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. 

At Gusto, our mission is always to create a world where work empowers a better life. That’s why we partnered with CPA Academy to bring you a webinar hosted by non-practicing CPA and consciousness coach Amber Setter. In “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time,” Amber discussed changing the mindset around work-life balance, strategies to overcome procrastination, and how taking care of yourself leads to a sense of accomplishment.

Amber Setter helps individuals and groups in the business and accounting world incorporate consciousness practices into their career lives. As a coach for CPAs, she merges her awareness of psychology, healing, and meditation techniques, and expertise in the accounting industry. Her ultimate goal is to help her clients lead happier, healthier lives. 

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!

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.

CPA Performance Begins with Consciousness

Many CPAs have built their brand and sense of self- worth on expertise. The more one knows, the more valuable they believe they are. While competency undoubtedly has its place, it is no longer sufficient. 

COVID-19 has amplified what we’ve heard for years: We’re living in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. And in recent months, we’re actually feeling it. At work and home, we’re being asked to create solutions for problems that previously didn’t exist. This requires CPAs to shift their identify from being an expert to embrace the value of consciousness. 

Consciousness is much more than an esoteric buzzword. It’s about seeing yourself, your colleagues and your clients in a deeper, more meaningful way so you can deliver value well beyond business acumen. 

While speaking at the 2020 CalCPA Annual Members Business Meeting, AICPA CEO Barry Melancon said, “We need to be more than our technical expertise. What clients and employers want today is something bigger, something broader.” Consciousness can empower you to become something bigger and support others in doing the same. 

The Value of Looking Deeper 

Performance for a knowledge worker is like an iceberg: there is 10 percent we can see and an additional 90 percent that’s hidden. The 10 percent is the observable action one takes. We can see if a person completes work on time or not. But if you miss a deadline, how often do you ask yourself why? And if you give yourself permission to be curious, how deeply are you willing to look for the answer? 

The unobservable 90 percent is our being. It’s comprised of our beliefs, fears, feelings, hopes and expectations. Much of this is hardwired and driven by unconscious patterns of thinking and feeling. Deadlines aren’t always missed because one does not know how to manage their time. Deadlines are missed when one is a perfectionist and triple checks their work. And they are a perfectionist because they fear they aren’t smart enough or may lose their job. Deadlines also are missed when one over promises and under delivers. Often these people-pleasing behaviors were learned during childhood or formative career experiences. To uncover what is in the way of optimal performance, the place to look is within yourself. Do you dare to examine what lies well beneath the surface? 

As a professional coach, I know the greatest possibilities for improving performance are found by exploring the unchartered territories of one’s inner world. Once the unconscious becomes conscious, one has choice about their actions, can see what drives their behavior and consciously choose new behaviors that produce greater results. 

How Consciousness Structures Itself 

Our society understands stages of human development: babies walk around the age of 1, there are the terrible 2s and teenage angst, and humans leave the parental nest near age 18. What’s less understood is adult development: the predictable stages for how a human psychologically grows over their lifetime. 

In the book “An Everyone Culture,” psychologist Robert Kegan’s adult development theory provides a framework
for how consciousness structures itself. As we mature internally, we become increasingly responsible for our own thinking and feeling. This makes us better equipped to handle greater levels of mental complexity. The higher order of structure we attain, the greater our capacity to be with what life throws our way. 

There are three basic stages to adult development theory. Unlike human development, however, adult development theory has no correlation to age or IQ. 

1. The Socialized Mind:
I liken this stage to an Uber; this sense of self is being unconsciously driven around by others. We see this when we meet college students who ask us to provide direction for their career path. We see this at an organizational level when a company emulates the best practice of another organization. The sense of self is externally oriented and relies on the input of others. More often, it’s in a reactive state and exhibits ineffective leadership behaviors. 

2. The Self-authoring Mind:
The shift to this sense of self moves the orientation from outward to inward. A self-authoring mind is in the driver seat of life. By looking within, one begins to realize they have thoughts. Without this awareness, actions are unconsciously driven by memorized patterns of thinking and feeling. At an organizational level, the self-authoring mind is not governed by industry standards. Rather, it turns inward and asks, “What do my employees and my clients really need?” This state of being is creative and leadership effectiveness increases. 

