While I feel extremely qualified to write about how to work towards your CPCU during Life With Young Children (alternately titled “Not Your Life Anymore”), this is not intended to be a step-by-step guide. My road to CPCU included a full-time job with my fifth baby making his appearance right in the middle, along with all of the curveballs that 2020 decided to throw. That said, you are also in the middle of Life. If you are still reading this article, then there is a pretty good chance that you have young children (or you are thinking about having them, or have had them, or know people who have them…) And chances are that if you told me all the things that fill your life, I would probably grip my life close to my chest and back away slowly because my particular version of busy is known and your busy sounds daunting. I am really grateful that I did not put off starting (or completing) the CPCU designation because of the chaos of raising a young family. Already this designation is helping me to achieve better things for my family, which was exactly the intent I held for this objective. These are 5 things that helped me to carry this goal to completion.
- Put your goal front and center.
There are lots of great resources on goal setting. I have done a fair bit of picking and choosing from a variety of these. What worked particularly well for working through CPCU exams was setting (and writing down) the long-term main goal (e.g. become a CPCU by QX/20XX). From there, I planned out my goal in quarterly milestones which I reviewed every quarter (e.g. study for CPCU5XX and take the exam this quarter). Nothing groundbreaking here, but I had a huge mental shift when I realized that I had the agency to adjust my timeline when I needed to without feeling like I had fallen short. Life changes. In 2019, when I found out that I was pregnant and due at the beginning of 2020, I changed my timeline around because, for me, having a baby eclipsed all my other quarterly goals. Because my ultimate goal was written down and was visible each quarter, it didn’t fall by the wayside into the land of good intentions. Reviewing quarterly also helped me to adjust if I got too ambitious or needed a boost of encouragement.
- Make a realistic assessment of where your nooks and crannies are, and then align your goal with the actual time you have available.
It rings very true for me the idea that we make time for the things that are intrinsically important to us. If it is really important for you to write a book, then you carve out the time to write. If you are truly keen to run a marathon, you find the time to actually beat pavement. There is a natural resistance towards achieving something that is difficult. That resistance often means that we find ourselves with lots of time-wasters and distractions that absorb our ability to be productive. (I feel compelled to call out that these distractions are different from true rest and rejuvenation.) An example of a nook that I used to study was my pre-pandemic commute. I would spend nearly two hours on the train each day, and this was a great time to pull out the SMART QuizMe app (instead of an app that provided mindless entertainment) on my phone so I could review questions easily. When the pandemic rearranged my schedule and I lost my commute, I happened to pick up nursing an infant and found that I could use the app during these feeds. I also had to be realistic about my time. After spending my day away from my family, absorbed with work, it wasn’t fair to any of us for me to be distracted with studying during our prime hours together in the evening. Quality time with the people who mean the most to you isn’t a cranny to be filled with productivity! Being honest about which spaces of your life are available and which are NOT is really important in the balancing act between achievement and burnout. It was important for me to remind myself that achieving this goal was intended to serve my family and not the other way around.
- Make a plan about what you are willing to sacrifice (and what you are NOT willing to sacrifice) and abide by the boundaries you set.
The point goes hand in hand with my previous point. A worthy goal nearly always requires some form of sacrifice. We pay off debt by learning to curb other spending. We achieve new fitness goals by practicing not hitting the snooze button. As my goal of achieving CPCU unfolded in our family, dad-joke intended, folding clothes also unfolded. My kids may likely never understand the true function of a drawer because in our world clean clothes come from the basket. This is an example of a sacrifice I was willing to make. Spending time studying on a sunny Saturday afternoon instead of playing with my kids was not. Except for the week before taking 540 – that week they were on their own! Another thing I was not willing to sacrifice was sleep. This meant that I couldn’t rely on late night studying after the kids were in bed because I also was going to be in bed.
- Identify your resources. And then use them. I mean it!
In the same way that your life has nooks and crannies you hadn’t considered, you also likely have some resources. I have a pretty good guess about your personality type. You work in the insurance industry. You juggle a phenomenal number of obligations. You are a superhero. And it is really, really hard to ask for help. But you can do hard things. So start to brainstorm about the resources that you have available to you. Maybe your employer will allow you to carve out some regular study time during your workday. Is there someone at work, who is a well of knowledge about something you are studying? Would they be willing to help make sense of new concepts? Perhaps you can think of novel activities you can rotate in that will occupy your little ones during a study chunk. (I will be the first to admit that this one is more difficult during winter AND during stay-at-home orders!) My husband is my number one resource, and his willingness to pick up the slack so that I could carve out time to study is one of the main reasons I was able to stick to the timeline we outlined. Another resource that I discovered was bribery goal alignment. Admittedly, this worked better for my pre-teens and not for my younger kiddos (my kids’ ages ranged from 0-12 during my CPCU path). Since the 2021 conferment ceremony is in Orlando, we made the decision to use the destination as a family vacation. When CPCU exams shifted from test centers to testing at home, it really helped to have at least some of my children invested in helping to provide a quiet testing environment. Our resource lists look different now than they did before March of 2020, but don’t let that stop you from getting creative.
- Decide (ahead of the stressful breaking points) what the small stuff is. Agree with yourself not to sweat the small stuff. Stay strong!
There is an ebb and a flow to the study cycle (especially if one has any tendency to procrastinate – I plead the fifth). As exam day approaches, as studying intensifies, stress intensifies also. When caring for small humans and also trying to prepare well for an exam, it was really easy for me to feel overwhelmed about every aspect of my life. Planning ahead for the moments when I knew I was going to want to throw in the towel made a world of difference. Knowing that we could ease up dinner prep (read: pizza from Costco again) or that I was free to ignore the visual clutter that was piling up without feeling like a bad mom, helped me to mostly keep my cool and avoid panicking. Most of the time. (Note: The spouse of the author will not be available for comment at this time.)
I was able to complete the CPCU designation in just over two years, and I credit this to my family, who was supportive to the extreme, and to being a parent, which has honed my skills for getting things done. It isn’t my intent, however, for this to be a glorification of busy. For every moment that these tools helped me, there are at least two moments where I failed to utilize them. You are getting to see a snapshot of things that helped me in my journey, but there are other factors that are unique to my family that made this goal possible. There are factors that impact your journey, too. If our mid-pandemic world has clarified one thing, I hope that it is the importance of rest (both mental and physical) to human well-being. One of my favorite (blended) sayings is, “I can do hard things…but I can’t do ALL the hard things.” I hope that this encourages you as you grow in your career, but also emboldens you to set the terms for that growth. I would argue that, not only is it possible to CPCU with small children, but it is a truly rewarding journey to engage in and one that can be full of beneficial impact to your station of life right now.