Dear Nick: I just want confirmation of how massively I have messed up
Nick Elston helps a down-on-their-luck reader who feels like they have been blackballed from ever getting a more senior role in the profession. Have they really messed up?
The dilemma: I am probably a salutary tale of lack of networking nous and a fear of moving out of my comfort zone. I’m an 'older person', a graduate of languages, with 15 plus years of working in accounts assistant roles. But I finally got my stuff together and studied, sat and passed AAT (equivalent) and subsequently CPA (practice-oriented) professional exams.
Post-exam, I cold-called practices in my region and almost immediately secured what seemed a dream job but I fell at the first hurdle. In my profound ignorance of practice life, I naively expected some introductory guidance/feedback/training input. The feedback from partners upon my humiliating exit was that nobody that had worked for their 30-year old practice had ever come in and made such demands of training, that I was expecting someone to hold my hand and I was behaving like a baby.
I then got out my unwieldy CV and cover letter and cold-called another 70 practices. I received an almost instant response from a practice known well by my previous employer. After submitting my paperwork, I duly get the thanks but no thanks. Without being too paranoid, I can conclude that my previous employer was contacted and put my interviewer straight as to my shortcomings. I am effectively blacklisted by practices now since a partner at my previous employer is on the executive body of my accounting body.
I just want confirmation of how massively I have messed up. After five lonely (but intellectually rewarding) years of slog with my exams, I am being shortlisted for the same kinds of roles that I have always performed.
Nick replies: I can feel the frustration and pain oozing out of every paragraph and I genuinely feel for you. You seem like you have hit a rut and despite your best efforts to bring yourself away to make yourself ‘better’, you feel that you have not left that rut and indeed moved forward. However, the realisation of that itself could be the lesson in all of this.
When I work with people 1-2-1 as a mentor one of the first questions I ask them is ‘Are you living life on your terms?’ The most common reply is ‘no’. So you are certainly not alone in wondering what the hell all of this is about.
I’m not necessarily saying this is you but sometimes we end up chasing rainbows, pursuing certain people, avenues, jobs, relationships without questioning it at all. The reason? Because we have always done it that way.
In business, we innovate, revolutionise and consistently prod and poke to ensure we are streamlined, profitable and productive. So why do we not bring those principles into our lives? We should constantly question why we do what we do. When is the last time you took a step back to see if you really want this anyway?
Even after the dedication, commitment, and intent sometimes things just don’t work out and maybe they were not meant to. Maybe your destiny lies elsewhere.
When we start to ask ourselves questions, we will put blocks in our own way. We are our own worst enemy. Why? Because we are driven by:
- Our conditioning (our environment)
- Our narrative (how we talk to ourselves)
- Our perspective (beliefs and values)
These three things combined equal to how we experience life. It’s the reason why anxious people see danger everywhere and confident people see danger nowhere; same world, same room, same people, same everything apart from how we experience the world through our eyes. A fantastic exercise is to wake up tomorrow and question everything:
- Why do I wake up at this time? Could I do with more sleep/less sleep?
- Why do I wake up next to THEM?! Maybe you haven’t asked that in a while!
- Why do I have this for breakfast? Does it nourish me or deplete me?
Question absolutely everything. When you are truly honest with yourself, you will get to know what you are about again. Then you can see if you truly are living a life on your terms.
My feeling is that your conditioning, narrative and perspective have been overtaken by a long run of pain, frustration and negativity. It’s time to stop. It’s time to breathe. Take a step back and take the pressure off yourself.
If nothing was impossible what would your life look like right now? It’s a tough task. Most people struggle with this because they put their own blocks in the way, but be as creative and imaginary as possible.
Once you are in the creative mindset, ask yourself: what did I want to be as a kid?
- A cowboy?
- A footballer?
- An astronaut?
It’s time to reconnect with the YOU before life got in the way. Let those emotions come back because it’s not the job it’s how it makes us feel.
For example, the job of being an astronaut is rubbish! You get shot into the sky for a week after 10 years training and shot back down again at a very high speed with a high risk of death. But think of the emotions of being an astronaut: discovery, excitement, adventure, travel. You would apply for that. Start to bring those feelings into now. A part of you is crying out for that. Then think: what can I do now which will make me happy.
As with anything, when you first start to work on yourself you need to factor in recovery time. It’s tiring living outside of your comfort zone, but trust me, it’s worth every ounce of energy spent.
The biggest sense I felt was your lack of hope. It’s when people lose hope that they lose everything – even the hope of something better. But just remember: every storm runs out of rain. Take back control, review and rest, then come back fighting.
This is an abridged version of the dilemma taken from the Any Answers thread: Exams completed – accounts assistant experience
You might also be interested in
Nick Elston is one of the leading inspirational speakers on the subjects of anxiety, mental health and wellbeing - from an experience sharing perspective - and delivers his talks to stages, corporates, boardrooms, factories, universities, schools and events worldwide. His coaching programme is called Life On Your Terms.