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Sometimes, despite great plans and dreaming, things don’t work out the way I envision them. Sometimes it’s out of my control and other times I quickly realize I could have done better to achieve what I set out to do. Either way, it’s time to write down this failure and learn from it.
My Projects List has long included passing all three Chartered Financial Analyst exams and becoming a CFA charter holder. I signed up for the December 2012 Level 1 exam all the way back in March 2012 while in Guatemala. And then I didn’t study. I didn’t study throughout the spring in Europe and I didn’t study while in Seattle taking my nursing prerequisites. I finally got going in the fall after the Colorado Trail and while I made big strides, it wasn’t quite enough.
The CFA exam is known to be tough. There are three levels to pass. Level 1 is offered twice a year, once in June and again in December while Levels 2 and 3 are only offered once a year in June. For the December 2012 exam the passing rate was only 37%, meaning that 63% of us taking the exam failed.
Not only did I pay the price for taking the exam and curriculum (north of $600) but I also paid for a review class at Seattle University, around $1100. So I was invested in this exam. I pushed myself to study trying all sorts of strategies. I found by the end that I’m very much a person that likes to be lectured to. I like having people explain things and see it working in front of me. I am not one to read a textbook.
By the time the exam arrived, I knew I was borderline passing. I took a large simulated practice exam and again was right on the border. I pushed myself to cover the material I had been short on, particularly fixed income and economics (a course I’ve amazingly never taken in all my years of schooling). However, by the last week I was fried. I was falling behind in my science prerequisite classes and it felt as if everything was coming to a head. I slacked on the CFA material, particularly the economics stuff.
It’s late January and I get the simple email stating that I did not pass the exam. They break down the group of those that failed (63%) into 10 groups with a 1 being the bottom 10% of the failures and a 10 being the highest of those that failed. I received a 10. They also broke down my individual scores by subject matter. I was tops in Ethics, Portfolio Management, and Alternative Investments. The only one I was below average: Economics.
I beat myself up a little over failing to study until the end and really learn the econ stuff knowing I could have been finished with Level 1 and moving on to Level 2. Then I got motivated and nearly signed up for Level 1 this coming June. After taking some time to think it over, it was clear to me that this program would reamin on my Projects list. I also knew I needed a more disciplined approach if I was to really be successful. Squeaking by Level 1 in December and then going for Level 2 in June would have been really tough.
So I came up with a plan. What has worked best for me in the past: Creating new habits. How do I go about creating new habits? Streaks. If I was going to sign up for Level 1 again, I needed to commit myself to daily CFA study, and for me, that needed to be every single day without fail. After taking a few days to think it over and to figure out what would qualify for me as acceptable study material, I went ahead and signed up for Level 1 again, scheduled for December 2013. I also committed to daily CFA study until all three levels have been passed.
That was nearly three months ago. I have studied everyday and I have thoroughly covered a large portion of the curriculum already. I have materials to listen to on my MP3 player while hiking the trail. I will be all set to begin practice problems and exams when we finish the trail and may even be able to begin work on Level 2 before the Level 1 exam in December. I feel like I have successfully created a new habit and because of this habit, I feel like completing this challenging item on my Projects List is much more likely.
So, in short, failure sucks, but it has helped me refocus and learn that if I really want some things to happen, it takes more than sporadic effort – even if I give it my all during those sporadic efforts. To make changes in my life, I really need to change my habits. So cheers to streaks and starting new habits, and cheers to failure because however painful it may be, there are lessons to be learned from it.