I recently finished reading Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In, shortly after making a bold career move. I decided to leave behind actuarial work and continue my career in audit analytics at one of the big four accounting firms.
Prior to reading Lean In, there were very few instances where I've seen people reference a career path as a jungle gym. After reading the chapter where Sheryl Sandberg compared her career path to a jungle gym, I felt a lot better about my decision to take my career in a different direction - I'm excited to climb the jungle gym!
There were three driving factors in my decision to leave an actuarial career - actuarial exams, passion, and professional development. If you feel like you're in a similar situation where you aren't 100% committed to an actuarial career, I hope this post can provide some inspiration!
Study, study, study
I can name around ten factors (some may call them excuses) that probably prevented me from passing. At the end of the day though, it came down to this - I would rather work all of those extra hours than study. That's huge - the whole point of passing these exams is to make the big bucks (I must've spent hours memorizing the D.W. Simpson salary charts a couple years ago) and still work 40-50 hours a week down the road. This is the selling point of an actuarial career - stable job, relatively low stress, forty hour work weeks and great money. All for the low price of 3000+ hours of studying!
For me, the major selling point of the actuarial career was the money - NYU wasn't cheap and student loans don't pay for themselves! It took me two and a half years, however, to realize I was paying for something I didn't need - the job market is booming and I don't mind stress or working long hours. I would rather work long, stressful hours than study for a significant portion of my life.
This brings me to my favorite internal struggles - "but you've already put in so much time and you've made so many sacrifices!" and "now people are going to think you're a quitter!"
I learned about Sunk Cost Fallacy in college - but in practice it's not an easy concept. It's taken me some time, but I finally decided even though I've spent hundreds of hours studying over the last few years for these exams, it's not worth the continued struggle. If I feel this way now, I can't imagine how I would feel five years down the road if I continued on the same path. I'm doing my 30-year-old self a favor right now! This is proof!
I also realized - no surprise here - actuarial exams are HARD! Lots of people stop taking these exams. It's not because they are quitters - it's because they are actively making a choice to pursue other interests! Also, for what it's worth, according to google, a quitter is a person who gives up easily or does not have the courage or determination to finish a task. So basically a quitter is someone who studied for Exam P for one day, took the exam, failed, then gave up on an actuarial career. If you've passed at least one actuarial exam, you've done something a vast majority of people in this world could not do - there's no way you could call yourself a quitter!
Where's the passion?
If you're going to climb a jungle gym, you need to know when it's time to grab the next rung. It's important to let your passions help shape your career. If you're not feeling fulfilled in your line of work, it may be an important time to reevaluate your career and consider a change. If you are currently an actuarial analyst looking for a change, the opportunities outside an actuarial career are endless. Many roles require a lot of the same technical skills you've developed as an actuary and would provide new ways to apply your skills and give you an opportunity to learn more outside of the insurance industry.
What skills are in your toolbox?
If you find yourself working by yourself on many projects, you may want to find a role where you will be able to work closely with others to improve your communication skills. If you have only worked on one type of project, you may want to branch out to find opportunities where you are learning other business processes.
When deciding to pursue new opportunities, I had to take into account my current skillset and strengths. Would becoming an actuary play to my strengths? Would I develop the business acumen and leadership skills necessary to one day lead an organization? It's definitely possible - there are actuarial positions out there that can develop these skills, especially for those working in consulting. However, for me personally, I determined there were other career opportunities available that better align with my strengths and skills.