Do your parents reminisce about the days you would come to them and brightly tell them about how you wanted nothing more than to become a CPA? Did your kindergarten teacher cheerfully encourage you to pursue business classes and economics as you continued on in your education? Did you blissfully sit in your room as a young child and study stock market trends and tax laws? If so, becoming a CPA was written in the stars for you; however, if you are like me, and the rest of the world, you probably didn’t have this dream early on. Most children grow up wanting to be either a famous athlete, singer, firefighter, or astronaut. It is rare to see a child imagining themselves as a CPA on the monkey bars. Admittedly, when I was growing up, my life revolved around ice hockey. In my 7-year old mind there wasn’t anything else to worry or think about. I was going to play in the NHL and that was the end of it. I made sure my teachers knew my plan, and I set my mind on the end goal.
Simon Sinek wrote the book Start with Why that explores the idea of why people pursue the hobbies, careers, and goals that they do. The premise of the book centers around the question: What do you do? Often people interpret that in the same way, and as a result respond with their professions; “I’m an engineer”, or “a nurse”. However, they never answer the question with why they do what they do. Obviously, most people would consider their “why” to be: in order to make a living. But how do we begin to develop a deeper why? A passion for our chosen career that stretches beyond the need to make a living. A passion that our 7-year old selves would be proud to claim. My younger self would have bragged to anyone who asked that I wanted to be a hockey player because I enjoyed the cold air on my face, the crunch of the ice beneath my skates, and the thrill of the chase.
Clearly my dream to make millions on the ice proved unrealistic and, as a grew older, and what I believe to be a little wiser, I began to realize that I needed to find that passion elsewhere. I looked closely at the classes I exceled in and enjoyed. And after some time, realized I spent more time on my math homework than any other subject. As I began to have the freedom to choose my classes in school, I filled my schedule with courses like statistics, calculus, and physics. Approaching my senior year, it became obvious that my strong math background should lead me into engineering. In 2010 I choose to study Mechanical Engineering Technology at the University of Maine.
But no one ever asked me, “Why do you want to become an engineer?” Yet, the answer was always a simple one; I’m not sure I do. However, while at the University of Maine, I started to develop an interest in the stock market. I began to attend meetings for a student governed portfolio group. I never shared much but I gained so much from listening to the passionate business majors discuss why they should or shouldn’t purchase a certain stock. As I became more familiar with the jargon, I started to research publicly traded companies and learn about their financial statements. I read a lot of personal finance books and how to purchase shares of publicly traded companies. As my confidence in the business world grew, I thought it only fitting to add in a business minor to my engineering degree. I may not have known it then, but this interest in business would lead me to the why Simon Sinek urges everyone to find.
After 4 years at the University of Maine I graduated with an engineering degree and minor in business administration. Yet my why still hadn’t sunk in. I joined the working world as a sales engineer. I enjoyed my time visiting many manufacturing businesses, but still found myself being drawn in another direction. At that time I made the decision to pursue my passion: finance. Making the decision to switch careers was not an easy path, but it was not one I regret. From that point forward I worked towards becoming a successful CPA. I made sure to have my required 150 credit hours with 15 of those credits in accounting courses (3 of which being audit and attestation). After ensuring my college requirements were met, I then began the arduous CPA exams. I sat for four exams that needed to be passed within 18 months of each other. The endless hours studying finally led me to the last step in my journey: two years of supervised accounting experience.
Clearly the starting salary for an accountant does not outweigh the rigorous steps to becoming a CPA. The decision to become an accountant has to be more personal than that. I chose to get my license because I like working with other individuals and businesses. I want to help individuals maximize their household incomes and savings so they can have more resources for their families. I want to be the reason businesses can expand and families can plan for their future.
So ask me now? What do I do? I am often strategizing with individuals and businesses to maximize their financial well-being. In order to do this I am applying the tax code to their personal situation or certifying GAAP based financials. Often the general public thinks accountants do taxes, which is true, but I do a lot more than just taxes. I often certify GAAP based financial statements for businesses so they can present them to banks in order to earn financing for equipment or business expansions. I use cutting edge software and analytics to compare how clients are performing to other company averages in their industries. Most importantly I get to meet incredible people that have the desire to do what is best for them and their families while also considering their community impact. For all of these reasons I feel fortunate to be in this profession and plan to continue to develop my skills to provide the best service to our client base.
Becoming a CPA is a challenging process, but throughout the process you learn so much about yourself. You may fail, but in failing you learn how to push forward and how to grow. And always remember, if you are truly passionate about your career, it never feels like a job.