Had you asked me ten years ago what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer would have been simple. Not because I have always known it, but because I did not. All I knew was that I wanted to be successful, and back then, that meant having a lot of wealth and power.
Growing up, I prayed everyday for a successful life. I worked very hard in school and daydreamt of success when I had nothing better to do. I saw my smartly dressed-self negotiating important deals with influential hotshots in my beautiful office with its spectacular view, but I never really knew what my job was in those dreams.
Thus, I found myself in a dilemma when SPM ended. I had absolutely no idea what to do next. It would have been an easy decision if overseas scholarships were offered for Accountancy programmes, but the only Accountancy scholarships back then were for local universities. Although I loved Accountancy and excelled at it in school, I ignored that option as I really wanted to go abroad.
One day, my uncle talked to me about Actuarial Science. It sounded very appealing – challenging course, big income, and excellent job prospects due to the small number of professionals available. I was unsure about what the job scope actually entailed, but it seemed to involve a lot of math for insurance, and I had always been good with numbers. So, during my interview with the sponsors, I firmly stated my choice: I wanted to do Actuarial Science in the United States.
When the interview results were announced, I was ecstatic. I was accepted!
My first year in university went very well. Problems only surfaced when classes specialised into the Actuarial syllabus. I excelled in General Education and Risk Management classes, but did rather poorly in Statistics as I had very little interest in the subject. Thus, my average grade suffered. I later graduated with a grade I was not really proud of, but openly accepted, because I knew I did not work as hard as I should have.
I am a naturally hardworking person who loves learning, with my enthusiasm for education reflected in my good grades in other subjects. I disliked Actuarial Science but stuck to it because of my sponsorship – I was afraid they would withdraw it if I told them I had changed my mind.
After graduation, I got hired as an Actuarial Associate in a multi-national insurance company even before I returned to Malaysia. As aforementioned, actuaries are very high in demand due to their low numbers. Although I hated Actuarial Science in college, I took the offer anyway, hoping I would feel differently once I made a career out of it.
Unfortunately, it never did. I cringed when I compiled statistical data and whined every time I had to read an article related to the Actuarial field. It was plain torture! The only thing that kept me going was the wonderful people I worked with, whom I admired for their talent and passion for Actuarial Science.
After a year in the Actuarial Department, I happily transferred to another department in the insurance firm. I was doing rather well and would have had a promising future if I had stayed. However, I quit a year later, partly to help my father run his business, and also because I did not want to be doing insurance all my life.
However, there is nothing wrong with majoring in Actuarial Science or working for the insurance industry. Based on my experience, I can assure you that Actuarial Science is a valuable and respected major, and insurance is a profitable and fast growing sector. The issue was that I disliked both fields, but endured them simply because I was too afraid to discuss my problems.
I should have consulted my sponsors the minute I had a change of heart. I also made the mistake of narrowing my ambitions to well-paid professions, which limited my career choices. I could have become a chef, a historian, a film-maker, an archaeologist – there are so many things you can do! But above all, just do what you like best. Pursue a career relevant to your interests, and your passion will help you excel. The respect and fat pay cheques will come eventually when people start appreciating your talent.
Sometimes, I wonder how it would have been if I had stayed behind and pursued Accountancy instead. Yet, my experience studying abroad was so valuable that I would not have traded it for the world. Thus, I would like to believe that everything happens for a reason, and that no matter what happens in life, it is never too late to start again.
Ainur Fuad is an adventure-lover who studied Actuarial Science and Finance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA. After years of putting up with Actuarial Science for the promise of great wealth, she finally left the profession to pursue a simple career doing what she loves best: writing. Click here for more articles.
Note: The above entry was written in 2010 for What’s After SPM?, published in 2011. This non-for-profit book project is a collaboration between Leaderonomics and a team of young Malaysians. Click here for details on the project and authors.