Big 4 Boomerang: The One Who Left Too Soon

Just as there are many people who are thinking about getting out of public accounting, there are others who want to go back. Here's an email we received earlier this week:

I was "2 and out" at a Big 4 and joined a Fortune 500 as an accountant. My logic was that I could live with a longer career track if my quality of life improved.
 
It hasn't. Aside from a decent market bump (15%), I probably work (busy season notwithstanding) as much as I did in public now (I'm a month in). I'm starting to think that there may have been some truth to the "make manager and write your own ticket" mantra. 
 
Honestly, I don't miss public for a second but I can't help think that I permanently damaged my future earnings for a marginal salary boost and really no change in quality of life. The management at my new gig are mostly ex-Big 4 managers so I'm concerned about progression as well.
 
Should I consider the unthinkable? Or should I stick it out?
Two years in public accounting is all the pain some people are willing to endure. If you're willing to accept life in public for its good points as well as the bad ones, then I think leaving at two years is a mistake. That said, if you're one of those of people saying, "Holy shit. This is NOT for me," get out sooner rather than later. 
 
In your case, I think you jumped too soon, so going back wouldn't kill you, especially since being a Big 4 boomerang isn't "unthinkable" as you put it. People do it all the time. In fact, I'll bet the Big 4 get a lot of their experienced hires from people who were in public, left, and want to go back to public. 
 
But please don't buy into the "make manager and write your own ticket" bullshit. That isn't an open and shut case as we've discussed many, many times. This is a narrative that has proliferated within public accounting to keep senior associates around who are desperately needed by their firms.
 
While it's debatable whether your career opportunities increase once you make manager, the unhappiness of senior associates is not. And most people who are unhappy with their current employer, leave said employer. You can then assume the greatest personnel need of most public accounting firms is at the senior associate level. Those senior associates are the glue that keep teams together. Yes, even the idiots. Everyone that has worked in public accounting knows this. Keeping those people around as long as possible makes the lives of many managers and partners easier, regardless of how talented the person is. If (s)he is talented, GREAT! keep them around long enough and maybe we'll make them a manager. If they suck, HEY! keep them around as long as possible but when they're up for manager it's, "Thanks for your hard work but we don't think you're ready for the next level." As long as they can keep themselves and their staff billable and not piss off a client too much, then the senior has value.
 
So go back to public accounting without worry; just don't get it in your head that leaving before manager does irreparable damage. Good luck.

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