How To Take Charge Of Your Professional Development
Last year around this time, in episode #64 – The Subtle Art of Giving And Receiving Criticism – I shared that if you work in the corporate world, you are probably no stranger to receiving and possibly giving year-end reviews. I offered you the difference between feedback and criticism, as well as tips on the subtle art of being on both the receiving end and the giving end.
So since it’s almost year-end review time again if you are an employee, or year-end planning time if you are an entrepreneur, I thought it would be helpful this year to discuss how to take charge of your professional development as well. As this year comes to a close, it’s a good idea to start looking ahead to the following year and beyond, exploring where you’d like to be and what you need to do in order to get there.
It doesn’t matter whether you are in public or private accounting, or how long you’ve been an accountant, having a professional development plan is key if you want to have a successful accounting career with a deeper level of satisfaction. Let’s face it, even though being an accounting professional has taken a lot of hard work on your part up until this point, now is not the time to drop the ball.
While it may be cliche, it’s also very true – your future is really what you make of it. Taking charge of and developing a professional development plan enables you to start, or continue, on a chosen path, set reasonable goals, and take the steps necessary to achieve those goals.
Whether your future goals include going for a Master’s Degree, attending or speaking at an industry conference, leaving your job and going out on your own, or specializing in a particular area, your accounting career development depends on planning and execution. When you look around at other accountants, have they achieved something you also wish to accomplish? Is there something that sounds intriguing?
Those individuals who are doing what you would like to do, whether it’s the female CFO of that company you admire, or it’s that new franchisee at CPA MOMS who is building her own accounting practice while being able to be at home with her children, they did not leave it up to chance. Their career path was a series of plans, decisions and actions on their part.
So no matter where you are in your accounting career, what the next step is for you, or what direction you are heading, what I’m going to be teaching you is applicable to all accountant moms. The most important thing is learning how to find your voice, how to speak up for yourself and how to advocate for yourself.
The truth is that you cannot rely on anyone else to manage your professional development for you, no matter who you work for, or with. While it’s nice to have someone supporting you like a mentor, you shouldn’t abdicate control over your professional development to someone else, even if it’s in the other person’s job description to develop you professionally.
Honestly, no one will ever be as invested in your career as you are, which is why it’s so important to understand what might be getting in the way of taking charge of your professional development and what you can do about it. In this episode I want to help you overcome the typical hurdles that a lot of accountant moms face so that you can have the accounting career that you really want.
This week I’m going to explain the reasons why it can be challenging for accountant moms to take charge of their professional development and an exercise you can do to help you take charge.
The reasons why it can be challenging for accountant moms to take charge of their professional development
Whether you work for a large company that has already addressed your professional development with you, you’re an employee with a smaller company, or maybe you’re on your own as an entrepreneur, taking charge of your professional development is incredibly important, especially for female accountants. However, while it’s essential for your career development, it can also be very challenging as well.
One of the reasons it can be so challenging is because women are socialized to be more passive than men. This can become an issue, especially in a professional environment, because we often find it difficult to advocate for ourselves, or know how to go after what we want, whether it’s personally or professionally.
As I’ve shared in previous podcast episodes, our education system has taught us to be good students, to follow someone else’s rules, and to not challenge authority. Plus, as young girls we’re often taught to be the supporting role in someone else’s dreams and goals, getting many spoken and unspoken messages about what it takes to be a good daughter, wife, mother, etc.
Unfortunately, once you complete your college education and go out into the workforce, you naturally fall into the supportive role that you’ve been taught and shown by the example of the well-meaning women in your life. Unless you had strong, independent female role models in your life, it can be challenging to make a clear plan for your career development and speak up for yourself.
Because we’re taught and then socialized to look to others, this then makes you dependent on others for your confidence, your approval and permission for advancement. Before you know it, you’re waiting for some gold star or some person to tell you what your professional development should be, and looking outside of yourself to feel valuable and worthy.
Another reason it can be so challenging for you to take charge of your professional development and speak up for yourself is that unfortunately, while stronger, more aggressive traits are considered favorable in men, they can still unfortunately backfire when women adopt them. You would think that in these modern times that we live in, that this wouldn’t be an issue any longer, but unfortunately it can still derail the professional development of a lot of hard working women.
This double standard is still something that a lot of working moms have to deal with, making them reconsider asking for, or going after, what they want for fear of being perceived in a negative light. Before you know it, you won’t even allow yourself to consider possibilities.
In studies where they looked at the impact of gender on negotiations, they found that men were 8 times more likely to initiate a negotiation conversation than women, and that women are more likely to be more accommodating in negotiations than men. Again, it comes down to concerns about how you are perceived and how that will affect your ability to have the career options you want.
Another reason it’s so challenging for accountant moms to take charge of their professional development is because as an accountant you are trained to be risk averse and deferential to outside authority like accounting professors, firm partners, industry organizations like the AICPA, as well as government organizations like the IRS. In reality, there’s a hierarchy baked into the accounting profession, creating another added layer of dependency on others to tell you what to do.
