Inside Track

Stopping to Reflect

Stopping to Reflect

By Eric Harding

It will not come as a revelation to many of you that life can be somewhat hectic. Even with two boys who are just nearly 8 and nearly 5 (as they would hasten to insist), my wife and I find ourselves stretched thin on a weekly basis with birthday parties, taekwondo and swimming lessons, and all manner of play dates, travel plans, and summer camps—not to mention impromptu water balloon battles on the front lawn.

Figuring out logistics about who’s taking which kid where and with what accoutrements sometimes seems like the primary topic of conversation for me and my wife. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of contemporary life is the shared digital calendar—the mind boggles at how a family kept itself on schedule without the magic of Google Calendar and its attendant reminders.

But every now and then, after getting the kids to bed and the dinner dishes sorted, we take a few moments to sit and talk. Not about how to manage the frantic pace of the next day, or the next week, nor about whether we should pick up a new spice to tweak the kebab blend. (Yes. The answer to that question is always, “Yes.”) Rather, we pause to reflect on how it’s all going—stopping to admire our older boy’s unprompted kindness in offering to split his ice cream sandwich with his brother, who didn’t finish his snap peas and thus didn’t get his own dessert. We laugh at our younger son’s brash confidence; I’m not sure who taught him to dance with abandon, but I hope he always gives it his all. We discuss our dreams for the future … a future (perhaps mythical) summer with a lake house, and board games, and the complete absence of a jam-packed shared calendar—where satisfaction is measured not in tasks completed but in fishing spots explored, in memories made.

Someone once said to me, as we discussed some vagaries of modern life, “The days are long but the years are short.” If you don’t take a few moments to take stock of where you are and where you’re going, you may miss how far you’ve come. This issue’s features all deal with this theme of contemplation and context.

Our first feature, “A Long Stroll Through Avoca Cemetery” (page 16), gets back to the old-school roots of actuarial science. Author Kevin Wolf undertook a survey, on foot, of a small cemetery in rural Wisconsin. Then—because he’s an actuary—he decided to do a bit of number-crunching. The feature that resulted from that study is part meditation on the nature of cemeteries themselves and part collection of anecdotes by turn humorous and historical—in all, an enlightening look at what can be discovered, hidden in our own small towns.

The next feature in this issue, “Model Behavior” (page 24), looks at how an actuarial modeler can stop and reflect on how to deliver better value to his or her company. Far from merely a “check-the-box” formality, actuarial modeling can help drive key business decisions and open up new paths to profitability. But the modern modeler needs to keep numerous considerations in mind to deliver the best results. Olyvia Leahy offers her rundown of what to watch for.

Our world is full of data. Every day, some upstart Silicon Valley darling promises to solve some thorny human problem just by throwing “Big Data” at it. Our final feature this issue, “Data Disasters” (page 28), explores what happens when we fall in love with the idea of information as a panacea, and forget to keep a framework of rational thought underneath our decision-making. Lessons from throughout history show us it’s not a great idea.

I hope you enjoy this issue—and that you find the time to reflect during these long, languid days.

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