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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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The holiday that nearly wasn't

Planning a break proves an instructive experience for Jessica Elkin, even before she heads off on her trip

02 JUNE 2016 | JESSICA ELKIN

Passport
©Phil Wrigglesworth
Genius that I am, I once lost my passport six days before I was due to go on holiday.

At roughly the same time, I also realised I needed a visa for my connection in the US, and that my vaccinations had mostly expired, making me susceptible to typhoid, various types of hepatitis and rabies.

Usually, I over-prepare for trips, so all of this left me feeling rather less than relaxed.

I can’t be sure why my normally sterling brain decided to check out on this occasion.

I suspect that, having ensured I didn’t need visas for the countries where I’d be holidaying, I’d developed an “oh, I don’t need to do anything, everything’s fine” mindset.

This delusion of organisation was apparently contagious and had spread into other areas of my brain, leaving a general impression of preparedness, which was – alas – false. The realisation was not pleasant.

False positive
The following morning (with five days to go until my trip) I went straight to the passport office when it opened, where it turned out no one would talk to me without an appointment. I rang up and was told it would take seven to eight days to replace a lost or stolen passport from the time of the appointment. But I couldn’t book an appointment because the system was down.

I then went to the office and called my insurer, who said they don’t cover lost or stolen passports.
By this point, I was hyperventilating into a paper bag.

It wasn’t pretty.

In the end, I requested to go home at lunchtime and ransack my flat, followed by some attempt at working from home. Thankfully, this paid off – I had a sudden flash of inspiration and found the passport in an envelope with a bunch of papers. Hurrah!

After crying with relief, I organised a US visa waiver online and booked inoculations at a travel clinic for a few days later. Things came together and I was in the air as planned at
the weekend.

Fail to prepare...
I realise this story could be condensed into the four words, “person temporarily loses passport”, but my point is that sometimes things aren’t as bad as you think. Even when they seem really bad. We all forget things, make mistakes, panic. Sometimes all three at once. Most of the time, there’s a solution.

The inevitable tie-in to our actuarial universe could appear in a variety of guises. For example, if you make a mistake at work, the likelihood is that it won’t be as bad as you think. Almost 99% of the time, this is true, even if it all unravels just as you imagined. You’ll move on; others will move on. What you do is important, and your career certainly is, but most of the time there will be a remedy.

And then, for us lot, there’s exams. You really shouldn’t beat yourself up about poor exam performance, especially not in that intervening period before results when you’re still unsure how it’ll play out. This month is always one of jangling nerves, with CT results at the end and ST/SA results just a few weeks later. But exams are not the final word in your career, nor the absolute yardstick of your intellect. If you fail, there’s always next time, and further down the line it will be forgotten.

Nothing really matters
Author Helen Fielding has a good grasp on such things. In her rules for living, she provides some sage advice: “Hardly anything matters; if you get upset, ask yourself, does it really matter?” She follows this with: “The key to success lies in how you pick yourself up from failure.”

When I’m kicking myself about something, I try to rationalise that if it won’t seem such a big deal in a year’s time, it’s probably not proportionately important. I tried to focus on this during the passport debacle, when I was convinced it was an irredeemable situation, and that I’d have to stay with my parents for two weeks and learn how to Photoshop myself into photos of beach scenes to fake my holiday. I didn’t get as far as downloading the software, so I’m calling it a success.