With this basic framework comes the downside of the fear of pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and expecting others in authority to evaluate you and tell you what you should do. Unless someone or something gives you a green light, you might assume that you shouldn’t go after a career goal or explore different avenues of your professional development, fearing the risk of failure or judgment of others.
Thankfully, whether you were socialized to be more passive, whether you lean towards deferring to those in authority, or whether you fear seeming too pushy or aggressive, there is a way for you to take charge of your professional development and have the accounting career you desire.
An exercise to help you take charge
So many of the women I speak to and work with have a very challenging time with the idea of professional development. Most of them don’t even know what they want for their accounting careers, or allow themselves to consider something more, and then how to effectively advocate for it.
The proverbial glass ceiling that many working women have had to deal with may have been shattered by some companies over the past few decades, and is still being addressed by minority and women’s advocacy groups, but there’s still a powerful glass ceiling that no one can do anything about other than you. That glass ceiling is your unique accountant mom brain.
The most important reason why professional development is such a challenging issue for accountant moms is not because of where you work, who you work for, or sexism in the workplace; those issues may make things harder, but they don’t control the outcome or matter as much as you might think. The most important reason is because of your belief in yourself, your competence, your worth and your value.
The glass ceiling in your mind is infinitely more powerful and career stalling than any company policy or sexist atmosphere could ever be. If you have the belief that you’re not good enough, capable enough, or smart enough, then everything that comes into your brain will be interpreted through that filter.
The more you believe that you’re powerless to change your work life and your career, and the less you believe in yourself to create a plan and execute that plan, the stronger that glass ceiling will become in your mind. If for example, you want to leave your job and go out on your own, that glass ceiling in your brain is going to barrage you with many reasons why you should stay where you are.
Even if the most amazing opportunities are available, until you get your brain in order, you’re going to revert back to your default beliefs about yourself. To take charge of your professional development you have to manage your self-critical thoughts and begin to break your own glass ceiling.
In order to help you do that, I suggest the following 4 step exercise:
Step 1 – choose one to three things that you’d like to do to advance your professional development. Maybe you’d like to work in a new subject area, take on new responsibilities, pursue professional activities outside of your job, join a women’s networking group, teach at a CPE training, be your own boss, etc. Write down those things that sound interesting to you. Don’t write down more than three because your brain will then become overwhelmed with this exercise. It’s okay to just do one for now because overwhelm creates inaction.
Step 2 – for each of those things you wrote down, what actions would YOU need to take to make it happen? Make sure that those actions are not what someone else can do for you; this is about empowering YOU to first take action and to become less dependent on others. Who do you need to talk to? What do you need to sign up for? What information do you need to gather? What would need to happen in order to make it happen?
Step 3 – for each of the things you chose in Step 1, write down your thoughts about why you aren’t ready, how you might fail, or any other thought about why it’s a bad idea. For this step you’re going to dump all the negative thoughts out of your brain and onto paper. If taking charge of your professional development has been challenging to you, this brain dump is going to show you why.
Step 4 – now you’re going to write down one thought that makes you feel motivated, empowered or capable for each of your goals in Step 1. You’re going to choose just one compelling thought that feels good to you. Write that thought down, put it as an hourly reminder on your smart phone’s calendar, stick it on a post-it in the bathroom, and practice thinking it over and over. For every action you need to take in Step 2, you’ll need to override your brain’s natural glass ceiling resistance by practicing your new thought again and again. How you feel before you take any action is EVERYTHING, so make sure your chosen thought makes you feel good.
One of the thoughts that has helped me and my clients in taking charge of our professional development is, “I know I can figure this out”. This simple sentence packs a powerful punch when you practice it and use it to create the feeling of motivated, empowered, or capable and then take action from one of those feelings.
The 4 step process I just shared is how you can take charge and control of your professional development, instead of looking to others. It’s always helpful to have other people on your side to guide you and mentor you, but no one has more to gain than you when you create your own plan and take the actions necessary.
If you are struggling and you want help coming up with your own next step, coming up with a thought you’re going to practice thinking, and need help breaking the glass ceiling in your unique accountant mom brain, sign up for a free 20 minute coaching discovery call. I’ll put the link in the show notes of this episode.
As this year comes to a close, don’t start the next year without a direction for your accounting career. Open up to the possibilities that you might have dismissed in the past, and begin to take control of where you want to go.
- It doesn’t matter whether you are in public or private accounting, or how long you’ve been an accountant, having a professional development plan is key if you want to have a successful accounting career with a deeper level of satisfaction.
- Honestly, no one will ever be as invested in your career as you are, which is why it’s so important to understand what might be getting in the way of taking charge of your professional development and what you can do about it.
- One of the reasons it can be so challenging is because women are socialized to be more passive than men.
- In reality, there’s a hierarchy baked into the accounting profession, creating another added layer of dependency on others to tell you what to do.
- To take charge of your professional development you have to manage your self-critical thoughts and begin to break your own glass ceiling
You can schedule a free 20 minute coaching discovery call HERE