What is holding you back? Is it because you aren’t good at something? Is it because it will take a lot of time to achieve it and maybe you are “past your prime”? Is it because it feels like it is just out of reach? Do you feel like you don’t have the right support? Is it because you have competing family demands? What is it that stops you?
We all have something. Something the mean-voice in our head tells us is beyond our reach and simply not a realistic goal for our lives. I’ve had this many times through my life. Nine years ago, I thought I would never be able to go back to college. When the reason that stopped me from going to college became the exact reason I decided to go anyways, that is when I started to get a taste of the growth mindset. I no longer saw having children as a roadblock to a higher education, but instead as a reason for it.
It was about 8.5 years ago when I started the path to my first college degree. I started on my path to earn an Associates in Applied Science with an emphasis on Business Management and Marketing. This felt like a natural educational path for me, as a licensed office manager with my career focused on sales and service of insurance products. I envisioned myself becoming an agency owner and working my way into a district manager position. I knew that wouldn’t be possible without proving that I could obtain a degree, so I started my journey of educational growth.
Somewhere along the way, I heard about the actuarial profession and was intrigued. I had already grown fond of the insurance industry, and felt like I had developed a decent understanding. I had always loved math and numbers. The actuarial profession seemed to fit into my interests very well. How could I become an actuary with an associates in a business field? I knew I would have to keep growing. So I went for it and earned my Bachelors Degree in Applied Mathematics with a Minor in Risk Management. I passed my first actuarial exam and had an actuarial internship. I was then recruited into a non-actuarial position, which taught me so many skills. When I started this role, I wasn’t sure if I would end up staying in that field, or if I would eventually go back into the actuarial career path. Shortly after starting in that role my marriage was falling apart, and taking actuarial exams felt out of reach. As a matter of fact, I failed the same one twice after registering for an exam that I then didn’t give myself the appropriate amount of time to study for. So I felt like the actuarial path wasn’t in the cards for me. Just out of reach.
Then I went through my divorce. Raising 2 kids as a single parent is hard. The emotional turmoil of divorce is hard. Finding who you are in your new life is hard. I knew the obstacles wouldn’t completely stop my career, but I was also very aware that I wanted to take the time I needed to heal. Instead of continuing with exams, I worked on myself. I went to a divorce support group a work friend suggested at her church. I focused on my own happiness and the happiness of my kids. I bought my own home. I started this blog to help me heal. I worked on me, and I found the life that I love. I may have been able to do this while continuing to study for actuarial exams, but I wanted to place my focus in the right area of my life for me in that moment. So I did. And I am happy I did.
That brings us to today. Today, I sat for my second actuarial exam on Financial Mathematics. Three months shy of five years after passing my first actuarial exam. Hundreds of hours within the last five months of studying. And it all came down to today.
Fear of failure loomed over me. I will never forget my failed exam dream. It was similar to the dreams I had in High School that I wouldn’t graduate. I had similar dreams while I was in college. This fear of failure dream would emphasize all of my insecurities for everything in my life at that moment. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders every time I studied and for 3 full hours while taking the exam today. What if I didn’t pass? I would let my kids down. I would let my parents down. I would let my manager and group down. I would let all single-mom’s down. I would let all of women-kind everywhere down.
I know this is ridiculous. Whether I passed this exam wouldn’t impact all-of-women-kind, I am simply not that important. I know that single-moms everywhere will not be impacted. But in those moments, the dreams, the mean-voice telling me I wasn’t good enough, I felt a huge responsibility. I am representing women, single moms, my parents, and my children when I take this exam. It is everyone’s efforts brought together, and I was the one responsible for bringing home the blue ribbon. I felt as though I had this massive responsibility. So I studied hard. Then, hundreds of hours later, sooo many pieces of paper, COFFEE, books, videos, COFFEE, practice exams, pencils, COFFEE, pens, calculators, COFFEE, all of the resources I used, and all of the people in my life that helped me get through it, and all the COFFEE, and it all came down to today.
But what if I had let my fear cripple me into being too afraid to fail? I would have never taken the chance. I would not have been able to prove to myself that I have what it takes. I would not have been able to pick my kids up from school tonight and share my good news and have a celebration dinner with them. If I had let my fear of failure stop me from taking this exam today, that would be the real let down, not failing it.
So many people let fear of failure stop them from taking the next step. And sometimes it’s not just fear. I can’t even tell you how many people I’ve heard say that they just aren’t good at math, because apparently whenever someone learns you were a math major the appropriate response is as such. While some people may have a more natural talent, I truly believe that math can and should be considered a learned skill. Nobody is BORN able to do calculus, or algebra, or multiplication, or even addition. It may take some people longer than others, but I believe if you WANT to learn it, you can, and should. That is not to say everyone has to learn everything about math. Some don’t want to learn calculus, and that is entirely acceptable if your focus is something else. To that sense, nobody is born a CEO, Doctor, Lawyer, or World Leader. Everybody starts somewhere. Let me repeat that for emphasis, because I think this is a big thing to remember. EVERYBODY STARTS SOMEWHERE. It may be argued that the path is smoother for some than it is for others, and to that I would whole-heatedly agree. While some paths may be quite rocky, it doesn’t mean a path can’t be forged with enough effort.
I remember a workshop I participated in once asked everyone to do something relatively simple similar to the following. First you have to write down what you think you could never do. Is it a career goal? Education goal? Personal goal? Physical Fitness goal? Write down what you can’t do and why you can’t do it. Most recently, for me I would have written: I could never pass an actuarial exam as a single mother because I don’t have enough time. The next thing you need to do is take that same piece of paper, flip it around, and thinking outside the box, answer the question; what would it take for me to do this? We’re talking unlimited resources, what would it take. For me, the answer felt very daunting. I would need to have more help with my kids, I would need help around the house with cleaning, and I would need to be in a role that would support my exams. These things were hard. One by one, though, I was able to tackle each obstacle. My parents have helped tremendously with sleepovers when I needed weekends to focus on studying. My kids help with daily chores and have now taken on the responsibility of washing dishes and emptying the garbage/recycling, as well as putting away their toys and folding their own laundry. I hired a cleaner who has done a fantastic job making sure my house doesn’t stink. And I started in a role that supported my desire to take exams. Everything I needed was lined up. So the next part was up to me. I was given the time, so no more excuses.
Instead of thinking about why we aren’t capable of achieving our goals, we need to start thinking of ways to make it happen despite all of our obstacles. Your goal may be to master a recipe, or spend more quality time with family, or advance your education or career, or to learn to do a cartwheel. No goal is too small or too big when you have a growth mindset. Instead of thinking of reasons you can’t, start to list out what would it take to accomplish your goal. The results could be magnificent, and you may find the best part of yourself.
For those of you patiently waiting to know, preliminary results indicate that I didn’t let anybody down. Not my children, parents, work group, manager, single moms everywhere, or women kind.
Here is a fantastic Ted-Talk I recommend on this subject.