Want to Pass the CPA Exam? Consider Hiring a Coach

The Uniform CPA Exam is widely known as one of the most challenging professional exams, demanding dedication, extensive study hours, and a strong commitment to success. As of 2019, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy reported a pass rate of just 49.8 percent for California candidates. This means that, on average, more than half of all candidates in the state failed one or more exam sections within the past year. Failing the CPA Exam incurs not only financial costs but also takes a significant emotional toll on candidates. In this updated article, we explore how hiring a coach can make a substantial difference in CPA Exam performance and offer guidance on overcoming common obstacles.

The Emotional Impact of Failing:

CPA candidates are typically highly goal-oriented and accustomed to achieving their objectives through hard work. However, many are unaccustomed to failure and struggle to cope when it occurs. One of the first steps in coaching is to normalize the experience of failure by acknowledging that it is a common part of the journey. This is followed by helping candidates reframe the situation, encouraging them to view failure as an opportunity for growth and self-improvement. Coaches ask thought-provoking questions to help candidates identify ways they might be hindering their own progress and find opportunities to change their behaviors and enhance their results.

Managing Energy and Time:

Many CPA candidates experience exhaustion and burnout due to the demands of studying alongside work and other life responsibilities. Some candidates mistakenly believe that studying more hours will guarantee better results. While investing sufficient time in studying is crucial, it should not come at the expense of self-care. Human brains are not machines; they function optimally with adequate rest and relaxation. To manage energy effectively, candidates should incorporate renewal activities into their schedules, such as exercise, sleep, and quality time with loved ones. Recognizing that studying isn’t just about quantity but also quality is essential.

Creating a Realistic Study Schedule:

Developing a customized study schedule is a critical aspect of CPA Exam preparation. Coaches work with candidates to create schedules that balance the recommended study hours with their life commitments. Honesty is key during this process, as candidates must realistically assess what they can handle. It’s common for candidates to initially craft ambitious study plans that may not align with their actual capacities. Being accountable to the plan is equally important; coaching clients often report their study hours, allowing coaches to track progress. If candidates fall short of their goals, coaches help them explore the underlying reasons, which can range from work-related pressures to personal habits that need improvement.

Conclusion

If you’re struggling to pass the CPA Exam, rather than resorting to buying another review course or investing in additional exam sections, consider the benefits of hiring a coach. A coach can provide valuable support and guidance to help you achieve your CPA Exam goals. Beyond exam success, coaching can encourage personal growth and help you become the best version of yourself in both your professional and personal life. Don’t let the CPA Exam stand in your way—consider hiring a coach today.

Navigating Mental Well-Being in the CPA Profession: A Guide to Seeking Help

The demanding world of accounting often comes with its own set of unique challenges, which can have a profound impact on the mental well-being of professionals in the field. In a recent episode of the Journal of Accountancy Podcast, senior editor Courtney Vien engaged in an insightful conversation with certified executive coach Amber Setter, shedding light on the critical topic of mental health for CPAs. In this blog post, we’ll delve into some key takeaways from their discussion, exploring the nuances of mental well-being in the CPA profession and how individuals can seek the help they might need.

Amber Setter, an experienced accountant who has made the transition to a certified executive coach, delivers “transformational coaching.” The results of her coaching engagements are more than the achievement of external goals.This approach empowers accountants to gain a deeper understanding of who they are, what drives their performance, and what they truly long to do with their life.. .. Setter emphasizes a crucial point – professional success doesn’t always equate to personal fulfillment.

It’s vital to distinguish between coaching and therapy, as they serve distinct purposes. Coaching is centered on the present and future, aiding individuals in setting and attaining their goals. In contrast, therapy often delves into past experiences to address current challenges. Amber r advises that it’s important to engage an accredited coach who can discern when a client may require therapy, thereby ensuring they receive the most appropriate form of support tailored to their specific needs.

Setter offers invaluable insights into recognizing burnout, likening it to a smartphone with a rapidly draining battery. You can see when your phone has 10% charge left; but do you know how it feels for you when your energy is running that low? Signs of burnout can manifest in various ways, including reduced focus, alterations in eating patterns, heightened anxiety, and even physical symptoms such as shortness of breath or panic attacks. Recognizing these signs is crucial, as they serve as a clear indicator that intervention and support are needed.

A prevalent issue in the accounting profession is the reluctance to seek help, often driven by misconceptions. Some CPAs may be oblivious to the necessity of seeking assistance, viewing it as a sign of weakness, or believing they simply don’t have the time for it. Alas, if only therapy sessions were deemed to be a billable activity. Setter takes it upon herself to dismantle these misconceptions, highlighting the profoundly positive impact that seeking help can have on both personal well-being and professional effectiveness. Anxiety takes up the space that could be held by intellect.

In the world of accounting, one’s well-being is an indispensable aspect. By recognizing the telltale signs of burnout, offering support to colleagues, and embracing the idea of seeking help when necessary, CPAs can achieve both personal and professional success. It’s important to remember that seeking help is not a sign of weakness; rather, it’s a courageous step towards a healthier, more fulfilling life.

We wholeheartedly encourage everyone in the accounting profession to prioritize their mental well-health. Your health matters, and seeking support can make all the difference in ensuring a long and prosperous career in this demanding field.

Overcoming CPA Exam Stress: 3 Quick Tips for Success

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of taking the CPA exam? You’re not alone. The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam is known as a rigorous and challenging test. It  can trigger stress and anxiety in even the most prepared candidates. However, fear not! Here are three quick and effective tips to help you conquer those feelings of overwhelm and set yourself on the path to success.

1. Self-Awareness: Recognizing Your Stress

The first step in overcoming stress is self-awareness. Different individuals manifest stress in various ways. Some feel it in their bodies – from knots in the stomach to tension in the shoulders. Or you might notice you become more impatient with yourself or others.. Identifying these physical and emotional signs is crucial. Once you become aware of the stress, you gain the power to take control of it. Self-awareness sets the stage for effective stress management.

2. Find Your Breath: Calming the Mind and Body

Stress isn’t just a mental experience; it’s a physiological response to fear or anxiety. When we encounter challenging thoughts about the CPA exam, our body’s “fight or flight” response can kick in, flooding our system with stress hormones. To counter this, take a moment to find your breath. Deep, deliberate breaths have the remarkable ability to calm your body’s stress response. As you breathe, the tension dissipates, allowing you to access the cognitive functions necessary for clear thinking and focused concentration. Incorporating this breathing technique into your study routine- or even during the exam itself -can greatly enhance your performance.