3. The Self-transforming Mind:
This developmental stage is powerful and rare. Like Waze, it’s open to new routes and destinations. The ego has dissolved; it is happy to be the driver or the passenger and doesn’t get derailed by an unexpected road closure. What some would  perceive as an obstacle, is interpreted to be an opportunity. Self-transforming organizations view being human as a cultural priority. They know who they are, how they serve and the value of both. Everyone shares responsibility for the development of people and the culture. There is high retention of talent, clients and intellectual property. The external world will continue to change at an accelerated pace. To thrive, we must take on the responsibility for the design of our internal space. How well do you know the deeper parts of yourself? Do you traditionally require other people to create stability for you? Or do you have the ability and capacity to design and redesign your own internal operating system? As one begins to mature their inner world, they build capacity and sturdiness to effectively lead themself and others through unprecedented times. 

Time to Wake up to New Possibilities 

When COVID-19 began, many leaders were making decisions in a reactive state. Compensation was reduced, employees were laid off and learning and development budgets were frozen. At the same time, COVID-19 taught us we can all work from home. Location will no longer matter for employment opportunities, which means we could be on the precipice of a talent war— perhaps one like we’ve never seen before. 

We are also at risk for losing valuable members of our profession. Many CPAs are questioning our norms, specifically the long hours. Working parents, who have been without childcare for months and may have no end in sight, are struggling to meet the demands of home and work. Many carry concerns for their aging parents. The recent experiences of racism left some feeling hopeless. Because we no longer see one another physically, some may feel isolated or a need to prove they’re working by making themselves available at any time. Demand on our psychological resources is at an all-time high. 

Why does this matter to CPAs? Because the connection between mental health and performance are inextricably tied. Think of mental capacity like the operating system
on your computer. If your mind is anxiously running several programs, there’s less space available for strategic thinking and problem solving. In other words, anxiety takes up space that could be held by intellect. 

A recent CalCPA member survey on the impact of COVID-19 found:

  • 96 percent of respondents said it has been disruptive to their organization;
  • 49 percent said ensuring the continued health and safety of employees is a top concern; and
  • 45 percent said maintaining a work/life balance was a challenge. 
Adult Development: a new way of knowing in the world

Other concerns included: voluntary termination due to stress, employees on pay leave due to health concerns, an inability to establish a routine and struggling to balance childcare with work hours. 

A recent Robert Half survey also found the following regarding how employees are rethinking their careers amid the pandemic and what’s most important: 

  • 60 percent are more motivated to be employed at an organization that values its staff during unpredictable times. 
  • 40 percent will prioritize their personal life over their job moving forward. 
  • 33 percent want to pursue a more meaningful or fulfilling position. 

While at the outset there may be some news here that might be viewed as grim, it also reveals significant opportunity. We can transform the way we develop our organizations and the people within them. 

Employers who tend to the psychological impact of COVID-19 will no longer pay full-time wages for part-time contributions. Morale will increase exponentially and turnover will decrease dramatically. The observable billable hour will no longer be seen as the holy grail of performance indicators, for we now understand that productivity goes much deeper than what we can see.
We will prepare leaders to not only look deeper into themselves, but to also become curious about the real reasons why a colleague missed a deadline. We will no longer refer to last year. We will embrace the unknown so we may serve others in a deeper, more meaningful way. We have an opportunity as a profession to become something bigger, something greater. 

The billable hour will no longer be seen as the holy grail of performance indicators; We will spend less energy referring to last year and instead embrace the unknown. 

Albert Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Now is time to transform how we develop talent. A proper balance of competence and consciousness can be your differentiator. After all, CPAs are not human doings; we are human beings. 

Want to Pass the CPA Exam? Consider Hiring a Coach

The Uniform CPA Exam is one of the most, if not the most, rigorous professional exam. According to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy’s 2015 Candidate Performance on the Uniform CPA Examination Jurisdiction Edition, California candidates had an overall average pass rate of 49.8 percent. In other words, on average, more than half of all California candidates failed exam sections in the past year. 

Failing the CPA Exam is expensive both in terms of actual costs and the significant investment in time. But perhaps more insidious: it can take an emotional toll on candidates. This is where coaching can make a real difference in candidate performance.

