Why I’m a CPA

I’m very proud to be a CPA.  I passed the CPA exam, one of the hardest professional exams out there.  It’s not as hard as the Navy Seal test, but it might be as hard as the bar exam, and I’m sure most lawyers out there will agree that the bar exam is a very hard test.  There are multiple other requirements, including working hours and an easier ethics exam. What is harder than the CPA Exam is being a CPA, working, putting in the hours, staying positive when things don’t go right.  I became a CPA in the footsteps of my father, and when things get hard, he tells me, “It’s all about the money.”  He says that because I don’t have enough money, and very few of us do.  Resources are scarce.  But I need to go forward as a CPA, and my dad knows I need the encouragement and the drive that his short phrase gives me.  But, while it’s a useful phrase, it’s wrong.  It’s about more than that.  It’s about fairness, honesty, and most importantly, good work.  I’m going to keep that up.

But isn’t the money great?  I sure hope I get enough for a fancy car someday.  Let’s take a few moments of silence for the money….  Not that many CPAs get rich like a lawyer or doctor might, though enough do that the rest of us can dream.  More importantly, we all need money, and need begets drive.  Drive begets success, at least some of the time.

What’s that, only some of the time?  We all know burnout, selfishness and cutting corners, which can be byproducts of drive, can ruin success, but there’s more to it.  Let’s ask ourselves, “What is success?”  It’s easy to start by saying it’s more than money.  Let’s keep going.  Is success pride, is it service, is it pursuing your dreams or passion, is it something you can only define for yourself?  The psychologist Abraham Maslow taught that the highest human need is self-actualization, the full realization of your potential.  I agree with him that all of us need that, or at least need to move toward it.  I think it’s a helpful idea in talking about success and in understanding what life itself is about.

Let’s go back to the topic of service.  Accountants’ ethical codes say we have responsibilities to the public and our clients.  I think it’s unfortunate that those responsibilities are taught mostly as rules.  We look at scandals and say, “That accountant served himself instead of meeting his responsibility to the public.  You can’t do that.”  Too often, we leave it at that.  Aren’t there more important ethics accountants should have, namely the ethics of a human being?  We have responsibilities to our families, our friends and everyone else that have little to do with codes.  Ethics are ideals that at the highest level we are all only striving toward and can’t be rules that are only broken by miscreants.  Please don’t take that as saying that you can choose not to follow the rules because they are only ideals.  But there are people, including accountants, who get closer to the ideals, to the spirit behind the rules, than others.  Maybe some of them are whistle-blowers, or accountants who quietly refuse to cut corners or an accountant you know who is just exceptionally kind.

And service is not just about ethics, maybe mostly not ethics.  We want to have a real positive impact on our clients’ own goals.  It’s not just about results, and it’s not one-way.  Their needs do need to come before our own, or it isn’t service.  But we must see service as a relationship with our clients that goes beyond numbers and helps them and us grow in every way, to grow their bottom line and ours, to grow all our skills, understanding, and potential and the relationships between us and our clients.

What are we to do about these things?  First, we need to do our best, to work hard, to make the best decisions we can and, yes, to follow the rules.  The one other thing I know to advise is to think more about these things for yourself.  Only you know what your potential is and how your needs, goals, work and the competing demands of your own ethics rank in importance.  Accountants not only get too caught up in rules and in money.  They also get too caught up in business.  We probably read the Wall Street Journal a little too much, though it is a great newspaper.  We often get into patterns of work that build upon themselves, which is often good, but can also put blinders on our eyes so we can’t see new ways of thinking and work.  More than many professionals, we need to be reminded to think outside the box and not just about meeting our goals but about what our goals should be.  We have to put our clients’ needs first, or do we?  Maybe what should come first is finding our own place in what’s important.

– Aaron Poley

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