Career Advice From an Award-Winning CPA

The recipient of this year’s AICPA Outstanding Young CPA Award shares the keys to her success.

August 15, 2017

As a young CPA and a busy mom, Lindsay Stevenson once felt as if she had no time to volunteer in a meaningful way within her field.

She clearly recalls the moment that changed her mind.

“It was my first EDGE conference in 2013,” she recalled. She met passionate people her own age who actively volunteered in their profession and in their communities. Her contemporaries inspired her as they balanced work and volunteering, and, for the first time, she felt she should be making time for things outside her career.

Today, Stevenson, CPA, CGMA, vice president, finance at 1st Financial Bank USA in Dakota Dunes, S.D., volunteers for several groups. She is vice chair of the EDGE Experience planning task force and vice chair of the AICPA Young Member Leadership Committee. She also serves on the AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee and the AICPA Depository Institutions Expert Panel.

Her commitment to the profession earned her this year’s AICPA Outstanding Young CPA Award in Honor of Maximo Mukelabai, which recognizes a young CPA who shows commitment to the profession both in his or her career and in other contributions to the profession.

Stevenson shared the following advice for finding success while balancing work and life:

Don’t be afraid to try new things. Of her early career, Stevenson said, “I had this image of what a CPA should be, and what I needed to do—I was going to be partner by 35. It took me a while to realize that it’s OK to not have a structured plan, and to explore.”

So she took advantage of various volunteer opportunities from serving on the Governmental Conference Planning Committee to participating in her state society’s ThisWayToCPA events at the University of Arizona.

As a result she found her passions, from public speaking to championing for innovation and forward motion within the profession, among others, she said.

“I found a passion for speaking and presenting that I didn’t know I had,” she said. “I wanted to do that as part of my career, and realized I could do both.”

Set boundaries around work and find balance. Stevenson credited her husband with helping her find balance. “He told me, ‘You don’t have to do everything at 130%,’” she recalled.

Stevenson suggested drawing boundaries around work so it doesn’t interfere with family and personal time. For example, she always tries to be home for dinner with her family. She takes her vacation time without replying to emails or phone calls from work. She goes to the gym with her husband, both giving them time together and keeping herself healthy.

At the same time, she said, it’s important to learn to say no, rather than overextend yourself. Realize too, that when something needs to be a priority, other things must take a back seat.

Reframe networking in terms of building relationships. Stevenson quickly shies away from the word “networking” when talking about professional relationships.

“Networking has a sales feel to it,” she said.

Stevenson noted that, while networking can sound scary, relationship building is not. Instead of focusing on “putting yourself out there,” concentrate on learning about others, she said. Any time you’re at a professional event, take an interest in the people you meet. “There’s people in that room that probably have an interesting and incredible story that [you] want to hear,” Stevenson said. “Learn about what’s important to them.”

Take inspiration from others. “As CPAs, we sometimes get caught up in the lists, the tasks, the to-dos. We sometimes forget that people innovate and make incredible changes when they’re inspired,” Stevenson noted.

One way to become inspired, she said, is to have an open mind toward the people you meet and work with.

“We talk about transparency a lot, but it’s more than being transparent,” Stevenson said. “It’s a willingness to really listen to people on your team, to share how you prefer to be communicated with, to being open with them and open in your feedback to them.”

In fact, Stevenson feels those who inspired her helped her win this award. In her opinion, learning from inspirational people can help you become a role model for others. 

“The profession only gets better as we aspire to be the best versions of ourselves,” she said.

Lea Hart is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. To comment on this article, email senior editor Courtney Vien.

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