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From CPA to Life Coach




Original Article (Feb 10, 2022):


From CPA to Life Coach

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…

Repeat.

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.

Finding Clarity

In early 2020, the unfolding of the pandemic was another wake up call. I was still working as an auditor, yet I knew that I didn’t want to do the work for much longer. I needed to finish my last few months of practical experience. As there was so much uncertainty in the economy, people around me started to lose their jobs. Levels of anxiety and stress deepened each day as news broke out and government regulations were announced. The world seemed to have flipped upside down.

It became clear to me that if I wanted to see change in my life, I would have to take responsibility and action for myself. My inner work paid off as I built resilience to stay strong during the pandemic. I benefited greatly from coaching and counseling and I got excited about the idea of a change.

Coaching and counselling changed my life. I set my eyes towards becoming a life coach to help others. Self-study was key. I educated myself by reading books and taking online courses on psychology, motivation, self-awareness, mindfulness, and personal development. I began to learn more about coaching through connecting with established coaches. I began to put my thoughts of a career change into words and my words into action. I started to embrace and believe in my purpose. I became fully invested into this journey.

Small steps

At the beginning of the pandemic I decided to start a podcast to share my support for others and challenge myself to go outside my comfort zone. Discovery Session focused on expanding self-awareness and was a place for me to share my thoughts and feelings.

As I learned more about life coaching, I was eager to put my knowledge to the test. I had an idea. I’d simply ask others if I could practice life coaching with them. I ended up spending my weekend mornings during the spring of the pandemic providing life coaching to a couple clients. I had no practical experience in life coaching at the time, but I had relevant experiences from my supervision role at work and my volunteer experiences. I used each and every session with my clients to learn and develop my skills, and help them improve their lives.

Life coaching aligned with my purpose and provided me with a strong sense of fulfillment.

I found my passion!

After a couple months of exploring the craft and having success with my first few clients, I decided to apply for UBC’s Certificate in Organizational Coaching program to enhance my skills. This decision also came with self-doubt. I didn’t think I was experienced enough to be accepted. I was scared of mentioning to my employer that I was wanting to change directions. I was worried about what people would think. I was questioning if this was the right decision. I mean, I put so much time towards my profession already. I know the theory of “sunk costs”, but emotionally it was hard to wrap my head around it. Am I really making the right decision?

I procrastinated in my application, but followed through with courage. Later in the spring I got accepted into the program. I was surprised and grateful at the same time.


This career shift was in action.

In the summer of 2020 I decided to resign from my senior accountant role at KPMG. My plan was to focus on school part time and build my own coaching business with the rest of my time. It felt risky. People at the time were worried about losing their jobs, yet I was willingly leaving without a secure job lined up. It was definitely uncomfortable. I had to put a lot of belief into myself. Once I resigned it became real. My vision of starting a business after getting my CPA was materializing.

The unforeseen opportunity

My final two weeks at the firm would be spent saying farewell, wrapping up my engagements and passing along any unfinished work to other team members. I even participated in teaching a workshop to the CFE writers to prepare them for their exams.

As the days went on I got more excited and confident in my decision. I made this decision for myself and felt extremely confident.

A week before my departure, I received a phone call. To my surprise, I was asked if I was interested in staying and taking on an internal coaching and development role. My responsibility would be to onboard, coach, and develop nearly 100 junior staff joining the firm. It would be the first cohort of staff accountants joining during the pandemic, meaning all the training and work would be delivered virtually.

“The job is yours if you want it.”

I was at a loss for words. I didn’t have a clear response. I had been so enthusiastic about my decision to leave and this was a total surprise.

I brought the opportunity to my coaching session and became clear on my next steps to take up the challenge. I knew it would be an amazing opportunity to support our new staff during these unprecedented times. I had one condition, I needed to take a couple months off from work to focus on myself and my wellbeing.

I was excited to spend 80% of my job doing the work I love, and 20% on administrative tasks.

My mindset shifted. I would take on the role at the company with the mindset of an intrapreneur. I will take every opportunity to align myself with my purpose to help others and continually grow as a professional and an individual.

I spent the next year deepening my coaching skills both in the workplace and in school, starting my own coaching practice, initiating leadership and developmental opportunities for our junior staff, creating a mental health resource group, managing the CPA program, and coaching the leadership team of a non-profit in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside.

I look back at the year and ask myself, “how in the world did I have the capacity to do all of that?”. My initial doubts were trumped by the action and commitment to my vision. I share this not to brag, but rather to show you that your dreams can become reality. It’s incredible what you can achieve when you are truly coming from a place of passion, strength, and curiosity.

When I was working as an accountant, I was narrow minded in only searching for accounting and finance roles. I lacked the self-confidence and self-belief that I have now.

I was in alignment with my purpose, loved what I was doing, and 100% invested myself into the journey. I was fortunate to have the support of my family, community, and coaches. I had new energy. I was motivated. I was fulfilled. I was exactly where I wanted and needed to be. Each and every day felt like a gift. I had the dream job.

Committing to entrepreneurship

After a year of learning and delivering impact to others as a corporate coach, I was ready to take the next step in my personal and professional development journey. I decided to leave my dream role and step away from the corporate world to start my own coaching practice.

I am happy and excited to help CPAs build fulfilling careers.

I hope to empower my readers to start to take lead in their lives.

I believe that we all have hidden talents and untapped potential that are waiting to be unlocked. I can help you break the mold and become the person you want to be!

I’d like to extend my support to CPAs across the world. If you can relate to my experiences as a CPA and are struggling to find career fulfillment, let’s connect! I’m happy to have a conversation!


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