I Won the Lottery—Part 2
By Grover Edie
In my last editorial, I expressed that I had “won the lottery” by being born when I was, in the country where I was born, and with the opportunities I have. Some of you also felt that way and let me know—thank you. But we all have read or seen accounts of people who won a different lottery, such as a state or multi-state lottery, only to be bankrupt within five or ten years. Many have said that the day they won that big jackpot was the worst day of their lives, because it changed their lives for the worse. Their dream became a nightmare.
We all know people who also won the lottery I wrote about last quarter—they have the opportunities, are smart, talented, and at one time they seemed bound for greatness. But that greatness never happened. I know people smarter than me who are struggling with a career that is going nowhere, struggling to make ends meet; you likely know someone like that as well. So what is the deal here?
First, success is how you define it. It could be centered on family, community, fame, finances, spiritual, physical, or a lot of other domains. Some decide not to go after financial or corporate success and pursue other interests—their success is not your success, and vice versa.
Next, a lot has to do with what vision an individual has for himself or herself. Some are perfectly content to put in eight hours of work, go home, and watch television. Others work only to enable them to finance their favorite extracurricular activity. And some just get by.
Whether or not there is support by those around them also has a bearing on their success. Some sacrificed their success for the success of another. I could not have finished the actuarial exams without the encouragement and support of my wife Diane.
Persistence also plays a big role. But then, we know persistent people with a vision, who work many hard and long hours, who still have not reached their goal. How is it that we did it, and others did not?
Is it talent? Is it innate ability? This is the old “nature verses nurture” question. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers1 seeks to answer that question. He cites the story of Bill Gates, who spent an enormous amount of time honing his computing skills, starting in the eighth grade, no less. Likewise, the Beatles played together thousands of hours before being “discovered.” In each case, Gladwell attributes their success to the amount of time they practiced their trade. Geoff Colvin adds the stories of others to that list in his book Talent is Overrated.
Both of these books draw, in part, from a study of violin students at a university in Germany. Musicians were asked to keep a diary of their activities, including when and how much they practiced their violin. They were also graded on the basis of their violin performance. The scientists performing the study wanted to know the relationship between the quality of their violinists’ performances and the amount of time they practiced. The title of the resulting paper: “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance”2 provides the answer.
“Deliberate practice includes activities that have been specially designed to improve the current level of performance.”3 Deliberate practice is not just the time in the job, or time on the golf course or tennis court. It is not just the number of years you have been doing it. It involves activities specifically designed to strengthen your weaknesses and further strengthen your strengths. It is hard work. It is usually not fun, although some become obsessed with it.
The student’s progress must then be tested to determine the effectiveness of the individual’s learning, and whether or not that learning is correct.
It sounds a lot like our examination process. I would say our examination process is such a process.
Both books and the study go on to say that it takes a considerable investment of time in order to reach the level of expertise that is required to be recognized as an expert in a domain. Chess players take a minimum of 10 years before they achieve the level of grandmaster. Bobby Fischer was a notable exception and notable because he was such an exception. The study claims that musicians take a minimum of 10 years of deliberate practice before their compositions are publishable as quality works. Mozart was another exception, but again, an exception, not the rule. Scientists and authors have an average span of 10 years between their first works and their best works. Gladwell poses that it is not just 10 years of deliberate practice, but that it takes a minimum of ten thousand hours of deliberate practice to achieve the result. I used to tell my sons that “just” practicing is not enough, only perfect practice makes perfect. Deliberate practice and perfect practice might not be the same, but they strive for the same result: excellence.
The 10 years of deliberate practice, from start to recognized expert, compares to the average travel time of eight and a half years that it is reported to become a Fellow of our Society. I suggest new Fellows add the CPCU, an MBA, or other post-Fellowship activities to round out their education, and that would take it to the full 10 years, more or less.
My point is this: It isn’t enough that you “won the lottery.” You had to work hard, with purpose, to get to where you are today. You had a vision and likely had people who helped you along, even sacrificed to help you reach that goal. But in the end, you had to put forth a lot of hard work to get where you are.
I personally believe that successful people should voluntarily share their wealth—whether it is money, talent, learning, or whatever. CAS members are quite good at volunteering their time to further the profession—I thank you for that. However, I disagree with those who try to say that financially successful people “owe it” to “share” part of their wealth with unsuccessful people through taxation just because the successful people have accumulated more assets. Successful people have likely worked more—in most cases, a lot more. People understand that to play the piano, you have to practice. Should successful concert pianists be required (“taxed”) to give free concerts? Then why do some people think that getting ahead financially does not also involve a considerable amount of practice and commitment? Do they think it takes less deliberate practice to be proficient at a business skill or highly skilled in math than to learn Chopin? America is a land of equal opportunity, not a land of equal results.
I would be remiss if I also did not mention that, in my case, my God has also played a big part in my success; He has been very kind to me, and I am grateful for that. So rejoice that you won the lottery, but realize that it also took a lot of hard work to turn that winning ticket into a real winner!
1 Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008).
2 K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Drampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer, “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” Psychological Review 100(3), 1993, pp. 363-406.
3 Ibid, p. 368.