“To find a career to which you are adapted by nature, and then to work hard at it, is about as near a formula for success and happiness as the world provides. One of the fortunate aspects of this formula is that, granted the right career has been found, the hard work takes care of itself. Then hard work is not hard work at all.”
— Mark Sullivan
“By working faithfully eight hours a day you may eventually get to be a boss and work twelve hours a day.”
— Robert Frost
Many clients know that, prior to my career as a financial planner, I worked in public accounting. However, I’ve never told how or why I made the transition to financial planning. In hindsight, it was the best move I ever made. Not because public accounting is not a great career choice – it just was not a great career choice for me. If I had taken some time to examine my values beforehand, this may have been clear to me at the time.
After I graduated Magna Cum Laude from Albany State University and passed the CPA exam, I thought my academic performance warranted a career in public accounting. My first job was with a prestigious regional firm with offices in Washington DC, Albany and Glens Falls. Many recent grads would have loved a shot at this position. The job required a lot of travel and number crunching. I would work 50 or 60 hours a week at a client’s office, reviewing financial documents and auditing the books. My only human interaction was with a coworker at lunch or briefly at dinner after a long day. I would then go home for the weekend, arriving Friday night and leaving again Sunday afternoon to do it all over again. I quit after less than a year, and before I fulfilled the experience requirement to call myself a CPA. My colleagues, most of whom enjoyed their work, thought I was crazy.
I thought that if I did not travel, I might enjoy accounting, so I went to work at a small, local firm that specialized in small business tax and accounting. I went to work preparing financial statements and doing bookkeeping for hours at a time, with coworker or client interaction. After the first few hours every morning, I became bored, and I’d go home exhausted, too tired to exercise or socialize. I thought of quitting, but the “mental tape” would start playing – Where will I make as much money? How will it look if I quit my second accounting job in a row? I’ll never work in public accounting again! You just didn’t give up a career opportunity like this. A coworker who loved her job and was aware of my dissatisfaction thought I was crazy as well.
It was at this time that, at the suggestion of a college classmate, that I started reading the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey. In the book, Covey has you examine your life and learn about your values and passions. You then create your own personal mission statement and direct your time and energy toward what matters most to you. After going through the exercises and discovering my values, I learned that creativity and connecting with others are both important to me – both of which were sorely lacking in my accounting jobs. I also learned what I suspected all along – that I straddle the line between introvert/extrovert or right/left brain, meaning after too much analysis or social stimulation, I peter out. A 100% introvert can thrive on number crunching, while a 100% extrovert can thrive in social situations 100% of the time.
I stuck it out for a bit longer, and one day, I caught myself literally with my cheek pressed against the desk, asleep. This was a pretty good indicator that I was on the wrong track! I had spent the previous couple of weeks with no human interaction whatsoever, except a brief meeting with the partners now and then. I walked out of the office and down the hall to the office manager and resigned.
I applied for a job as a financial advisor because the job duties seemed to fit my passions and strengths. The idea of dividing my time between client meetings and number crunching appealed to me, as did the creative aspect of starting my own business with the help of a worldwide company. I went for the interview and was hired immediately.
Fifteen years later, and now as 100% owner of my practice, I love my career path. It’s not without its ups and downs, but because I have a passion for the work, it helps me do my best. My time is divided between crunching numbers and meeting with people – a perfect fit for my personality. I spend 3 months out of the year preparing taxes. The rest of the year, my BS degree in economics and Certified Financial Planner® designation come in to play in my role as a financial planner. My greatest passion is the planning and meeting with people, helping them reach their financial goals. My tax background compliments this work. I am still friends with many CPAs who love their careers year ‘round, and will refer work to them if it is outside of my realm of expertise.
If I had to continue in public accounting I simply would not have worked as hard to be successful as I do now. Tax preparation for 3 months a year is enough accounting, and sitting here inside on a beautiful Sunday afternoon writing this blog post is not work for me because I enjoy it. I can honestly say that money is secondary to my going to bed a “good tired” (See prior blog post) most every night, feeling that I am on the right path and am working hard at a worthwhile goal. I feel that I am successful because I have a passion for the work. Now, I measure every important personal and business decision against whether or not the course of action is in alignment with my personal mission statement and values.
If I had not read Covey’s book, discovered my values, and created my mission statement, I’m not sure what I would be doing now. Perhaps, like a boat without a sail, the wind would have pushed me in a direction that was completely wrong for me – call it trial and error sailing. Now, however, I update my personal mission statement regularly, and I use it to help plan a course for my life. I believe that living based on my changeless personal values has and will continue to lead to the best possible outcome, regardless of the storms of life that arise.
Building a personal mission statement is a great help in prioritizing how you spend your time – whether you are just starting out or are already retired. I’ve provided a link below to the online version of the mission statement builder if you are interested in creating a copy of your own.