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How to Blaze Your Own Trail and Live Out Your Dreams as a CPA

Posted by Dr. Phil Yaeger on Jan 15, 2018 3:29:25 PM

Everyone struggles with "the plan" when it comes to the next five, ten years, and twenty years. These plans eventually spell out a lifetime of results in the form of family, quality of life, philanthropy, vacations, college funds, and retirement. Some get overwhelmed with the decisions and discipline, feeling lost in a sea of long-term goals. As a CPA you have highly sought after skillset. CPA's often have high work ethic, unique analytical skills, and a confident personality fit for entrepreneur and venture capitalists. Without exploring their ambitions, some may find themselves disingenuously trying to jam their lives and bodies into conventional career models.

This is particularly (but not exclusively) the case for young CPAs starting their career. Regardless of how you feel about it, the world is changing just as it always has. Younger professionals replace their predecessors as a majority in the majority of the workforce. This change results in different workplace preferences, ideal career paths, and an overall shifting of the professional scene. Whenever one era ends and a new begins, there is a lot of required work to break the existing mold. People who choose to pursue a unique path will find the saying about entrepreneurs who "work 80 hours a week, so they don't have to work 40" to be true for them as well. If you want to do things your way it doesn't mean you are wrong, it just means you'll often find yourself paddling up a river. These people will be left navigating challenges of expectation, doubt, and communication in ways others don't have to worry about as much.

If this sounds like you, don't panic. Most moguls, business owners, and leaders find themselves at this point early on. For many, the extra effort is worth it even if it means an initial lower salary and a little less stability. If most jobs sound completely draining and you leave you dreaming of doing things a different way, you may want to consider a shift in your career goals to align yourself better within the field you are in. Also, remember you can simply take your skills to another field. Figuring out what that career is can be challenging but it may help to consider these things.

What skills do you currently bring to the table? What skills do you want to bring to the table?

"What a man can be, he must be" was famously said by psychologist Abraham Maslow when referring to self-actualization. Self-actualization is the realization or fulfillment of one's talents and potentialities, especially considered as a drive or need present in everyone. The world used to focus more on specialization. Now, people are more well rounded and create a more diverse talent pool, thus making finding the right career or the right "plan" more difficult. We currently have a generation entering the workforce who have grown up being multi-talented which is great but also gives vast options in careers. Most jobs leave these types of employees feeling underused and capable of more than what their job offers.

Now, what can you bring to an employer can be hard to answer, but it does need to be solidified and stated both personally and publicly. While your talents may be many, you need to define your hard skills and analyze what you are capable of. Don't oversell yourself, but give yourself credit where it is due. State to yourself where you are at and where you want to go. Once you figure out what you can be, you can find what you must be a lot easier.

Are you willing to sacrifice luxuries, goals, and caring what others think of your short-term decisions?
Once you've figured out a little bit of the self-actualization puzzle, you'll be able to see your direction a little easier. This is great but can be disheartening as well. If you want to start up your own business you can expect to pay yourself a small salary for a few years. If you want to travel more you're probably going to have to give up the expectation of a family coming as fast as you might like. If you are thinking about heading down a different path than most others, then expect to be a little lonely, misunderstood, and even looked down upon. Others won't see the purpose of what you are doing and won't be able to relate to you (or you to them) until after you've proven yourself (see Yvon Chounard's Book "Let My People Go Surfing). Don't worry though! These things are temporary and you can count on finding some community and comradery among those interested in a similar life. Once you've found some success too, people will see the purpose of your sacrifice, and you'll be a model to those wanting the same things in life.

Is the "soul tax" worth it?
Talking about what makes a person happy is a tricky and touchy subject. Many invest their lives in a career or towards goals they didn't ever really want in the first place. When they achieve those goals, they feel let down. Others pursue a safe life so they can be secure and find they fail at what they don't, life happens in some way that takes away the security they wanted, which makes the risk of pursuing what you do want to make a whole lot of sense. Learn from the success and failures of generations before, but don't be degrading towards them. They made mistakes, and you'll make your own. While pursuing your dreams have grace, understanding, and don't be too critical of others. Ask your older relatives and co-workers how they sought their goals and ask yourself regularly if what you are doing is worth what you are going through. Think about it this way; there are taxes on most everything, and if those taxes become too high, then the expense is deemed unjustifiable. Consider asking yourself what the "tax rate" on your soul would be if it were put into a number. No matter what you do in life there will be a soul tax, but if you find the number is too high to be acceptable, it is a sure sign you need to find something else to be doing.

It might not be what you are doing in life as much as it is how you are doing life.
Take all that "what do you want to do? Where do you want to go? What job do you want? And set it aside for a time. You should think about all these things in their own time and place, a very crucial time and place, but not all of the time. Put all those thoughts away for a bit and instead think of how you want to do whatever you do. How do you want to do college? How do you want to make friends? How do you want to spend your money? Choose the qualities you want to have in the 'how's' and the 'what's' will develop from a healthier and level-headed place.

You can live the life you want if you're willing to take the time, make hard decisions, give up certain comforts, and put in the work. This will likely take a lot of compromise, and you shouldn't throw caution to the wind, but the life of your dreams is out there.

Tags: AICPA, CPA Job Search, Networking, Accounting Career Advice, accounting career, CPA Leadership, Business Leadership

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