Letter to my high school`s 2021 student body

College of the Immaculate Conception (St. Mary`s College, Trinidad) ‘ Class of 1983

I have never formally and publicly thanked St. Mary`s College (CIC), for a world-class education and for introducing me to the most supportive band of brothers I could ever have hoped for. Even after saying farewell in 1983 to #75 Frederick St, this loyal group of friends has travelled with me throughout my life journey. So, thank you CIC for seven exceptional and transformational years!

Thank you as well for inviting me to share some of my thoughts and ideas that might be of interest to the present student body.

Develop a Growth Mind Set

An elite ballet company selects its company members as follows: The ballet master first observes the eager dancers as they perform their solos, then offers critiques and asks them to perform again. Only those who show the most improvement after the critique are selected to join the company, and these may not necessarily be the best dancers. The ballet master wants dancers who respond best to feedback, i.e., who have a growth mindset.

This concept of a growth mindset is discussed in Dr. Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dr. Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, distinguishes a growth mindset from what she calls a fixed mindset as follows: “In a fixed mindset, students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”

Here’s a look at how the two mindsets can affect actuarial science students and working professionals: After the inevitable failing grades whilst struggling to complete the plethora of arduous professional exams, those with fixed mindsets may groan, knowing that they will not only have to retake an exam but may also have to have to study a completely revised curriculum. Those with growth mindsets, however, see this scenario as a challenge, and might even welcome it.

Is it possible to change one’s mindset from fixed to growth? Yes. Perseverance is the key! As Winston Churchill once said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

Seek out mentors

Mentors not only teach us things; they can also help us avoid making the same mistakes they made. It is amazing how willing most people are to be mentors. I have been very fortunate to have had a lot of great mentors and bosses over the years who have, perhaps unconsciously, steered my career to where it is today by telling me anecdotes of their personal career journeys which invariably impact the decisions I make.

What do I look for in a mentor? I want someone who has achieved at least a modicum of success in their career but who has also overcome their share of adversity. I want people who are different from me, who challenge the way I think. I want people who are accessible, willing, and available, because it doesn’t do any good to have a mentor you can’t actually approach or talk to. And I want someone who is a good storyteller because in the end, it is the stories we remember.

What doesn’t get measured doesn`t get managed

A year ago, COVID-19 was thrust upon an unprepared global population, changing our day to day lives almost beyond recognition. Interestingly, it has also presented us with the opportunity to realize what we truly cherish and the time to invest in our personal growth. In my own life, as math has always been an easy path of thought for me, I made an extraordinary effort to read renowned authors to diversify my number-centric way of thinking.

Let me suggest broadening your knowledge of literature as a way to move toward a growth mindset. In the fifth novel of his Song of Fire and Ice series, author George R.R. Martin wrote, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies … The man who never reads lives only one.” Reading can truly open you up to vistas you might never have encountered (or considered encountering) otherwise.

How do I select what to read? Some great places to start are Goodreads’ Top 100 Literary Novels of All Time, and the lists of past winners of the Pulitzer and Man Booker prizes. In my opinion, the gold standard of a great list must include Trinidad and Tobago’s native son V.S Naipaul. It is so easy to fritter away your newly found free-time in this age of COVID-19. If broadening your reading universe is your choice to invest such time, then set goals, follow a schedule, and measure your progress to stay on track.

In conclusion, I would like to ask you to reflect on the fact that you are all so extraordinarily lucky to be attending one of the world’s finest schools. I hope that some of my suggestions might assist in allowing you to take full advantage of this once-in-a lifetime opportunity.

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And now for something completely different…

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