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Friday, 24 September 2010

Why exams are nothing to worry about

[The following article written by me was published in Deccan Herald, Bangalore, on March 19, 2009]

The examination fever is on, and will be, for the next couple of months as students attend Board exams, entrance exams and semester exams. Much has been said about the pressure students face and how many of them succumb to that pressure in dysfunctional ways. And, it is not only the youngsters who face the pressure. Board parents (as a friend of mine calls herself) are also a stressed out lot – not knowing whether the pressure they are putting on their kids is enough, too little, or just too much!

Youngsters often feel too stressed, too overworked, too confused, too depressed or just unable to cope. I believe there is an urgent need to put exams in perspective, and to give some coping mechanisms and an alternative viewpoint, not often aired. And this has nothing to do with how or how much you study.

Break the wall

Sometimes teenagers feel unable to communicate with parents, teachers or friends, because they don’t want to pass on their worries to them. Or perhaps they feel they will not be understood, or maybe they feel ‘wrong’ about what they are thinking or feeling. They build walls around themselves  based on their own inhibitions and beliefs. They are unable to let themselves be vulnerable and ask for help. They try to project themselves as people they are not and therein lies the stress.

So the first step is to break down the walls you have built around yourself and let your ‘true’ self be known. Everyone has strengths, just as everyone has weaknesses. As you go along life’s journey you may discover many doors close in front of you. That is a part of life, no matter how disheartening and discouraging. But remember, for every door that closes another one opens. It is for you to discover and grab the ones that open.

When my husband was graduating from engineering college, he realized that his poor eyesight would not allow him to get past the medical test for entrance to the IITs. So he had to opt for a place that did not have medical tests as a part of their entrance procedure. One door closed, another opened. Then he realized that his eyesight would not allow him to get past the medical tests for getting a government job. So my husband had to make do with a job in a private sector company in the software R&D department.

A saviour’

He now heads one of the larger software companies in India. Instead of viewing his poor eyesight as a handicap, he regards it as a saviour – a saviour that saved him from the drudgery of a government job, to one that allowed him to blossom in the world of software. So the second step is to discover the doors that open, even in the most unexpected of ways.

Don’t let failure frighten you. Talking from my own experience, I was always amongst the top two students in my class. I did science in my twelfth and yet I did not sit for any of the engineering or medical entrance exams. Nor did I sit for the MBA entrance exams. And the only explanation I can offer, as I think back on my life, is that I was so used to success, I did not have the guts to face failure. Better not to take the exams, than to fail and having to say that I did not get through! That is patently a losing proposition.

So the third step is to not let failure frighten you. Failure is an event, not a person. You may fail in an exam but that does not mean you failed as a person. And this refers to all kinds of failures in life.

When you view it as one passing event in life rather than your whole life, you are able to move on. Now, this may be contrary to what parents and teachers say – they probably say that failure is not an option.

And, you must not view it as an option as that allows you to get complacent. But, you must learn to view it in the perspective of your life. In your life (with an average lifespan of 75 years), the one month of exams is a mere fraction of the 900 months that you will live; a mere 4 weeks of the 328,500 that you will go through. While going through a struggle, the struggle seems to be your whole life. Stepping away and viewing it from the distance, in the perspective of your whole life, somehow makes it seem less daunting and more manageable. That’s the fourth step.

Final step

I just have one final step. It is the job of our parents and teachers and other adults in our life to push us. All of us benefit from that push and many would not have achieved half of what they did, had it not been for their well-wishers pushing them (or nagging them, depending on how you look at it). Many successful people attribute their success to the constant push they got at home. However, if you feel the push is too much and counterproductive, it is your responsibility to break down the walls we talked about and let them know. It is your responsibility to define space for your self. Take responsibility for your actions and inactions. Define the person you are, and arrive at your own definition of success. And if you need help, don’t forget to ask, and receive.

In conclusion, I would like to quote from an anonymous source, “Contrary to popular opinion, meaning is not discovered. It is not something lying around on life’s road waiting to be tripped over. One makes meaning” out of one’s life by connecting to a purpose larger than one self. In this case, however, the purpose of this article could very well be to prime myself up for when I am a board mom!

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