3. Visualize Success: Harnessing the Power of Imagination

Visualization is a potent tool that can transform your mindset and drive success. When you’re grappling with challenging moments during your CPA exam journey, take a pause and visualize your success. Recreate the scenario in your mind – picture yourself confidently navigating through exam questions, maintaining your composure, and emerging victorious. Feel the rush of positive emotions associated with achieving your goals. By indulging in these feelings of success, you not only quell anxiety but also activate areas of your brain responsible for focus and creativity. Visualization empowers you to take charge of your emotions and envision the brighter future that awaits after conquering the exam.

Incorporate These Tips Into Your Journey

During those late-night study sessions or within the confines of the testing center, these three tips can be your lifeline. They require only a short amount of time but can yield remarkable results. Remember that you hold the power to manage your stress and set the stage for your success in becoming a  CPA. By cultivating self-awareness, finding your breath, and embracing the visualization of your triumph, you’re not just combating stress – you’re enhancing your ability to perform at your best.

As you navigate the journey to CPA licensure, keep in mind that you are capable of overcoming stress and achieving the success you deserve. Whether you’re studying or sitting for the exam, these quick tips will guide you toward a brighter, stress-free outcome.

Best of luck on your CPA exam journey!

Beyond the Books: Elevating Your CPA Exam Performance with Holistic Strategies

Embarking on the journey to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is more than just an intellectual endeavor. It’s a transformative path that challenges you intellectually, emotionally, and even spiritually. In your quest to ace the CPA exam, consider these three non-traditional approaches that promise to enhance your performance.They may even bring a touch of happiness to your journey.

Understanding Your “Why”: Unveiling Personal Motivation

In the quest for success, it’s vital to start by understanding your “why.” Why do you aspire to become a CPA? Is it a professor’s advice, parental expectations, or required by your employer for career progression? Dig deeper. Each candidate’s journey is unique, and the CPA designation should align with your personal aspirations. What will achieving this designation bring to your life? Whether it’s financial security, a sense of accomplishment, or the ability to make an impact on society, grasping the true significance of your goal will imbue your efforts with purpose and determination. This emotional fuel will empower you to weather any challenges and enhance your overall experience along the way.

Taking Breaks: The Counterintuitive Catalyst for Success

In a world that glorifies non-stop productivity, the idea of incorporating planned breaks into your study routine might seem counterintuitive. However, neuroscience tells a different story. The human brain isn’t designed for continuous, unrelenting critical thinking. To optimize cognitive performance, breaks are imperative. Delve into the paradox of productivity – taking breaks actually increases efficiency and retention. Integrate scheduled breaks into your study plan. Whether it’s a weekly yoga session, a leisurely movie, or a gathering with friends, these pauses offer your brain a chance to rejuvenate, fostering clarity and focus when you return to your studies. By setting a rhythm of work and rest, you enhance your cognitive abilities and embrace a sustainable approach to success.

Nature’s Connection: A Digital Detox for Enhanced Well-being

The digital age immerses us in screens and information overload, leaving little room for reflection and connection with the natural world. Incorporating moments of nature into your CPA exam journey offers profound benefits. Whether you find solace in a forest or draw inspiration from mountains or the sea, nature offers a respite from the constant barrage of digital stimuli. Stepping away from screens allows your brain to recharge and engage in introspection. Beyond the cognitive benefits, nature provides an opportunity to reconnect with yourself and the world around you. It can even spark a sense of spirituality or connection to something greater than oneself, enriching your journey on a holistic level.

Conclusion: A Balanced Path to CPA Exam Success

The CPA exam journey is multifaceted, encompassing intellectual rigor, emotional resilience, and personal growth. To excel beyond the confines of traditional studying, incorporate these holistic strategies into your approach. Understand your personal “why,” infusing purpose into your pursuit. Embrace planned breaks to fuel productivity and clarity, and escape to nature to recharge and reconnect. Remember, success on the CPA exam is not solely about mastering technical content; it’s about nurturing your whole self to perform at your best.

Good luck, and may your journey be as rewarding as the destination.

To Be a Good Leader You Have to Wake Up

CEO and Founder of Conscious Public Accountants, Amber Setter, was recently interviewed by Gusto for Partners. The article below was originally published by Gusto for Partners on September 20, 2022.

One of the easiest ways to spot someone who lacks consciousness at work is to look at their calendar. If there is no white space, that is someone lacks the necessary time to be alive and aware of their surroundings. 

I don’t mean they aren’t sentient. They’re still a thinking, curious being. But, operating on all cylinders, in an environment that’s kept them that way a long time, the muscle for self-reflection has atrophied. They’re doing, doing, doing and then “unwinding” by scrolling through social media as they drift off to sleep. Which is to say, not unwinding.

If they don’t have time to reflect, can’t step away from the problem to see it differently, and can’t view things from a higher altitude, they cannot, by definition, lead consciously. And that’s a big problem for accountants who manage others because it keeps everyone in that cycle. Especially you.

Why staying conscious is such a struggle in our industry

Finding time for awareness is one of our greatest modern-day challenges. And for accountants, there’s so much work to get done and people feel they have to work back to back to back. It affects everyone, and when I coach people in senior positions, like partners or executives, and they need to design a new process, they really struggle to think critically. They struggle to deal with complicated, technical issues and problems that have never existed before. And it’s because they have zero white space on their calendar, and by association, in their brain. 

As they say, no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.

This is all perpetuated by busy seasons and the cyclical nature of accounting. Nobody gets time to reflect. They go from “That was terrible, I can’t do this anymore” right into the next cycle and bury the discomfort by busying themselves. To break free, people need a container, a mental space, to contemplate. 

As an example, when I coach people, it’s one hour a week where they need to come to the conversation to drive the agenda. I was hired by someone who operates primarily as a sole proprietor but has a couple of staff in the office. That person had been trained to excel at tactics, and was always planning new ways to work on those tactics. But they weren’t holding themselves responsible for pausing, and asking why they weren’t progressing toward more of their goals. 