I’ve had the pleasure of coaching many people to pass the CPA Exam. As a CPA who works with hearts and not numbers, my work as coach never entails tutoring of technical topics. So, what do people get coached on? Here is a sampling of common obstacles facing CPA Exam candidates: 

Overcoming Failure

In general, people who chose to pursue the CPA license are goal oriented, high performers. They are accustomed to setting a goal, working hard, and achieving that goal. As a result, they aren’t practiced at failing and learning how to overcome it.

When people come to coaching with this issue, the first thing to do is normalize their experience: look at the data, many people fail. The next steps are to look at ways to reframe the situation. What can they learn from the failure, whether it be opportunities to fine-tune their study habits or figure out what they are learning about themselves in the process. They also can examine what got in the way. Coaching is not like consulting, where an expert gives advice. Part of a coach’s job is to ask thought-provoking questions. This helps people see how they are getting in their own way and identify opportunities to change their behaviors and improve their results.

Managing Your Energy and Your Time

I often encounter candidates who are exhausted or on the edge of burnout. They are overwhelmed with work, studying and other life responsibilities. Candidates struggling with managing their energy may have a limited belief that the more study hours they put in, the better their results will be.

It is true that one needs to invest hundreds of hours to pass all four sections of the CPA Exam. But study hours should not trump self-care. Human brains are not computers. We don’t perform our best when we run on high speed for long intervals of time. To manage your energy effectively, build in renewal activities like exercise, sleep or time with family and friends. While these activities take time away from studying, they refuel candidates. Performance improves when you shift your study regimen from solely a quantitative experience to one that also recognizes hours invested in studying have an important qualitative aspect.

Being Accountable to a Realistic Study Schedule

The final common area is the creation of a customized study schedule. The initial part of this process is straightforward: co-create a schedule that balances the recommended study hours along with the commitments in their life. To ensure the schedule is realistic, I invite candidates to be honest with themselves about what they can and can’t take on.

For example, a candidate may initially create a best-case scenario study plan, but life often doesn’t work like that. If you truly work more than 40 hours a week, be honest with yourself and plan your study schedule around your predictable 55-hour workweek instead.

Challenges arise when trying to be accountable to the plan. Each week my coaching clients report to me the hours they said they would study and the actual amount they studied. We track these metrics for the week and cumulatively for the CPA Exam section at hand. And if they miss the mark, we explore what got in the way.

For example, it’s easy to say I didn’t study because I had to stay late at work. The greater challenge is to look deeper: what did I do or not do that had it turn out this way? It may be something harder to admit or see in oneself: I’m a people pleaser and can’t say no. I procrastinated or overestimated my skills. I’m afraid to ask my employer for support. Ultimately, when one does not study the hours, they said they would, they come to see how they are sabotaging their long-term commitment of becoming a CPA in favor of creating short-term wins.

If you’re struggling to pass the CPA Exam, rather than buy another review course or invest hundreds of dollars in another exam section, consider hiring a coach. The coach can support and help you to pass the exam once and for all—and encourage you to become the best version of yourself in the workplace and beyond.

Managing Your Time As if it Was Your Money

Members of the accounting profession are driven by the notion of time. This is true if you’re in a public firm measuring billable hours or in industry with filing and reporting deadlines. The regulatory environment is such that CPAs can’t help but pay a lot of attention to the clock. While each of us wakes up each day with 24 hours to “spend,” most professionals will tell you they often feel like they don’t have enough time. There’s an opportunity cost that comes from looking at your time as if it was fixed. It makes the status quo too easy to accept versus seeing the possibility for a new relationship to time. 

CPAs know there are ways to grow money when it comes to actual dollars. So why not apply that same principle and identify ways to expand your energy by managing it as if it was money?

Time As Energy 

Like money, time is a currency that can be measured in units. Similarly, you can begin to think about how your energy available to complete tasks is also measurable. Energy management may be a new concept for you. The simplest way to shift your mindset to a new direction is to think about how you can begin to monitor your level of energy—just like your cell phone monitors the life of its battery. Are you at 100 percent, feeling charged and ready to go? Or are you at 10 percent, feeling like you need to plug in or switch to power saving mode? 

The ability to assess one’s level of energy is a valuable tool for knowledge workers like CPAs. Consider how the quality of your work would improve if you took on the critical thinking tasks when your battery was charged versus when you brain is tired and operating at a dangerously low level. So, how do you learn how to assess your energy? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had thermometers that read our body temperature and our energy levels? The good news is you don’t need a gadget to read where you are. With practice, you can learn to assess your energy levels and gauge the impact of your daily activities on those levels. It’s all about getting to know yourself and noticing when you’re in the zone and when you aren’t. 

