Keep a journal. Journaling helps us reflect and refreshes our purpose.

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Tip 58 ‘Keep a journal.  Journaling helps us reflect and refreshes our purpose.’

When I was young, I kept a diary, and I continued to write to myself in various periods of my life. Two and half years ago, I started keeping a journal, and I make daily entries of about 500 words. I now find this pretty rewarding and therapeutic

Keeping a journal is one of the most effective and efficient ways to develop reflective skills.  Studies have shown that those who write regularly about their private thoughts are less likely to suffer from depression, have improved immune function, and they have a personal crisis, they get out more quickly. Writing one’s about one’s emotions not only increases survivorship but probably changes the patterns of the stress hormones. 

Journaling refreshes our purpose; the richness is the journey. As Montaigne said, “It is the skill of repose and not conquest that gives us mastery. It helps helps us find out what we truly want (Marion Milner) and help us till the tightly packed soil of a busy life (Progoff).

It also provides stepping stones for continuity, possibilities for roads not taken, and flow; improve quality of being and surfacing of opportunities, and the art of directing attention

We can write about our public self, our private lives, our personal self and our underlying spiritual or emotional condition.

I sketch the major events of each day as a scaffolding- what happened and how I felt about them. The most interesting parts are often what goes on internally within me. What matters, what worries me, what I think about the circumstance and the people involve and their motives. What makes me feel good, in the flow and flourish. What makes me feel desolated, depressed or isolated.

And what is probably more remarkable is that when I revisit what I have written, a week ago, a month ago or a year ago or decades ago how our perspectives change. What was very significant then, now seen as trivial and what was trivial turn out to be not as trivial as one might think.

This mental excavation of my emotions amidst all the events reminds me of Ira Progoff said: “Under the pressure of events our lives become hard-packed like soil that has not been tilled for many years.”

We have to till our soil, to enable the garden of our lives to flourish.

Paul Ricouer, the French philosopher, talks about the need for human beings to develop a narrative. We need an “emplotment” – as we draw together disparate past events into a meaningful whole, by establishing causal and meaningful connections between them. These necessarily entail implications of moral authenticity, and so the narrative I am developing encourage me to be authentic and hold a mirror of accountability to myself.

I recently dipped into the diaries of the British politicians such as Alan Clark and Tony Benn and also the exchange of letters between James Salter (a favourite author of mine) and Robert Phelps. Each of them does it their own way.

One person whom I could recommend is Marion Milner – a psychoanalyst of the first order. Her book, “A Life of One’s Own” – is a profound investigation of her inner world and thoughts and the nature of her moods.  Recording small private moments, she builds up a store of vignettes of memories. A carved duck, moments captured in her travels, a painting, and encounter with a man each makes up a ‘bead’ that has a warmth or glow that responds to asking the simple question: What is the most important thing that makes my mood what it was? What makes me happy?

From these vignettes – written beautifully – grows a sense of an ‘answering activity’, the result of turning one’s attention inwards to experience an absolute joy. What Marion Milner conveys so vividly and inspirationally is her lifelong intention to live as completely as possible in the moment.

Both Montaigne and Marcuse Aurelius are excellent in reflections on the affairs of humanity they probably more appropriately classified as essayists.

This is one tip I would recommend to both young and old actuaries.

61 TIPS for Young Actuaries

1. Congratulations on becoming an actuary. It is the beginning of life-long learning.

2. The first principle of success is constancy of purpose

3. The second principle is drive, focus and determination.

4. Imagine what is possible with your life.

5. Success is inevitable to the person with unlimited enthusiasm. Read Napoleon Hill’s “Law of Success”.

6. If you face challenges or failures, regard them as learning opportunities. Never give up.

7. Develop the art of speaking well in public. Dale Carnegie’s book on “Developing Self Confidence in Public Speaking” is still the best around.

8. Have a strategy on your career. Pursue it with passion. Passion is at the heart of excellence.

9. Take ownership of your work. Go the extra mile for the work you are given.

10. Be Responsible. As a person and in all the roles you take on.

11. Always prepare. If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

12. Be the solution to the problem. Do not be the problem.

13. Be the go-to person in your workplace. This is not difficult. Use C.A.D.I.F. – Committed, Attention to Detail and Immediate Follow Up – this is from Mark McCormack’s “What they do not teach you at Harvard Business School”.