When they finally realized that clients’ needs were met before setting healthy boundaries for themselves, things clicked. They started coming to our sessions saying, “I want to be more effective as I lead my team. I need to get better at having healthier boundaries. And I need to be taking care of myself. I keep saying exercising is important. Why do I keep not doing it?”

The answer to almost all their blockage was their totally blocked-out, zero-white-space calendar. It seems small, but they started reserving time for things that mattered weeks in advance, and not caving to client pressure. They realized the downtime was their recharge time. Without that time, there was no strategic thinking. There wasn’t a space to envision their future. There was no being conscious at work. 

After six months they shared this with me:

“I clarified what I want for myself. I learned to put my needs ahead of clients. I now recognize their needs are endless and I have to have boundaries. I doubled my happiness and billed $80,000 more in a year. I no longer let toxic people hang around, no matter how much money they bring. I let go of the traditional office model I lived in for 25 years. I no longer get beat up by the workload or the bureaucracy of the regulatory environment. Getting worked up doesn’t make a difference at the end of the day.”

The best time to start work like that was six months ago. But the next best time? It’s today.

Let the consciousness back in

For some, maybe the answer is hiring a coach. For many more, it’s even simpler. It’s spending part of every Saturday at a coffee shop with a journal and answering open-ended questions. Start anywhere. Start with questions you find on Google. It’s stopping, pausing, and looking within to say, “What does today’s version of me need the most?” 

And then it’s making space to take new action—very intentional movement—toward the life you envision for yourself. If you need to exercise, calendar it and find an accountability partner to meet you at the gym. If you are struggling to make a change in your business, dedicate time in your schedule for the project and find a thought partner to join you. We are really good at canceling commitments to ourselves but we rarely cancel our commitments to others. Make space to let the consciousness come flooding back in. It’s what’s truly going to let you be a great leader.

How Failure on the CPA Exam Woke Amber Up to a Career in Coaching

My first career was as an accountant.

The accounting profession appealed to me because it provided the structure and consistency absent from my childhood. Accounting courses required me to focus, work hard, and choose healthy nights at the library over college parties and bars. My ego loved what an accounting degree signaled to the world. I was more than a pretty face. I had a brain, too.

I got the degree and the Big Four job offer. I followed my heart to a prominent local firm in the Silicon Valley. It only took two busy seasons for me to realize I was not an accountant. My inherent skills had always been in the development of others. (Duh, Amber. You financed your undergraduate degree by working as a nanny.)

Yet seven years after I knew accounting was not for me, I became seduced by my ego. It told me that to be a somebody, I needed to become a CPA.

Any CPA will tell you the exam is rigorous. And many will tell you they walked uphill, both ways to the testing center. Since I hadn’t crunched numbers for several years, my pathway to licensure felt like a climb to Mt. Everest. Eventually I passed. But the experience wore me out and left me gasping for breath. Worse off, the 18-month endeavor nearly killed my spirit. It sent me into a breakdown best described by the words of Wayne Dyer:

“When you squeeze an orange, you’ll always get orange juice to come out. What comes out is what’s inside. The same logic applies to you: when life squeezes you or puts pressure on you, and out of you comes anger, hatred, bitterness, tension, depression, or anxiety, that is what’s inside.”

The CPA exam squeezed me.

I did not like what came out. I had not yet entirely dealt with the pains of my childhood. Under the pressure of the exam, I became downright mean. It was clear I had some inner work to do. So rather than trying to hold it all together, I did something I had never done before.

I allowed myself to fall apart.

I cried a lot during this breakdown; the tears streamed for at least a year. I started opening up to people about this paradox I felt—having experienced a significant outward achievement, yet feeling like a total failure on the inside. I wondered: Why had I wasted all that life energy on a piece of paper that I threw in the trash? (I really did throw that enormous certificate in a dumpster.) How would I ensure I didn’t make such poor decisions in the future? What did I want to invest my energy in now? What would really light me up?

During this breakdown, I was introduced to a professional coach who invited me to observe a coach training program. I was sold.

Within 24 hours, I committed $15,000 and a year of my life to this program. I saw it as a win-win; it provided me with my own coach and trained me on how to become a coach. Professional coaching changed my life. It allowed me to have my breakdown in a healthy, structured way. It enabled me to reconcile my past and heal the pains and traumas. It inspired me to dream bigger. It was more than mental masturbation about the past. It demanded I look to the future. Coaching integrated deep inquiry and action. I learned my being was just as important as my doing. I will never be the same.

Before coaching, I didn’t really know what I wanted. I knew what society thought was good for me. But those ideas weren’t aligned with my inner truths. Before coaching, I went at life alone. I didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted, nor was I able to receive support.

Today, I can’t live without coaching.

Whether I am providing the service or receiving coaching, I just can’t live without it. The work is sacred. It is a form of self-care. It supports our growth and expansion and teaches us how to become responsible for our own happiness. We learn how to bring our best selves to all domains of life.

If I had passed the CPA exam with ease, I wouldn’t have become a coach. I wouldn’t have co-created this business, and you wouldn’t be reading this post.

Gratitude to the “failures” that form us.

Is a Career Coach for You?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, career coach Amber Setter worked with ambitious clients who were on an energetic career path, vying for promotions in their organizations by increasing productivity and working long hours. Today, some of those high achievers are rethinking their careers.

Soul Searching and Change for the Better

Since the pandemic, Setter often sees individuals who are burned out and introspective, reflecting on their quality of life and considering a career change. “I work with a lot of people who are high in achievement but low in happiness,” Setter said. “Since the onset of the pandemic, I see much more soul searching and a tremendous amount of burnout.”

For many professionals in that situation, consulting with a professional coach like Setter can bring clarity and help them make crucial decisions impacting their careers and lives.

Setter, chief enlightenment officer for Conscious Public Accountants, is a professional certified coach and inactive CPA. She said many of the accounting professionals she works with today are disturbed by political unrest and the feeling that that the world is unsafe. Work is also taking a toll.

“The complexity of the accounting and regulatory environment is higher than ever, and my clients are questioning what they should be doing with their lives,”

Amber Setter

Setter and other certified coaches give tips on working with coaches:

Understand the coach’s role. Doug Slaybaugh, CPA, CGMA, a professional certified coach working with accounting professionals and owner of The CPA Coach in Denver, sees his role as being a facilitator, leading clients through the process of determining their next move.

