As I sit on this hot and humid June evening, I’m reminiscing about the experiences of the last couple of years, which have been tough and definitely far from ideal. But without those experiences, I would never have been what I am today. When I left my previous job in December, 2011 to study for my CA Final exams to be held in May, 2012, I thought that my journey of becoming of Chartered Accountant was near its sweet end. But what I failed to realise was that life rarely went according to plan. In those months of study leave, I barely studied and as a result, failed.
Since I had been working continuously for a good part of the previous five years, spending six months from January to June in the confines of the four walls of my home was torturous. Someone rightly said that “an empty mind is a devil’s workshop”, and I had learnt firsthand the kind of havoc an empty mind could create. In those circumstances, just working somewhere was a priority, as I realised that it was important to use my time productively. In early July, 2012 I got a call to join a reputed Steel Manufacturing Company, as a part of the Treasury Department. When I got this opportunity to start afresh, I promptly grabbed it without any reluctance. This attitude is something which has remained with me ever since, because of which I consider my job as something I want to do and not something which I am supposed to do. In short, while there are some days when I would rather bunk office and sit at home, I would not consider quitting my job no matter how boring, tough or monotonous it may become.
When I joined the company after clearing an interview, the first couple of months were easy, but it was only after six months that the challenges began to mount. I was assigned a new area about which I knew nothing. During that time I had also appeared for my CA exams once again, hoping that I could get through. But I had to taste failure as I failed again. This time, my attitude towards the failure was completely different. When I had given my first attempt, I knew that I would fail, because I had not studied at all, but this time I thought I had studied and had expected to pass. So the result came as a shock to me. I was depressed for several days and wondered whether I would ever pass or not. A thought going on in my mind in those days was, “will I always pursue Chartered Accountancy and never become a Chartered Accountant?” That failure together with the tough work environment really challenged me. However, after a few days, when the sadness went away and I could think straight, I realised that I had not studied well enough even though I thought that I had. Chartered Accountancy being a professional examination requires a lot more effort than a University exam like BCom, and as I had not put in that amount of effort, it was natural that I would not succeed. I believe that was the turning point in my professional and academic career. I had failed numerous times before in CA exams, but no failure had hurt the way this one did. And when failure hurts, one out of the two things happen, you either follow on the path you had set out on, or you quit. As I knew that I could do better, I decided to give it another shot and registered for one Group, which comprises of four papers. By then, most of my friends from school and college had become Chartered Accountants and I was one of the few people left in my batch still pursuing the course. At times, this feeling of not clearing the exam filled me with sadness and jealousy.
The months from February to April 2013 were one of the toughest of my life. I had to leave home at quarter to nine in the morning and on an average, I used to work in Office till eight. After reaching home, I would have dinner and study till about one o’clock. The next day, I would get up at six and study till about eight after which I would get ready for office. The first few days of this routine were tough, and I cribbed my fair share, but later, I settled into the groove and the schedule became second nature to me.
Normally while appearing for one Group of a CA exam, one would get at least two months of study leave. However, as I was working in a high pressure job with heavy workload, I had only ten days of leave. Some of my friends told me to quit the job and spend the time studying. However, as I had done the same thing in the past, I knew that it would not work out well for me. At the same time, there were others who went a step further and told me to stop thinking about CA for the next two years and instead concentrate on the job. Initially, all these advises disturbed me, but as the time passed, I learnt to deal with it. I believe that is better to deal with our detractors tactfully rather than wasting our energy in trying to convince them of the merits of our plan.
The first paper didn’t go well and I missed thirty marks. Even though I felt bad about that momentarily, I didn’t let that deter me. I would study for about 18 hours for the remaining exams, not letting any stone go unturned, even if it meant that I would become sleepy while writing the paper. That was my third attempt and somewhere in my mind I knew that this was a make or break attempt. I had a feeling that if I didn’t clear that time, it would damage my confidence irreversibly. Inspite of that, my focus was not on passing, but instead it was on putting the most amount of effort I could. During those six days, I was focused only on revising the portion before the exam began. In the previous attempt, I had failed because I had not studied well a day before the exam. This time, I didn’t want to repeat the same mistake.
On the day of the results, I was surprisingly calm. When the results were declared, my father called me up and told me that I had passed. I required 200 marks to pass and luckily, I got exactly 200. I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. That examination was a litmus test as to whether I could succeed in a professional examination.
