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Thursday, 25 September 2014

Life is a marathon; keep running - Ask our Counsellor Q&A Column

[The following column written by me was published in Deccan Herald Education Supplement on September 25, 2014]
Dear Madam
My son is in the 8th standard. He is intelligent, smart and loving. However, he is a little stubborn and unwilling to accept failure in anything, including games. If reprimanded, he shows his unhappiness through anger, back answering etc. He does not have any inclination to systematic studies and is not keen to work seriously on anything. He almost always depends on what he has heard in the first instance in class, his intelligence and general information to deal with his subjects. He prefers to glance through his books. He likes music, books, general knowledge, sports and technology. I am not comfortable about pushing him in anything, including studies, but I do not want him to be irresponsible. We sent him to an alternative school but it did not work out. Is there anything that he can take up according to his inclination — something in art, drama, music — and come back to formal studies as and when he feels like it? If he finds a career that supports him for a reasonable living, we will be more than happy.
A Parent

Dear Parent
I do not have any input on types of schools and options for alternative careers and courses. I do have a question for you though, and that is around your hesitation to guide him, steer him and may be even push him a little bit. I get the sense that you feel there is something wrong in doing that. I believe that children need to know that there is someone in control who will let them fly on auto-pilot, but is there for a course correction as soon as it is needed. Children need to know that someone is in control to hold them if things don’t go right; that someone is there to show them the path if they need it; that someone is there to tell them when they are doing wrong. Otherwise how do they learn to differentiate right from wrong; good from bad? It is all very well to let them discover their path, but with the knowledge that should they stray too far away, someone will bring them back, rather than let them get lost in the jungle. So why are you afraid of holding the parental reins, and maybe tugging at them when needed? This is something for you to think about. As for your son, I would need to hear from him in order to be able to help him find his motivation. All the best.

Dear Madam,
I am a PUC student (PCMB). I am not able to concentrate on studies and I get distracted very easily. I sometimes get bored of studying and ask myself, ‘For what do we have to study — is it just for 3 meals a day?’ I cycle to my college, which is about 5 km from home, and also to tuitions. Even though I have nutritious food, cycling makes me very tired and therefore I need about 8 to 9 hours of sleep. Due to this, I am not able to study daily and the portions pile up. I get worried when a friend says that he gets up at 3 am and is able to study because I am not able to. During exams my hands and feet sweat a lot. I am basically a slow writer and cannot complete the paper within the specified time. My Maths lecturer says it is necessary to study at least 5 hours in 2nd PUC. What can I do to overcome the above problem?

Dear Vinayak
You need to find your own motivation and reasons to study, as well as your own method of studying that works for you. Don’t worry about how much the others are studying and what your teachers are saying. You need to figure out for yourself how much you need to do. It is not about studying for 5-6 hours, or about getting up at 3 am. All of that is useless if you are not concentrating and focusing on what you need to do. One hour of focused work may actually be better than 6 hours of distracted time-pass. I have written a lot in this column on the issue of exam anxiety and I would urge you to read the article on “Demystifying Exam Anxiety” on my blog
You are raising some fundamental questions about why we need to study, and I think that if you are able to answer that question for yourself (because each one’s reasons for the need to study will be, and should be, different), you will find the motivation that will help you to focus and concentrate. The studying for the exams is only the path to a larger goal. It is not your goal. So discover your goal and getting onto the path will become easier and more enjoyable.
All the best.

Dear Madam, 
I read your column regularly. I am a 2nd year PCMB student. I had become very lethargic and was out of track from studies till January. From February, I started working really hard as I had a lot of syllabus to complete. I had high expectations of myself. My first paper was Chemistry. I was quite well prepared for my exams. I do not have the tendency to forget answers during the exams. But this time, I forgot most of the answers and did not do my Chemistry paper well. I was very depressed. Due to this I became seriously ill and I could not do the other papers. My ambition is to do MBBS. Now I have wasted a year. I secured 92% in SSLC. I was the college topper in 1st PUC. Due to this incident my confidence level has gone down. My family members are very supportive and have asked me to wait patiently for a year and take up higher-level medical entrance exams like AIIMS. But I feel I wasted one year due to foolishness. Please help me

Dear M S
Many of us make mistakes, and many of us fail at various things that we try to do. That is a reality. But whether we let that failure define us as a total failure, or we use that failure as an opportunity to learn from our mistakes, is our choice. You need to be able to put things in perspective. Yes, you may have lost a year. But in the totality of life, one year is but a small percentage. And if that year has taught you lessons in life, if on nothing else but on how to deal with failure, and how to view failure, then it may even be a year well spent.
So don’t worry about failures in your path. They are mere obstacles on your running track. You may trip over them, but you need to get up and run again, because life is not a sprint, but a marathon. Life is not about winning the race, but about running it well and finishing it. And in this marathon run, the fact that you have a supportive family that is not putting you down for your poor performance is a blessing you must not lose sight off. Be thankful for what you have, and just focus on the long haul. A small obstacle along the path should be viewed as just that – a small obstacle, not a giant boulder.Good luck!

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