“I facilitate the decision-making process so they can evaluate their situation clearly without being influenced by emotion, urgency, and other factors that tend to garble everything,” he said.

Coaches ask questions to help clients bring clarity to their career goals, such as whether they have made a firm decision to leave their jobs, or if they are still unsure. “I can help them determine if they want to try to create an environment or situation that would convince them to stay at their current job or if they do need to move on to the next chapter,” Slaybaugh said.

Vicki Salemi, a career coach and career expert for Monster.com, compares a career coach to a personal trainer.

“You can go to the gym by yourself and get results, but using a personal trainer will provide guidance and hold you accountable to your fitness goals,” she said. A career coach can fulfill a similar role by helping clients develop a strategy and determine the pathway to career satisfaction.

“Career satisfaction may not necessarily mean job searching,” Salemi said. “It could be progression in your career, how to get promoted, or how to talk to your boss about getting a salary increase.”

At the same time, clients must also recognize career coaches are not magicians

Coaches can’t guarantee their clients will get a new job or find satisfaction in their current role overnight, but coaches can deliver insight and encouragement.

“I provide them with skills, tips, and the necessary framework to help them build confidence and achieve their goals,”

Salemi

Setter advises people to interview coaches before contracting with one. “I encourage people to talk with more than one prospective coach. This ensures you hire one that is a good fit with your personality and your comfort level,” she said. “Coaching should be a space where you feel safe to speak your truth.”

It’s also important to hire a coach who has a professional certification. The International Coaching Federation offers three progressive certifications:

  • Associate Certified Coach (ACC)
  • Professional Certified Coach (PCC)
  • Master Certified Coach (MCC)

All of the designations entail the completion of accredited coach training, supervision of coaching hours, and continuing education with an ethics component.

Personal and professional coaching has little barrier to entry, and virtually anyone can call themselves a “coach,” Slaybaugh said. “If you are considering hiring a coach, seek out someone who is certified and credentialed, ensuring they are bound to certain high standards, training, and ethics.”

Allow yourself to be coached.

Career coaching is a two-way street, Setter said. She expects her clients to be coachable and demonstrate commitment. “You show up. You don’t postpone sessions. You don’t cancel, even when you are facing a deadline,” she said. “You agree to take action, and you learn from the process of staying accountable to what you said is important to you.” Salemi often does prescreening calls with potential clients to ensure they are a good fit for her services.

“Sometimes clients come to me with mental anguish and high emotions, or they have baggage tied to their career and their job,” she said. If she recognizes that they’re not emotionally ready for taking positive steps forward, she may suggest they seek mental health counseling so they can be open, willing, and ready to work with a career coach.

“I want my clients to be successful, and I want them to feel happy and satisfied with my services,” she said. “I want them to believe their investment is well spent and they have the tools and the ability to continue moving forward after our coaching relationship is over.”

Be open to opportunities.

We are experiencing a rare era in the history of the workforce, Slaybaugh said. The pandemic has been a catalyst causing people to rethink their careers, and there are many opportunities for those who are considering leaving their jobs. The marketplace is hungry for talent, and your current workplace may be motivated to find a way for you to stay. “You can actually create a stay interview with your employer,” he said. “You can meet with your boss and voice the things that are concerning to you about your job and offer some options to create a better opportunity.”

If those discussions don’t work and you’re not able to get what you want, or you’re still not happy with what is offered, then you can move into the next stage of your career progression.

Those who have turned the page to a new chapter should avoid feeling discouraged if a desirable workplace doesn’t have a job posted for the specific position they seek. Instead, they should open a dialogue with hiring managers and be open-minded to the possibilities.

“If an employer comes across someone with a good skill set, is driven, and has a lot of promise, who believes in the company’s purpose and vision, management will find a way to make that hire,”

Slaybaugh

Visit the Global Career Hub from AICPA & CIMA for help with finding a job or recruiting. The AICPA toolkit “Creating a Coaching Culture at Your Organization” offers more tips to members for launching coaching programs within your organization.

— Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. Read the original article here.

Energy Is Currency: How to Spend It Wisely

Do you want to know how to enhance your vitality, have more peace of mind, and cultivate a positive emotional climate? The value of rest is underestimated in our culture, but it’s essential to a happy and productive life. 

Getting to Know Yourself and the Prioritization of Tasks

The first step to spending your energy wisely is to get to know yourself more deeply. You need to do two very important things as you start making changes. The first is to actually track how you’re spending your time and how that is affecting you. The second is to know which activities are good investments for you.

“We wake up with 24 hours in a day. That’s not going to change. That’s a fixed budget. How do we think of our energy as a currency, and how do we cut out low yields?”

– Amber Setter

As you go over your schedule, you’ll want to make room for positive or “high-yield” energy activities. These are activities that will enhance your energy. They are worth your time—even if you don’t think you have time—because they will make you more effective in all areas of your life.

Good investment activities will vary from person to person, but the common theme should be that they create the right conditions for you to thrive. They bring you joy, give you rest, enhance your relationships, or help you create and sustain wealth. If you look at your life holistically, you will see that having good relationships, proper rest and nutrition, and joyful activities will help you thrive on all levels, including in your professional life.

Think of yourself as a plant. If you are the plant, you need the right conditions in order to grow new, strong, healthy leaves. You need strong roots, good soil, the right amount of water, sunshine, air, and perhaps some gentle care and attention. You also need to be free of pests, weeds, and other irritants that could drain your life force.

Every plant is unique and has different requirements. You are unique and have individual requirements. Nevertheless, there are universally appealing investment activities that you might consider. These might be:

  • Going to a yoga class once a week
  • Having dinner with your partner every night without answering emails or calls
  • Watching your favorite fantasy show, which helps you disconnect from your daily life
  • Taking half an hour in the morning to journal
  • Turning your phone on silent and going for a walk during your lunch break
  • Hiring a mentor, therapist, or coach for support
  • Identifying energy leaks and drains

A big part of energy management is to look at where your life force is leaking away. There are a few ways that can happen.

