The Winter of our Discontent is both a noted Shakespeare line and a John Steinbeck novel. For me, it wasn’t winter but rather spring that was a season of life’s torment for years, and the spring of 2013 was especially lousy. To explain why is to start the story of my adventures in career change.
Public accounting is traditionally a very seasonal and cyclical business. Spring busy season is an overwhelming time in which CPA firms complete the vast majority of their clients’ tax returns. The rest are extended until fall, resulting in a fall busy season that can in some cases be worse due to the finality of the extended deadline. Spring and fall are two seasons when CPA’s dig their proverbial holes, hunker down, and only occasionally come up for air during their 60 to 80 hour (and sometimes even worse) work weeks for months at a time. My wife, Liza tells stories of how I became a different person during busy seasons—irritable, unhappy, combative, despondent are all ways she would use to describe me. Something is seriously wrong if your job makes you difficult to live with. During the rest of the year I wasn’t exactly thrilled with what I was doing and going home happy and fulfilled at the end of each work day. Instead, I was just going through the motions and slowly growing more disenchanted with my job, and busy seasons were only serving to make it worse. In retrospect it makes sense—if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing 40 hours a week, you are really going to be miserable doing it 60+ hours a week.
It was not until a few weeks after April 15, 2013, when I was ready and able to reflect on not just spring 2013 but also the long downward slide that I felt I had been on, and ask myself some hard questions. What had once been a good job to pay the bills had become a dreadful daily chore. I felt that all I really accomplished each day was mindlessly put numbers in boxes. I was bored out of my mind, felt little to no fulfillment and satisfaction from anything I did, and wasn’t passionate about the work. Worse still, from the moment I first stepped foot in an accounting firm during grad school, I felt radically different from everyone around me on some fundamental level that I couldn’t then understand, and that feeling never left at any accounting firm at which I later worked. Something just felt terribly wrong and empty about what I was doing with my life—that I just didn’t belong. With each passing day, I was only growing more miserable and numb to the world. Something had to change.
After eight years in the industry, a $30,000 master’s degree, and two certifications that put eight letters behind my name, I felt honestly either too scared or too committed to turn my back entirely on all that I had accomplished, so I didn’t seriously consider leaving accounting altogether. Thinking logically and practically, I determined that I needed to make a transition to private industry—the typical refuge for public accountants.
Public accounting is right for some people. The ones that enjoy it will make a tremendous career for themselves and a healthy living from it. It is a prestigious and honorable profession. But I knew it wasn’t right for me, so I began looking for private industry accounting positions. Somewhere deep down, however, I knew that was at most only part of the answer. I could only ignore that feeling for a short while longer.