Friday, March 30, 2018

Crossing a Milestone: PMP March 2018

March 21 2018 was one of the biggest challenges I had to face. I finally came face to face with the dreaded PMP exam. I was one among the few appearing for the exam, which was the last day, last batch, and only opportunity to clear the certification before it moved into its next edition. 

A new edition means new chapters will be added and you need to prepare all over again, because the old materials are no longer valid. I knew that I was not prepared to go down that road again. 

I had been preparing on and off for well over a year. In between, I had my treks and two art exhibitions that I participated in. Add a solo holiday to that list and it probably makes you doubt your own capability to take the exam. However, with good planning, a ton of hard work, and a good support system, you can get through the tricky four hour exam with 200 questions spanning all the knowledge areas. 

Here are some lessons learnt from my experience:

1. If you are new to PMP like me, then a good training center that specializes in PMP training will be a huge boost. We were trained by Prozenics, which gave us an excellent trainer who made a dry subject interesting and humorous. You need this 32-36 PDUs compulsorily as part of the PMP eligibility.

2. Next, having a study group that invests time in preparing for the exam will set the pace for consistent preparation. For the first couple of months, my friends and I studied everyday diligently and discussed concepts.

3. Even before we started the discussion, one member took the lead and prepared the entire schedule for the PMP prep work including chapters to cover everyday, followed by tests and discussion time.

4. Choose a convenient time to sit together for the group discussion. Having a group discussion gives you different perspectives and thought processes. It is most likely that you will have to unlearn what you practice in your organisation and the real world and relearn what the PMP handbook states as standard practice and procedure. Also buy Rita's handbook, which gives detailed explanations and offers excellent test practice at the end of each chapter. A thorough understanding of concepts is extremely critical to clear the exam.

5. Continue with the group even if people move out over time. Infact, while most people in the group had left due to various reasons, my friend and I stuck on and kept learning. While he cleared the exam last year, I went on to clear it in the final week on the final day before the new edition commenced! He was an excellent mentor who patiently helped me understand difficult concepts and mathematical problems. So having a good mentor who keeps your morale high makes  a significant difference.

6. Most importantly, you must be willing to go the extra mile to up your ante. No amount of external motivation can match your internal need to achieve the goal. It changes your entire mindset.

7. Sitting through the exam is no joke. It requires tremendous mental resilience and focus. Take up as many 200 questions Question Bank as possible that simulates the final PMP exam for mental conditioning. At 100 questions, you may experience fatigue and lose concentration, which is normal. Hence consistent practice is essential.  

8. Initially, focus on reading the PMBOK and Rita thoroughly until you get a grip on the knowledge areas. I read each almost thrice and everytime, my learning curve improved.

Then start taking small tests of 20 or 30 to test your knowledge. Do not be embarrassed or disappointed with your scores. It only means that you need to discuss and understand the concepts better. 

On weekends, take up the 200 questions. Time all your exams. That is crucial - typically 1 minute per question is ideal so you can save some time to review questions you have marked.

9. Review the incorrect answers first and visit the chapter to close that knowledge gap. Then go back and review all the correct questions as well. Sometimes, if you have taken a guess, then mark the question so you can come back and review it for confirmation.

10. Stick to the schedule and do not make excuses. It is the easiest thing in the book. Fix an end date by when you plan to take the exam, so you know how close or far off you are from your goal.

11. Cut off long phone calls, television and any other distraction towards the last month of the exam and only hammer your understanding with as many tests as possible. I had stopped all my weekend classes, talk time and even switched off my phone during prep time from December to March 2018.

12. Submit your application and book your exam slot well in advance so you are not only committed, but can also be well planned and avoid last minute rush.

I applied in the last minute and to make matters worse, my application was selected for audit which cost me another two weeks. Remember, audit requirements have to be immediately addressed since the package is sent to PMI USA and the team will take another week to respond.

13. For queries regarding your PMP audit process or any specific questions, reach out to the PMI online chat or call centre in Delhi. They were excellent. I used their online chat service to clarify questions regarding the audit process. Collect all the documents and send it as instructed as early as possible.

14. With the last minute rush, I was not even sure if I will get the exam center in the same city. I was told that I have to be ready to travel to another center if no dates are available before the 5th edition exam closes. I was just very lucky that I got the center in my place, but I was left with exactly 10 days to prepare.

15. You cannot memorize the tools and techniques for each process area. However, you must understand how each process is interrelated. You can make visual notes if you are a visual learner like me. The ancient habit of practicing writing the concepts with a pen and paper helps clarify your understanding.