Identify Unfinished Business

One big drain is the weight of unfinished business or tasks that we’re avoiding. This can affect us consciously, perhaps by keeping us awake at night or by creating a loop of worry because we just don’t know how to tackle the task. It can also affect us unconsciously by creating a low-level hum of background anxiety that we just can’t seem to shake. When we carve out the time to look at our energy, we have a chance to step back and see if we have things hanging over our heads.

“You’re taking a big step back. You’re using your higher [-level] strategic thinking skills and looking down, and you can see [that] maybe there [are] priorities that need to shift. You can also notice … the things you’re avoiding. Usually, we avoid things that we’re scared of. Maybe you haven’t done [them] before, maybe they’re too overwhelming, [maybe] they’re too big of a task, but then we avoid them. And when we avoid them, they’re the things that keep us up at night.”

– Amber Setter

Don’t beat yourself up for having unfinished tasks. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You truly don’t have to tackle everything on your own. So, who can you reach out to for advice? Who can you delegate things to? Do you need to break the project down into manageable tasks, so you’re making progress without getting overwhelmed?

How can you get your unfinished business off your to-do list so you can conserve energy for what’s most important to you?

Manage “Overwhelm” with Effective To-Do Lists

What happens when you cross one item off your to-do list? It’s replaced by something else, of course! The fact is to-do lists are never-ending. So, trying to tackle everything all at once will set yourself up for failure. Instead of creating a giant list and getting overwhelmed, prioritize. Break it down into smaller chunks so you don’t waste precious energy resources on stress and overwhelm, which can drain you of focus and stifle your problem-solving abilities.

Have a running master list of everything you need to get done, but then have a small daily or weekly list. When it comes to managing your daily schedule, pick three things you need to get done. This forces you to prioritize and gives you a sense of accomplishment as you cross off tasks. 

Know your limits. Know how much you can realistically do before getting overwhelmed. You can also use a special planner or journal to keep you focused on the bigger picture. The Best Self Journal is a great option. 

Take Breaks

While you may love the rush of working for hours on end on a project, taking breaks actually helps boost your productivity. Amber cited an article published in The New York Times called “Why You Hate Work.” It was about a study that compared two groups of CPAs, one who worked without breaks and another that didn’t: 

“[They had] people work for 90 minutes uninterrupted and then [others who] took 10 to 15-minute brain breaks. … Then they took one full hour break in the late afternoon. … The results were surprising and not surprising. They found that those who worked in a focused manner, [but who took breaks] and left work earlier in the day actually produced much greater results. They got more done in less time, and this group also said they felt less stressed out. [Plus,] their turnover rate was much lower.”

– Amber Setter

Set a timer on your phone and make yourself get up and walk around on your break. Try not to use your break to scroll on social media or web surf.

Ritualizing Your Wellness Routines

In a world full of options, many of us suffer from decision fatigue. There are seemingly endless choices that we have to make on a daily basis, from what to have for breakfast to which detergent to buy to where to send our kids to school. Decision-making is energetically costly, so the more you can eliminate the need to make decisions, the better.

One way to do this is by ritualizing your self-care activities and creating routines. Chances are you don’t think twice about brushing your teeth in the morning. So how about having a habit of always working out on Mondays or always journaling at night? 

“Energy can be expanded and renewed by having rituals in your life. Meeting with [your]self [can be] a ritual. Always exercising the same day [is a ritual]. [Taking] the same class [is a] ritual. Always having a meeting with a team member is a ritual. You don’t have to spend energy thinking about when you’re going to do it. You just have some things, some structures, that support your performance. [They] are automatic. [They] get done quickly, and [you are] steadily achieving whatever result you desire.”

– Amber Setter

The great thing about a ritual is that you don’t have much time for excuses or procrastination. You don’t debate whether or not you will work out—you just do it. However, you can still make it fun and pleasurable! Go for your run at a beautiful park and listen to your favorite podcast. Have your herbal tea in your favorite mug. The less your rituals feel like drudgery, the better.

Conserving and Cultivating Energy In All Areas

From a holistic point of view, all areas of our lives are connected. Your personal life affects your professional life and vice versa, your physical health affects your mental health, and so on. When looking for energy drains and ways to enhance your energy, look at all areas of your life. 

You may wish to get a journal and reflect on the four primary areas of energy: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

Physical Energy

This is the most straightforward area of energy, given that our culture places high importance on physical self-care. These are the basics: fitness, nutrition, and sleep. 

These are some questions to help you enhance your physical energy:

  • Am I eating well?
  • Am I getting enough rest?
  • Am I exercising enough?
  • How does my body feel?
  • Are my muscles tight or sore? Do I need to stretch?
  • What ritual or habit can I put in place to support my physical energy?

Mental Energy

As knowledge workers, your mental energy is one of your most valuable assets. You need boundaries in place to protect your intellectual capacities, which are the basis of your job. As discussed, taking mental breaks is important to keep you operating at peak performance. Eliminating distractions is also key, as it often takes longer to complete a task when you’ve been interrupted. You should also consider your own energy peaks and dips and schedule your projects around them if possible. Use time-blocking to set boundaries around projects and eliminate mentally intensive decision-making.

Here are a few questions to help you enhance your mental energy:

  • How often am I taking breaks at work?
  • When do I feel most sharp and awake, and can I do my biggest projects at that time?
  • What distractions are there in my work environment, and how can I eliminate them?
  • Which projects require the least mental energy? Can I do those at the end of the day?
  • What are some fun activities I can do that require little to no mental energy?

Emotional Energy

Amber describes this energy as the “climate within yourself.” It’s not always possible to control the climate, although thoughts and behaviors do influence our emotional health. Rather, it’s more important to be aware of them so we can manage them better.

“Do you have a sense of what you’re feeling through[out] the day? … [Imagine] the emotional climate within yourself. Is it stormy? Is it sunny? How does it feel, and what activates you in certain ways? And do those things serve you? Are there certain things that nourish you and have you feeling better? Or [are there] things that are draining you?”

– Amber Setter

When assessing emotional energy, make sure to count the positives in your life. They’re often overlooked, which leads to pessimism or an unnecessary desire to have/be/do more.

Questions to help you enhance your emotional energy:

  • What am I grateful for?
  • What triggers me? 
  • What drains my energy?
  • What practices/activities/environments/people make me feel good?
  • What practices/activities/environments/people make me feel bad?
  • Is there anything in my life that I would be better off not having? How can I do that?
  • Is there anything in life that I need more of? How can I get that?
  • Who can I ask for support, encouragement, or advice?

