Last weekend I finally watched the acclaimed film, 12th Fail, by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, on an OTT platform. And as it usually happens, after I have watched a moving film, I decided to look up the Internet to learn more about the characters in the story. But instead of the protagonist Manoj Kumar Sharma, it was his friend Pritam Pandey (essayed by actor Anant V Joshi) that I googled first. Sharma’s grit and determination in the face of repeated challenges is an inspiring story to tell, but Pandey’s decision to quit the civil services pursuit in order to begin a new journey as a journalist is an equally important tale to highlight. This is relevant especially for parents like me, whose young children are still unexposed to the world of cut-throat competition.
Quitting has never been a positive word. It is often shadowed by dejection, heartbreak and the much-dreaded word, ‘failure’. Whether in sports, movies, politics or business, we often hear our heroes talk about ‘never giving up’. Winners never quit, we hear again and again, and quitters never win. But is quitting akin to failing? On the contrary, as author and former professional poker champion, Annie Duke, argues, “Quitting can sometimes be strategic success… . Winners quit a lot. They quit all the things that aren’t worthwhile so that they can stick to the things that are,’ she said in an interview.
In the movie, Pritam Pandey’s character is shown to be repeatedly failing the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) preliminary exam. To become an officer in the administrative service was his father’s dream, and by the final attempt, he realises that in order to be truly happy he must quit the road he is on to follow his own dream. Did that make him a failure? Nagpur-based counsellor, Vijayshree Bajaj, says that success and failure is subjective, and “to quit a path can be a healthy option”. “My mantra is: choose your battle wisely. It is important to explore, but don’t push yourself to the edge. In the case of the character Pritam Pandey, the realisation that he should explore his options is good (decision),” she adds.
Every year, lakhs of students appear for different competitive examinations in India. What happens to the rest, who don't crack these? Some continue their journey and reappear for the exam, while others choose to take a different route. Career counsellor and counselling psychologist Meenu Bhargava states that entrance examinations such as Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) is “more about elimination rather than selection”. “I always tell students that it’s not their fault that there are such limited seats and so many aspirants. But there are other options available that they can explore which are suitable to their interest and potential,” says Bhargava, who is based in Gurugram.
In this context, my struggles as a mother to a nine-year-old are limited to the park or the school. Until recently, my daughter would refuse to participate in a game or do a task after doing a quick assessment of her chances of success. No amount of pep talk would make her change her mind. Until I changed my stance and started asking her to try, and then decide whether to continue or give up. So, while the ultimate decision still rests on her, I am happy that that decision to quit or stay with an activity is based on her actual experience.
While quitting may not always be a bad choice, impulsive decisions should be avoided, says Upasana Raina, director, human resource and marketing communication, GI Group Holding India. “Leaving a job strategically can become a catalyst for success if the reason for quitting is aligned with long-term goals, embracing new challenges and acquiring new skills,” she says. Daljeet Singh, director of the All India Management Association, adds that the decision to quit, when looked at from a larger perspective, can be read as, ‘I need to re-plan, re-strategise and put my energy in something else, in a more structured manner’.
None of it is easy, of course. Apart from societal pressure, peer pressure and now, an image to uphold on social media, the stress of ‘failure’ can anyone to the edge. The story of Pritam Pandey, who chose to give up one path in order to pursue a different course, is therefore crucial. “Two attempts—that’s what I tell students—and if you don’t crack an exam, go for something else,” says Bhargava, “A rabbit cannot fly but if you let him run, he will win the race. So, it’s important to remember that there are many options available.”
Azera Parveen Rahman is a writer currently based in Bhuj, Gujarat.