How did you stay sane, saved, get your license, & start a family while working in public accounting?
Updated: Oct 15, 2019
| QUESTION OF THE MONTH: OCTOBER 2019
In your first few years of public tax accounting, your spend most of your time preparing various tax forms and getting feedback (commonly referred to as "review notes") on all of the mistakes you made. While you are in the middle of the review note beat down, you also are pressured to pass the CPA exam - a four part test that requires extensive knowledge in audit, tax, financial accounting, business, technology, and economics. Not only that, you spend more than twelve weeks during the year working 10-14 hour days and weekends to meet various deadlines.
To add another layer, the management in public accounting is still majority white male; in some firms, minority women like myself can experience various levels of covert racism on a regular basis.
Over the past eight years in this career, I have made costly mistakes and have had my share of panic attacks when my billable hours fell short. So, how have I ultimately stayed sane, saved and prioritized family?
The Bible is the key to my sanity. I have note cards at my desk with a scripture for anxiety, stress, distractions, and other struggles I encounter at work. Reading and repeating those scriptures renews my mind and helps me to find comfort in knowing that God is the one I am working for.
Journaling has also helped me navigate through the difficulties of this career. I journaled a lot while I studied for the CPA exam. It was the honesty in my journal entries that helped me realize I was not putting as much effort as I could into studying. I wrote about spending too much time on Facebook, feeling guilty about going to social events, and indulging in other distractions that kept me from my studies. It forced me to face the fact that, if I chose to quit, I would always question whether I could have passed if I gave my all.
I have also allowed myself to be upset, disappointed and sad during difficult times. It is okay to grieve; in fact, more often than not it is a good thing. A year ago, I found out that I was being underpaid. My job was looking for someone to share my position and the salary posted for the potential candidate was almost 40% higher than what I was being paid. It made me feel underappreciated and question whether I was a victim of Black Woman Pay Inequality. I prayed, journaled, took moments to cry, and vented to my husband and friends. I never said anything to my job because that argument did not feel right in my spirit; I wanted my work to speak for itself. Fast forward to this year, my boss significantly raised my salary because she said "I contribute a lot to the practice." Today, I am at peace with the decision to let my disappointment fuel me to work for that raise.
Support has also played a huge role in working through this career. My husband has been my biggest supporter since Day One. When we met, I was discouraged by my inability to pass the exam. As friends, he would send me practice test questions to help me study. He also encouraged study nights instead of date nights. We married after I passed my second exam. How could I not marry someone who pushed me to my greatest potential? In addition to my study bae, I had several friends that believed I could pass. While Partners at work were starting to give up on me, I had friends that constantly told me to keep trying even when I would fail a section of the exam multiple times.
Finally, I believe finding my niche has really helped me push through this career. While I am required to have a general knowledge in all types of tax, I primarily provide tax accounting services to nonprofit organizations. As a Christian, I believe God calls us to help the poor and marginalized; I enjoy helping people and organizations carry out that call. I get to work with nonprofits that fight for social justice, provide relief to victims of disasters in Haiti, foundations that grant funds to the faith-based community and other organizations doing good work. I also maintain the books for a local nonprofit organization pro bono. I use the knowledge from my job to help the organization build a financial foundation and stay compliant with IRS and state reporting guidelines. I find joy in being able to use what I learn at work to serve my community. And, to be honest, that is what keeps me going in this career today.
If you still find yourself struggling in spite of the coping methods I offered, evaluate your long term goals. My goal was to put myself in a strong position to have job flexibility or work for myself once we started our family. That goal came into fruition when my firm promoted me to Manager during maternity leave (I definitely commend my firm for that). According to a Glassdoor survey, Tax Managers have better career opportunities than any other job! As a Manager, I am able to work from home on days I need to be with my son or leave early to take him to doctor's appointments. I also really enjoy the management side of this career; it is rewarding to mentor staff and proactively advise Boards of Directors and other clients on financial decisions.
Public accounting is not for the weak. It will challenge you, make you question your intelligence, and sometimes, it can make you feel defeated. While it seems unjust, the truth is, the financial lifeline of businesses, nonprofits, trusts and individuals is dependent on how we report information. What we report determines whether a business can get a loan, whether a nonprofit can qualify for a grant, and whether an individual will have a tax liability. As accountants, people and businesses consider us to be their "most trusted advisers" and that is not a title to take lightly.
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