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There's More to Life Than Exams - Finding a Balance

There's more to life than exams--finding a balance

by Erik Summers

Get the college.  Get the grades.  Get the exams.  Get the rsume.  Get the network.  Get the interview.  Get the internship.  Get the job?  get outta here?!

At times the road to success may seem like a long list of ?gets? that require a 24/7 commitment, 52.143 weeks per non-leap year.  In some ways, a challenging regimen of work appeals to you or you wouldn?t be reading this article.  But is there a life-work balance to be achieved?

As one who graduated this May, I can vouch that college does come to an end?much sooner than you?ll expect.  For those brave souls who venture outside the computer lab, college offers many an opportunity to step outside the ?gets? and do something meaningful, fun or even outlandish.  For me this list has included trips to Spain and Jamaica, skydiving, starting a chess club, getting serious about my Christian faith and spending a summer in Yellowstone National Park.  Not only are such experiences personally rewarding, they also address the stereotype that some in the business world voice concerning actuaries?that they are smart but one-dimensional.  Perhaps the CAS and SOA should add a new requirement to the exam certification process?mortality risk accumulated while living outside the box?to emphasize the importance of doing so.

From my own interviewing experience, it was surprisingly clear which actuaries couldn?t claim an original thought in the last dozen years and which had pursued a more well-rounded approach to life?who had sacrificed a bit of time that could have used ?getting ahead? to cultivate something deeper and in the end much more valuable.  They had more amiable demeanors, could speak intelligently on a variety of issues, yet their accomplishments were no less impressive.  In fact, they were often managers and achievers at their respective companies.

As I approach the end of my own formal education, the more I realize what a unique time college really is?a time when friends are willing and able to go anywhere and do anything.  While I?m thrilled that my first job will offer an unusually long three weeks of vacation, I?m used to three weeks over winter break.  How will I cope?

I spoke with Adam Coolman, an actuarial student with Swiss Re in Fort Wayne, Ind., and he assured me that life does not end after college (whew!), but it does change.  He suggested a few practical tips to maximize effectiveness during work/study time so that free time can be just that:

 Choose a firm whose philosophy on work and life matches your own.
 Make the most of your commute?make it short or make it productive.
 The procrastination has to end.  No more waiting to study until the week of the exam.  Paradoxically, disciplined work and study are instrumental to relaxation.
 Take advantage of your firm?s resources.  Make use of allotted vacation, study hours, study aids and the expertise of coworkers.
 Get exercise, have a social life and don?t forget to sleep.
 Lunch:  the choice to ?go out? or to ?eat in? is more of a judgment call.  If spending that hour with friends eating chicken fingers rejuvenates you, go for it.  If not, brown bag it and study less after work.
 On vacation leave the laptop and the study manual at home.  Adam enjoys trekking to Las Vegas each year for NCAA Mens? Basketball Tournament where even the thought of studying becomes ridiculous.
 Whether it?s reading The Economist, watching "American Idol" or playing PlayStation 2, make some time each week to do what you love. 
 Life happens and it?s a wonderful thing; but be aware that free time becomes all the more scarce when a spouse, a house or a child enters the picture.
 Whoever made the summer and the holidays off-seasons was a genius.  Write off post-exam stress as a sunk cost and take advantage!

Not only is relaxation fun, it?s sensible.  According to the American Institute of Stress, ?75 to 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related problems, and job stress is far and away the leading source of stress for adults.?  As advertising executive Carisa Bianchi stated, ?You can always find reasons to work. There will always be one more thing to do. But when people don't take time out, they stop being productive. They stop being happy, and that affects the morale of everyone around them.?  There?s always one more practice problem to work, or one more task to finish.  While many err on the side on couch potato, those ambitious enough to undertake the actuarial exam process seldom do?but they may lose a degree of happiness and productivity because of it.

Whether you?re interning, working full-time or something else, take some time this summer to relax.  If nothing else, take a weekend.  Find a new passion.  Explore the great outdoors.  Learn to knit.  Maybe even fall in love.  Your coworkers? morale, your health and the hop in your step may depend on it.