Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Civil Services and a Job – Chasing your dreams while working: Mittali Sethi AIR 56, UPSC CSE 2016


Civil Services and a Job – Chasing your dreams while working

Mittali Sethi AIR 56, UPSC CSE 2016


To read Mittali Sethi’s Previous Article, click here

I work from 9 to 5 in my office. I have to work to be financially independent. I have to work to support my family. I am too old to study anyway. So many people are sitting at home and studying, it is not even possible for me to do this.


I work from 9 to 5 in my office. So actually I value my time so much more. I should have less anxiety, less insecurity since I am financially independent. I have people around who I can talk to when I need to. I am old, and therefore, I comprehend and understand a perspective in a much mature way. I know other people are sitting at home, but I have my strong points, and I must focus on them.”


If there was to be a short version of this article, the difference between the thought processes above is all one needs to observe, understand and adopt – if one is preparing for the Civil Service Examination(CSE) with a job.


In the last few days, every third query email that I read asks me the same question – Can it be done with a job? So I thought this is a very pertinent question, especially since the age limit is increased now, and many working professionals want to write the exam. Since I cleared the exam while in a job, here are a few things I want to put across:


  1. The first thing that I need everyone to understand is that with Civil services, each person’s starting point, motivation and journey is different. Please don’t compare yourself to anyone else.You have to stop looking for a “perfect strategy” because there is none. Someone might be really bad in Geography, what purpose would it solve if that person follows someone and over-reads Art and Culture? While you listen to anyone – including me – don’t ever forget the uniqueness of your own journey. And have faith in that uniqueness.
  2. Handling the family is another issue that is very important. This is especially true for those who are married, those who live with families or are in a joint family and those who are a bit on the higher side in terms of age. A lot of times it is not the immediate family, but the relatives who play games with our mindset – please avoid them. You need to keep your own immediate family on the right side of this – if you are a husband or a wife, make sure your significant other understands your central beliefs, and your larger purpose in life. Make sure your parents don’t feel left out on your time with them, but refuse to attend or take part in useless and pretentious ceremonies. You will have to be okay with offending a few people for your own principles. I faced a lot of flak for coming out of my own “family group” of WhatsApp, for not attending the “very important” weddings, but I did not budge. It is important to have less people around you who love and support you unconditionally. Those are the ones who will keep you grounded if you fly high and pull you up if you fall. Less is more, here.
  3. A special note to the ladies, here. Being a female myself, I can understand that females have a unique set of challenges in front of them when they decide to take up the exam – and if you are married or working – it is a double challenge. There is always an additional pressure of having a child if you don’t have one already. Based on the emails I received – both ends of the problem exist. Housewives are equally anxious and insecure about taking the exam. If you fall in these categories – please don’t let anyone around you tell you that you cannot do this. You deserve a chance and don’t quit without having yours. Read Suruchi’s deeply inspiring story on Insights – she cleared the CSE 2016 exam with two children! Nothing else will make you believe that it is all in the mind.
  4. If you are working, you don’t have a few luxuries – and you need to have this in mind before you even begin this. Shut off social media – completely if you can. As a student of Psychology, I can tell you for sure that there are huge sub-conscious implications of social media. In Facebook and even in WhatsApp groups, you have to compulsorily, by virtue of being a part of them, witness a social life. It is generally said that if you are fat, don’t believe yourself that you will not eat a packet of chips – instead don’t buy one! It is the same here. If you have to be in these things for your job or any other practical reasons, then set strict timings. Use Apps which help you to switch phone off for a certain time. And please DON’T keep commenting needlessly in Disqus comments or Forum discussions. You not only waste your own time but also make finding meaningful stuff difficult for others. Bottomline is – if your preparation is compromised due to your job or family, don’t introduce one more distraction. Delayed gratifications, please.
