Unconfined by the daily grind

Unconfined by the daily grind

In the Fall/Winter issue of Dividends, CPA Alberta talks to CPAs in various stages of their career and how some paths of the profession are the roads less travelled, such is the story of Ivy Lee CPA, CGA. Keep an eye on your desk or mailbox for this story and more in the Fall/Winter issue of Dividends, CPA Alberta’s magazine, which will be arriving in the coming weeks.


By Chris Pilger

If you are travelling through South East Asia, you might notice a lady sitting at a café during the day, speaking English with her fellow expats and her dog, Foxy. If you do, make sure you say “hi” to Ivy Lee CPA, CGA.

Ivy’s journey

After working in various public practice and industry positions, most recently as the senior accountant for the Alberta Electric Systems Operator, Ivy decided to leave her career in the spring of 2017 for an adventure in Malaysia. “I was feeling the fatigue after studying and working non-stop for 10 years,” Ivy explains. “Life in Calgary was turning mundane. I was having some health issues due to stress, and my husband and I felt like we had little time for each other.”

The couple decided that a move to South East Asia—even perhaps (very) early retirement there—was what they would work towards. Ivy recognizes that this isn’t a typical path, especially for a CPA. “Most people wouldn’t leave their secure job and life in Calgary in the prime of their life to move to a place unknown to them,” she says. “My husband and I have a very different perspective.”

Ivy and her husband charged forward, determined to use the finances they had built up to this point in their careers to fund a new life in Malaysia. And, so far, the experience has been everything she expected, including taking advantage of the myriad inexpensive travel opportunities in the area: “When we are not travelling to the neighboring countries for vacation, we enjoy exploring different parts of Malaysia. During weekdays, I am doing everything I wished I could be doing while I was at work!”

Taking your own break

So, what advice would Ivy have for those contemplating their own career break—either temporary or permanent?

  • The two Ps: plan and preparePerhaps most importantly, if taking a break is something you feel strongly about, it is important to work towards that goal. For Ivy, that meant strategically taking care of finances in order to be able to make the move, foregoing many of the trappings of traditional markers of financial success. “Make sure you have enough savings—don’t buy a big house and a big car just because everybody else does,” she says. “My husband and I worked diligently for many years and we were able to save 60% of our earnings. We finally bought our house in an inner-city neighborhood of Calgary, and sold the house for a profit when it was time to make the move.”
  • Be practicalWhile it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of such a big move, Ivy cautions that one must be realistic about what is possible:  “Though it would have been financially feasible, it would have been a big jump from full time employment in Calgary to early retirement in a place we were not so familiar with. So my husband decided to take a job with KPMG in Penang, Malaysia, so we can have proper long-term visas while we further investigate the possibility of early retirement in South East Asia.”
  • Don’t listen to the naysayersThough taking a career break is becoming more prevalent, and more accepted, there will still likely be many people who are skeptical or disapproving of your plan. According to Ivy, one of the most empowering outcomes of her experience has been the knowledge that she has the courage to dare to be different—something she feels is critical for those stepping away from a successful career: “One of the greatest challenges in life is being yourself in a world that is trying to make you like everybody else. Don’t follow the herd. Dare to be different.”

Reaping the rewards

Ivy’s decision to take a break has had a dramatic, positive influence on her life. The time away from work, without constantly being in overdrive, has given Ivy the time and space to regroup, reflect, and learn more about herself. In the end, Ivy says, “Physically and mentally, I feel the healthiest and happiest I have ever been.” And what could be better than that?

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