June 28, 2018 –
Fortifying Your Future
Three Tips for Thriving in Your Early Years
By Zach Nowlan, Chair, NHSCPA Young Professionals Committee
In the early years of your career, you will find that there are many paths that you can follow – only you can decide which ones to take. We’re all responsible for our own goals, dreams, and ambitions. Your choices define what those are and how you will get there. There are countless ways to thrive, and many individuals have their own thoughts and beliefs on the “best” way to succeed. However, everyone’s definition of success is different and every person’s path will hold different challenges. What I offer are three universal tips to help you on your unique path to success.
Seek to Understand the ‘Why’
Whether you’re starting day one of an internship, or you’re a managing partner, seeking to understand the ‘why’ is crucial to the effective implementation and performance of every facet of an organization. Daily, we face constant pressures to learn and perform immediately. It’s nearly effortless to respond to a request with ‘Yes, I know how to do this’ in order to garner instant gratification and mitigate a potentially stressful situation. Yet knowing how to complete a task does not mean that we truly understand why it needs to be done. Here are some actions to begin taking to ensure you’re heading in the right direction to begin to ‘understand the why’:
- Ask questions. And don’t be afraid to keep asking. If you’re in a nurturing environment you will be encouraged to ask questions. That doesn’t mean that these questions will be welcomed every moment of every day, but you need to ensure that you continue to ask in order to facilitate your growth. Your leadership will understand that you are seeking this knowledge to build and strengthen your foundation and, if they don’t, tell them! As a good leader, they will understand your position and recall what it was like to be in your shoes – never stop asking questions – there is limitless knowledge to obtain.
- Become an active and engaged listener. It is okay to ask someone to repeat themselves. In the widely popular, must-read, book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, Habit #5 states ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood’. We must continuously stay involved in discussions while seeking clarity in our understanding – not simply become a ‘yes’ person. It may be difficult, at times, to understand what is being conveyed to us however we must stay active in discussions to ensure we are truly grasping a concept. Not only does this save time, in the long run, it also demonstrates that we are engaged and doing our best to grasp the principles being communicated.
- Remain observant. Never be afraid to inquire as to why a specific job or task is being performed. Throughout our career we will learn just as much, if not more, from observing individuals and how they complete various tasks and processes. We must engage in the act of observation as opposed to, simply, watching something occur. Stay active in your observations, ask yourself if you truly understand what is occurring and why it is occurring, and when you don’t have an answer don’t shy away from asking clarifying questions to enhance your knowledge.
- Apply. Now that you’ve begun to understand the why’s, we must perform what we have learned in order to demonstrate our competency. Applying what we have learned will often result in additional questions – that’s a good thing! Though we may feel that enough time has been spent in the previous steps before application, we must continue to ask follow-up questions to ensure our knowledge is refined and not be afraid to do so. If we are continually asking, we are growing, and that will only lead to improved success.
- Teach. Now that you’ve applied your knowledge and ironed out the ‘kinks’, one of the best ways to demonstrate your competence related to a concept, idea, or process, is by sharing what you’ve learned with others. You’ve begun to understand and have practiced, now pass it on. Through this exercise you will often identify that there are ‘pieces of the puzzle’ that need to be developed further. There will be struggles with this early on and that’s a good thing! Remind yourself to be humble and, when applicable, admit that you don’t know everything. While you’re helping another individual, you are furthering your own growth by diving deeper into a concept. Oftentimes teaching what we think we know uncovers questions we had yet to ask.
Following these steps is simply the beginning of understanding the why. Engaging in these habits early in your career will only help develop and accelerate your individual and organizational growth. We must continue to remember that we will never know everything, especially in the accounting profession, and we must always seek to understand more – there is limitless potential.
Own Your Suit
Your suit is who you are. It is where you come from, what you’ve experienced, and where you’re going. It is your way of showing the world that you’re here and you are ready to face whatever comes your way. In the world of business, we often assimilate to our surroundings in order to blend in, not create ripples, and ‘fit the mold’. While we have to adapt to the structure, culture, and beliefs of our organization to promote a constructive work environment, we must remember that we all bring different experiences, thoughts, and creativity to our workplace – it is our duty to apply our uniqueness for the benefit of our organization.
While this may seem difficult, following a few key steps will help us to identify positive ways to bring our ideas to the forefront.