  5. Many people who are working – by virtue of their anxiety are always looking for some motivation. I myself used to watch so many TED talks and get “inspired” – so to say. Then one day, my husband asked me if I actually work on what I learn from one video before I watch the next video. And since I stopped watching them, I realised the difference. The lessons are all out there – you know what you have to do! All you have to do is – as one of my teachers said – Shut up and actually do it. This is something I have said on my blog, and I repeat – Have the discipline – the habit will sustain you, motivation alone is useless. Adrenaline is the peak, what you need is a plateau. This is a long haul, my dear, build your plateaus.
  6. Know your strengths and I cannot stress this enough. Look at yourself objectively without personal attachment. Your age is your strength – if you are older, you have a perspective that is much more mature than a youngster. And no matter what anyone says – that is true if it works for you. You are in a job, it is your strength – you have a back up. Use that to calm your mind. You have taken the plunge – now don’t let stereotypes about the exam back you down. Understand your strengths. I knew that I am a teacher and if I could break down things for my students, I could extrapolate it to my own studies. I generally write, so I did not do a lot of writing practice before my exams (and this was when everyone around kept saying writing is very, very important no matter how much you know)- I used that time to read more. Your beliefs will make sense only to you and if they do – trust them, while you learn also from your mistakes.
  7. By all means, take short cuts. I could never take the notes out of Hindu – my job did not allow me to do so. And Kumar Ashirwad’s article last year was a boon where he mentioned how making notes out of newspaper is not worth it. And let me be honest here – there were many times when due to multiple reasons, I could not read newspaper everyday. But there are compilations – Insights makes an amazing collection of current affairs. If you have someone who is curating current affairs for you, why waste time? I used PT 365 of Vision freely to cover syllabus. I studied world history entirely from coaching notes – for a single question, you cannot have the luxury of reading Norman Lowe. Use the resources, study smartly and focus on spreading a wider net rather than diving deep.
  8. The most important thing is to believe that there is no difference between you and anyone else studying for the exam without a job. All you need for the exam is a basic knowledge and perspective of the issues surrounding you. Prelims is a factual exam, I agree. But over a certain threshold, your marks don’t matter as they aren’t counted anyway. For Mains, if you read current affairs everyday and think about them – make a personal view on them – that is enough. Factual Mains stuff can be read after Prelims. And if you include a simultaneous writing practice, a daily (quality) reading of 5-6 hours is enough. Use the weekends to compensate. Don’t allow the hope to drift away, and support it with disciplined hard work.
  9. If you have a few attempts with you, don’t be complacent, but also don’t give up. It might take some time for you to achieve what you want to – but don’t beat yourself up. Persist, persist!
  10. This is something that I don’t really have to say as I am sure everybody must be following it. Have a few leaves before the actual exam. It is important to be with yourself for a little while when you are going out there to test yourself against so many people. I took around two weeks before Prelims and a month before Mains. That was sufficient.
  11. Using micro opportunities is very important. At no point of time in my day was I found without some form of learning material. From my bathroom time to sometimes my dinner time, I used even 5 minutes to watch or read something. Also, use smart methods – I used to have tools in my laptop to watch videos at twice the speed. (If you need to learn how to do it, please drop a comment. Will let you know.)
  12. Compartmentalisation and cross learning of subjects is again, essential if you are in a job. As an orthodontist, my job and the syllabus had very little in common. But as a doctor, I understood health sector and reading about polity and economy helped me to relate health to them, and vice versa. I could think about transformational solutions in health because I now had a 360 degree view. See how working can become your strength in a given area? Use these strengths – you can really use them in your exam.


The most important thing, I believe is to never lose the enthusiasm. When I used to think of giving up, I would tell myself – “Anyway, what would you do after 5? Eat out, watch TV, be on Facebook. This is better, at least you are learning something!” That helped me always be enthusiastic about this with the least expectations. Focus on making the journey better and productive, and take this from someone who has gone through this – the goal will take care of itself. Oh, and by the way, your goal should not be UPSC or IAS. Your goal is to become a bit better each day – you are much larger than UPSC or any other organisation/institution. Your purpose is too small if UPSC is able to defeat it. Don’t allow that to happen – millions of people out there are counting on you!


P.S. I wrote the following article on my blog on how the battle of mind is the real battle here. I am hoping that this can be of some help.

If you need answers to anything else, please feel free to reach me at