Against that thick, impenetrable wall in front of me, now I had a small chisel. The challenge was daunting, but I kept reminding myself a quote from the film Shawshank Redemption: “Time and pressure. That’s all it really takes.”

I’ve always believed that Sports represent a microcosm of our lives and I’ve taken inspiration from many athletes. Roger Federer’s resurgence in 2017 couldn’t have come at a better time. I kept telling myself: After being written off by everyone, if he could come back and win it at 36, why can’t I?

*****

In July 2017, I enrolled at the ForumIAS academy for GS and Essay mains test series (online mode) and wrote my first test on 26-08-2017. I timed the clock, took the test from my home and wrote all answers at my usual writing speed. In a paper I took 3 hr 42 minutes to finish, I scored 87. The problem was clear as daylight.

I didn’t lose heart but worked to improve. The next test took me 3 hr 20 min; and finally by the end of 4th test, I could finish my papers within 3 hours.

The comments and assessment on my papers from ForumIAS mentors were incredibly helpful. I worked on their feedback to improve my answer content and presentation. Also, during this time I came across Forum user Prajit Nair’s answer booklets and they were absolute gold. I adapted my writing style based on his answers. Points over paragraphs, simplicity over sophistication. Overtime, I’ve learnt to put dense, quality content in fewer words and tighter sentences.

All through this rigorous exercise, my aim was not to clear the exam with a top rank (it never really occurred to me), but to prove a point to myself that I am not a loser at this exam. The battle was intensely personal.

And so I practised and practised hard. On workdays I used to take out at least 3 hrs for preparation, and on weekends I slogged by the sweat of my brow.

Just before my Mains exam in Oct 2017, securing a top rank was never on mind. The immediate, burning goal in front of me was only this: in those 3 hours, for those 20 questions, I’ll answer and answer them well.

Which I did. When I walked out of that examination hall on Nov 3, 2017, I knew I gave my best shot.

*****

When the final results were declared on April 27, 2018, the immediate feeling I had was one of overwhelming disbelief. No one expects to top the exam, especially after failing so many times.

It’s only after sometime that the gravity of the accomplishment finally sinks in. And when it did finally sink in for me, I was slowly overtaken by a feeling that was much more precious. The emotion wasn’t one of ecstasy, but one of contentment. It was a feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction that I had won this personal battle.

After my results, when I went back to my hometown, I had people who came up to me, pulled me close, cupped my face in their hands and told me that they are so overwhelmed with joy as if their own son has topped this exam. The happiness I sensed seeing their faces is much much more than what I had felt on the day of my results. And in that moment I told myself this: all the effort, all the pain and all the suffering was well worth it.

Today, at the end of my UPSC journey, I stand with a firm newfound belief: when you own your failures, you become a better person. And when you work hard to overcome them, you win. And win big.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

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113 thoughts on “My UPSC Journey: From Despair to Destiny

  1. SIr if possible please upload sample answersheet for essay and gs which you feel are closest to what you wrote in exam

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for the wishes.

    Before I write a detailed post on that, my brief thoughts on the subject:

    1. Many aspirants preparing with job already have an inferior complex that since they can’t put in 12 hrs a day, somehow their preparation is substandard. Erase such mindset. So I accepted that I was working and that I couldn’t change it, so instead of complaining I took it up as challenge and always strove to do my best in the limited time I got. Mindset is crucial.

    2. Have a dedicated plan ready for weeks and months ahead. See the syllabus and divide it into topics. Now based on the time you can put in per week: with job, I assume you can dedicate a total of 15 hours on 5 weekdays + total of 20-24 hrs on weekend. Make a chart of how many topics you can finish by this week, by this month etc. And always stick to these plans. It’s these small targets that will ensure that you finish the syllabus on time.

    3. While on the go, use Mobile to read or listen to current affairs.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wow Seriously you have gone through a battle ,Your Hard work gave you Such a unexpected results Sir .Congratulations sir 💐.Need your guidance to clear these exams.

    Like

  4. Congratulations Mr. Durishetty. Your blog posts are really helpful. It’d be great if you can write something about preparing alongside a job. You too were working when you gave your final attempt. So, working professionals like me would really appreciciate if you can tell us about your experience.

    Like

  5. Inspring bro…journey begins now….may you acheive greater heights and contribute towards society….you made interesting point about primary education system in one of ur interviews…..very valid…focus on it bro…good luck…..

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hey Anudeep its really inspirational for me … i was remember dat day when i saw u first tym while u r giving MOCK in HSC in Feb 2018. I just thought u will Top the exam and mam also appreciated u..finally u topped the exam…but i could not make it in final list.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Amazed by the fire inside you. Many good things from the write-up to takeaway for many of us!

