[IMGCAP(1)]Every now and again, being an executive coach brings me into conversations with a fascinating subset within the CPA world—the CPAs who want to be something else when they grow up.

Sometimes, the contemplated change is within the financial services industry—one might want to transition from being an employee into launching a private practice, or from tax preparer to financial advisor. Sometimes the destination is distant but abundantly clear—a favorite hobby one might wish to turn into an occupation, or a childhood dream put on the back burner to focus on the more practical track.

Sometimes one is not quite sure what that “something else” looks like. Either way, the conversation usually unearths a mixed bag of excitement, hope and a feeling of being utterly, profoundly, overwhelmingly terrified.

As someone who has managed multiple life and career transitions, I understand where they stand. And, as much as I wish to encourage them all to follow their dreams right now, doing so without regard for facts is bound to end in financial and emotional heartbreak. The reality is that some career transitions are successful, while others are not.

In my experience, there are five early signs that the career transition will be a success:

1. You are exceptionally clear on why you are doing this. Careers changed on a whim, and businesses started “just because,” are rarely successful. Clarity on why you are doing this is a powerful motivator to get you started, and to keep you moving when things turn difficult. No one can get to this clarity but you—and as with most things that cannot be easily Googled, nailing down the answer may take time. Why are you making this move? Is it to help your clients have a fulfilled and worry-free retirement? To model for your kids that they can do anything they put their minds to? To leave behind a legacy? Or because you want to wake up every morning and look forward to what you do? Be honest.

2. You understand what your value is, and you are prepared to share it and to defend it. As Doug Autenrieth put it in “Grow on Purpose, The Nine Disciplines of Sustainable Growth,” there is something very influential and highly attractive about people who know themselves to such a high degree that they are clear on the value they can add to a given scenario, are willing to share it, and are unwilling to minimize it—even in the face of pessimism. Pessimism can sound like, “Are you crazy making the move in this economy,” “Can you actually make a living doing that,” or “Yeah, good luck with that.” People who are most successful at transitions and new beginnings remember that some will see their value, and others won’t. They know when to share it, when to defend it, and when to move on to the next conversation.

3. You have reserves. Career transitions can be costly in many ways. A strong financial reserve is the obvious safety net that is necessary to  bridge the gap between today’s gainful, if not completely fulfilling, employment and tomorrow’s vision. It is also important to think about your emotional reserves. While there is never a good time to start something new and scary, there are times in one’s life that can make the transition harder to manage. Starting a new business or changing occupations are some of the top stressors that one can go through, ranking high along with the death of a family member, change in marital situation, or serious illness. Experiencing too many serious stressors within a short span of a year or two can sabotage your best efforts. Do you have the energy and the bandwidth to do this now?

4. You are prepared to make a significant investment in yourself. Your new career may call for shiny new tools—cameras and lenses, a fully equipped chef’s kitchen, or the latest computer technologies, all of which can be expensive. There is also a less obvious cost that is associated with the learning curve and continued professional growth. Individuals who are extremely successful in their career transitions invest heavily on improving their skills and getting better at what they do. From seminars to conferences to working with an executive coach, they know that learning is a never-ending process and are prepared to make an investment on their path toward mastery.

5. You have a support network. Changing careers or starting a new business is a marathon. You must be prepared to take risks, live with uncertainty and watch some of your efforts fail. Doing all that alone, or in the face of unsupportive friends and family members, can make perseverance that much more difficult.

I would love to hear from CPAs who have made a career transition big or small, or ones who are contemplating a change. What set you up for success?

In her professional lives across the United States, Natalia Autenrieth has audited Fortune 500 clients as part of a Big Four team, built an accounting department as a controller of a large hospital and served as a CPA consultant to municipalities. As part of the Autenrieth Advantage team, Natalia coaches high-achieving CPAs for sustainable growth, helping them build highly profitable careers, avoid burn-out, and have more fun! Natalia lives in Southern California with her husband Doug, who is an author, executive coach, and kung fu teacher, and their son Mason. They share a home with Tasha the German Shepherd, who is highly trained and exceptionally well behaved, and Kaya the Abyssinian cat, who is a frequent candidate for a one-way ticket to Siberia. Read more about Natalia and her practice at www.AutenriethAdvantage.com.

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