Qualifying as an actuary is a hard road, says Abdul Basith so don't let impostor syndrome hold you back
One moment has stayed with me from my journey towards becoming a Fellow of the IFoA. As one of the new graduate actuarial analysts for my then-employer, I was invited to a three-day induction getaway. While relishing our dinner after an intense day of training, a senior actuary shared some frank words with us graduates. "Some of you might not make it to the end, and I can usually tell who will and who won't," he said, looking straight at me. I dismissed this as nothing more than just a casual soundbite and swiftly resumed my rightful place in the dinner queue for seconds (or was it thirds?).
With all but one of the Core Technical exams out of the way, I sat one of the more onerous 'wordy' exams. I failed. I sat another paper the following sitting. I failed again. I resat the first exam. I failed once more. I was studying so hard, but to no avail. The words that I had previously considered a mere off-the-cuff remark started to resonate with me. I began to question whether the exams, and, ultimately, qualification, were a step too far.
I am by no means the first to have failed or struggled with the actuarial exams and I certainly won't be the last, but I think it is absolutely imperative to remind students that our self-worth should not hinge on how quickly we can attain fellowship. For the better part of my actuarial career, I battled with what I would best describe as 'impostor syndrome' - a pattern of behaviour in which one doubts whether one is good enough, and attributes successes and accomplishments to external factors such as good luck and timing.
However, even becoming a member of the IFoA means you are in very good company, with students and qualified actuaries typically having a track record of high attainment and drive. Furthermore, the profession is home to some of the brightest individuals. So, it's worth being reminded of the inherent difficulty - and, therefore, the prestige - of qualification.
Equally, the role of an actuary is highly varied and extremely demanding, as we aim to solve complex problems while communicating to clients effectively. We also face the day-to-day challenges of solving incredibly puzzling problems - from determining the rule of thumb to use for a one-line calculation, to dissecting an 'if' statement within an 'if' statement within another 'if' statement. The greatest obstacle we face is regularly attempting to explain to our family and friends what an actuary is and what we actually do, while trying to make it sound 'sexy'. Managing all of this and still finding time for yourself is no easy feat, which is why this particular senior actuary's earlier words sound more likely than ever. I now understand why not everyone makes it to the end.
However, I was determined not to give up. As in any similar underdog story, the persistence and unwavering belief eventually paid off, and I was rewarded with six exam passes in the next four exam sittings - including three in my last sitting. With just one exam to go now, I feel a huge sense of relief. Moreover, I feel I belong in the company of my actuarial peers. My own journey - from questioning my ability to succeed to writing an article for The Actuary magazine about the exams I struggled with - shows that you can completely transform your path as long as you have the passion and the correct attitude.
My own route to qualification has been far from smooth, but having gone through the whole spectrum of emotions, my aim here is to provide an insight into the adversity that students and qualified actuaries can face. If I can inspire one student, or remind an actuary of their amazing achievement in qualification, I will have succeeded with my mission.
If you have had any similar experiences, or you are interested in having a further discussion, please contact me on LinkedIn or my mentoring platform: https://askabdul247.wordpress.com
Abdul Basith is a guest student editor