Are You All In or Not In at All?

Why some accountants experience genuine joy (even at work)

In the 1970s, I worked as a 4-H camp counselor. The kids who visited us were 10 to 14 years of age. My fellow counselors and I had a saying: “Love the Little People” and this we did with all our hearts. We were “all in.” (That’s me in the blue below–you can go ahead and laugh.)

Rock Eagle Counselors

Rock Eagle Camp Counselors 1978

Each week, the yellow buses would roll in and a new adventure would start. A fresh batch of little ones to pour our lives into. And we’d begin again–yelling, running, jumping, swinging, playing, swimming, crafting, laughing. We knew one thing: Love the Little People.

By Friday morning, the end of that group’s camping experience, the kids asked for autographs, gave hugs, and, yes, even cried (and we did to).

Why was this so rewarding? I think the secret lies in what Jesus said, “To find your life, you must lose it.” It’s is in giving and caring about others that real joy is found.

What did I learn from my four summers of serving others at Rock Eagle 4-H Center and Camp Wahsega?

To be fully engaged, we must be all in. We must know our mission. We must believe in the mission. We must pursue it—fully. In so doing, we become immersed. We experience what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow. Time flies. We almost forget we exist. There is effort–sometimes great effort–but there is joy.

Why (Some) Accountants Don’t Have Joy

For most working men and women (including CPAs), life has lost its zip. We get up on Mondays because we have to. We work all week to pay the bills. And when Friday comes, we are thankful. We are not “all in.”

Can our work life be different? Yes.

No–on Friday morning–I don’t think anyone will ask for my autograph, hug me, or cry–except possibly for the joy of not seeing me a couple of days. But can we work in a way where flow happens? I think so.


Traditional Services

Find your passion, your mission. What is it that elevates your pulse, that causes excitement? This passion may be, for some, the performance of traditional services. I do know CPAs that love tax planning or performing audits. Is there a niche within those areas that “floats your boat”? Maybe your thing is nonprofit audits. For you tax guys and gals, is there a specialization that gets your juices going?

Why not develop your skills and knowledge in those areas? It may take time, money and effort. But if that special place causes you to come alive, pursue it. I find far too many CPAs meander, almost by accident, into their worklife.

Why? We don’t reflect. We don’t plan. We respond. This passive approach will land us and keep us in the land of existing rather than thriving.

If you’ve grown bored with traditional services, maybe it’s time for a change.

Non-traditional Services

Others find their joy in new adventures, something not in the traditional realm. Are you into big data? You love extracting meaning from reams of numbers. You enjoy wrapping your arms around immense databases. Learning a package such as IDEA fires you up and makes you feel powerful. Then intentionally lean in that direction. Build a five-year plan to become one of the top big-data CPAs in the country.

Other non-traditional service ideas include:

  • Software training
  • SOC reporting
  • Internal control design
  • Forensic services
  • Writing accounting books
  • IT consulting
  • Project management
  • Risk management

What’s Your Mission?

So, whether your passion lies in traditional or non-traditional services, I go back to mission. What are your goals? Who do you want to become? How can you get there? In finding answers to these questions, you’ll discover that which speeds your pulse. Joy is found in the pursuit of your goals and in the use of skills learned to serve others. 

Take Time to Reflect

Consider taking a day off to just think about where you are and where you want to go. Staying perpetually busy will not allow you to “think about your thinking.” So find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted and think. Write down your goals and then once a month review them to see if you are still on track.

Before taking time off, you may want to read Michael Hyatt’s book Living Forward. You’ll find insights into planning your life and staying on track–that way, you can be “all in.”

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6 thoughts on “Are You All In or Not In at All?

  1. Wow, great article. All of us, from partner down to the new hire get into periods of just asking “what’s in it for me?” What’s my partner draw/paycheck/overtime/vacation/benefits/office size/etc? It would be nice to hear a potential hire say “don’t tell me about the benefits, PTO, whatever – tell me about the opportunity!”

    And it’s going to get more tempting. CPA and CPA candidates are going to be harder to find, so job candidates are going to be tempted to focus on the short term compensation. Focus on opportunity – if you go all in, and create value for all involved, you will be handsomely rewarded.

    Look no further than the example Charles is setting for us.

    • Jim, public accounting can be highly stressful at times, but still, I love what I do. There is so much opportunity, especially for those just coming into the profession. The enjoyment of work always boils down to people, those you work with and those you serve.

  2. Great column. Anyone who is not fully “in the game” needs to make the changes needed to get engaged. If that is a mental decision to engage, great. Perhaps it involves changing your job, company, focus, or specialty. Whatever it may be, get engaged!

    • Thanks Jim. Life is too short to spend it doing things we hate. Loving what we do is a wonderful place to be.