16. The question banks are only a helping tool, but by no means should you expect questions to appear from the practice tests in your final online exam. I found the final exam subtly deceptive. I was impressed by the quality and thought process behind those questions and actually enjoyed the entire process.

17. Your mock test scores are not a complete indication of your level of preparedness. No matter how well you score in your tests, it is your performance on the final day that makes the cut. 

I initially scored 58% and over time hit a 70%-75% consistently though the expected cut off to determine your preparedness is 80%-85%. For a long time, I kept procrastinating taking the exam as a result.

However, over time you will be able to gauge your own understanding by the questions you ask and taking consistent tests to strengthen your understanding. Prepare a spreadsheet with tests you take, date, timing, review concepts, and score.

Rita's tips and tricks were excellent pointers as well their guidelines on exam prep. HeadFirst also gives you a simpler version of the PMP concepts, but for actual exam prep Rita and PMBOK are essential.

18.  It was only after I had finished my exam under three hours and was ready to press the Submit button, did I hear my heart beating in my ears loudly. That was the most scariest part of the final exam day. When the Congratulatory message appeared on my screen, I had never felt more exhausted in my life. It felt good to know my 1:00 am studies and long nights, tests, and discussions at work had finally paid off!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Photographic Memories with Janaki Sabesh, Jan 13 2018 4:00 PM-6:00 PM

I came across the event on Photographic Memories by Jananki Sabesh at the Wandering Artist, posted on Facebook. The social networking site does have its share of useful information for us to pick and choose from. 

I was absolutely excited for two big reasons, one is Janaki Sabesh herself for her brilliant onscreen performance, and second, I really loved sharing stories and hearing from others. On both my treks, I was the lone Chennai representative, who met a lot of well meaning folks from different walks of life, each with their own story to tell.

I had a story I have wanted to share for a while now. Photographic Memories was the perfect opportunity, because each participant had to bring a physical copy of their most favourite memory and share their experience. You can share and learn so much through storytelling. 

My story was about the bridge I had to cross while trekking into the Valley of Flowers, Uttarkhand. I made it for the trek after going past all the "Don't go by yourself", "Will you not be bored" and so many other questions, for which I really had no answers. All I knew was I wanted to be on this trip come what may. None of my friends were interested. I was determined to go beyond my comfort zone and see what was out there.

I booked my tickets, and signed up for the trek with YHAI. I was on my way. Along with my baggage, I carried another baggage filled with anxiety and excitement, playing out best case and worst case scenarios.

When I landed in Dehradun and got my taxi to Rishikesh Youth Hostel in the pouring rain, I was happy I atleast found my initial destination smoothly. My trek group comprised a lovely group of people, each on their own adventure. I made a couple of good acquaintances on the trek and we stuck by each other throughout the journey. When we came to the bridge, it was one of the most scariest experiences I had to go through. The bridge itself was handmade, rough, put together loosely with some metal sheets. All it had holding it together were small boulders at specific points, where you can keep your footing. Step anywhere else, you are well on your way to Niagara Falls. We had no support and were completely on our own. All of us got through this scary part without any further adventure, but that moment was life changing for me and so was the entire trek. I was not just lost in the company of mountains and streams, but celebrated crossing  the bridge of fears and walked into my dream. I continue to relive it every year by going back to the mountains, atleast once a year. 

Every participant had wonderful stories to share. A girl who wanted to just sleep in the park, yet another girl who was the only mechanical engineer in a group dominated by boys, a young, struggling actor who channelized his energy to give his part, another actor with his share of hits and misses, a Bharatnatyam dancer who only attends concerts now, yet another strong, single woman who decided to stay positive, lovely friendships that continue to stay strong through time, and stories from the balcony. 

As Janaki sums it up at the end of a two hour riveting session, "Your stories have the power to impact others and give them strength when they are willing to give up."

The stories are endless. Like Vidyuth, an upcoming actor mentioned, "There are so many stories waiting to be heard."

What's yours?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Finding Your Self

I participated in my first group show this year at Lalit Kala Akademi. I was nervous and excited. It is understandable. I am not a professional artist with a degree in Fine Arts, but an artist by spirit whose hobby became a passion; but only after a long battle of battling my insecurities as an artist. When your works become public, you never know which way the votes will swing. 

I was lucky in that sense. 