14. Be a pioneer. Be bold. Without courage, there will be no progress.

15. Travel and work elsewhere. It will help you understand we are all different and we are all the same.

16. Have a a financial savings program. You are as rich as you save, not as you earn.

17. Acquire assets not liabilities. Learn to say no to stuff which do not matter. Simplify your life.

18. Do not time the market. It is time in the market that matters.

19. Start early, invest monthly via dollar cost or value-based averaging in a diversified portfolio.

20. Do not forget term life and health insurance for yourself and family.

21. Economically, your job is your greatest asset. Treasure it and invest in it.

22. Be quick to say sorry and take responsibility. Do not cover up. Be authentic. Always.

23. Engage your colleagues. Do not avoid your bosses, and do not forget the cleaners and receptionists.

24. When investigating a subject or solving a problem, look at different angles. Always turn the page. Never assume anything. Turn every goddamned page.

25. You are an actuary. You must do your work with care and competence. Understanding the problem is more important than getting to the answer.

26. Live your actuaries code – all the time. Be a credit to your profession

27. Volunteer to do things for others; the community, the profession or the workplace. Be helpful, kind and generous.

28. Have a sense of humour.

29. Challenge the consensus and groupthink. Do it with respect and humility.

30. Read Frank Redington’s papers, in particular, The Flock and the Sheep. Read past presidential addresses. Also, Craig Turnbull’s History of Actuarial Thought. This will give you a flavour of our profession.

31. If your workplace is not right for you, leave. It is better to act early rather than late. You are more independent than you think.

32. Make notes. Carry notebooks with you. Be inspired by Leonardo da Vinci.

33. Stay curious – curiosity opens up windows and make you a more interesting person. Read Steve Jobs’s “Stay Hungry Stay Foolish” commencement address.

34. Invest time in Quadrant 2 activities. Things which are important but not yet urgent. Read Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Effective People”. It is still one of the best books on personal development and leadership.

35. Learn new skills every year. Spend at least five hours a week on learning new skills. On social media, on languages, on programming languages, on new technologies. Stay current on data science and machine learning.

36. Read widely – at last one good book a month. Any book, which gets your attention. Of relevance to our profession are those on digital and biotechnologies, social platforms, new economics, culture, behavioural finance and genetics.

37. It is not only about knowledge. The real voyage of discovery is seeing things with new eyes. Question the paradigms you operate in. Read Gillian Tett’s ‘Silo Effect”.

38. Have mentors, coaches and guides. Be guided by the stars of the night and not the lights of each passing ship.

39. Jim Collins said, “Good is the enemy of great. It is just so easy to settle for a good life.” Do not settle for a good life. Settle for a great life.

40. Your partner in life. This is probably your most important decision. Use your head wisely. And your heart.

41. Take a long sabbatical. You can do this in-between jobs. Take a second degree, which is very different from your first, if you can.

42. Spend time with your family. Children, siblings and parents. This is precious.

43. Make your message compelling. Never give a speech unless you have something meaningful to say.

44. Read Lynda Gratton’s “The 100 – Year Life” and Herminia Ibarra’s “Working Identity”. These will help you in designing your increasingly long life.

45. Treasure your health. Have an exercise regime. Every day. Get a gym or yoga trainer, or any other trainer.

46. Sleep well. Sleep helps us improve our concentration and productivity. And enhances our immune system.

47. Always be engaged. This means listening and paying attention.

48. Always be engaging. This means speaking to the person and not at the person.

49. Understand culture. Culture is the game in town.  The rest are sideshows.

50. The internet has democratised knowledge. Curate your own digital library. But be focused! Social media is part of life – use it.

51. Connect the dots across domains or paradigms. So read different types of books, talk to different groups of people and go to different places. Go to the heart of the problem by talking to people who really know the issues. Navigate the paradigms.

52. Care about is happening in our world. Make a difference. Remember Redington, who is probably the greatest actuary in the last 100 years, said, “An actuary who is only an actuary is not an actuary.”

53. Your spiritual and inner lives are paramount. Do yoga, prayer or meditation.

54. Do not lose force on distractions and irritations.

55. Your attention is your greatest resource. Use and direct your attention wisely. Understand narrow and wide attention. Read Marion Milner’s “A Life of One’s Own.” It is revelatory.

56. Most of us are mechanical and asleep most of the time. Wake up. Waking up means mindfulness and walking into a space of self-awareness.

57. We have a choice on how we want to respond to others and external events. Read Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Only human beings can do this. Use this gift.

58. Keep a journal. Journaling refreshes our purpose.

59. Sir Francis Bacon said, “I hold every man a debtor to his profession; from the which as men, of course, do seek to receive countenance and profit, so ought they of duty to endeavour themselves by way of amends to be a help and ornament thereunto.” Be a help and ornament to your profession.

60. We live in a world of uncertainty. Use judgement, not models.

61. COVID-19 is unmasking the precarity of the world. Use your influence to help create a better world.