Spiritual Energy

You don’t have to be a “spiritual person” to enhance your spiritual energy. Amber explained that this energy is more akin to values and higher purpose. You might value authenticity, family, service to others, and so on. When you are living your truth and in alignment with your values, you are enhancing your spiritual energy.

Here are questions to help you enhance your emotional energy:

  • What are my core values?
  • Am I living in alignment with those values?
  • What areas of my life are most important to me?
  • How much energy is going to each of those areas?

Learn More About Spending Your Energy Wisely

Mastering your energy involves taking control of all areas of your life: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. You should choose activities that bring you high yield returns, such as increased performance at work, better relationships, deeper sleep, and a more positive mindset. When it comes to work, sometimes striving more and trying harder can actually work against you. You need to take breaks to conserve your mental energy and have an enjoyable experience. Take the time to sit down with yourself and assess your schedule. Cut out leaks and drains, such as unfinished business and an overwhelming to-do list.

Once you master energy management, your return on energy investment can truly skyrocket. To learn more about how to live a happier and healthier life, check out our other articles based on the same webinar: “What Is Accountant Burnout?” and “Managing Your Energy During Burnout Season.” 

This article was originally published on Gusto.com, to read this article in full, please visit Gusto for more detailed resources!

The Great Regret Nation: Why Job Hopping Hasn’t Fixed Accounting Burnout

This article was published on May 3, 2022 on Gusto.

Last year, I had one of my coaching clients come to me and say, “I’m done. I don’t want to be an accountant anymore.” She wasn’t alone. 

In 2021, an average of 3.98 million U.S. workers quit their jobs each month, smashing all records since the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) started keeping track. And while the BLS doesn’t publish data on accounting specifically, it’s telling that the quit rate for the category of “professional and business services” was noticeably higher than other domains. 

Many accounting professionals have been (rightly) questioning the norms of our profession—the long hours, exhaustion, and poor mental health. When the opportunity presented itself, they quit. But people who switched jobs in 2021 aren’t necessarily any happier now and, in some cases, feel even worse than they did before. What happened? 

I see it time and time again in my coaching practice: If you change your environment without addressing the underlying issues, the underlying issues follow you. Or, as the adage goes, “Wherever you go, there you are.” 

So how do you fix your burnout in a way that’s healthy and sustainable? Let’s explore how to change jobs the right way. Whether you’re considering leaving a job or not, I hope it’ll help you too. 

Resigned to this: How we got here 

I don’t want to say I told you so, but I saw the great resignation coming. In October 2020, I wrote an article for the California Society of CPAs where I warned that, as accounting firms contracted in the wake of Covid—cutting salaries, laying people off, and freezing learning budgets—we would risk losing people. Firm leaders were acting out of fear, but those fears were misplaced. Instead of collapsing, we were more needed than ever. 

Meanwhile, many accounting professionals felt a disconnect between the essential work they were doing and how they were being treated. Their firms might have been thriving, but as individuals, they were barely surviving. They were putting in more hours while also having to navigate the disruptions to their personal lives—managing childcare, worrying about elderly parents, or grappling with poor mental health. Their organizations didn’t hold them when they really needed to be held, so they looked for an escape. 

Quitting can feel like it’ll solve all of your problems, but without deep introspection, it rarely does. Here’s what I recommend instead. 

1. Stop, drop, and identify the discomfort 

When you’re feeling unhappy at work, that’s a signal. I like to think of it as a smoke alarm going off. A smoke alarm can mean a lot of different things—maybe your house is on fire, or maybe you just burnt a piece of toast. Your job is to get curious about the feeling and identify where it’s coming from.  

Take some time to consider what exactly is making you uncomfortable in your current job. (You might want to journal about it, if that’s your thing, or talk it over with a trusted friend.) Consider the following questions:

  • What am I doing that energizes me?
  • What am I doing that drains me?
  • Am I engaging in any toxic behaviors, like people-pleasing, perfectionism, or controlling tendencies?
  • What can I no longer tolerate?
  • Why am I tolerating it? (Hint: What are you scared of?)
  • What do I want to feel instead?
  • Where do I want to take my career? My life?
  • What experiences will help me to grow? Are they available in my current position? 
  • What support do I need?
  • Who can I speak with in confidence about these things?
  • Who has the authority to make the changes I need?

You might find that your discomfort is coming from something small and fixable. Or maybe there is a much larger issue at play—one that does warrant quitting your job. Either way, it’s important to take the time to slow down and figure out what’s really going on inside of you before you take any drastic action.  

2. Choose something to run towards, instead of running away

Once you figure out what isn’t working, it’s time to determine what you actually want. If you run away from discomfort but never take the time to figure out what to run towardsyou’ll never find the fulfillment you’re seeking. 

One helpful framework you can use to help identify that “something” is from a book I love called The Big Leap. Author Gay Hendricks lays out four “zones” you can operate from at work: your zone of incompetence, your zone of competence, your zone of excellence, and your zone of genius. 

Most accounting professionals get stuck in the zone of excellence. And this isn’t necessarily a bad place to be—you excel at your job, get paid well, and people respect your expertise. But at the same time, you can hear your inner voice saying, “I know there’s something more.” Your zone of genius, on the other hand, is the highest expression of yourself. It’s where you’re living your values and doing work that inspires you.

I once coached a compliance tax partner who was a quintessential example of someone operating in his zone of excellence. He excelled in his career and made good money but came to me feeling disenchanted. Through coaching, he came to the realization that it wasn’t that he didn’t like accounting, rather, he was inspired to make the practice of accounting better. He needed a new role that would meet him where he was. 

So he made a big leap—he quit his job as a tax partner without knowing where he would work next. What he did know: He had a vision for the progressive firms of the future. This person wasn’t running away from what he didn’t like, rather, he was being pulled by a sense of purpose. It didn’t take him long to move into a new job where he is leading a CPA firm alliance and collaborating with members on how to improve their firms. (In fact, he’ll be speaking about this transition this summer at the AICPA EDGE conference: My Journey to Partner: Why I Left and What Could Have Been Done to Keep Me.) 