My teacher and my fellow artists were of immense support. The senior artists who are also professionals, were encouraging and the opportunity to showcase my work alongside their beautiful paintings was a wonderful privilege. It was a lot of hardwork and a race against time. I had taken a ten-day break to go for the Hampta Pass trek in Himachal Pradesh right in the middle of all the prep work. It was a good call , though till the last minute I was torn about going for the trek with the exhibition coming up around the corner. 

Sometimes, you need to listen to yourself, your inner voice and just flow with it.

I cannot resist the call of the mountains. It was a fantastic trek and I came back tired, but absolutely refreshed. I picked up from where I left and put a stop to my guitar classes, so I could focus on my paintings. 

In the end, everything turned out well. My work enjoyed positive reviews and I also had the opportunity to interact with a variety of people and accomplished artists who gave their insights. I have taken their feedback and revisited some of my paintings. 

The journey was important. The experience changed me as an aspiring artist. When I look back, I realized it was a combination of hard work, trusting your gut, and taking chances.

Painting: Watercolor, wet-on-wet, Fallen Leaf by SNatz, copyrighted.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Trekker's Essentials

 My recent trek to Hampta pass in Himachal Pradesh was quite the adventure, not just for its tough terrain, but also because every essential item that any seasoned trekker generally carries on any trek became a necessity. I did not realize that every trek is different and has different needs, but the trekking gear needs to be complete. 

I had left behind a few of the items based on my experience at the Valley of Flowers, Hemkund Sahib, and Badrinath trip last August. That was the dumbest thing I could have ever done. The mountains are wicked. They love to mess with you. So you better be prepared.

The seasons were such. In the five days that we walked and pushed our feet through cold rivers, sunny days, rain and windy weather and add to that a few landslides, I re-learnt how to pack my trek bag, balance the weight on my back, ascend and descend the pass by applying the right pressure on my toe and heels, walk at a consistent pace, and adapt to every changing conditions over which you have no control. You are absolutely at Her mercy. I came back completely tanned to the brim. With the drastic weather change from high altitudes to the plains, it took my body a few days to readjust to the heat. 

Here are the trekker's essentials from my limited experience - these are the most basic things you can carry on your trek, easy and moderate ones. 

A Trekker's Absolute Essentials:

1. Trekking backpack: A good trek bag like Quechua/Forclaz or any other brand you may prefer, that supports your back; Decathlon is everyone's favourite place to shop for all your sports gear. It is a one stop shop for all your sports and outdoor needs and you have qualified help to walk you through all the essentials.

2. Sunscreen with a good SPF: you can tan very quickly in the mountains and the proximity to ultraviolet rays is harmful; I looked quite a sight without my SPF!

3. Sunglasses and a Hat: Remember the weather changes every second; when the sun hits your eyes or if you have to navigate snow covered areas, a sun-glass can protect you from getting blinded by the light; the hat keeps off the stinging heat.

4. Chap stick/Lip balm: Carry it in your jacket pocket and keep your lips moist from time to time. You can pack it into the front zip pocket of your trek bag belt for easy access. This will avoid painful blistering. 

5. Trek Shoes:  Usually people pick up Hunter boots possibly from Woodlands or you also have a good selection available at Decathlon. Some may prefer ankle support for more comfort, but that is completely up to you. Walk with the shoes once you buy them so you do not suffer shoe bites when you wear them in the mountains. Shoes need to be tamed, just like people.

6. Hand sanitize/Toilet wipes: Consider these two your best friends in high altitudes and areas where you have to use the open places or if water is provisioned or not available at all.

7. Waterbottle: Carry sippers which you can keep in the side storage area of your trek bag. Sometimes you may also have to conserve water during long distance treks. Water filled bottles add to the weight but cannot be compromised.

8. Clothing: Keep your pack light. 1 kg in the mountains is equal to 10 kgs as you go uphill. You may not be able to bathe for a few days depending on the trek. Carry three pairs of socks, a 3-1 jacket that works as a windcheater, rain jacket, and has fleece. One pair of clothing for change, and bathroom slippers should do it.

10. Digital Camera/iphones and Power Banks: If you are not keen on lugging your DSLRs or professional cameras, then a digicam or a good phone will be practical. You can keep it in the front zip pocket of your trek bag in the straps. Carry a power bank or a battery charger. Absolutely useful when you are cut off from just about everything.

11. Other supplies: A good torch, face wash, wipes, mug, plate, and spoon should suffice. You can also carry raisins, energy bars to keep you going when fatigue hits you.

