Change has been part of my life since I can remember.
Academically, I was convinced that I was going to be a medical doctor and made it through three years of pre-med and realized that the cat cadaver would be my last stint into that realm. I literally couldn’t stomach it anymore! I found my way into the business program and learned that I had an aptitude for accounting/finance. I didn’t even know what CPA stood for, but soon I was fully immersed and ready to absorb everything I could get my hands on. It took me an extra year to make up for all of time spent in an earlier program and then an additional year to complete my master’s degree in accounting. However, I was poised to succeed in the public accounting profession.
I think that switching majors so dramatically during my college experience laid the groundwork for what I call the “sponge approach.” Even though I had the premed classes under my belt, I was the “new guy” when it came to finance, and trust me, I had a lot to learn. I had to hit the ground running as soon as I switched degrees and absorb as much as I could during the first three to six months. Granted, the learning process never truly ends, but I’ve found the curve will be less dramatic as you get your bearings.
Career-Change Lesson 1: Learn to Quickly Adapt
After graduation, I joined Ernst & Young, earned my CPA license, and moved my way through public, private, and nonprofit clients. I loved the change that was inherent to the public accounting world. Sure, you are an auditor — and that comes with its own level of terror for those under audit — but if you can do it with a smile and a willingness to help, your reception will be a little warmer. Hey, they may not even secretly fantasize about your demise! All kidding aside, it was probably this role as a CPA which lessened the anxiety over change. I had to change and change often. I actually found myself looking forward to the next new thing, new client, new procedure. My role also let me remember my love of teaching and mentoring.
Career-Change Lesson 2: Allow Life to Guide Your Path
Fast forward a few years … I purchased a house, got married, had a baby and then three additional foster children. That’s right — life happened! I had no choice but to leave the heavy travelling life of an auditor. I accepted a position at a local company to allow for better work-life balance. This change was necessary but terrifying. No longer was I “on the go.” No longer did I have to work all sorts of crazy hours. This may sound like a positive, but remember, it was change. With the crazy hours of the CPA life, I also had flexibility. I left this “balance” for one that was better suited for a father of four. To be honest, I didn’t like being tied to the same location, but I did like the opportunity to learn, grow, and explore a company on a more intimate level. I used my sponge approach to learn everything I could about my company and I did learn to love it as much, if not more, than my previous role.
Two years into this new role, I received a phone call from a former client of mine looking to beef up their internal audit department. They asked if I was interested, and I was absolutely not. However, they persisted and I did end up moving over to yet another new role. This time, I was with a very large company, and I was able to influence change on a larger scale, which I loved. However, I was yet again the “new guy,” and I needed to showcase my abilities and learn the inner culture. Bring on the sponge! I made some wonderful connections and even had the flexibility to pursue my long-term dream of teaching (part-time) at Johnson & Wales University. I had the best balance, and I learned more than I could have hoped.
Career-Change Lesson 3: Trust Your Instincts
Then, life happened again: My second baby was born, the foster children went back to their birth parents, and I was called by JWU about interviewing for a full-time opportunity. This time, I had absolutely no reservations. I knew this is where I wanted to be, and I went forward in full pursuit of this long-term dream. Thankfully, I was selected for the position and the rest is history … sort of. I found myself being the new guy once again and being the sponge (as I have now grown accustomed to).
You would think that these new roles, while all different, would be akin to “starting over” again and again. However, every job and experience I had leading up to now has influenced the way I approach things. I also have taken tools and skills from all facets in making my current role that much richer. The sponge metaphor is a good one since it can show that you have an ability to absorb … but you can also be squeezed to share your prior knowledge to your new teams!
Making and maintaining the connections with those around me did open the doors to the opportunities. Never forget the power of networking and positive attitude. Oh, and don’t forget to be the sponge.
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