We live in a world where successes are publicized widely, and failures are almost always actively hidden.
It sucks to experience failure in actuarial. Who likes the feeling of being rejected?
To make it worse, social media’s constant reminder of everyone’s successes can effectively alienate us when we ourselves are going through tough times, making us feel as if we’re the only ones experiencing hardships.
My university + work experiences have been filled with both successes AND failures.
And that’s ok.
I’ve received a lot of messages requesting for this article. Thus, I’m happy to share the 6 strategies which I fall back on and use to overcome my own challenges.
These will revolve around how, as a young actuary working towards the FCAS credential, I had decided to double-up for two of the hardest actuarial tests, exams 7 and 9, on the first attempt for the May 2018 examination period.
These exams are no joke. They are almost always taken one at a time, and even then, only ~40-50% of candidates pass – over half of them fail.
Having already doubled up on exams S & 5 back in May 2017 on the first attempt, and having passed them both comfortably (scores of 7 and 7), I decided that this was a reasonable next step.
I ended up failing both exams 7 and 9 with scores of 4 and 5, lost 468 (studying) hours of my life, and was plagued with shattered confidence and self-esteem for the ensuing year. These are 6 Strategies for Overcoming Failures in Actuarial Science.
What happened next? Read on.
1. Take Accountability of your Failure
This is so important.
I could have convinced myself that I studied the best I could, dismissed the May 2018 exams as an abnormally difficult sitting, and have ultimately accepted that I am not the problem. I could have convinced myself that these exams are just unreasonably hard, and that there’s nothing I can do about it.
If I followed that train of thought, I would be destined to fail these actuarial exams for the rest of my life.
How can I pass an exam for which I have already convinced myself that my studying strategy is flawless, and for which I have no control over how difficult the final exam will be?
After I faced failure in actuarial exams, I immediately accepted that I wasn’t good enough to pass them both – and that’s ok. I believe that the first step to overcoming challenges is to accept that I was the reason I fell short.
It’s only when I immediately accepted that I was the reason I didn’t pass, that I could start to actively seek ways to improve. To be better prepared because I invested the time, energy, and effort to change myself.
Logic dictates, in any process that starts with an input (i.e. myself) and ends with a result (i.e. PASS/FAIL), the more distinct the new input is from the prior input (the more I improve myself relative to my past self), the more different the final result will be (FAIL vs PASS).
When I registered for these exams again for the May 2019 sitting, I was confident.
Not because I thought that I’d definitely pass them both this time.
I was confident because I had learned what went wrong, had numerous new studying strategies which addressed all my weak spots, and was ready to demolish these two.
2. Believe in Yourself.
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, was ridiculed numerous times by industry expers and leaders, some of them who were his own idols, prior to his world-changing accomplishments.
Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, was turned down by banks 242 times, for investments into his young company.
J.K. Rowling was rejected a dozen times for her iconic Harry Potter series.
For ourselves, how often do we give up after just 1 or 2 rejections? How many of us even make it to 5 rejections?
How different would our world look like today, if these legendary figures gave up after just a few rejections?
As soon as I started truly believing in myself that I was capable of passing these two exams at once, the easier the journey became. Sure, it was still extremely challenging and painful in many ways, but I believed in myself, and was passionate about my goal.
No matter how stacked the odds may be, passion can defy logic.
I love Al Pacino’s quote from the “Any Given Sunday” movie (slightly modified):
In any fight, it’s the guy, who is willing to die, who is going to win that fight.
Once I had convinced myself that passing exams 7 and 9 after a massive failure in actuarial, this was the only thing I wanted in 2019, and that I was ready to sacrifice absolutely anything and everything for it, the easier the process became.
No matter how painful each hour would become.
No matter how distorted my daily life would be.
And, No matter how much I would lose in the process.
My only concern with my sacrifices was – if they would be fatal or not. Besides that, I eagerly welcomed all the pain, no matter how extreme it felt, because I knew the end result would be well worth it, and that I’d still be alive by the end of it.
I knew that despite all the 4AM alarms, all the 5AM workouts, all the runs in the freezing rain, all the 8PM curfews…I knew that I’d still be ok.
The sooner the question switches from:
“What’s the least that I can get away with?”
“What’s the most that I can bear?”
, the sooner that more energy and time are released to work on turning the failure around.
The result? I was able to study for a massive 550 solid hours, in addition to busy season consulting hours, for the two exams.
Do I regret everything that I had to give up during the first four months of 2019?
Not even one single bit.
4. You’re Not Alone.
Everyone experiences failures. Hardly anybody talks about them – it doesn’t feel good.
One of my biggest failures in university was being Convention Chair for ASNA in my 3rd year. I was leading a 7-person team to plan a 3-day national convention with over 700 attendees, from start to finish. It involved managing a $300K+ budget, coordinating 30+ corporate sponsors, and executing over a dozen events.
I had a rocky start (classes don’t teach you leadership), which led to ASNA’s board of directors advising the President to remove me from the position.
The President believed in me and gave me one chance, and that’s all I needed.
I immediately gathered feedback from my team, readjusted my leadership strategy, and we executed the most successful convention that ASNA had ever seen: numerous records (income, attendance, sponsorship, etc.) and countless praise from attendees of us delivering a flawless event execution.
The point? Outside of our team, no one would have known how close I was to being kicked off.
No one sees the struggles, failures, or setbacks that people go through. All we see is the end result – the marvelous 2016 convention that was executed, and the final person I became as a result of that.
Behind every accomplishment, is an array of setbacks. It’s all part of the process.
5. Definition of Success.
For myself, the most successful people are the ones who are able to overcome massive obstacles and beat the odds. To show up every single day of the process, no matter how hard it becomes.
0:30-2:10 of the video below was probably the most influential two minutes of my 2017 year. It does an amazing job at describing the process.
Your success doesn’t know these things about cold, early, or tired. It just knows if you showed up or not.
It doesn’t matter how cold it may be, how early it may be, or even how tired I might feel during the process.
At the end of the day, the absolute only thing that the exams would care about, was if I showed up to every single one of my studying sessions, and saw them through.
That’s the only thing.
They didn’t care how much pain I went through. They would only care if I still chose to show up, every single day for four consecutive months, for the grind.
That whole video to me is a masterpiece.
6. The Urge to Quit.
This video is probably my most favorite video of 2019. I watched it nearly every day of the first 4 months of the year.
Don’t you give up on your dream…
I remember tearing up so many times watching this video…
…thinking about how much it hurt failing exams 7&9 the year prior, how painful 550 hours of studying was starting to feel, and how much I had lost throughout this 6-year actuarial journey.
No matter how painful it gets – quitting will ALWAYS be a decision, NOT a forced option.
Yes, I failed exams 7 and 9 in May 2018, and I’m not ashamed of it.
We all fall down in life. But it’s not about how many times we get knocked down…it’s about how many times we choose to get back up…and try again.
If I did not get up and try again, I’d be spending the rest of my life second-guessing my own abilities.
If I did not get up and try again, I’d not have learned how to properly deal with failure.
And most importantly If I did not get up and try again, I’d be left with the eternal question of “what if?“.
…if I did not get up and try again…
The above would have never happened.
Undoubtedly, one of the happiest days of my entire life.
What do you think?
This blog has been written by Carlo Lahura, FCAS. I thank him for writing such a great blog and giving us permission to post it here. I urge you to visit his Linkedin profile and share your views/ideas/comments/feedback with him. Thanks for reading.
Also Read: FAIL. How to overcome failure in actuarial!