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Not too long ago, I received the news that I failed my most
recent actuarial exam. Those familiar with the actuarial examination process
know that this is an agonizing feeling (in fact, the Wall Street Journal
published an article
in December 2021 about the challenges of actuarial exams). To make matters
worse, it was the fourth time I scored just under a passing score of 6 during
my exam journey.
When faced with discouragement, it’s all too easy to admit
defeat. So how can we keep going when it feels like a win is out of reach?
A key to perseverance is remembering that no one consistently
achieves success on the first try, sometimes not even on the first four attempts.
Since our brains believe what we tell them to believe,
positive self-redirection is crucial to “getting back on that horse.” In light
of my failing score, I’ve assembled five steps I take that help me find the
will to keep moving forward in the face of adversity:
1. Know that you’re not alone.
Simply put, failing is normal – even healthy. It happens to
everyone at some point. Specific to actuarial exams, more than half of those
who sit for these exams fail on any given sitting.
Although this is often forgotten in the era of sharing
successes on social media, the old adage that you learn more from your failures
than your successes rings true. Challenge and struggle (in moderation) are good
for the soul. It shows just how strong and capable you can be by triumphing
through. It will also only make victory taste that much sweeter when you do
achieve what you set out to do.
2. Remember where you want to go.
What motivated you to step foot on this journey in the first
For me, the insurance industry fascinates me, and I have
always loved a challenge. From an early age, problem-solving with numbers felt
natural to me, so going down the actuarial path to use numbers to tell a story
made sense. Your individual mileage will vary.
Where are you headed?
We often lose sight of the bigger picture. It’s true, conquering
exams can take years. But in the grander scheme of things, the decades that are
left to use those credentials will prove the journey well worth it. Even though
I too can be guilty of this tunnel vision, taking a moment to widen my lens
often sparks some much-needed motivation.
3. Focus on your goal, not on your
Winners focus on winning.
It’s tempting to compare your own merits or weaknesses to
those of your peers, and others along (what you believe to be) the same path.
But everyone’s journey is truly unique. The time spent envying others may only be
distracting you from the task at hand.
There’s an old saying: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” The
more you fixate on comparisons, the harder it becomes to recognize your own many
strengths and talents.
4. “Nobody Cares; Work Harder!”
When I need extra motivation to inspire me on those early
weekend mornings or late nights, I recall the phrase above, coined by Cameron
Obsessing about your current predicament will not change the
Sometimes, that harsh reality is needed to foster the
strength to continue onward. It’s also important to remember that no matter
what you’re going through, others are experiencing similar or worse hardships.
As my high school football coach used to say when reviewing game film, “It’s
never as good as you think or as bad as you think.” Discard the excuses, and
let the results speak for themselves.
5. Make an effort to give thanks to those in
your corner. Reciprocate.
It took a while for me to realize the amount of support that
is required for someone on this exam path. When I began reflecting and thanking
colleagues, friends, family and significant others for their continued encouragement
over the years, their responses and unwavering support helped my
self-confidence grow like never before.
Creeps of doubt and self-pity withered away as my thoughts
were replaced with reinvigorating words of affirmation. It’s important to pay
Failure is real. Burnout is real. But only temporary.
When faced with these setbacks, take a moment to breathe and
accept the results for what they are. Then get up, dust off and get back on
whatever horse that threw you.
To learn more about the actuarial profession and exams,
Steve Jagodzinski is a senior actuarial analyst with Pinnacle Actuarial Resources in the Chicago office. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Actuarial Science from Illinois State University and has experience in assignments involving loss cost projections, loss reserving and group captives. He is actively pursuing membership in the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) through the examination process.
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