Things I Wish I Learned in College: Finding Passion, Adapting, and Defining You

This post is the third in a series written by guest author, Jonathan Baker, CPA, CMA, CIA. Jonathan is currently working in public accounting with an assurance focus at McGladrey LLP where he started his career after graduating from the Professional Program in Accounting at Texas A&M University with an MS in Finance and BBA in Accounting in 2010.

It is ironic, our generation is driven by change, but so many of us are still afraid of it or just hate it. In life, in college and in career we, live in an area where we can change direction and try something new. My goal in college was to pursue a noble field that could find me a noble job making a noble living. I have all those things but guess what? I sometimes get bored, and guess who is changing course? It is never a step back, unless you let it be. Remember, we are aiming for long-term thinking for a short-term generation. If you love what you are doing in college and have no plans for change, that is great, I am happy you have made it there. If you are questioning, buy a book, audit a class or just show up. In college, I rarely had a course where they took roll or even asked who I was. Quizzes and examinations can be tricky, but you just need not show up on that day, you get all the material and lectures and guess what, most times the professor is all about it. Professors, like me, are naturally long winded and love to hear themselves talk. You are telling them someone is choosing to be there and not required by their degree audit? Most, if not all, of my professors would have loved for people to come and hear their chosen spiel on their chosen field.

I think many of us get tunnel vision. Although focus is incredibly vital and the ability to work hard to get things done is irreplaceable, we also must acknowledge what is best for us long-term. I have seen it already. People at my firm are being promoted not because they are the best at what they do or the best even with people but because they are best with the right people. Politics in corporate America a whole other subject, I will avoid that for now. What I am aiming to show here is the facet of life that if you are in a system where you cannot thrive or do not want to thrive, you can easily change. Do not be afraid of that. We need challenge, those who do best, persevere through challenge. Challenge is what is important. Seeking out challenge usually is the battle. Having the mental buy-in of challenge being rewarding is the hardest part. Too many times in the corporate world you can get burned for wanting challenge. I work in the public accounting world that can be known as extremely invigorating, challenging and rewarding. It can also be known as abusive, gloomy, overwhelming and extremely stressful.

If I could do it all over again, I would not change a thing. I wanted to get out and gain what I valued as the most difficult skills in business, accounting and finance. Though these two are quantitatively by far the most challenging in the business field, I have found people management to be more challenging overall even though it is highly qualitative. I am drawn to that, and that is a world I am hoping to pursue. You get to taste it a little in any field. I currently am senior on my engagement so I assign tasks, review work and coach staff. It has been a great experience to this point and I have the work to continue to be bland but have found myself ticking at the opportunity to teach, engage and develop people. Knowing this, there is a field out there where I believe I can make a direct and indirect impact, whereas currently I am making an indirect only. Believing in what you do is beyond vital. If you are not passionate about what you are doing, it will be extremely difficult to outperform your peers. Most of them will be passionate about what they do and will find it not as exhausting or as extreme and thus will be able to continue strongly in the continual pursuit.

Now, there are areas where you just have to work. You will put in extra time, a lot of extra time, usually at no additional pay and no additional longitudinal gain – at least at the beginning. A tough lesson learned for me has been learning to say, ‘no’. I was always a yes man and thought I would find a place that would really plant me where I can grow before harvesting me. Well the harvest has been going on since I began working here and I have learned more than I ever dreamt of in the assurance field. Gaining good experience is incredible and these places will pay you for it. The hard part is top performers, like you as evidenced by your reaching out to get better, will always bear the brunt of the work because managers can trust you and they do not have time to babysit. I get assigned tasks and they get done well. Thus, more comes my way compared to my peers and I continue to be asked to do more.

What I have done to change this now that I am in the assigning role is really watch my staff. I make sure they are not working unfair hours and that they are getting plenty of time for them and plenty of time for what is important. Of course in the summer, I may be too easy, but I was promised and allowed 40 hour weeks to counteract our busy season where we work as many hours in 4 months as we do most of the rest of the year. I allow those 40 hour weeks and sometimes it is to my detriment but I do not abuse the staff for that, I abuse my managers for not providing enough time or staff with tact. I have learned to not bear the brunt all my own and to not take the world on my shoulders because that ultimately will not get me anywhere except a front row seat on my living room couch from burning out or saying something incredibly foolish. Work hard and work with quality, but work reasonably. If your peers are putting in 45’s and you are doing 60’s there is probably an issue that needs to be addressed, and hear me, with both you and the firm. Find a way to manage you with your time, investment, and efforts. When your long-term goal does not continue to align, readjust and realign. It is okay to take risks and make mistakes. Use your gut and mind to discern where you are called and what is best. When your passions change, so should your pursuit.

My book recommendation: The Element: How Finding your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson