Thursday, March 6, 2014

"You Don't Have To Be an Actuary"

Every now and then I post these random vignettes.  It allows me to practice writing, and you get to know me more as a person.  Today, I'd like to describe this difficult choice before me now.  In a nutshell, I must decide whether or not to take this next actuarial exam coming at the end of April. The deadline is fast approaching, and I must decide by this Friday.  (I actually have until next Thursday, but I'm not waiting that long.)  And as you may have already guessed, this is no easy decision, and there's a story behind it.

After graduating from college, I started off strong pursuing the actuarial career.  I passed the first exam with the highest score possible (10), and I also passed the second exam the same day with a good score (8).  That was back in 1998.

For a while, I passed exams left and right.  But as the exam numbers got higher, the difficulty increased.  Sometimes I failed a couple, but then passed those on the second try.  By 2004, I had passed 6 "full" exams.  Only 1 exam away from Associate (the first recognized achievement for an actuary), and only 3 away from Fellow (the ultimate achievement).

But then a few things happened.  Firstly, that 7th exam is my bane.  It has the least math and the most boring stuff I've ever seen in an exam.  I've already failed this thing three times.

Secondly, my company (at the time) got hit hard by the mortgage crisis.  At first, I sacrificed taking exams to help others keep our company afloat.  Then when I was the last actuary left with the company, I suddenly had more time to study, and I was encouraged to continue trying to pass that 7th exam.  That was the last part of 2012.

But then the day after I took the exam, my boss pulled me into a room and told me they were killing the actuarial program.  They were hurting for cash, and they no longer "needed an actuary."  They wanted to keep me, but not as an actuary. They would no longer support my exams nor any subsequent actuarial continuing education.

At first, I resented that decision, as it took away my last chance of career advancement.  I continually expressed my discontent over the next couple of months until my boss pulled me into a room to clear the air for good.

He told me, "You don't have to be an actuary." I have potential and many talents. There are very few actuarial jobs in Winston Salem, where I live now, and if I were to stick with the profession, chances are I would have to move to accept such a job.  However, there are several non-actuarial jobs right here that I would qualify for that pay just as much, he told me, and I needed to keep all my options open.

He gave me a very important wake-up call, and he turned out to be right.

I ended up with the job I have now.  It's not actuarial, but I get to do a lot of similar work.  I don't get to analyze as much as I used to, but we're trying to fix that.  More and more, people are pleased with the work I do, and I have promise of career advancement without ever having to take another actuarial exam.

On the other hand, I'm only one exam away from a designation (the lower designation).  I've been one away for almost ten years now!  Can't I finish what I started and worked so hard towards?  If I give up on the exams, will I look back on my life and regret not passing this one exam?  With one more exam, I'd be able to write actuarial opinions.  I'd be eligible for the next big pay grade.  I'd be able to say, "I won!  These stupid exams have nothing on me any longer!"

And on the other, other hand, life is so much simpler when I'm not studying for exams.  This week in particular has been very depressing in how much study time I've missed.  I also have very little confidence that I will pass even if I go into the test feeling sufficiently prepared (as I felt the last time I took this exam).  I'm growing more and more tired playing the game of paying money to repeatedly fail an abnormally difficult exam, and sometimes I feel I would get more expected financial returns if I spent that time working on my writing career instead.

So now it all comes to a head this Friday.  If I choose not to take the exam, then that would probably be it for my actuarial career (unless I find another local actuarial job in the near future).  If I do take the exam, who knows?  I might even pass!  And then what?

Update 3/16/2014: I decided to sign up for the exam.  This means at most one new post a week for this blog till the end of April, but I've decided that I need closure--do everything I can to pass this exam and get it behind me.  I may be Captain Ahab, but I didn't get this far just to quit one exam away.

1 comment:

Jas Singh said...

I'm happy you decided to take the exam after all! You'll never know when you're be able to use your "Associate" status when you pass, but at least you know you can! And who knows, your company may reopen some actuarial positions, or that another company may want your services in that capacity. Keeping your options open is important in times such as this. I hope you passed it! Cheers!

Jas Singh @ SKL Actuarial