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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Steady does it

Amid all the chaos and uncertainty, Jessica Elkin finds solace in 1980s teen comedies to stay on track during the exams


Diving ice cream
©Phil Wrigglesworth
Crikey Moses! 2016 is certainly a year of change, isn’t it? What with our national treasures dying off like flies and the US presidency potentially about to be occupied by a giant baby in a toupee – a Boris Johnson lookalike if he’d been baked in the oven awhile (as opposed to his current ‘peeled egg’ look).

We have UK politicians retreating and back tracking all over the place, then being reinstated as if nothing had happened. Not to mention Brexit, of which almost everyone is sick to death of, apart from that dog that thinks its owner is saying ‘biscuit’. Financial markets have been in turmoil – you didn’t think rates could get any lower, but you were wrong!

No one knows whether to buy property or wait for that particular house of cards to come tumbling down, and the pound is so rubbish at the moment that people will soon start to use gilts to make papier-mâché. What a time to be alive.

If you’re a consultant, you might be leaning towards reassuring your clients and advising them against any knee-jerk reactions, instead waiting to see how things pan out. This is, as is usually the case, good advice. But what do you tell yourself?

I was a staunch Bremainer, and I have to say that for me Brexit day was one of low spirits and high caffeine intake. I was upset about what it said about us as a nation, what the practical impact would be, the tone of national ‘pride’ that followed, yada yada yada. You get the picture (and if you don’t, I suggest you check out my angst-ridden Facebook posts from that time).

I knew many in the same boat. That day was not a productive one, either for me nor many other people around the office. It’s not surprising – periods of change can disrupt our lives, and if you’re not a robot then there is bound to be some spill-over from one area to another. If you move house close to exams and are then unable to find anything you own for the next month then you will know this. Likewise, break-ups are terrible for your career unless you’re one of those brilliant people who throw themselves into work to forget their woes, in the same way as I might throw myself into a pillow fort, or a giant bowl of ice cream.


In the context of all this, exams are small fry. And yet they matter, especially if you’ve spent a lot of time studying and putting in the groundwork. They can take over your life, your energy and your emotions. Partners of actuarial students must find this trying. I used to live with a fellow student, and after she qualified she was an angel around the flat during intense study periods, remembering (I am sure) the turmoil of her own life during these times. Unfortunately, work goes on, and you have to be prepared for people to still expect you to, you know, work. Get things done. Meet deadlines. 

Eighties classic Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead contains a multitude of helpful nuggets, such as when the main character Sue Ellen lies her way into a fancy job and has to try to hold it down. Luckily, her boss is sympathetic to her incompetence. “Don’t feel overwhelmed,” she tells her. “Just do one thing at a time.” While it may sound questionable to take life advice from a movie about teenagers who secretly dump an elderly woman’s body outside a morgue so they can have, like, a totally awesome summer, this feels helpful.

The biggest challenge during these turbulent times is to stay collected. Descent into a frazzled, scatty mess is something I only know too well, but it has not particularly served me well over the years. I hear mindfulness practice is a good way to rise above the stress, but it also sounds a bit of a hassle given that I can much more easily glean titbits from 1980s teen comedies.

Whatever the method you choose to keep your head above water, this all shall pass. Make sure you get rest, and sleep, and get some reliable friends or family to make you cups of tea. Delegate work where possible, and if you slip a bit, forgive yourself. Everyone else will. Remember, kids! Don’t feel overwhelmed. Just do one thing at a time. Best of luck to all of you.