“I don’t know why I failed,” I groaned. “How much did you study?” he asked. I responded, “A lot!” “Did you keep track of how many hours you studied?” he followed up. “No, I guess I should,” and the lightbulb went on.
Mentors have helped me immensely along my journey as an actuary. I am fortunate to have had several mentors throughout my career and I am grateful for each one. They encourage, guide, listen, teach, tell great stories and expand your professional connections. It takes some courage to reach out to a mentor and to ask for help. It also takes a little bit of effort to set up time to talk and make sure you’re prepared with good questions, but the return on your investment can be great. As with most efforts in life, the more you put into it, the more you will receive.
When I run into a difficult problem, I have a mentor to turn to for guidance. At times, as in the opening dialogue, I receive a simple tactic for how to better approach my problem. How would I know if I reached my target study hours if I wasn’t logging them? In retrospect it seems obvious, but it wasn’t obvious to me at the time. It was a quick conversation that dramatically improved my exam success.
That’s not to say the exams became easy, of course not. But my mentor was there to encourage me when it seemed overwhelming. We’re in a specialized, somewhat niche profession and a fellow actuary understands what you’re going through. A mentor can bring experience and expertise to support and reassure you. In addition to an actuarial mentor, I encourage you to look for a mentor outside of the actuarial profession who can bring diversity to the relationship.
Sometimes what I need is a different perspective. When I am stuck in a rut I can talk to a mentor and bounce ideas around. Their experience and viewpoint can help me jump out of my rut. Once I was working on a project that I didn’t lead. I noticed that we were losing steam and I was worried we might not achieve our goal. I made some suggestions and tried to influence the team, but it wasn’t working as I’d hoped. I talked to a mentor about the situation and explained the goal and what I thought the problems were. He asked if everyone agreed on the goal. This was a great question, and it made me realize that what had seemed very obviously to me to be the goal was, in fact, not so obvious. This kind of mental jiu-jitsu was exactly what I needed.
Often, my mentors have different strengths or backgrounds than I do that allow them to show me opportunities to grow. As I develop a relationship with a mentor, they learn my interests, strengths and weaknesses. This combined with their experience in the industry and in life gives them insight into what I might do to better prepare for the path that I want to take. They can explain potential career paths that I could take, the pros and cons of various career opportunities and even how the CAS works as an organization.
An additional benefit I have realized under my mentors is expanding my network. It is not the focus of why I want a mentor or how I choose a mentor, but it can be a very valuable benefit. Having a mentor who can connect you to other actuaries and leaders in the industry, or even advocate on your behalf is very effective at helping to build a strong network.
The benefits of mentoring are tangible. In a summary of 30 years of research on mentoring, researchers found measurable value to have a mentor, including:
- Improved career outcomes – higher compensation, more promotions, more career satisfaction
- Engagement – feel more positively about organization and leadership
The periods in my career when I felt I have grown the most have been when I’ve had a mentor. There is a powerful leverage effect of applying mentorship. One of my favorite proverbs is, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Find a mentor who can sharpen your skills as an actuary, encourage you and advocate on your behalf. Also, be available for younger actuaries when they have questions and are looking for guidance and mentorship. Both sides of the mentor relationship can take some time and effort, but I believe you’ll find it powerful and nourishing.