To start, pay attention to what tasks excite you versus those that drain you. The tasks that drain us are usually things we don’t like doing because they are routine, monotonous or misaligned with our interests. Draining tasks have a lot of potential because they often are things we should stop doing or delegate. An easy way to grow as a leader is to free yourself of tasks you have mastered so you can take on higher level work, which in turn is often more engaging, rewarding and energy giving. 

Moreover, noticing your energy will create better results. If you complete high-level tasks with a low level of energy, it’s likely the quality of your work won’t be as good. It will contain errors, which in turn will require you to expend more energy later in the process. This mismatch creates an inefficient use of your time. 

As you build your awareness of what activities drain or charge your battery, you will be better equipped to see the opportunities to manage your time as if it was money. This understanding will allow you to look at how you’ve been spending your time and identify strategies that will yield a higher return on investment for your time (and energy). 

What’s Your Actual? 

A core tenant of the work I do coaching clients is to help them distinguish between facts and interpretations. If a client says to me, “I didn’t have enough time to …,” their statement is an interpretation. The fact is they had 24 hours in a day and chose to spend their time elsewhere. To get the facts on how your time is being spent, consider accounting for where you spent your time in the last week. Just like with money management, consider setting up an Excel spreadsheet that starts with 24 hours and then deduct all your expenditures of time, such as: 

  • Hours at work: This includes hours in the office and what you do remotely, like checking email from home. 
  • Daily living: Think of these like operational expenditures. They represent the hours it takes to simply take care of ourselves: sleeping, eating, and organizing our homes. 
  • Children: If you have children, think of them as a subsidiary account. How does their time roll into you, the parent company?
  • Transportation: This is the time spent going from one place to the next, whether commuting to the office or client. 
  • Miscellaneous: These are all the things we have to do in life, such as doctor and dentist appointments, maybe taking a vacation or going to get a haircut. Once you have the facts about how your time is being spent, you can then ask yourself: Am I balanced? Am I investing my time wisely? If not, what needs to change? In other words, what do I want my budget to look like instead? 

What Do You Want Your Budget To Be?

If you discover an organization is operating at a loss, you have two choices to get out of the red: reduce expenses or increase income. Opportunities to reduce expenditures of time are usually easier to identify: What needs to come off your plate? Again, notice what tasks drain your energy so you can spend those hours on tasks that are more meaningful and energizing. This might require you to get outside support, such as requesting help for things you normally do yourself or delegating tasks to others. 

Increasing income within your time budget is a little trickier. With your life, you can’t create more hours in the day by increasing sales. But you can create more energy by making sounder investments. One of the most common shifts people desire is making time to take better care of themselves, especially when the new year and busy season are upon us. While self-care is paramount to peak performance, it usually falls to the bottom of the list  

when we are short on time. As you create your ideal schedule, consider adding in investing activities. Investing activities are actions that produce dividends and interest by leaving you feeling more energized. They increase your happiness, help you to feel balanced and ultimately enhance your productivity. 

Here are four different types of investing activities to consider:

  1. Physical: exercise, nutrition
  2. Mental: reading, learning
  3. Spiritual: religion, meditation, time in nature
  4. Emotional: time with family, friends

Putting It in to Practice 

Effective change is the result of insights plus action. While clarity on how to better spend your time is helpful, it won’t create value in your life unless you actually change your behavior. To earn a higher yield on the time you’re spending, with your budget-to-actual in hand, keep the following in mind:

Focus On Futures

Don’t spend your energy worrying about poor investments of the past. Unlike financial statements, you can’t restate time that’s been spent. Worry, frustration, and negative thoughts about what is not possible will all drain your energy. Focusing on the future is energizing in and of itself. 

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

No one loses 100 pounds overnight. That type of change requires slow and steady results. When working with your budget, consider taking on one area at a time. For example, spend a month eliminating low yields and the following months layer in one new investment activity at a time. 

Monitor Your Energy As You Go

It may take you time to build this muscle of awareness, but it will be worth your time. The better you become at matching your energy levels to the appropriate tasks, the better your performance will be. 

