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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.