5 things a CFA candidate can learn from The Shawshank Redemption !!

Warning, this article may contain spoilers to essential plot lines of the movie. If you don’t mind, continue reading, but I would suggest that you watch the movie first, then read this article.

The Shawshank Redemption bags the numero uno position on IMDB. There are many lessons which a CFA candidate can learn from the movie and apply those to succeed in CFA exams. It always gives me goosebumps whenever I watch the scene in the movie when Red describes the arrival of Andy in the prison for the first time. Red: “On the outside, he had been vice-president of a large Portland bank. Good work for a man as young as he was.” It always encourages me to follow a career path like Andy and achieve that much at a young age and a CFA charter can definitely be a stepping stone in achieving that. This movie can provide a CFA candidate enough inspiration and motivation to sail through the exam by sheer hard work and dedication. Below are the five lessons which a CFA candidate can learn from the movie:

Persistence: It was only because of the persistent nature of Andy that the prisoners could get a library. The man kept on sending a letter per week to State for library funds for 6 long years and after 6 years the State responded with a $200 cheque and used books. When asked by the security ward what would he do now, Andy replied that from now on, he would write two letters a week instead of one. A CFA candidate after clearing level I can apply that advice in level II and rather than celebrating and wasting too much time can start working twice as hard with a clear focus on the goal.

Hope: The movie is entirely based on the hope. It is the hope which saves Red from committing suicide. The letter to Red by Andy gives a strong message of hope. He writes: Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies. However, the movie also shows Red speaking about hope when he tells Andy in prison: Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. But Andy was not fully dependent on the hope of getting out of the prison. He worked hard almost every night of his 19 years stay to dig a tunnel through the wall in his prison cell. It works on the cliche that ‘hope for the best and prepare for the worst’. This is the most important lesson for a CFA candidate. Rather than just praying for a miracle, he must work as hard as possible and should leave no stone unturned. The candidate should not leave anything to the fate and diligently follow the process and imbibe all the learning from the CFAI books.

Routine: The narration by Red when he talks about the initial struggles of Andy in the prison and the routine life of the prison, gives a very important lesson. Red:Things went on like that for awhile – prison life consists of routine, and then more routine. I do believe those first two years were the worst for him, and I also believe that if things had gone on that way, this place would have got the best of him. The first few days were the worst for Andy as he had to adjust to the prison conditions and get himself saved from the fellow inmates. The CFA candidate life is pretty similar to that. The course always looks too much and too difficult in the beginning. It needs consistent efforts with a disciplined routine to get success in the exam. The progress will always be slow and gradual. One shouldn’t lose hope like Andy and follow the routine studies which are required. Andy kept on digging through the tunnel for 19 long years. He could have got caught anytime and all the effort would have been wasted. There were only two results possibles for his efforts. Either he would get out or stay in the prison. But he kept on working without thinking too much about failure. Similar should be the thinking of a CFA candidate. A CFA candidate will also either pass or fail the exam. But rather than fearing from failure and thinking about the result, the candidate must study continuously. However, for a CFA candidate, the conditions are unlike Andy. The candidate would learn a lot even in the failure. In the movie, Andy was sent to a hole (solitary confinement in a jail) for two weeks after he played the music on a loud speaker. When asked about his time in the hole, he replied that he had the company of Mr. Mozart (he played that music on the loud speaker). The inmates were surprised and asked whether he was allowed to take that record player in the hole. Andy replied that the music was in his heart and mind. Andy: That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you. Similarly, no one can take the learning from the CFA candidate. The candidate might not be successful in the exam but the learning will be there for the lifetime.

Never blame the circumstances (Get busy living): Andy was kept in the prison for 19 years for the crime he didn’t commit. But he didn’t blame anyone for that. He even took the blame on himself for the murder of his wife and told Red that it was because of him only his wife died. He didn’t know how to show his love to her and that’s why she died because of him. Andy: I killed her, Red. I didn’t pull the trigger, but I drove her away. And that’s why she died, because of me. But even after knowing all that he didn’t stop living life. He just loved his life and remained busy in living it. Similar incidents can happen for a CFA candidate as well. There are many things which we can’t control. Anything can happen to anyone. But rather than thinking about the time wasted in past one should focus on the future goals and the primary goal for a candidate should be to pass the exam. One cannot change all the circumstances. We have to live with it. But rather than blaming other for our failures, we should get busy living and study according to the plan. Just laugh off all the miseries and forget the untoward incidents and start working towards the goal i.e. clearing the exam in a minimum number of attempts.

Protect your dream and don’t get institutionalized: The librarian, Brooks, couldn’t get adjusted to the outside world and committed the suicide on parole. He got institutionalized. Red on Brooks: The man’s been in here fifty years, Heywood. Fifty years! This is all he knows. In here, he’s an important man. He’s an educated man. Outside, he’s nothin’! Just a used up con with arthritis in both hands. On the other hand, Andy had a dream to get out of prison and spent his rest of life in Zihuatanejo. Andy told Red about his plans after getting out of prison. Andy: Tell you where I’d go.  Zihuatanejo.  It’s in Mexico.  A Little place on the Pacific.  You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific?  They say it has no memory.  That’s where I’d like to finish out my life, Red.  A warm place with no memory. He never gave up on his dream and to save himself from getting institutionalized he helped a lot of people in the prison in their studies and also built a library. A CFA candidate should also not get institutionalized with the CFA studies. It will take a lot of time. But there should be some fun in the life as well. One should manage the time accordingly. One can socialize by helping other candidates as well and that would help everyone and by this, the candidates can make lifelong friends as well. They should also protect their dream like Andy. It’s always good to think of bright future ahead and work hard while keeping the goal in mind. You may find many naysayers who will keep dragging you down and keep on saying that you can’t do that. But never listen to them and have a self-belief like Andy had, for his bright future life. Andy finally achieved his perfect life. I hope that you all would also achieve that. All the best.

PS: There is one scene in the movie when Andy is talking about the fake account prepared by him for the money laundering. Andy: The funny thing is – on the outside, I was an honest man, straight as an arrow. I had to come to prison to be a crook. Same thing happens to few CFA candidates who have to become ethical during the exam to score well in Ethics. 😛


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A blog of the NYU Colloquium on Market Institutions and Economic Processes

Fundoo Professor

Thoughts of a teacher & practitioner of value investing and behavioral economics

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