UNI, teams, and over achieving

Sunday was an exciting day for me and my alma mater, University of Northern Iowa. Their men’s basketball team won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. They have had a wonderful season so far, being ranked as high as 10th in the country. What makes their accomplishments satisfying is that many of their top players are from Iowa. To make it more interesting, many of these players were not offered scholarships at the University of Iowa or Iowa State. So, how could a collection of Iowa players not good enough to play for the other two state schools be one of the top teams in the country?

I think there are two keys: Over achieving and teamwork. You really can over achieve if you focus and work on the fundamentals.

I avoided the actuarial career path when I was in college because I did not think I was smart enough. The only reason I became an actuary was that it was the only job I could find (times have changed!). Even then, I promised myself I would find a teaching job after one year. Being an actuary was just a short-term plan for me since I didn’t think I could “play with the pros”. But, it is amazing what working hard will do. I found out that passing the tests actually is possible for mere humans such as myself. This month marks the 20th year of our actuarial education and consulting business. It doesn’t seem possible … but it is.

Being active in sports my entire life, I always valued team work. It is amazing what teams accomplish when they work together and have good “chemistry”. I see that with UNI’s team defense. It’s likely none of the players are all star defenders individually. But, when you learn good team defense, the team can be extremely effective. I have seen similar benefits to the Coaching Actuaries team. I am so proud of how the team works together, helping each other out. As we understand each other’s roles and strengths, the team becomes stronger.

As you pursue your actuarial career, don’t underestimate what you can accomplish. I know I did. Also, make sure you not only find a good job and a good company, but a good team. Teams don’t just happen. Teams are not just a collection of people.

Effective teams in business, like sports, require effort. It requires understanding the team’s mission and what roles each individual has to meet that mission.

To accomplish either or both of these goals, you need to focus on the long term. Get a plan, set your goals high, and stick with it! Don’t forget to enjoy your journey.