    Congratulations! All the very best for your future endeavours 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Congratulations from a telugite in USA. Three cheers for your valor and achievement. What do you think your way forward ? You recon you can take the same determination and zeal into the job after this mammoth success and worship you are commanding from different corners of the society ? Please share your thought process at this point of your life.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Sir, Congratulations!! I’ve not prepared well enough for Mains and I’m appearing for Prelims on 3 June. Should I take this attempt seriously or else what should I learn.
    Regards.

    Like

  10. Hello Anudeep, the story is really inspiring, you just showed the world that failure is not the end and success is the result of hardwork. You just motivated me to work hard towards achieving the same goal that you too dreamt. Hope i’ll achieve it soon. Being from the same district and also a distant relative of yours, hope to meet you soon one day.

    Like

  11. We all confront challenges, it’s the mindset that helps us face them. It only takes one attempt to get a top rank. So having two is not an impediment. Give your best and you shall win your personal battle, too.

    My best wishes!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Since everyone’s busy giving Prelims, it would make more sense if I pen down detailed Anthropology strategy after Jun 3 so that more aspirants get to read it.

    It will be up soon.

    Like

  13. In the words of the great man himself, “If you believe you can go really far in your life…. – RF.”
    You believed. You achieved.
    As a fellow Fed fan I felt so proud reading this blog. You have not just idolized him but have taken a leaf out his book and emulated your idol as well. You are a true champion coz you didn’t give up!
    Roger would be proud of you if he knew his resurgence fired you up!!
    Also…your humility is a gift, treasure it! You are so grounded despite attaining such height of success that it’s inspiring!
    Congratulations bhaiya on your amazing feat. And all the best for the services. This country needs people like you!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Hey saw your interview in etv n wanted to convey this.. U r really different from all the other toppers. Everyone say they chose this to do service but that zeal of doing service is honestly visible only in few people n u r one among those few….Prestige garland of UPSC is being embedded with diamond because of u…( it look magnanimous)
    Thanks a lot for sharing your story.. It is indeed inspiring for all of us aspirants..

    Like

  15. That was an amazing and a golden journey Anna….u proved again that THE HARD WORK NEVER FAILS…..soo glad to u …..

    Like

  16. Firstly congratulations sir for your great success ..you are such a big inspiration for the youth . I m regularly following your intrviews nd blogs .I m being inspired alot from your journey…hope i can with connect u n ll get a chance to overcome my passion of UPSC in ur proper guidance …

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Congratulations!! Not just for acing the most coveted exam but for not giving up and fighting till you won that personal war. And thanks a lot for writing this one.

    ” I realised that life was slowly drifting away, and I didn’t want to standby as a mere spectator”

    There, this is where I am right now and can’t put it in better words. Already too late to start my UPSC journey with hardly 2 real chance before age beats me to it. Thanks for those words…. After all its a personal war….One that I am not ready to let go without a fight 🙂

    You seems someone who is honest to yourself and that’s the kind of inspiration the world needs …. Wish you all the very best.

    From a Nadal fan ( and a RM fan too :/ )

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Hi Anudeep ,
    Firstly ,heartiest Congratulations to u..I have gone through your article and i have found it very much interesting n it was kinda motivational…your journey has inspired n encouraged me a lot. I m a BA.LLB.pre-final yr student and i will be preparing for UPSC xm in the upcoming yrs..So kindly do let me know the proper booklist required for Prelims n Mains s well which would be helpful for me to go through it… Lastly Thank you for guiding the UPSC Aspirants n i appreciate u for ur success..you have showed us dt struggles n failures can nly lead a man to reach his achievement goals.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Hi Anudeep,

    I have read your article. I am going through the same despair stage you have gone through. I have given three mains with little improvement in GS Marks(290, 356 and 350). I have improved in Anthropology optional paper I but I am unable score more than 125 in Anthropology paper II. Could you please suggest some improvements I need to make in my preparation?

    Like

  20. sir thank you for providing such a great material to us i doesnt even know how many many subjects are included and what materials to and how to start preparation with i just cant plan a dam please sir kindly tell me detailedly about this topic when your free please sir

    Liked by 2 people

  21. I am an diploma student. I am poor at history. I want to become ias.Now I want to study b.tech. is it necessary to concentrate on ias or academics?

    Like

  22. This is the exact problem I faced too. The only way you overcome is to put a timer and practice writing consistently. First see how many words you are able to write in a minute and then keep improving. You can sacrifice your neatness a little to write faster.

    Regarding thinking, you should take a proper test series and write atleast 10-15 tests before Mains. Once you do those many questions, your brain is automatically wired to think faster even as you write.

    Like

  23. First of all congrats sir! Your journey is truly inspiration to all of us(IAS aspirants). Thanks for taking such a initiative for guiding IAS aspirants. Can you plz guide me how to prepare for mains.