Conclusion

We are often unrealistic about how we spend our time. We plan for the best-case scenario and don’t account for the unexpected. We dive into work without taking a step back and asking ourselves if the work energizes and excites us or noticing where we’ve made inefficient uses of our time. By budgeting your time and getting real about how your time has been spent, you will have the awareness to create a powerful budget for how you better invest in your future. 

Retiring the Billable Hour as a Measure of Performance

In today’s competitive market for talent, we should be looking to set up performance evaluation systems that engage, motivate, and retain professionals. The success of professional service firms hinges upon keeping the best and the brightest. According to the AICPA’s PCPS CPA Firm 2015 Top Issues Diagnostic Report, retaining qualified staff is the number one issue facing firms with 11 or more professionals. All firms, including sole proprietors, see succession planning as a top five issue. It is safe to say that now, more than ever, the retention of key staff and managers is critical to the future success of CPA firms. 

But accountants who are most often evaluated on the number of charge hours they perform are likely to feel as if they are in a lose-lose situation. If they report too many charge hours, they may be perceived as inefficient or incompetent. If they don’t bill enough hours, they won’t hit their charge-hour goals, which tie in to their performance ratings and compensation.

And yet charge hours are one of the most, if not the most, common metrics used by professional services firms such as public accounting firms. While charge hours may only be one part of a firm’s more comprehensive evaluation plan, time and time again, employees will tell you greater weight is often placed on charge-hour goals than any other metric. 

Making the change

It’s tempting for firms to continue to use the billable hour as a metric because the practice is ingrained in the profession and because it is easy to measure. Yet holding on to a process simply because it’s familiar isn’t a sound strategy at a time when technological and demographic trends are causing the profession to evolve rapidly.

It is possible to measure an accountant’s performance without using the billable hour: Just look at the performance metrics for any CFO, controller, or accounting manager who is employed outside of a professional service firm. They don’t have to account for what they did with each minute of their workday, yet their performance can still be evaluated by the use of key performance indicators. For example, to see how well a CFO is doing, a firm might ask such questions as:

Likewise, a firm might use such questions as these to track the progress of an audit manager:

In the examples above, there are no quantitative metrics. Instead, the open-ended questions eliminate performance ratings entirely and prompt a conversation.

According to the Harvard Business Review, more and more companies are eliminating numerical ratings and instead fostering continuous, quality conversations among managers and their teams. They’re doing so to promote collaboration and to reflect the fact that projects often take more or less time than a 12-month period. Having more frequent conversations about performance, companies believe, will also help them retain talented employees.

In the modern workplace, emotional needs—such as feeling appreciated, having opportunities to do what you most enjoy, and engaging in meaningful work—must be met for knowledge workers to thrive. Savvy leaders will spend less time focused on utilization rates and more time talking with their employees so they can understand what drives their employees and how to keep them engaged.

Take the Work Out of Networking

Networking is viewed as a must have professional skill. It’s one that can be essential at the earliest stages of our career, because we learn of employment opportunities by meeting other professionals at networking events, and it continues to help us as we progress into new areas of expertise. Yet as valuable as networking can be, in all my years of coaching professionals and job candidates, I rarely hear people describe networking activities as enjoyable.

In fact, I often hear just the opposite: people find networking events to be uncomfortable and some individuals even dread them.


This is why I encourage people to reframe networking and instead think of connection. Connecting with others is a fundamental human need. Relationships with others provides us a sense of belonging. So how does one shift their way of thinking to connection?

Choose the Right Events

Some people feel more connected in smaller, one-to-one interactions, and others are energized by a large group setting. Take time to think about where you know you show up confidently and align your activities to your preferences. Also, choose events where your genuine interests or passions will be showcased.

For example, I love mentoring students coming into the profession. This is why I attend local CalCPA events targeted to students and candidate members. You won’t find me, a CPA who works with hearts and not numbers, networking at a technical roundtable discussion because I won’t show up excited, engaged and as my best self. By choosing carefully, you can position yourself to connect with less effort and have a more positive impact.

Push the Boundaries of Your Comfort Zone

There may be times when you will need to get out of your comfort zone so you can connect with the people that can support your career progression. Maybe you prefer more connecting in small groups, but you need to attend a large job fair. Consider how you can get comfortable with being uncomfortable. If you are going to attend a job fair, are there opportunities to meet the professionals in attendance before the event (e.g., an office tour) or pair up with a friend so that you aren’t in it alone?