While trekking, ensure you keep sipping water to keep your body hydrated. Remember, listen to your body. Once High Altitude Sickness hits you, there is no other choice but to stay put in your current location. Sometimes you may not have the option of returning or it is possible that you may have to make your way back alone. 

Fitness has no bearing on mountain sickness, but that does not mean you can trek without proper training and conditioning. Without such preparations embarking on a trek can be fatal since your body may not be able to cope with the limited supply of oxygen at such altitudes. 

Research your trek, prepare for it, and stay safe.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Calvin's CLoud

A day without laughter is a day wasted.

Charlie Chaplin

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Artist's Soul Series: In Conversation with Nartaki Nataraj

I had watched Nartaki Nataraj perform a few years ago at Kalakshetra. It was a mesmerizing performance. That memory stayed with me and I hoped to meet the artist in person another day. How was I to know I will be meeting her in person soon in the next couple of years. As part of the Artist's Soul series, curated by AVIS Vishwanathan, it featured Nartaki Nataraj, the superstar among the third-gender. 

Apart from her grace and humility, she speaks candidly about the atrocities and hardships she faced way back in the 80s when such gender issues were repressed and considered abominable. Both Nartaki and her friend, Sakthi who has been with her through thick and thin come from extremely influential families, but were rendered penniless when they came out of the closet. While the morning woke them up to the harshness of life, ironically, the nightfall gave them freedom to escape to the fields and dance away their sorrows. Their village had one shack where the films were played. So they grew up watching stalwarts in dance like the Travancore Sisters and Vyjayanthimala Bali. Who would have thought that destiny had greater plans for both these outcasts? We forget life pretty much has the last laugh.

Both friends decided to pursue dance and found out that the great dancers of those time learnt under Guru Kittapa Pillai. Not knowing his greatness, these naive, but sincere seekers found themselves at the Guru's refuge to learn dance. The Siddhapurusha as Nartaki refers to her teacher, made them wait for an year to determine their seriousness and finally accepted them not just as his students, but into his household. He was well aware of the stigma and insensitivity his two students will continue to face and even put away a small portion of money towards their future. Such was his grace, kindness and humanity. During her dark days, Nartaki plunged into Tamizh literature. Her command over the language and expression completely bowled me over. Most of all, her kindness and devotion to her art reigns supreme. She has also started a Trust to give back to her community through the very art that saved her life and changed her destiny forever.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Vikram Vedha (2017)

The film opened on July 21st and I managed to get a movie ticket at a theatre nearby. First, it was the title that intrigued me. It was an extension of Vikramaditya and Vetal, stories that have captivated children and adults alike. Second, Madhavan looks great on camera - a perfect destresser on a Sunday afternoon over butter popcorn and cheese. Third, Vijay Sethupathi is a natural actor. I have been following a few of his movies, favourite among which, is Naduvula Konjam Pakatha Kanum and Soodu Kavvum. With such a potent combination of a strong story line and actors, it was bound to be a delectable treat.

This cat-and-mouse chase is a cerebral game to enjoy, atleast once. R.Madhavan as the Encounter Specialist Vikram, opens the scene to a slew of whistles; a chase ensues, and the man is cool; he slays it. He is the good cop who is justified in killing criminals in encounter style killing. He is able to sleep peacefully inspite of shooting a few no-gooders. Shradha Srinath, who plays his lawyer-wife whose paths cross often, has no real value on screen and so does Chandra portrayed by Varalakshmi Sarathkumar, girlfriend of Pulli, the only educated chap in the locality and brother of notorious gangster, Vedha. 

The latter is a dreaded criminal wanted for 15 murders, portrayed beautifully by Vijay Sethupathi. If Madhavan comes across as a cool cop with a penchant for guns, Vijay Sethupathi is even cooler, just with his dialogue delivery. Just his swagger setting the tone for his entry had the theatre drummed up in excitement, howls and whistles.

The scripting is well thought out and beautifully layered. We are so blinded in going after what we want, we miss the most obvious things. When you stop to think, then it gives you an opportunity to make sense of the situations and put the pieces together. The eternal moral questions every individual faces boils down to situations and perspectives. In this case, is the one who ordered the kill the villain or the one who killed, the greater villain who needs to be punished?

Madhavan's shorter punch lines were excellent and well-timed. However, he still needs to bring out the depth of character. Vijay Sethupathi plays an understated role, bringing in different shades to his criminal persona, which elevated the chemistry with Vikram, a notch higher. 

Though predictable in parts, it makes for a great watch.

Image source: