• Career Center

    Can Starting Over Lead to a Better Balance of Career Ambition and Lifestyle?

    By | January 31, 2017

    Need some career advice? Email Rachel at [email protected] and your question may be featured on Going Concern.

    I feel like the traditional accounting career paths are getting a bit stale. In my experience, it seems accountants are always trading career risk with a poor work/life balance.

    For example, you can land a partner-track public position (low risk) at the expense of years of back-breaking busy seasons; or on the other hand, you can get a PhD (great work/life balance) by taking on an extreme amount of publish-or-perish career risk.

    I’ve spent the last 10 years working in the private sector focused heavily on cost accounting (low risk). Instead of “busy season” we have “budget season” and the career outlook is positive – similar to my friends in the public realm.

    To try and achieve the ultimate balance of work/life and career risk, I am contemplating pairing my CPA (underutilized in the cost accounting world) with another certification – perhaps a JD or a Certified Financial Planner to carve out a niche that is a little more unique in the hopes that it will provide a better balance.

    I have the following questions:

    – Are these ‘pairing’ options worth starting over for?

    – If I am considering going back to school, should I put the PhD back on my options list?

    – What other options are out there?

    Career Crisis Controller

    Dear Career Crisis Controller,

    It sounds like there are two issues going on here. The first is that you want better work/life balance no matter what you decide to do. The second is that it seems like you are overwhelmed by the options that you know and don’t know about and worry about making the “right” choice.

    I always like to tell my clients the following quote when they are unsure what to do next: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never recognize it if you get there.”

    Pursuing a JD or a CFP or a PhD are three unique paths and you are questioning whether any are worth “starting over for.” The answer is: Only if it’s what you really want to do. You have to do the inner work upfront to figure out what it is that you want.

    And you are right, there are other paths that you could choose from, such as:

    • Launching your own virtual controller services business
    • Join a firm that already provides these services remotely (The Lifestyle Accountant has a great article with different options.)

    These could be a good fit if having more balance and making your own hours is important to you.

    But honestly, it seems like you are getting ahead of yourself. Many people struggle with choosing between so many options. You have to evaluate what your values are, what your career purpose is, and what you like and don’t like about your current career.

    Here are a few things you can do to help you get there:

    • Think about what your values are. What do you care about? Your answer could reveal what you should do next. For example, if you value flexibility and adventure, then maybe finding a remote work opportunity and launching a laptop lifestyle would be a better next step for you. If you value achievement and leadership, then maybe completing your PhD and becoming a well-known thought leader and professor would be best.
    • Think about when you retire. Visualize yourself at your retirement party. Where are you? What did you accomplish during your career? What kind of impact did you have? What are people saying about you? Again, you could visualize yourself not even having a retirement party because you have been working remotely for the past 20 years. Instead of a retirement party, you are sipping a mai tai in Tahiti. Or perhaps you visualize yourself at a university with dozens of published papers and people talking about your incredible and insightful research.
    • Think about likes and dislikes. Draw a line down a sheet of paper. Write down what you like and don’t like about your current job. How does this list match with your values?

    By doing the work upfront and knowing where you want to go, you can make a solid plan and figure out what your next steps should be. Good luck.

    Image: iStock/francescoch

    • BadAssetCPA

      If you want a credential that is relevant to your field, look at the CMA. It doesn’t have the prestige, but the curriculum is highly oriented to budgeting, forecasting, and financial management. Some companies give preference to CPA/CMAs in hiring and promotion in management accounting roles (typically when someone senior in finance has the credential themselves). The combination would be your lowest risk option, and would make it easier to change employers/industry, but not necessarily career path.

      MBA is more expensive but can open a fair number of doors paired with a CPA background in an F500 finance role. Just make sure you go to a halfway decent program. That doesn’t have to be top 10/Ivy, but it should be top 25. Also, once you’re in, it would be important to keep an excellent GPA and network heavily.

      Don’t get a JD unless you want to work your tail off (i.e. Forget work life balance for a few years) and work in Big Law for at least a couple years (preferably more). Only then will the high ranking corporate counsel positions open up. I know multiple JDs that basically shuffle paper in corporate America and are miserable with their salaries and debt burdens, because they didn’t want to do some (hard) time at a serious law firm, or they didn’t have the GPA to make one.

      I don’t know much about the CFP, but I’m guessing that coming from a CPA background, it would be most helpful if you have a deep understanding of tax, as that is very relevant to individual financial decisions.

      Lastly, there is the CFA. Arguably the most prestigious credential of them all, can launch a great careeer in asset management. But be prepared for an extremely intense study experience that lasts a minimum of 3 years.

      Hope that helps. Good luck in your decisions.

    • IndenturedServant

      A JD is basically accounting on steroids. Ultra high upside, but really shitty work life balance or huge downside in the form of unemployment and debt. If you can go to a good school for cheap I would go for it. If you are paying 60k a year it’s not worth it.