- Patch your suit together. Identify who the top performers are in your organization and use their advice, successes, and failures to patch together your suit. Your best suit will not be made by one ‘designer’ – it will be a collection of various pieces from many different experiences. It is your duty to combine a myriad of influences, resources, and experiences to create your suit so that it is one of success.
- Be confident. As seemingly obvious as this ideal is, we must always remember to be confident in the face of adversity. If there’s a guarantee in this world it is that there will be individuals who question your uniqueness. As long as your foundation is built to further the good of your organization, you can stand true in the face of distress. Don’t be afraid to show off your suit. You are here for a reason, you’ve earned it, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
- Stay committed. To learning; to growth; to standing out. When you look at the top tier of any organization you will find that they did not get there by blending in and following exactly in the footsteps of their predecessor. This does not mean to try to recreate the wheel of those who’ve led you to where you are; it means to commit to the same practices that allowed them to get there by helping improve the trail they’ve blazed before you. Chances are that those ‘top-tier’ individuals got to where they are by showing a willingness to learn, committing to their ideals and beliefs, working hard, and finding innovative ways to improve the work of those before them. This will not be easy and will often be met with challenges, but we must remind ourselves to commit to success and follow through on the goals we have set out to achieve.
- Dry clean your suit. Quite frankly, no one likes an old musky suit. The same goes for our personal suit. Remain committed to taking time to replace some of the old ‘patches’ with new, polished, and refined pieces to ensure that we are keeping our suit in the best shape possible. As we continue our personal journey through life, we will find that old thoughts and ideas are better replaced with fresh and modern concepts. Do not get complacent with the suit that we feel comfortable in; strive to keep your suit shiny and clean with innovative and progressive patches.
It is imperative we remember that we are in a forever changing environment, and in order to stay ahead of the curve we have to adapt and constantly question our perspective. Stay true to yourself and ensure your foundation is built on the ideals of success – you will find your path. Don’t be afraid to stand out. It won’t always be easy, and you will certainly face difficulties. Use those difficulties to learn, grow, and to ultimately achieve your full potential.
How are we going to be successful if we don’t show up? It’s something that appears to be obvious, yet not everybody does it. In order to truly grow, you have to be present. On the surface showing up may seem like a no brainer, but being in attendance doesn’t always mean we are present.
- Defining ‘present’. ‘Well if I’m there aren’t I present?’ Not always – just showing up does not mean that you’re present. Put simply, being present is to be focused and attentive while applying all available resources to the task on hand. Become immersed in where you are and what you’re doing – you will see that being present is much more than simply being in the room.
- Be on-time. As we become used to our daily routine it’s easy to become undisciplined. Showing up on-time not only demonstrates our willingness to be there but also shows that we care. People will see this and, while it may not be commonly discussed, it is certainly something that is noticed. Punctuality is a sign of respect and discipline and will allow your leaders to develop trust in you.
- Network internally. Join a group, attend a meeting, go beyond the day-to-day activities by becoming immersed in your organizations culture and being present at as many events as possible. Look to meet new people at every event while building upon foundations that have already been started. If you’re in a room full of individuals who do not know each other, be the first one to say ‘hello’. It may be nerve racking at first however you must display the confidence in your suit by building new relationships internally. While you may think that you’re the only one who feels nervous, it’s a guarantee that others are feeling the same way and looking for someone to break the ice.
- Network externally. While continuously growing and strengthening your internal network we must challenge ourselves to build our external network. This is something that we’ve been doing our entire lives, yet we often forget – we’ve been networking since the first day we attended school! On day one nearly everyone is new and does not know one another, yet from this point on we begin to meet and form relationships. This is not much different than the professional world. Everyone has to start somewhere and by being present at as many events, volunteer opportunities, and meetings we have the opportunity to build our external network.
Being present is one of the most obvious keys to becoming successful. It’s important to be mindful of this simple, yet important, thought. Take the time to revisit and question if you are truly being present in all facets of your life. It may be terrifying to step out of our comfort zone and open ourselves to vulnerability; however, in order to grow, we must constantly challenge ourselves by, simply, showing up.
These three tips are only a few ways to begin evolving into the professional you wish to become. If you’re able to utilize these steps as a resource and add them to your suit, they will serve as a useful patch. Seek to understand the why, be confident in your suit, and show up, and you will be taking a step in the right direction. You will undoubtedly face uncertainty in nearly every area of life but strive to always remain confident in your pursuit of success. Any step toward bettering yourself, is a step worth taking.