How to Adapt and Motivate Yourself for the CFA Exams While Being A Parent

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By Marc Coward

Recently, Sophie offered some sound advice for parents who are studying for CFA exams. As someone with a certain amount of expertise on this topic and who has learned many lessons the hard way, I can say that, whatever else happens, your experience as a CFA candidate will not define your relationship with your children. Studying for the CFA exam may seem like an all-encompassing challenge (largely because it is), but it is just one of life’s many challenges. 

Does studying for the CFA exams demand more time and energy than, for example, helping a parent or spouse cope with a serious illness? Perhaps, or perhaps not, but having to deal with either of these challenges – or any other challenge – does not allow you to stop being a parent. 

If the demands of studying cause you to drop the ball as a parent and damage your relationship with your children, chances are that some other demand on your time would have caused similar damage even if you had never heard of the CFA program. (Please take a moment to pause and enjoy the thought of that alternative universe). Conversely, if you have your priorities straight as a parent – and I think that most parents generally do – studying for the CFA exam, or dealing with any similar challenge, is not going to inflict irreparable damage upon your children. 

The objective is not perfection

You are not going to be a perfect parent while you are studying, but you are not a perfect parent now and you were never going to be. Perfect parents don’t exist. I realize that adopting this sort of detached perspective is a luxury that is only available to those who are not preparing to write a CFA exam and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have “Cats in the Cradle” playing in my head at regular intervals when I was a candidate. However, I can assure you that life with a CFA charter is not without its challenges. 

As Margaret Mitchell wrote in Gone with the Wind, “Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.” If you are under the impression that this period of study is an aberration and that life to go back to “normal” after you finish writing exams, you are bound to be disappointed. In fact, given that the ultimate objective of pursuing this designation is career advancement, it is likely that the demands on your time will only increase once you come out on the other side. 

You will adapt

I recently had an experience that provided a fitting illustration of my efforts to balance the demands of the CFA program with the realities of being a parent. I took my children to an indoor playground so that they could tire themselves out and I could get some work done while they did. (At no point have I claimed to be a good parent).

Because I am part of the CFA Prep Industrial Complex, my work that day involved trying to find a way to explain a particularly dense part of the curriculum. I found a table in the playground’s café, which offered little refuge from the screams of dozens of children set loose in a confined area. As I was working, another parent who recognized the CFA textbook that I was reading came up to me and expressed her amazement that I could to concentrate on the curriculum while “Lord of the Flies” played out next to us. I smiled and told her that this sort of experience had become normal for me. Being a parent and being immersed in the CFA curriculum are just facts of my life and I have found a way to accommodate both.

Think about how you will be remembered

What my children think of me after I am gone will ultimately be determined by the choices that I make while I am alive and, like any other parent, I can only try to make good ones. If my children are going through my possessions after I die and the sight of a CFA textbook causes them to wish that I had been more attentive during my lifetime, it will not be the textbook’s fault. 

On the other hand, if the sight of a CFA textbook makes my children think about how their father didn’t shy away from challenges and found genuine enjoyment in a career that provided for them, that will be very much due to a conscious effort on my part. Your experience as a candidate can be an opportunity as well as a burden (although it will largely be a burden).

It is absolutely possible to complete the CFA program and be a good parent during the process. Making the effort to prepare for an exam that can significantly improve your career prospects is not the worst thing that you will do as a parent. Children have forgiven much worse offences and they will be there waiting for you when you come home after writing the exam. The challenge is, and will always be, to be the kind of parent who is worth waiting for.

If you’re looking for more tips as a CFA candidate parent, you can read Sophie’s article here.


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