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  • 37 Lessons Actuarial Science Has Taught Me About Life


Actuarial Lesson #1: Compound interest is powerful. Start saving early. 


Actuarial Lesson #2: Life is a series of likelihoods. Thinking in a probabilistic way will serve you well. 


Actuarial Lesson #3: Risk is unavoidable. To succeed, you must learn to embrace it. 


Actuarial Lesson #4: Much of life is random. But thanks to the law of large numbers, doing something enough times can help you create your own luck.


Actuarial Lesson #5: Salary is important, but meaningful work trumps your wage.


Actuarial Lesson #6: Focus on the things you can control. Let go of the things you can’t.


Actuarial Lesson #7: Don’t be afraid of uncertainty. A stochastic life is full of colour.


Actuarial Lesson #8: The self-help gurus that preach you can have it all in life are wrong. There’s an opportunity cost with every venture we embark on.


Actuarial Lesson #9: Be careful what advice you follow. Question everything.


Actuarial Lesson #10: The biggest risk in life is playing it too safe.


Actuarial Lesson #11: Take active control of your life. The proactive stallion beats the reactive rocking horse.


Actuarial Lesson #12: There are an infinite number of ways to perceive events. Don’t attach 100% probability to your initial interpretation.


Actuarial Lesson #13: Don’t burn bridges. It’s better, in the long term, to stay cool and bite your tongue.


Actuarial Lesson #14: Don’t be tempted to chase money to the detriment of character. It nearly always turns out bad.


Actuarial Lesson #15: Move. Sitting at a desk all day is bad.


Actuarial Lesson #16: Health, family and friends come first. Work and study are important but not what life is about.


Actuarial Lesson #17: Beating procrastination is a daily battle. Nike’s mantra of “Just Do It” is a great antidote.


Actuarial Lesson #18: Things like smoking, being male, poor diet, lack of exercise and and stress equates to a lower expected lifetime. But that’s on average.


Actuarial Lesson #19: Vilfredo Pareto was right. 80% of your success tends to come from 20% of your efforts.


Actuarial Lesson #20: Not all “experts” are created equal. Letters and credentials doesn’t equate to omniscience.


Actuarial Lesson #21: Learn to say no, when appropriate. Everyone has an agenda. What’s best for you may not be on it.


Actuarial Lesson #22: 90% right and done beats 100% right but unfinished.


Actuarial Lesson #23: Lower your expectations. Happiness = Outcome/Expectations.


Actuarial Lesson #24: Think long term. Particularly with regard to spending and health. The 1973 Stanford study kid who ate the marshmallow is now broke and obese.


Actuarial Lesson #25: What looks like overnight success usually takes years of work.


Actuarial Lesson #26: Consider your circle of friends as a state in a Markov chain. Guard transitions into the “circle of influence” state carefully.


Actuarial Lesson #27: Thinking optimally and rationally, without bias, is a valuable skill. But surprisingly difficult to master.


Actuarial Lesson #28: Failure in life is inevitable (e.g. actuarial exams!). But that’s not what counts. Getting up and readjusting your path is what is important.


Actuarial Lesson #29: Never stop learning. For a successful actuarial career, exams are only the beginning.


Actuarial Lesson #30: Never take the lift when there are stairs to climb. Small habits make a difference.


Actuarial Lesson #31: Be careful with technology, especially addictive smartphones and social media. We are living in a grand-scale social experiment.


Actuarial Lesson #32: Challenge your comfort zone. But don’t forget to rest.


Actuarial Lesson #33: Time spent with family, especially your kids, is much more important than achieving any work accolades.


Actuarial Lesson #34: Always question the assumptions you make in life. We make faulty assumptions more often than we realise.


Actuarial Lesson #35: Mistakes happen. Ask yourself “will this matter/will anyone care in 5 years time?”


Actuarial Lesson #36: It’s better to choose the pain of discipline (e.g. studying) over the pain of regret (e.g. failing exams).


Actuarial Lesson #37: As a 41-year-old I probably have about 500 months of my life left to live.

Stay conscious of that every day.

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Mark Farrell FIA PhD

FIA Actuary | Founder of ProActuary | Senior Lecturer of Actuarial Science at Queen’s University Belfast | Fulbright Scholar | Consulting Actuary | Love all things actuarial but also travel, adventure, cycling, hiking, reading & keeping up with my 3 children.

Mark Farrell

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