Why Did I Leave Public Accounting? I Couldn’t See My Future

Last fall, after a decade in public accounting, I gave my two weeks notice and embarked on a new career. Instead of working in public accounting, I write about accounting. And after eight months on the outside – as I enjoy weekends off during March and my son, home for spring break, comes into my home office for a hug – I gotta say, I’m happy with the change.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like my career. I worked for an excellent firm that invested heavily in technology and offered fantastic benefits and flexible hours. I enjoyed working with my clients and coworkers. So when I was asked to write a blog about why I left, I struggled with what to say.

One of my first tasks at Boomer Consulting was working with Sandra Wiley to publish the results of our first-ever Attrition Survey. I could definitely relate to the experiences shared by the respondents, but one quote stood out in particular: “I am simply not interested in staying in public accounting until retirement.”

The other day, I saw this Exposure Drafts cartoon by Greg Kyle for GoingConcern, and I thought, “Yes! That’s precisely the reason!”

A few recollections

One tax season, after years of being an excellent sleeper, my son started waking up crying several times a night. Needless to say, it was a challenge to put in 12 hour days on very little sleep. I mentioned this in passing to one of the partners in the office. She shared a story of her own. One year, during tax season, her daughter started wetting the bed every night after being potty trained for years. This mom quickly realized that the regression was because her daughter enjoyed the attention she got at night. It was practically the only time she saw her mom from the end of December through April 15th.

Another time, I overheard a different partner chatting with clients after meeting during tax season. One client remarked that it must be difficult to be a parent during tax season and the partner agreed and laughed as she told a story about how her daughter learned to say the word “bye-bye” before she could say “mommy.”

These experiences sent a message

All of these women were highly intelligent, hard working, and successful and their kids were doing just fine. In fact, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that children of working moms are even better off than their peers. Every working parent must make choices, and I respect theirs, but I also couldn’t see myself putting my personal life and my family on the back-burner for four months of every year for the next thirty years.

In some professions, people put in long hours early in their careers to enjoy success later on, but that isn’t the model I’ve seen portrayed in accounting firms. I saw many partners with financial and professional success, I didn’t see any living the life I wanted. The message was: long hours are a fact of life for CPAs; that’s just the way it is.

Encouraging signs

Since I started working with Boomer Consulting, I’ve realized that there are a lot of people in the profession who are saying maybe this isn’t “just the way it is.” Technology allows people to work when and where they want – even during tax season. Process improvements reduce workload compression. Firms are creating non-traditional career paths, including part-time partners, to retain top talent. These are encouraging signs, and while I don’t think I’ll go back to my old career, I’m really excited to be working with a company that is pushing for changes that will benefit the profession and saying maybe we don’t have to accept the status quo.