Work, Life and the CPA Exam: Finding Balance
Taking the CPA exam is no easy feat. It requires hours of dedication, focus and mental fortitude. This is all to prove yourself in a series of four-hour exams to get that beautiful score of 75 or higher. Not challenging enough? Try working a full-time job while taking the exam. After completing a full workday, you then need to find the time and energy to study. The inevitable question is, “How in the world do I balance work and studying — and maybe even have a social life as well?” The answer is “balance.”
Envision a scale where two items are being weighed and compared. When it comes to work-study balance, it’s about making sure the scales are not tipped too far one way or the other. It is about a constant shifting of priorities so that everything is even. It is about having everything come together to assist you in achieving your life goals. At first it might appear complicated to find this balance. Understanding what you want to achieve and setting a schedule is key to your overall success.
When I started my CPA journey, I ran into many issues and distractions. My firm places a high emphasis on work/life balance and they were very accommodating when it came to my need to study, allowing me time to tend to my exams and their preparation. Despite these accommodations, I was not passing my exams. Since I could not actually put more time into studying, the key seemed to be finding time to devote to other aspects of my life. I needed to find balance in my non-CPA life.
Looking for assistance, I consulted with a therapist who uses mindfulness-based approaches. He taught me about balance and mindfulness and how they are attained. Together, we worked on understanding what I wanted to achieve, and the therapist helped me make my goal list. By visualizing and prioritizing my life goals, and by following a schedule, I started passing my exams. Being mindful, I found ways to combine studying with my work. I requested work assignments specific to my next exam, squeezed in multiple-choice questions during lunch and listened to audio notes in my car. Every bit helps, and it worked!
To create your balance, you must first know what you want to achieve for your own personal happiness and success. One goal strategy will fit not every CPA candidate. Everyone has different life situations with different demands. You will need to define what your balance is and work on how it will be achieved.
Starting by making a list of goals while you are working and studying. Start your list with your expected daily hours of work and study. The next items are non-accounting activities that are obligations or bring you happiness, health and fun. Be sure to include things like a night during the week to be with friends and family or going to the gym. Your list will keep you mindful of what you need to achieve to be balanced while studying and taking exams.
The CPA exam is not an easy journey, but it need not be done alone! It is good to have a strong support system while you are studying. Coworkers who are in the same boat as you, a significant other who wants you to pass or even family who understand why you are grumpy all contribute to your success. You might feel the need to exclude yourself from the world, but do not push people away from you while you are studying. Involve them with what you are doing and see how they can help you along in the process.
Only you can determine your balance, only you know what you need to achieve. The CPA exam might appear to be a long road, but in the grand scheme of things it is only a small portion of your life. A balance will make the process more comfortable, and remember when it is all done you will have to find new ways to balance your life without the CPA exam!
Evan T. Gurman
Evan Gurman is a tax accountant at Wilkin & Guttenplan, P.C.