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Lessons learned as a CA (SA): 10 years on

TarynArticle written by Taryn Miller.

Where do you think you’ll be in 10 years’ time? If you don’t have a clue, relax! Figuring out the right fit for you is part of your career-journey. If you know exactly what you want, go for it! But be willing to adapt if circumstances change.
For me, the last decade has been pretty predictable. When I left university, I had a keen sense that I would end up in academia, and after having worked back my bursary, that’s exactly where I found myself. So with a pretty clear road-map of my life, which was bolstered by the energy, enthusiasm and confidence that exudes from a newly-qualified CA(SA), I largely expected to sail through the next decade (and beyond) without breaking my stride. Its not that I didn’t expect to learn anything new (I mean, I don’t want to sound presumptuous or anything!), but rather, that I expected the weightiness of my knowledge and accomplishments to more than offset any future bumps in the road.
Reality check: Prepare to be bumped!
You will have to embrace change and (sometimes rather painful) growth. If I were a soon-to-be qualified CA(SA), I would appreciate guidance of the following sort:

1. Don’t chase the money
More money is enticing. But once you start playing that game, it’s hard to stop. As humans, we struggle to pinpoint when “enough is enough”. Consider the first salary-slip you ever received – what a moment! You are probably already earning significantly more than that first amount, and yet I’m pretty sure you’d like more if you could. If you choose to chase more money, you may well end up forfeiting the “right” experience or the role that is the “right fit” for you.

2. Crying in the bathroom
There will be days where you end up crying in the bathroom. (Sure, guys, you might be able to restrain your emotions somewhat more than the girls, but there will be days where, if you’re really honest, you feel like you could, possibly, maybe cry in the bathroom). Just remember that these moments will pass. Decide on the people whose opinion of you really counts, and listen to those voices more than the rest.

3. Career junctions
Changing jobs is a big decision. Don’t be hasty! Make sure there are people in your life whose advice you can trust. Sometimes, sticking with a particular role, albeit a tough one, is what’s best in terms of the experience you gain and the character you develop. Having stuck it out and shown your true (great!) colours, this may result in your employer showing you greater favour in future.

4. Don’t be afraid to be different from the herd
Just because most CAs end up in a corporate does not mean it’s right for you. If you’ve always had a desire to do something different with your qualification, don’t let the lure of a secure or increasing salary and a predictable promotion-path distract you from your dream. Be courageous and try new ventures while you’re still young. You don’t want to reach retirement regretting your choice of life’s-work.

5. In the presence of someone GREAT
Identifying someone you highly respect in the work place can help change you for the better. It may be the way they handle confrontation, or their public demeanour, technical knowledge, positivity, humour or just the way they interact with and help you. Whatever trait it is you admire (and without being weird about it), make a conscious effort to try and mimic the qualities that you like, and you may soon find yourself developing in those areas.

6. The overseas-stint
Almost all of my CA friends have done a stint overseas. Interestingly, the last of this group returned to South Africa this year. No one has left who hasn’t returned. This makes me happy because I love my friends and I love my country. However, if you go (and there can be very good reasons for doing so), make the absolute most of the experience. If you stay, do likewise and make a great contribution here!

7. Dress-sense
Accumulating a decent wardrobe takes time. Don’t deceive yourself by saying that you “need” something, when you actually just “want” it. Also don’t succumb to serious levels of debt by obtaining a professional wardrobe. Decide on the right style for you, taking into account your professional role and budget and be a wise shopper. Leading nicely to the next point:

8. Budgets
CA’s are notoriously bad at budgeting! Go figure? I think this has a lot to do with the fact that our salaries grow at such a rapid pace. This is a nice problem to have, but is no excuse for being irresponsible. Make sure you have a proper budget that can accommodate a fluctuating salary. If you can maintain a steady-spend as your salary increases (investing the excess), you are well on your way to a financially secure future and being content with what you’ve got.

9. Lunch time antics
Lunch time is for lunch and not for work. Take the time out to revitalise your body and brain, and to connect with your colleagues. It’s during these times that you really get to know the people you work with. Often, this extra knowledge benefits your work relationships anyway. So, take a break.

10. Late night fever
Overworked and not getting enough sleep? We’ve all been there. Take some vitamins, and comfort in the fact that the busy times will end. Book a holiday. There are no badges for never taking leave, and it’s not a healthy example you’re setting.

ENJOY THE JOURNEY!…I wonder what you’ll be able to teach others in 10 years’ time?