From CPA to Life Coach (Part 1)
Four months ago I left my dream role at KPMG to follow my passion and build my life and career coaching business. In this article I share my personal journey in becoming a coach. I hope to inspire and empower you to go after your dreams and pave your own path forward.
Why I chose to get my CPA
It started back in high school. I took accounting in grade 11 and grade 12. We learned how to use Excel on the computer lab’s Macs. I found it very intuitive to create formulas in a multi-celled sheet. Before this, I only knew how to use a calculator. The class expanded my mind. We even got to play monopoly for our year end project. We would track all of our transactions by writing journal entries on paper, then recording it in our general ledger. I was good at it. It was fun. Could this be the career I follow?
After graduating high school I attended UBC to study business. Accounting led me towards business, but I kept an open mind to assess all options.
My first interaction with KPMG was during my second year at UBC. I competed in Ace the Case, a case competition for university students. I had few expectations for myself. I was just looking to try something new. My team won the local round in Vancouver, competed nationally, then flew to Sao Paolo, Brazil, to compete internationally. I couldn’t believe it. Was this real? This experience opened my mind and perspective to the vastness of international business. As well, a deeper desire to work for KPMG. If I liked accounting in high school, it would be a good job for me!
After the competition I interviewed for an internship for the next summer. I liked the idea of having a large community of like-minded individuals by my side. I knew working in the industry was going to be hard work and I was willing and ready to give myself a chance. To me, obtaining my CPA meant further developing my business skills, network, and financial and accounting knowledge. I saw the opportunity as a form of extended education.
These experiences had led me towards specializing in accounting and pursuing my CPA. My end goal after designating was to start my own business or work for a start-up.
I started full time in 2017 as a staff accountant. Auditing was a busy and challenging job. The job required the development of time management skills, focus, attention to detail, professional judgment, and strong communication skills. As well, it included many menial tasks like vouching hundreds of samples, requesting bank confirms, and even ordering food for the team. Working and studying at the same time came with sacrifices to personal time and wellbeing, especially during the busy season.
Along the way I stayed optimistic and found enthusiasm in community and extracurricular involvement with the firm and external organizations. There was definitely a lot of support and mentorship available to succeed. I made the most of my time while working towards my CPA. KPMG provided us rotation opportunities to try working in different departments. I had a taste of advisory and innovation. This work was much more interesting than auditing.
Early in my career I was a “yes person”. I did not shy away from an opportunity to try something new.
Quarter Life Crisis
Unfortunately, a few months into starting my career, a loved one unexpectedly passed away from an accidental drug overdose. This was really challenging for me to accept. I didn’t really know how to process my feelings. In fact, I suppressed them. Put them aside. I told myself that I was okay. I could just move past it.
The following months, I began questioning myself and the meaning of life. Life can be taken away from us. It’s fragile. What is the point of it all? What is addiction? What is depression? How can I best take care of myself and my own mental health? How can I take care of others? What more can I be doing?
Meanwhile, I worked through my first busy season and continued my studies. In a way, the busyness helped. I kept my feelings to myself. That was what I had been conditioned to do. Little did I know, I was beginning to embark on my personal development journey.
I would describe my mid-twenties as my quarter life crisis. I was questioning my life and was searching for a deeper purpose. I felt unfulfilled in my work, yet curious about what more there was out there. Though I passed all my exams in 2018, and became a designated CPA, I found myself feeling even more lost. Getting my CPA was supposed to be one of my most significant career milestones, right? I was supposed to be fulfilled and happy and that everything would get better from here. I mean, I finished what I came here to do.
Until that point, I was driven by the next accomplishment, exam, and grade. I was on this linear path that was paved out for me, by the industry, my professors, peers, parents, teachers, and mentors. Once I reached the top of this mountain (CPA), I had to ask myself, “is this really it?”
Was it normal to feel this way? Why don’t I feel happy?
This is a common sentiment in our industry and I know I am not alone in experiencing these feelings.
At this point, I was in my second year in audit and had completed my CFE (I fast tracked). Over the next few months I browsed the job boards. I still had to complete my 30 months experience still, but I was curious to see what was out there. Job postings for accounting and finance roles were not exciting to me. I only applied for roles that sounded interesting. I went through the interview process with a few companies and received a job offer at a tech startup for a senior accounting role that checked all the boxes (50% pay increase, leadership responsibilities, autonomy, flexibility, impactful mission), but I declined because it just did not feel right.
That was not an easy decision.
Managing the company’s finances was something that I could do well, but it didn’t spark excitement.
What do I truly want in life and my career? Do I even know how to make a decision for myself?
These thoughts played in the background as I continued living on autopilot. I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing.
Waking up even became a struggle.
Alarm rings… snooze…
Alarm rings… snooze…
My attention was glued to my phone before bed, watching Youtube or scrolling through social media. I became disengaged at family gatherings. I was single. I was drinking a bit too much. I was avoiding what was important. I was avoiding the pain and trauma I had experienced from losing my loved one.
I was not taking care of myself.
It took me a while to realize and accept this, but I was not happy in my career. I had no idea what would make me happy. I knew that I needed to make some sort of change.
A turning point
These feelings cycled for a full year until early 2019, where I sought counselling and career coaching. Speaking with someone who was a third party to my company was huge. This is when everything changed.
I felt comfortable sharing my thoughts and feelings without judgment. I had space to vent and reorganize my thoughts. I started to make sense of my busy mind. I learned how to put words to my feelings and emotions. For so much of my adult life, I learned to hide my emotions, especially around the negative ones. I was conditioned to “man up” and be strong. My optimism and positivity shielded me from expressing these heavier emotions.
I started to see that I needed to be more patient with myself. There was nothing wrong with me. I had the answers within me. No one else could tell me what I was looking for. This paradigm shift allowed me to see the world with more curiosity. I began to see more opportunities because I became more open. I started redefining myself and doing what I wanted to do.
I started to take leadership and accountability for my own life and career. I learned about my values, strengths, motivation, and unique personality traits. I started to build more confidence. And most importantly, I learned to love and accept myself as I am.
My wellbeing became my first priority. I regularly, read, wrote in my journal, painted, played music, meditated, and exercised. In taking care of myself, I learned to better communicate my feelings with others too.
Vulnerability is tough, yet extremely important in being authentic. I faced my fears one by one and began to become more at peace with myself and where I was at in life.
I followed my curiosity and tried new experiences, such as volunteering as a mentor for youth entrepreneurs, facilitating motivational and self-development workshops, charity fundraising, and joining a board. Experimentation gave me space to test what I liked and didn't like.
My job and title did not have to define who I was.
Spending 20% of my time doing activities that fulfilled me and 80% on my regular work was enough to make me feel motivated. I always thought of what it might feel like if I could flip this and feel fulfilled from 80% of my job and 20% was more administrative.
I became clear on my purpose and motivation. I wanted to develop myself to the best I could be and help others do the same. I call this empowerment, motivation, inspiration, teaching, coaching, storytelling, sharing…the list goes on as there are many ways to help others.
Though I gained clarity on what I wanted, I still had many doubts:
“How can I actually help others?”
“Can I make it my career to help others?”
“Do I need to make it my career to help others?”
“Will I lose passion if it was my job?”
“Am I good enough to make a career change?”
“Should I do more volunteer work to validate my purpose?”
“What skills do I have to offer?”
“I am an accountant, how can I help others?.”
“Where do I start?”
My coach helped me work through these unanswered questions.
Beneath the questions were doubts, anxieties, limiting beliefs, and fears. I didn't need to know all the answers. Instead, I needed to trust myself.
I learned that my biggest barrier to feeling fulfilled and happy was myself. I learned that my thoughts are not always on my side. Some call this the inner critic.
We are not our thoughts.
Self-compassion, self-love, and self-acceptance were key ingredients to calming my mind and thinking clearly.
I spent the next few months focusing on myself and letting my career sit as a lower priority. I let go of the gas pedal to slow down to get in touch with myself and my feelings. It felt right.