What do you do when you suddenly realize that you no longer want the one thing you’ve been working toward for so long? Adapt, refocus and overcome.
Coming out of college I started working for a successful national accounting firm. This was a stressful, but highly lucrative career if I could manage to work my way up to partner by putting in long hours and pushing myself to be the best. After 14 years with the same company, I was almost there. I had survived having children in this career, navigated the intricacies of a medically complex child, and figured out how to juggle childcare, homework and after-school activities for my now 6- and 8-year-old children. Nothing could stop me from achieving my goal of becoming partner—except 2020.
All of a sudden I didn’t have a choice to be either a stay-at-home mom or a working mom. I had to be everything for everybody, in the midst of an already-challenging tax season. In my industry, 60- to 70-hour weeks are quite normal in the spring as we feverishly work to prepare tax returns before the deadline. With a supportive husband, nearby relatives, friends and childcare services, those hours (although exhausting) can be manageable. But then much of that support system was taken away with the pandemic. Like many working moms the past few months, I only had one option: do it all. In addition to mom and accountant, I had become teacher, mentor, coach, cook and best friend.
The next two months weren’t just challenging; they were the hardest I’ve faced in my life. In order to meet goals, I had to devote the day to both my work and my children simultaneously. Every evening I had to make up for the work hours I had spent making lunches for my children, homeschooling and spending time with them on the floor playing Twister. I’d throw myself into my work post-bedtime until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. This usually meant staying up until 2 a.m. and waking up at 7 a.m. to do it all over again. Somewhere between the lack of sleep, the homeschooling and the tax returns, it hit me like a brick. I realized that I couldn’t continue on this way. I loved my job and I loved my family, but something needed to change.
The crazy thing is that the decision wasn’t even that hard once I decided to make it. I knew my priority was my happiness, and that priority wasn’t just driven by career goals and financial stability but by positive relationships in my life and a feeling of fulfillment at work which I had lost over the years. So I refocused on my driver: my happiness.
The pandemic gave me an opportunity to see how loving my daughter had become and how adventurous my son was. They had amazing personalities and were real little people that I really enjoyed being around. I didn’t want to give that up, but I didn’t want to quit a profession that I was damn good at either. I needed to find a way to be more in charge of my own schedule and commitments for my career. It was evident that I couldn’t do this at a larger firm, so I resigned from a six-figure job in the middle of a pandemic and set out to start a new path in unfamiliar territory.
I researched how I could set personal and career goals that would provide maximum satisfaction for work and life. One of the first things to pop up during my search was a website dedicated to “career agility”, featuring a woman named Cherylanne Skolnicki. This was the art of being able to respond to the evolution of your job or industry with a goal of optimizing your growth and happiness. That struck a chord with me. I had always been agile in my career, but I had been focused on the growth aspect for so long that happiness had taken a backseat. I was determined to make sure this was no longer the case as I mapped out my new goals and how to achieve them.
My goals: to be successful both professionally and personally in my relationships with family and friends. I wanted to be present in my children’s lives—no more back-to-back 70-hour workweeks—but also show them hard work and how to have professional goals. In order to showcase my experience with a schedule that best fit my family, I needed to be my own boss.
So, I put some feelers out there—had a couple Zoom happy hours with other working mothers, joined a local Facebook group of entrepreneurial women, and participated in meetings and virtual community events with Cherylanne’s team at Brilliant Balance. I basically grew my village. If you are in a similar position, grow your connections with all the tools that you have at your fingertips. This led me to muster up courage to have open discussion with prior colleagues about teaming together. Within a month, I partnered with several former colleagues and created Holloway Millikan, CPAs. We’re devoted to being a firm where our clients and our families come first.
The global pandemic and social distancing overturned our normal, forcing changes not many people were expecting and nobody was prepared for. The fallout has been especially rough on working mothers, as both our work life and family life looks drastically different than just a few short months ago. Goals might need to evolve and change during these unprecedented times so you can physically, mentally and emotionally sustain growth and happiness. Change is not a bad thing. Don’t quit a career you are passionate about. Pivot. I did and I couldn’t be happier.
Marian is an owner at Holloway Millikan CPA Advisors with over 14 years of experience in the tax, accounting and consulting industry. Striving to be a valued partner to her clients, she has effectively navigated startups through growth and into acquisition and successfully negotiated client positions before the Internal Revenue Service and various state and local jurisdictions. Marian lives in Midlothian, Virginia, with her husband, two children and two Italian greyhounds. They spend their free time enjoying the local Richmond breweries and restaurants, and traveling to new cities and countries.