Triathlons, exams and the allure of tough pursuits

December 30, 2013 5:07 pm

Triathlons, exams and the allure of tough pursuits

By Lisa Pollack

For some, climbing the corporate ladder simply is not enough. They have to have a sideline in being GI Jane (or Joe). Pulling a Clark Kent on their way through the office doors, they trade business garb for Lycra and Neoprene to train for marathons and Ironman triathlons. Presumably owing to poor memories of how much certain activities hurt, more and more people are signing up for events such as these every year. But life-affirming self-torture need not be so violent. After all, there are always professional exams.Qualifications in financial services, for one, have also seen increases in enrolment. With considerable preparation needed to pass, perpetual students can rest assured that friends and colleagues will think them just as crazy as their overactive counterparts. The popular Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exams are estimated to require 300 hours of study to pass each level and the success rate for the first one is a mere 38 per cent.

At such levels of difficulty or discomfort, managers of such individuals might wonder where the desire comes from to hit the books or the track – even over the holidays. Career motives and health reasons naturally abound, but it can also be a matter of evidence gathering.

Races and exams offer unambiguous and visible proof of success. A finishing time or a well-recognised acronym after one’s name can serve as a badge of honour. Accomplishment in the corporate sphere is often harder to ascertain due to the complexity of tasks and multidisciplinary nature of many teams. The contribution of the individual can be lost.

Setting and achieving goals can also act as an antidepressant. In his comic The Oatmeal, Matthew Inman provides an illustrative example of this by describing how a fat little cherub, dubbed “The Blerch”, follows him around encouraging apathy and indifference in all things. Upon discovering that The Blerch could be outrun, Mr Inman starts racking up the miles.

Intriguingly, for some, academic inclinations can act as a kind of gateway drug to running, but hopefully not because cherubs spring from textbooks. According to a friend who looks a bit like GI Joe and who passed all three levels of the CFA exams on the first try: “The frustration of studying was taken out on the pavement!” He has completed at least four half-marathons in the time since he took the first exam.

The astute will note that signing up for physical and mental challenges like these can get one out of all manner of work and social obligations, in a way that typically only the responsibilities of parenting young children can.

To test this, try missing social gatherings or leaving work earlier than normal a few times. When your absence is questioned, offer one of the responses below prefaced with “I’m sorry I couldn’t stick around, I.”:

(a) took up stamp collecting.

(b) joined a new guild in the online game World of Warcraft and I had to be at home in time for a raid.

(c) need to get the miles in. I’m hoping to qualify for Ironman in Hawaii this year.

(d) had to study. I’m signed up for the CFA exam in June and really want to pass (this time!).

Reactions to (c) and (d) will typically start with requisite accusations of utter lunacy followed by something like: “Wow, that sounds tough! Good luck!” Thereafter absences are likely to go unquestioned for some time – not so for (a) and (b). Unless, that is, you are talking to a keen stamp collector or a Night Elf.

“Marathons and exams are deemed to be human endeavour whereas computers and stamp collecting don’t have the same kudos,” explains Brian Marien of performance psychologists The Positive Group.

Obstacle course provider Tough Mudder has experienced phenomenal growth over the past few years, bursting into the list of socially acceptable endeavours. Evidently Jane and Joe love nothing more than to jump into ice water, crawl in mud tunnels, and jog through a web of wires that deliver electric shocks.

Maybe, in an effort to achieve maximum kudos, a few mental obstacles could be added to the mix. Discounted cash flow analysis while surrounded by flames anyone? Surely it’s worth skipping drinks for.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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