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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Home truths

Jessica Elkin divulges the secrets of achieving your ideal goals, and suggests the clue could lie in which of the boring bits you are able to endure


When I’m visiting my parents of a weekend, I usually have a glance through their Sunday paper. It’s not my favourite – not enough puzzles, for starters – but I like to skim the supplements for easily digestible, content light, autobiographical columns that I dutifully read. Intellectual that I am. (It’s research like this, reader, that has helped me hone my skills for the student page.) One such column is by a woman around my age who writes about her love life. Think Carrie Bradshaw, but less annoying, with fewer “I couldn’t help but wonder”s. It’s very readable, if not especially educational; the last one I read was about getting drunk and going on Tinder. It wasn’t a long column, about half a page, and I surveyed it with curiosity and something bordering on jealousy. I couldn’t help but wonder how she’s managed to land such a cushy deal. Why couldn’t I do that, I thought? Why don’t I get paid to write pulp non-fiction for Sunday lazing and poolside entertainment? It seemed deeply unfair. Mostly she writes fluff about failed romantic pursuits – hah!

Like we don’t all have plenty of material for that.

Where there’s a will

The thing is, I could be doing that.Or at least, I could be trying to do that. The fact of the matter is, I can count on no hands the number of articles I’ve sent to any non-actuarial publication for consideration, unless of course you count that letter I got published in The Times in 2010. I am still dining out on that particular victory. I’m sure this other writer outdid me in her efforts to reach the dizzy heights of supplement-padding fame. So to answer the question of why I’m not a paid column writer, the crux of the matter is that I don’t want to be. Not really. If I wanted to do it then I would research what’s currently out there in different publications, come up with my own unique spin, write some samples, and submit them for consideration. Repeat ad nauseum until success.

There’s a great article by Mark Manson called The Most Important Question Of Your Life, in which he writes about the difference between actually wanting something and just enjoying the dream of it. “If you want the benefits of something in life,” he says, “you have to also want the costs. If you want the beach body, you have to want the sweat, the soreness, the early mornings, and the hunger pangs. If you want the yacht, you have to also want the late nights, the risky business moves, and the possibility of annoying a person or ten thousand.” Otherwise, he says, you don’t want it at all. You just enjoy the fantasy. (This is possibly why I don’t have the beach body or the yacht.)

Job application

I’ve been considering the application of this concept both to life in general, and to work. There’s a partner at my firm who has enjoyed a particularly impressive, and enviable, career trajectory. I discussed this with a different partner. He told me that, as he saw it, the reason for the first guy’s success was that he “didn’t ask permission”. This has since stuck with me.

I’m not saying he just scribbled ‘partner’ on his business cards and edited his email signature. It’s that when he wanted to do something professionally, he grabbed the bull by the horns and went right ahead. We’re not all naturally possessed of that sort of boldness, but we could force it. ‘Fake it till you make it,’ as they say. Or, as Brad Pitt says in his appalling turn as Achilles in Troy: "TAKE IT, IT'S YOURS!"

Actuaries don’t lack enthusiasm. We have it in spades. But diffidence is also in abundance. 

Socrates is often misquoted as having said that true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing. That may be so, and actuaries are pretty wise, but that attitude is not going to get you anywhere in life.

What I am saying boils down to:work out what you want, and then go out and get it. 

Now I only have to follow my own advice. Easy, right?