Make 2013 a Success: An Interview With Rebecca Ryan 

Now that the 2013 is here, thoughts of resolutions, career goals, and “what have I accomplished this far in my life” are probably in your head.

The EDGE sat down with Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting (NGC) and author of Live First, Work Second: Getting Inside the Minds of the Next Generation. Rebecca's firm helps accountants engage, develop, and retain their high potential talent. Widely regarded as the go-to person to retain and develop next-gen talent, she is a frequent speaker at AICPA conferences and web seminars.

EDGE:  What are the questions young CPAs should be asking themselves before they set their personal and professional goals for 2013?
Rebecca Ryan: I think you answered this with the question: YPs (young professionals) should be asking themselves about their professional and personal goals. Too often we focus only on professional goals and then separately on personal goals. We forget that these two parts of their lives must be interrelated and support each other.

EDGE: How can young CPAs be more effective in reaching their goals?
Rebecca Ryan: I read some helpful advice about this from Martha Beck: instead of focusing only on what you want to achieve, go deeper and think about how you will feel on the way to achieving that goal. As Ms. Beck writes, “Over and over, researchers studying happiness have found that the situational elements people crave—money, social status, possessions—don't reliably lead to an experience of well-being. By contrast, learning to find joy in the present moment (a.k.a. focusing on experiences you truly want in your life) increases life satisfaction, improves health, and allows us to live longer, more fulfilling lives.“

EDGE: Are written goals necessary for achieving success?
Rebecca Ryan: Writing down your goals definitely helps. Research has shown that people who write down their goals are far more likely to achieve them. Speaking from my own experience, it’s one thing to think a goal because thoughts are light and airy, but it’s another thing to put pen to paper and make the goal take on a material quality. Still, here’s another lesson: don’t tell everyone what your goals are. Further research shows that when you let people in on your goals, your mind gets tricked into feeling it’s already achieved the goal.

EDGE: Will setting goals help young CPAs do more interesting work?
Rebecca Ryan: If their goal is to do more interesting work, then probably, but CPAs need to be careful from being too vague. For example, instead of, “I want to do more interesting work,” say, “I want to become a subject matter expert in something that really turns me on.” Set the goal, and stay open to what comes up at work. I have a friend who accidentally became an expert in export tax credits. How? Not by saying, “I want to be an expert in export tax credits,” but because he said, “I want to work with great people.” And it turns out, he loved folks who work in manufacturing, attended all their conferences, and eventually became an expert in this one specific area of tax related to his favorite clients.

EDGE: Talk about how personal habits can help or hinder a young CPA’s success.
Rebecca Ryan: The open secret in CPA-land is that being a technical wunderkind gets you your first promotion to manager or senior manager. After that, it’s more about your interpersonal skills. So, don’t stop having drinks after works with your peeps, playing golf on Saturdays, or attending work parties. If you want to make it past the second or third rung of the hierarchy in this business, you have to be technically good and personable to boot.

EDGE: Talk about the role of flexibility in achieving goals.
Rebecca Ryan: This question makes me think of the advice Cheryl Sandberg gave during her TED talk. Her advice is especially potent for left-brained-analytic-types-with-five-year-plans—that’s right, I’m lookin’ at you! Here’s the gist: even if you plan to have a kid someday, don’t stop, shorten, or hijack today’s work opportunity. Say YES to the opportunities that come your way. You’re smart, competent, and you can still have a family. Don’t abandon today’s career opportunity for a five-year plan that’s still 60 months away.

EDGE: What number one piece of advice do you have for young CPAs to set and achieve goals?
Rebecca Ryan: Believe in yourself. All around us are people who had big dreams, but lacked the confidence to pursue them. Don’t be a jerk about it, of course, but always always believe in yourself.

EDGE: Your e-book, Live First, Work Second: Getting in the Head of the Next Generation, focuses on millennials and how older generations can relate to them. What kinds of goals do you recommend the younger generation create for themselves? Are there advantages for these young professionals create goals around working with the older generation?
Rebecca Ryan: When I was in elementary and middle school I belonged to 4-H, and one of the things our club did was visit a “senior center” every month. I always sort of dreaded going, thinking it would be a bunch of people drooling on themselves, but those were some of my favorite club outings.

In America, we have a habit of putting people “out to pasture” because CPA firms have mandatory retirement ages. What a waste. I strongly encourage Millennials to seek out retiring partners. Ask to go on client calls with them and solicit their advice on that new idea you’re hatching or that tricky client situation. You will be enriched beyond measure, and so will they!


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