    Like

  24. Hats off…
    You adapted yourself completely… That’s why you aced…
    One thing I must say that your way of expression is just amazing… I mean its pure and so clear…

    Liked by 1 person

  25. It was so inspiring sir.You have proved that Failure is the stepping stone to success.Thanks for taking such a initiative for guiding IAS aspirants.Keep inspiring…

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Respected sir can you please tell me the name of student who got provisional rank 51 in 2017 result. And what is the meaning of provisional rank.

    Like

  27. Sir your words are truly magic for all aspirants who toil everyday. Sooner or later we will definitely win over our shortcomings. Keep writing!! Wish you all very best in life!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Dear sir,
    Well , many many heart felt wishes for u , u r ordinary man with extraordinary patience that renders u to be on top and well wishes for all ur future merit wants !!!!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  29. Sir, I am attending for Brahmakumari for meditation in Vidya Nagar, Hyderabad. But they conduct only weekly once and ask the learners to practice whole week. This is not working for me. Could you please tell me which meditation center you attend. In case, you self-learn, could you please share the resources.

    Like

  30. Thanks a lot for sharing your experience and your journey sir.
    Namaskaram sir🙏.
    Meeru ilage motivate chestu and maku guidance isthuntarani korukuntunnanu. Mee follower(PRASHANTH) who even don’t know about ‘abcd’ of upsc exam.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Great!@nudeep!
    Can u suggest how to improve on writing speed? When I start writing something ,I take too much time to think in order to come up with something different so that my answer will hv a nice start…and in that way I waste a lot of time !
    How to overcome this tendency n improve the writing speed??
    I hope you will help :/…??

    Like

  32. You are truly an inspiration for me.. your whole journey gives each and everyone encouragement who are going through the same phase of life .. “From rejection to acceptance” this line itself depicts the pains you have taken for becoming an IAS officer.. well done.. 👍😊

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Anu, such a beautiful journey it was, from rejection to acceptance and from self battle to a country’s success !! Your inner self is kept out to us through this post, thank you so much for this inspiring write-up. Your journey is eternal and your success is an example for persuing any dream. While I was reading, it ignited my self and gave a boost to achieve my goals. Thank you for everything. All the best for another exciting and challenging phase of your life. Keep smiling 😄

    Liked by 1 person

  34. An evocative write up worth motivating,Sir.So delighted to see the fleeting reference of Shawshank Redemption in this article.(It really did put me in awe as I was expecting a line on ‘Poor but spirited in Karimnagar’,the ofted book in your interview articles.This Morgan Freeman movie teaches a commendable fact that hope is not at all a bad thing and your victory saga exemplifies this.Keep writing and stirring,spirited souls.Best wishes and Regards,Sir.

    Liked by 2 people

  35. congratulations sir, u are a real inspiration for me, the way you wrote your story came as if i was reading one of lee child’s thriller nothing to lose and you are jack reacher, i am really very much inspired by you sir, a hearty congratulations once again!!

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Hats off sir… What an incredible journey… It gave me lots of motivation and m thankful to you sir that u have come forward to help aspirants by sharing your experience… This will definitely give us great boost to crack this exam….

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Mr. Durishetty, you write so well. I can almost imagine this being read aloud to me, it’s deeply personal and comforting. May you continue to weave magic with your words!
    You’ve been so humble in your defeat and gracious in your victory. A mark of an extraordinary gentleman. God speed.
    A well wisher from Bhoal

    Liked by 1 person

  38. First of all , a very big congratulation to you on your great success …………….then thankyou so much for this blog ,it will be really a good start for all the IAS aspirants

    Liked by 1 person

  39. You proved that , Failure is the pillar of success . You’re such an inspiration . Your words really touched within.

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Sir, yours is an extraordinary story – one that has fuelled me with inspiration. The inner turmoil you went through & your subsequent satisfaction post results, was palpable through the words you’ve penned so meticulously!
    We have something in common, our unflinching love & utmost reverence for Roger Federer (and Barcelona!!!). I hope that soon enough I can have another thing in common with you – a rank in CSE. Thank you for sharing your story. It’ll help so many aspirants out there who are battling their own demons everyday.
    And a huge huge congratulations once again! It’s an incredible achievement!!
    Looking forward to your blog – you write so well 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  41. Thank you so much for coming forward to help ppl with you tips and guidance.

    Really inspired by you! Hope one day I will be working with you. Cheers ! Looking forward for your further updates.

    Liked by 1 person

  42. Sir I am really very very motivated from you and I will
    be trying follow your every guideline in preparation of UPSC exam but I am Hindi midium student startly.so please sir guide me through your website.Thanks sir

    Liked by 3 people

  43. Indeed..it was very helpful in understanding how to tackle failure and get back refreshed.
    Thank you so much….

    Liked by 2 people

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