When I cried after a math test

I had been failing exams for about 9 months straight. 4 in a row from July 2012 through March 2013. The humiliation, the self doubt. The guilt!

With a full time job, a new baby and nearest parents a 7 hour drive away, me studying put an incredible strain on my wife (who pulled me out of the emotional gutter more than once). And sitting for an exam every 3 months or so is a brutal pace. There are no breaks. Every evening, every weekend, on the commute, at lunch. Always studying. One exams ends (fail) and literally the next week I have to be back at it.

Yes they’re hard. These things are famous for being hard. So I give it everything I’ve got thinking, ‘hey, you’re a smart guy, you can do this’. Fail, fail, fail, fail. I begin to lose hope. Now the self talk is more like ‘maybe you’re just not cut out for this’. And the window is closing. More work responsibility and more kids means if I don’t do this now I will never do it.

A couple months later I finish another one and am flying through the post-exam survey (come on come on come on, give me the damn result) and click ‘submit’. The screen goes blank. Calculating. It probably only last 2 seconds but I’m not breathing at this point.

Pass. I burst out in tears. No kidding. Shaking. Sobbing. Not sad, not happy even, not relieved, not any emotion I’ve ever felt elsewhere in life. It’s like… a release. Like there was some kind of energy stored somewhere and it just all fell out at once.

And I am in this prometric testing center full of people. Security cameras everywhere. Trying to pull myself together (desperately, quietly). It takes like 5 full minutes. They must have wondered what on earth I was doing. Or maybe it happens all the time. It probably happens all the time.

Fast forward to today and I’m done. Like done done. I just found out I passed my latest exam and so have completed all the requirements to be a credentialed actuary. There’s some paperwork to get through before it’s all official but formalities aside it’s over.


Time to reflect. Uh, I don’t know what to say. On paper I wasn’t cut out for this. Even in some big picture sense I’m a weirdo for this profession. You know those people who love math? Who play number games and logic puzzles and like learning shortcuts for calculating square roots in their heads? Not me.

How about the mega brains who learn effortlessly and cruise through exams? Ha. This has been an exercise in feeling stupid every single day. Of feeling that you understand something and then receiving humiliating proof you don’t have a clue.

No, I did it because I like business and want desperately to understand the inner workings of my industry. If I was in tech I’d probably do night courses to become an engineer.

Dont get me wrong, I understand the world is full of successful people who didn’t need to know how the sausage was made to cook it. My method is almost certainly a dumber way to succeed. It takes too much time and energy. But I’m such an intellectual wuss that I don’t have enough confidence to be a leader without a truckload of deep background knowledge.

So now I’m free. There are more exams of course. The fellowship level is a possibility but I doubt I’ll go there. Too many other things to learn. Things that won’t make me cry!

3 thoughts on “When I cried after a math test

  1. Well done Sir!

    Q/. What do they call the guy who graduated in last place in medical school?

    A/. Dr.

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