If you’re feeling stuck in your current role, consider—what would it take for you to leave your  zone of excellence and fully step into your zone of genius? Is there a cause you’re passionate about, a type of work that inspires you, or a long-held dream you’ve been too scared to try? The answers are inside of you. All you need to do is quiet the external noise and tune into the longings of your soul.  

3. Ask for what you need to thrive

This next part might feel scariest—but it’s also the most crucial. Here’s the point where you need to talk to your employer about what you’ve been discovering. 

This is where I notice the accounting professionals I work with struggle the most. They are scared to ask for what they need. Underneath the fear may be a limiting belief they will be perceived as “weak” or “unworthy” of having their needs met. My response is always: “Do you realize what it costs to replace you?” It’s in your firm’s best interest to keep you happy—this is even more true if you’re a senior-level person. You doing the work you love is more than altruistic; it results in you operating at your highest potential. 

Still, it can be a nerve-wracking conversation, so do what you can to set yourself up for success. First, breathe. As Hendricks says in The Big Leap, “Fear is excitement without the breath.” While conversing with my colleague Jamie Greene on the topic of anxiety and mental health, I learned that breath calms one’s anxiety faster than a Xanax or a glass of wine. (Who said CPE can’t be fun?) 

Next, you might want to send your boss a note explaining what you’ve been thinking about and asking to schedule some time to chat further. You might consider saying something like:

  • I have noticed I no longer enjoy________.
  • What I would like to do instead is ________.
  • What do you need from my current role?
  • What will the business need from my future performance?
  • How might we align so that both of our needs are met?

In many cases, your boss will be amenable to the idea. Still, there are workplaces that will not be supportive of your growth, or that simply aren’t able to provide what you’re looking for. If you’ve asked for what you need and your workplace isn’t willing or able to explore it, don’t take it personally. Instead, see it as a gift that you are being rerouted to something even better. Because you are. 

If you decide to leave, you can take what you’ve learned about yourself and bring it on the job hunt. Remember, you’re evaluating potential employers as much as they’re evaluating you. Make sure to communicate your needs and determine whether they’ll be able to meet them before you accept a new opportunity. 

4. Look within before you leap

The pandemic put accounting professionals under unique new pressures—many of which haven’t gone away entirely. Understandably, the great resignation became the natural outpouring of their pent-up exhaustion and frustration with the profession. But those who didn’t take the time to reflect on what they needed to thrive may now feel regret. 

Switching jobs doesn’t necessarily have to be a last resort. However, I do think it’s important to really understand what you need and how you might get it before you make any drastic life changes. 

Having a deep understanding of your needs, values, and aspirations is key to finding work that fulfills you, whether that’s in your existing workplace or in a new opportunity. The important thing is to discover what’s going to make you thrive as a human being—and, crucially, find the soil that will nourish your growth. Only then will you find the job and life satisfaction you’ve been looking for. 

Disclaimer: This is not to be taken as tax, legal, benefits, financial, or HR advice. Since rules and regulations change over time and can vary by location, consult a lawyer or HR expert for specific guidance.

Three Toxic Behaviors to Quit This Busy Season

Ah, the start of a new year. Time to reflect, recharge, set resolutions—and for accountants, time to say goodbye to any semblance of a social life until the daffodils push up in the spring. 

In our profession, most of us accept the busy season as a fact of life. You don’t go to the doctor during the busy season. You don’t schedule a haircut during the busy season. You don’t go to happy hour with your friends. Your kids might not see you. You hunker down, tough it out, and get through. 

But COVID-19 is forcing us all to reconsider. 

Until recently, mental health has been somewhat of a taboo topic in accounting. Our profession is known for being rigorous and demanding. We deal in regulations, numbers, and data—not in feelings. But as the pandemic drags on, many accountants have come to the realization they can’t keep living like this. As a recovering-overachiever-turned-executive-coach, I’ve not only felt this myself, I’ve watched my clients grapple with it too. 

Ironically, busy season is the time we should be most focused on our mental health. “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day—unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour,” as the Zen proverb goes. But let’s be honest, most of us barely have enough time to sleep during the busy season, let alone meditate. 

That’s why it’s important for us to dig deeper. What’s keeping us all so overwhelmed? Are there things within our industry we can change to make the busy season, if not blissful, at least bearable? While I recognize we can’t transform things overnight, change has to start somewhere. Perhaps it can start within ourselves. Below, I’ve outlined some of the most common unhealthy patterns of behaviors I see in our profession and how we can begin to overcome them. 

I sometimes teach a webinar for Gusto called “Is Your Leadership an Asset or a Liability?” (login required). One thing I like to share is the Universal Model of Leadership, which outlines effective and  ineffective leadership behaviors. Whether you’re in a position of authority or not, ineffective thought patterns and behaviors can lead to poor mental health for you and the people around you—and this is doubly true during the busy season. Under stress, we regress. Unfortunately, the field of accounting often incentivizes these patterns, making them even more difficult to let go of.

Here are the three most prevalent toxic patterns I find in the clients I work with. Keep in mind, most of us have a go-to, automatic unhealthy way of being.  I have also included strategies to help overcome them.  No matter what your pattern is, the key is always going to be: Look within. 

1. People-pleasing

If you’re working in a matrix reporting environment, you’re reporting to a lot of different people and no one person is your advocate. You are also serving a variety of clients. When you’re just starting out in your career, this can be overwhelming—you want to do a good job and get noticed, so it’s tempting to overpromise and stretch yourself too far. It’s a strategy that’s doomed to fail—you either don’t manage to complete everything on time, or you do, but it comes at a great personal cost. That’s pretty much the textbook definition of people-pleasing: putting other people’s needs and expectations before your own. 

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. For many of us, this kind of people-pleasing behavior started early. Maybe you were a middle child, had divorced parents who expected you to play referee, or you felt in the shadow of another big personality (e.g. a superstar sibling).  Now that you are grown up, you are often holding back what is within. You might hesitate to share your ideas because you fear others won’t like them. 

Break the pattern: Look inside

Pleasing others might give you a temporary boost, but it sabotages your fulfillment in the long run. That’s why it’s critical to take a step back and recognize what your needs really are. 