To be honest, I felt more relieved than happy as I realised that I was on the right path, and that if I continued doing what I had done before I would succeed. But fortunately or unfortunately, life is a collection of peaks and troughs. As I had succeeded in the examination when everybody thought I could not, it made me feel overconfident. I became cocky and did not study well for the last Group (which comprises of four subjects) and as a result, I failed. That attempt was historic in many ways as the passing percentage was only 3%. Such a low passing percentage, though common in the 1980’s and 1990’s, was something my peers were not used to, as since 2008, the passing percentage has been hovering between 10 to 30%. My performance was dismal as I failed to pass in a single subject. Once again, I had to taste the bitter medicine called failure. Unlike the last time when I had failed, my reaction this time was of acceptance as I knew that given my inadequate efforts, I did not deserve to pass. So for not the first time in my academic career, I had to give an exam a second time
Before joining my current job, I was impatient, irritable, hot tempered, looked for the easy way out and gave up easily. However, the experiences of the past years have taught me to work hard, control my temper and most importantly, to never give up. Every time we don’t succeed in an endeavour, we tend to point fingers at a particular person or event to deflect the blame for our failure. When I had passed one part of my examination in my third attempt, I analysed as to why I had succeeded. I realised that I had barely four to five hours of the day for studying and I also had a job which required me to spend at least ten hours at the workplace. It then struck me that the difference from the events in the past was that I was mentally prepared to do the dirty work.
One of the most overused excuses we have when we fail in our endeavours is the claim that we didn’t have enough time. The difference between successful people and the unsuccessful ones is that the former are willing to put in the effort required of them instead of worrying about the supposed lack of time or cribbing about other unfavourable conditions. When I gave my first attempt of CA Final in May 2012, I had four months to study – January to April. However, instead of studying, I wasted my time watching television and videos on the internet. I make no bones about the fact that I failed because I was lazy. The prospect of sitting in one place and studying for hours on end terrified me. The fear of not understanding what I was studying also increased my fear factor. I believe that everybody has fear, but the people who end up being successful are the ones who are able to control their fears and not let their fears control them.
Another thing I learnt during my experiences was that one must not pray for getting something like passing an examination or getting a promotion. I analysed that if I had passed in May 2012 when I knew I had not studied well, I may have been selected in a much higher position than what I have today and there would have been numerous people answerable to me. On the flip side, these very people would ask me their doubts and queries expecting me to answer them, by virtue of me being in a higher position. As I would then have been sans the required knowledge and experience, I would not have been in a position to answer those queries, thus degrading my impression. But now, because I have worked at a lower level for the past two years, I have learnt things in a more detailed manner and hence, am in a good position to guide my colleagues, should the need arise.
One more important thing I have learnt is that we won’t achieve or get anything before the right time. I realised that whenever I have failed in an examination, it was not only because I didn’t study well, but also because I would not have been able to handle the success. Looking in hindsight, if I had passed in May 2012 or the subsequent examination, it would have filled me with a sense that it is not necessary to work hard to achieve something. That would have given me a wrong message. CA is not the only exam which I will have to face in my life.
Success is not guaranteed in every situation. There will obviously be times when we would fail. When approaching a problem or challenge, instead of worrying about the outcome, it is always better if we go in with an attitude of giving our best. At the end, that is the only thing that is really in our hands. For example, we may say that we want to pass an examination. Actually the only thing in our control is to study and answer the questions in the paper. After we finish writing, our paper goes into the hands of the examiner. How many marks we will get will also depend on what state of mind the corrector is in. If he or she is in a bad mood because of some domestic or other problems, they may not be able to concentrate fully on the answer written by us. Alternatively, they may also have a mandate to pass only a certain percentage of the applicants. In that situation, if the envisaged passing percentage is low, our chances of passing will diminish no matter how well we have written our answers, as it is possible that we may not get the benefit of the doubt. It may also happen that the invigilator may lose our papers, in which case all our efforts will add up to naught even if the mandate is to be lenient in correction of the papers. All these issues encompass what we are inclined to call ‘luck’, which is indubitably not in our hands.
Knowing all such things really helped me as I could control the controllables and not ponder about things which were outside my control. To be honest, the thought of the result of my actions did cross my mind, but I tried my level best not to obsess about them. In hindsight, I believe that failure has been one of the best things to have happened in my life. It was like a bitter medicine needed by a sick patient in order to become healthy again. Failure was the kick which woke me up from my slumber. It silenced my ego and mellowed my temper. It made me do things which I didn’t believe I could do, made me push myself beyond my self-imposed limits. It made me look for a solution, instead of cribbing about the problem. There will no doubt be many more battles in my life and it is unrealistic to assume that I will end up victorious all the time. There will be times when I will fail. In those situations, I wish to not take success to my head and failure to my heart.
We imagine ourselves to be the agents of our destiny, capable of determining our own fate. But have we truly any choice in when we rise or fall? What is the optimum mix between hard work and luck which ensures that we end up victorious? The secret to success has been debated for centuries on end without a unanimously agreeable answer. To sum up, I will give a quote from a song sung by the Irish Band ’The Dubliners’. “Don’t give up till it’s over, don’t quit if you can. The weight on your shoulders will make you a stronger man. Grasp your nettle tightly, though it will burn. Treat your failures lightly, your luck is bound to turn.”