Increase Your Luck Surface Area: Advice For Young Actuaries

Photo by Lesya Kikh from Pexels

We have ever-changing answers to the perennial “what do you want to be” question. When I was very young, I wanted to be a pilot, traversing the world in jumbo jets. In my early teens, I found an affinity for computers and thought that I would very much like to be a tech entrepreneur.

A few years later, I approached the end of secondary school and was in dire need of a realistic career plan. I picked up the book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by chance, which led to an interest in investments. I read more investments-related books and came across something about Warren Buffett, the legendary investor, considering becoming an actuary. Boom – I had my answer – I was to be an actuary.

Having spent almost 15 years in the profession – studying for actuarial exams, training to become an actuary, and working as a qualified actuary – I still don’t have all the answers. But I do have one advice for young actuaries – do everything you can to increase your luck surface area.

How to get lucky

The idea is simple – position yourself so that Lady Luck shines on you more often.

As a young actuary, you should be doing at least 3 things. Doing these consistently will increase your chance of getting noticed, getting interesting work, and ultimately getting the role your heart desires:

  1. Learn to get stuff done
  2. Learn how to learn
  3. Don’t climb the wrong hill

#1: Learn to get stuff done

This advice is popularised by Barack Obama. It’s about being a self-starter and a doer. Your boss is “appreciative” when you spot a problem but they will adore you for identifying solutions and implementing the best one.

Become technically competent. Take ownership. Be a doer. Equally important, take credit for your good work – communicate what you’ve done.

Barack Obama on what it means to “get stuff done”

#2: Learn how to learn

Passing actuarial exams and qualifying as an actuary is a prerequisite, the bare minimum of what’s required. In a fast-changing world, you need to continue to learn and upskill. Each of us learn differently but there are proven frameworks to learn faster and deeper. I first heard this articulated by Elon Musk:

It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree – make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.

Elon Musk, AMA on Reddit

I subscribe to the Feynman learning technique; the gist of which is that “the ultimate test of your knowledge is your capacity to convey it to another”. For example, to learn deeper about web3 (after understanding the fundamentals of blockchain), I learnt to build web3 apps, analysed on-chain data, wrote an overview of what web3 is, and presented it to an audience.

Elon Musk has more good advice for young people in general (TLDR: be useful, read broadly and learn as widely as possible, and find your ikigai).

Elon Musk’s advice for young people

#3: Don’t climb the wrong hill

This advice is articulated in a short blog post by Chris Dixon, a general partner at the venture capital firm a16z. It’s inspired by a mathematical optimisation technique called “hill climbing” – this method is only good at finding local optima instead of the global optimum.

The gist of the advice is that early in your career, you should explore and survey the landscape. As a young actuary, you should take on a wide variety of tasks, volunteer for projects, spend time in non traditional actuarial roles and so on.

The aim is to figure out your career end goal so that you can start working towards it. Jeff Bezos has a similar advice – he started Amazon to minimise the number of regrets later in life.

Chris Dixon on not climbing the wrong hill

It’s all a game

Ultimately, it’s all a game – you complete missions, collect power-up items, level up, take on more challenging missions, and repeat until the fog of war is completely lifted. Don’t take it too seriously and have fun climbing the right hill.

The bottom line: As a young actuary, you need to do everything you can to increase your luck surface area. The least you need to do to be “lucky” is to learn to get stuff done, learn how to learn, and explore to avoid climbing the wrong hill.