Remember We’re All Humans

Sometimes I’ve seen people get hung up on what to say at a networking event. We want to demonstrate that we’re smart and we want to come off as confident. But if we get too caught up in our heads, people don’t experience who we are and see what’s inside of our hearts. True connection occurs when we allow others to really see who we are and have them feel truly heard. Yes, you can talk about accounting principles if it’s something you are truly passionate about, but don’t be afraid to ask others about other domains of their lives beyond careers, such as their family and their personal commitments (like running a marathon or being involved in their community.

By focusing on how to truly connect with others, you not only take the work out of networking, but also you will prepare yourself to show up with impact—and you may even enjoy the experience!

Where’s The Love?

There’s an Emotional Side to Passing the Uniform CPA Exam

Love is a word we typically reserve for areas of our personal life. We may use it to describe aspects of our professional life such as loving our vocation, our colleagues or our clients. But, in all of my experiences with the Uniform CPA Exam—including my own arduous journey and coaching others on the path to licensure—I never once heard a person associate the word love with the exam. I offer that love is exactly what one needs during the journey to becoming a CPA.

Love For Oneself

Having love for oneself includes care of your body and mind. Most of us understand the essentials of how to care for our bodies through proper nutrition and exercise. However, we aren’t as adept at caring for our minds by living a balanced lifestyle. Time is always scarce during the path to CPA licensure, so we lose our balance and run up against burnout and exhaustion. Activities that promote balance are rejuvenating and fill up one’s emotional tank. Think of them as investing activities: you initially pay something and later reap interest and dividends. 

Activities that support one’s mental wellbeing may include quality time with loved ones, exercise, being outdoors, listening to music, spiritual practices or good old-fashioned rest. Activities that engage the creative, emotional side of the brain are especially valuable because the analytical side of the brain is often in overuse at this time. Another key consideration for candidates is to have a clear mind—specifically regarding why they want to become a CPA. 

Their reasons should be greater than doing it because of the opinions of others. Rather, candidates should be able to articulate the importance and value the designation will create for them. Without that, candidates run the risk of being overwhelmed by external pressures instead of being energized by internally generated motivation.

Love for the Profession

A profession, by definition, is more than a job. It is a vocation—a calling—and connects us to a larger purpose in society. Just like with marriage, love and commitment go hand in hand. A love for the profession is a commitment to something greater than any single individual’s work. Candidates who can get altitude on the bigger picture—beyond the immediate career pathways that exist and seeing where the designation will ultimately take them—will be better equipped to see how short-term tradeoffs will reap a lifetime of rewards. 

To see the bigger picture, one might ask:

  • Who are the clients I will be able to serve as a CPA?
  • What unique gifts can I bring to these clients and the profession?
  • Once I am a CPA, what will I be entrusted to do that I can’t do now?
  • What does my legacy look like and how does becoming a CPA fit into that vision?

Becoming a CPA means joining an elite group of individuals who are viewed by others as trusted advisers in the business world, as well as within their families, communities, churches, organizations, and society as a whole. Having altitude on the higher purpose one is committed to will create the most empowered action and greatest results.

Love From Others

An incredible amount of love and support from others is also needed to pass the Uniform CPA Exam. Because it takes so many hours of preparation to successfully pass, candidates are left with little time do anything beyond working and studying. Therefore, the best support structure for a candidate includes an understanding of the tremendous amount of strain they are under.

At home, candidates who feel the love have supportive partners who pick up the slack with child and pet care, cooking and cleaning. Families and friends show an understanding that a candidate might not have time for play and fun. And perhaps, most important, loved ones are there to provide much needed emotional support when one fails a section or is feeling overwhelmed.

Candidates also receive support from their employers. Financial support is a good start, and alignment of their exam schedule and workloads are important. Supportive employers give permission to take time off and unplug from work during the days or weeks leading up to an exam. Once again, emotional support is key. Having a space to talk with other CPAs and candidates about their experience can be cathartic and allow them to see that others also struggle. The hardest journeys to CPA licensure are often the most inspiring. The integration of the heart and mind creates tremendous access to power and heightened performance. Love may not be all you need, but it can get you farther than you may think.