An addiction to doing things for others might be masking something else—for instance, maybe there’s something going on at home that makes you want to remain at work. Or it might just be a role you’ve been playing for a long time. If you’ve always been the person who rescues people or picks up extra work, it can be difficult to relinquish that identity. Recovering people-pleasers can shift their inner narrative from “People have to like me” or “It’s selfish to put my needs first” to “I am not responsible for how others feel” or “I need to put my oxygen mask on first.”

Consider: What’s the first thought or feeling that comes to mind when you feel a need to check your work email? Were you trying to live up to a certain expectation? To fulfill a role? Perhaps this is a good place to start practicing healthier boundaries. For instance, you could decide not to look at your email inbox after a certain time each night and reclaim that time for something restorative—whether that’s spending time with your family, engaging in a hobby, or getting an extra hour of sleep.

2. Controlling behavior

This type of behavior is all about lack of trust. Controlling people tell themselves the story that they can’t trust others—but look inside, and you’ll often find they don’t trust their own self or the external world. Psychologists call this projection: displacing your feelings on another. This could have its roots in childhood. Perhaps you grew up in an environment where there was chaos or life felt out of control. Many of us are feeling this right now. I agree with the Nike executive who said, “Last year has been tough – we’re all human! We lived through a traumatic event!” 

We’re still living through a traumatic event and many of us feel a strong need to take control now. Alas, it’s impossible to control another; all we can control is our own actions and reactions. 

Controlling behavior can manifest in things like micromanaging your direct reports, or simply a lack of trust in your colleagues’ work—an incessant need to double-check and recheck things. Though you might think you’re just holding everyone to a high standard, you’re likely just introducing inefficiencies. More importantly, you’re probably eroding morale on your team. 

Break the pattern: Identify your filters

We bring our whole self to work, and that self is informed by all our past experiences. If there are things in your background that make it difficult to trust people or have made you feel out of control, it’s only natural that you would cling to control where you can find it. Recognizing that part of yourself is the first step to healing it. 

One tool I like to use to illustrate this idea is a pair of sunglasses covered in stickers that represent different formative things that have shaped my life and my perspective. I’ve got a band-aid because I had a very disruptive childhood—my mom is mentally ill and was homeless for a period, and my dad was an alcoholic. I’ve also got some flags because I moved to Monaco to be an au pair at the age of 19, and then years later, I went to Italy on my own. All these things have shaped my perspective and how I view the world. 

mental health accountingMy shades.

Try to identify your own filters—the things that color your everyday experiences. What messages did you internalize in childhood? What formative career experiences and relationships with authority have you carried into your current position? How might your past experiences be affecting the way you engage at work? Holding space for these parts of yourself can help you begin to heal and let you make room for new, more helpful beliefs. 

3. Perfectionism

Accountants have many positive qualities—we tend to be organized, meticulous, and attentive to detail. But left unchecked, a strength can just as easily turn into a weakness. It’s not a bad thing to have reliable financial statements, to create accurate tax returns, or to get your work done in good time. The problem is when you start to equate your work output with your self-worth. You are so much more than those letters after your name. 

Early in my career as a tax accountant, I remember being so proud to turn in my work, only to get it back with all my errors highlighted. It was a big blow to my self-confidence—I thought I was smart and getting corrected felt like an attack on that core belief. But if I hadn’t viewed my work as proof of my intelligence, I would have been better able to correct my mistakes and move forward. 

Break the pattern: Separate your work from your worth

Many of us cling to perfectionism because we derive some benefit from it. It pushes us towards excellence, forcing us to be meticulous and precise in our work—or at least, we think it does. In reality, it prevents us from adopting a growth mindset and the flexibility to learn and change over time. When we realize we’ve made a mistake, our sense of self is threatened. If we really look inside, we might see something much deeper. 

Maybe your parents had high expectations, and from a young age, you were pushed to excel at school and in extracurriculars. And while there’s nothing wrong with achievement, many of us learned to equate performance with love. As adults, we’ve become so used to chasing achievement at the expense of our own needs, we don’t even recognize we’re doing it. 

So how do we overcome our perfectionistic tendencies? Recognize that your outputs are not personality traits. Making a mistake does not make you ‘bad,’ or ‘sloppy,’ or ‘unintelligent’—it just makes you human. And you have inherent value as a human being, regardless of what you do. 

Engaging in a mindfulness practice can help hone this skill. Many meditations teach you to watch your thoughts and feelings as if they were clouds passing through the sky, and you don’t have to actually meditate to benefit from this practice. Can you teach yourself to see those feelings as separate from yourself, and not part of your identity? When that perfectionist impulse arises, can you teach yourself to think, “This isn’t me. It’s just how I’m feeling”? If so, you’ll find yourself much more able to control it, and set it aside.

Think it’s a hard profession? Think again. 

We should all examine our habits and take steps to improve our mental health so we can live happy, abundant lives in the busy season and beyond. However, it’s important to recognize that the culture of accounting in its current form keeps many of us stuck in toxic patterns—and in the long run, that needs to change. 

The reason I start with personal action is because it’s important for us to imagine what’s possible. Something I often hear from people I work with is, “it’s just a really hard profession”—and while I don’t doubt their experience, I also see this as a limiting belief. Think about how many organizations wanted to go paperless before COVID-19 but never got around to it. When everyone had to go remote, they figured it out quickly. I truly believe that what we hold in our consciousness manifests. If we say it’s a hard profession, it’s always going to be a hard profession. Remember the filter and those glasses: When you accept the “fact” that busy season is difficult, you’ll look for evidence to support that idea.

We can look to similar fields to help guide this transition. Law, for instance, has made great strides recently—researchers have put out reports on substance abuse and other mental health concerns among attorneys, and the American Bar Association has shared recommendations to help lawyers manage their mental health through COVID-19. As it currently stands, research on mental health in accounting is nearly nonexistent. Let’s be honest: Accountants crave data when making decisions. If we could get some good data on the state of mental health in our profession, we’d be in a much better position to address these concerns systematically. That’s the only way the busy season is going to get better: if we stop treating it as a necessary evil and start seeing it as a problem to be solved. 

If this article resonated with you, please consider sharing it with your colleagues. Let’s break the taboo on mental health and do a better job of supporting one another. Together, we can imagine a brighter future—one where taking care of ourselves is an asset to the profession, not a liability.