Conquering fear: how CPAs used their fears as fuel to push forward and become successful

Conquering fear: how CPAs used their fears as fuel to push forward and become successful

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of CPA Alberta’s Capitalize magazine. That publication is intended for Albertans considering careers in accounting.

Fear can be a tricky emotion. At times, it can be paralyzing. But when well managed, fear can be an excellent motivator. From the fear of public speaking to the fear of networking, fear of failure to the fear of rejection, many people have at least one. But what’s most important is what we do with it. Do we control fear or allow it to hold us back?

In this article, four CPAs share their experiences with fear, and offer words of wisdom to the next generation of business professionals. Keep reading to learn tips on how to adopt a mindset of growth, and how to use fear as fuel to push forward.

Fear of Failure

Scott Gordon CPA, CA

CEO and Co-owner, Press’d Sandwich Company

How did the fear of failure affect you?

I think fear of failure is a natural thing, and how you respond to it can help define who you are as a person and change the trajectory of your life. That was the case for me anyway. I recognized the potency of this fear when I first started to think about entrepreneurship as a career move. The risk of failing, the perceived embarrassment associated with it, and the idea of starting over were all significant barriers for me. At times it was intimidating enough that I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to overcome it.

What efforts did you make to overcome that fear?

My fear was wrapped up in the unknown. What challenges would I face that I wasn’t prepared for? What would I do if it didn’t work? My response was to start chipping away at what I didn’t know, hopefully gaining enough confidence along the way to take the leap. That was one of the main reasons I pursued my accounting designation. I knew it was a profession dedicated to learning about what makes businesses tick and that I’d be working with experienced business professionals in an education-rich environment. It worked! After a few years of articling with an accounting firm, along with some other small steps I took on my own, I was confident enough to step away from my comfort zone and start up a sandwich shop with two friends.

What advice would you give a post-secondary student about overcoming fear?

Try to tackle your fears head on, and if that’s too much, break it down into consumable parts. If you’re afraid of public speaking, don’t start with a TED Talk. Try a dinner party toast or a Toastmasters event first, where you know the group is there to support you. All the small steps you take and confidence gained along the way will instill the confidence in you to face your larger fear.

Scott is originally from Vancouver. He moved to Edmonton when he was 18 to attend the University of Alberta and play basketball for the Golden Bears. He stayed in Edmonton because of the network of great friends and colleagues he created in the city.

Fear of Public Speaking

Akolisa Ufodike FCPA, FCGA

Assistant Professor, MacEwan University

How did your fear of public speaking manifest itself?

I wasn’t taking sufficient advantage of opportunities to speak about my work. I often rationalized it by saying to myself that my work would speak for itself.

What efforts did you make to overcome the fear?

I took Toastmasters courses and realized I may not dread public speaking as much as I thought. The fear was more about not having the right answers than it was about public speaking.

My CPA designation also helped me develop confidence in my abilities, and I learned to anticipate the tough questions.

A lesson from a boss also helped. His approach was to bring finance team members, including me, into executive meetings to do presentations. My work could no longer speak for itself; I had to learn to speak up.

What have you accomplished as a result of overcoming your fear?

As an Assistant Professor, all I do these days is speak publicly. My responsibilities include teaching Alberta’s future CPAs, and speaking at conferences to my academic peers in accounting.

I’ve also run for public office, and as such, have spent the last four years doing my fair share of public speaking.

What advice would you give to a post-secondary student who may have a fear that is hindering their progress?

While in university, consider participating in on-campus activities such as case competitions, tax clinics, and business clubs. This will help you develop social, communication, public speaking, and persuasion skills.

Dr. Ufodike is a finance executive with over 20 years of professional experience spanning telecoms, banking, education, oil and gas, and other sectors. He teaches auditing, advanced cost accounting, and intermediate financial accounting at MacEwan University.

Imposter Syndrome

Jessica Joss CPA, CA

Investment Advisor and Financial Planner, RBC Dominion Securities

Have your fears ever manifested themselves subconsciously?

I have a recurring dream a few days a year. In the dream, I am sitting at my desk working. There are three men in dark suits and sunglasses (think the movie The Matrix) who walk down the hallway and show up at my door. They look at me sternly and say:

“It has recently come to our attention that you did not complete high school math. For this reason, you no longer have a high school diploma, university degree, or any designations.” They then take my framed degrees and certifications off the wall and walk out of my office.

What underlying fears do you think are at the bottom of this dream?

I believe imposter syndrome underlies this dream—the feeling of doubting accomplishments, and the fear that somebody will expose the fact that I am not “good enough” to occupy the seat I have.

How have these fears affected your personal/professional progress?

Sometimes when receiving a promotion, award, or new job, I have asked myself: “Can I do this? Am I the best person? What if they discover my weaknesses?” It is in these situations that I have learned the most about myself and increased my skillsets.

What advice would you give to a post-secondary student about overcoming a fear?

The best advice I ever got about fears was: “Be afraid. Do it anyway.” If you wait to overcome fear before you move forward, you will never do anything.

Jessica’s experience ranges from “bean counting” to “bull wrangling.” She uses her financial education and experience every day to meet client needs and give back to her community. She serves on the YWCA Canada Board and has served on other non-profit boards at the local level.

Fear of Networking

Pam Louie CPA, CGA

Principal, Dynamic Change

How did you overcome the fear of networking?

After working in technical accounting for a while, I took a chance and leveraged my designation to change my career trajectory. After receiving my designation, I applied for a position as a Software Implementation Consultant, which placed me in very different situations from financial accounting. Through travel, I constantly met new clients and colleagues. Initially, I was introduced by others. But after a while, I got more comfortable with networking, and got over my fear.

What have you accomplished as a result of overcoming that fear?

I’ve been able to advance my career, taking on more roles that involve business development (AKA networking, networking, and more networking). I’ve been able to represent my employers at conferences and in the business world, attracting future clients or employees. I’m now building my own business, which will require networking and relationship-building prowess.

What advice would you give to a post-secondary student about overcoming their fears?

If your fear is hindering your progress, get a support system to help you get over it. A friend or colleague who is good at what you’re in fear of would make a great wingman or coach. Self-help resources like podcasts might help you understand why you have fears, but real-world trial and error will eventually get you past your fears and open the door to untapped potential.

Pam advises and consults with large organizations on their digital transformation challenges. She thrives on helping people build their skillsets to grow as professionals and help their companies become successful.

Read the original article in the Capitalize Fall 2019 issue, here