By BRAD SARGENT, CPA/CFF, CFE, CFS, CCA, FABFA
“I am passionate about my work.”
Yeah, right. How many times have you heard this and reacted with rolled-eye skepticism? I once had a potential intern tell me during an on-campus interview that they were passionate about my field of work and two questions later they acknowledged they had no real idea what it was that I do!
I am here to tell you that I truly do love what I do—now. I didn’t love work when I first started my career. I had many moments that I was not sure I was on the right course. By pure serendipity, I encountered people along the way who found meaning in their work and appreciated what they did. I grew to appreciate my work more each day simply by surrounding myself with these folks. Then, by layering in time—I am talking years, not days—that appreciation grew, and I suddenly realized that I loved my career. This was no small feat; I had many years of unhappiness at work. But today I am confident that sharing some of my experiences can help you shortcut your path to fulfillment at work and have a healthy relationship with your career.
The first thing you have to do is plant yourself in the right environment. A business culture that fosters growth, is positive, and supports your individual goals creates fertile soil. But even in such a great setting, you may not find value in your work. I encourage you, whether you’re an accounting student or a managing partner, to examine your situation and ask, “Do I appreciate what I do?” The term appreciation comes with an explicit acknowledgment not only of the value of the work but the true impact of the work. If a job applicant at your organization directly posed this question to you today, how would you answer? Try asking a trusted peer or colleague. It takes courage at any point in your career to ask this question. But ponder this: Why wait? Everyone deserves to feel a sense of fulfillment and dignity in their work.
Now, have you ever really tried to find the value in what you do? One of the things I love most about the accounting profession is that there’s truly something for everyone. I believe that we accounting professionals crave accuracy, clarity, and consistency, and every task in accounting revolves around one, if not all, of these principles. But so many career paths in accounting involve experiential learning, which can translate into working on less challenging but critical-to-master tasks during the first few years of one’s career.
During the first few years of my career, I grew frustrated and bored at times. When well-intentioned colleagues told me to hang in there and that I was just paying my dues, it only made things worse. In my resentment, I allowed myself to stop doing my best. I proceeded to create work that one day put my partner—who I liked, admired, and respected—in a very bad light. Being the leader he was, he covered for me and only spoke to me about my errors in private afterward. That very day, I realized that this grunt work mattered and that my partner relied on me to do my best. I started to see the value in what I was doing. I began working harder, faster, and more accurately. I realized that my relationships with colleagues were becoming better because I was helping them and their work. When I saw the value in what I had considered mind-numbing data entry, everything changed.
A fertile environment for growth is great, but also accept that no workplace is full of 100 percent happy and fulfilled people. The people around you will span the spectrum. I saw people on a daily basis who seemed just miserable with their jobs. They came to work every day with the “punch clock” mindset and counted the hours until it was time to head home. The truth be told, I was in danger of following this path. I was often that person as well and a negative influence on others. I had the perspective that others were to be credited for my happiness and blamed for my unhappiness. I was truly afraid of the dark place I saw this leading toward.
Only now, years later, am I realizing that I have no control over others and what happens externally. Looking back, I can now thank the negative, unhappy coworkers I encountered over the years; they were great examples of who I did not want to be.
It takes personal and professional maturity to accept that we are all responsible for our own happiness and fulfillment and that any job offers dignity and worth. A determined commitment to finding the value in what you do as often as you can and just being open to seeing the impact of your work can lead to lasting contentment, appreciation and, dare I say it, passion.
Many, many years ago, I made the decision to “swipe right” on accounting as a career and, like any relationship, we’ve had our ups and downs and it requires a lot of work. But we are happily married and truly in love. You swiped right on accounting for a reason. Now it’s time for you to make it a meaningful relationship.
This article was originally published on the Illinois CPA Society's website, (2019).
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