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Mindfulness for CPA’s: A Guide for Accountants - Beyond Balancing The Books

I love what I do as a CPA, and even more so when I am mindful.

I worked at several public accounting firms of various sizes before launching my own practice in New York City. For more than thirty-five years, I have been an accountant and consultant to individuals and businesses. I discovered a niche in the healthcare industry. My clients are mostly healthcare providers and together we try to make sense of the complex and fragmented healthcare industry from a financial and operational perspective.

Many of you may also have developed a niche or specialty or perhaps you have found satisfaction as a generalist in areas of accounting, tax, audit and consulting and work in many different industries and a variety of engagements. As accountants, we are trusted as highly trained advisors to our clients.

Our work is largely numbers oriented, detailed, and technical. With the issuance of new standards, laws and regulations, it is always changing. We are asked to be objective, independent and to communicate our findings in a clear, concise manner. We take pride in enhancing our knowledge through continuing education, peer review programs, and other formal and informal processes and procedures.

Maintaining our knowledge and running a successful CPA firm is no easy task. We are faced with the ongoing challenges of staffing, succession planning, merger mania, commoditization of core services, tax reform, cybersecurity and the search for relevance in a world of rapid technological change. It is our ability to adapt to this relentlessly changing landscape that makes us professionals.

The challenges are immense and are not just in the marketplace. Sometimes they manifest in our firms and sometimes they reside closer to home—our personal lives. Examples of such challenges are having a productive day, focusing on the task at hand, peer communication, the busy season, job stability, promotions, and just keeping up with it all.

Most CPAs are trained to use their analytical minds in order to navigate the workday and often again in their daily lives. The analytical mind is a gift and a tool; it helps in many practical ways to earn a living, make plans, manage the business, and much more. However, the mind often is running on autopilot. It literally develops a mind of its own. It thrives on repetition, is filled with useless and compulsive thinking which can interfere with the accounting work. It is so common it is considered normal. This is where mindfulness comes in.

To be mindful is to be aware of your moment-to-moment experience in a non-judgmental way and to acknowledge—without resistance—whatever you are facing in the present moment. Mindfulness allows you to find space to open up, to take stock of yourself and to respond from a different perspective. Without this awareness, the mind-chatter, as it is called, tends to criticize, judge, complain, and wander off. Unobserved the mind can lead to stress, worry, anxiety, boredom, fatigue, and fear. We use distractions as devices (alcohol, drugs, social media, to name a few) temporarily to cover up this uneasiness so that we are distracted from what is actually happening in the moment, both within ourselves and in our surroundings.

I noticed this recently while attending a year-end tax seminar where more than two hundred CPA’s had gathered to learn and update their skills regarding the new tax reform legislation. This year I noticed a different vibe in the audience. The CPA’s already seemed worn down, exhausted, and troubled before the busy season had even started. In a New York City ballroom filled with very smart people, the collective energy field seemed to be full of worry and dread.

In the middle of the tax seminar, I felt this deep sense of compassion for everyone in the room. Compassion is not feeling sorry or wanting things to be different. Rather having compassion for others and self-compassion (for yourself) is the recognition for what is arising in the present moment—being mindful in the present moment and allowing it to be. By acknowledging this feeling, we can create an opening for hearts to connect to a sense of our common humanity.

This acknowledgement and acceptance brings about a shift in awareness. For me at that seminar, I felt a bond and a connection to each CPA. After this experience I knew that I wanted to help my colleagues learn how mindfulness can benefit them in their practices and in their lives.

I have spent the last twelve years practicing mindfulness and meditation in my daily activities and life situations. I have learned these skills and participated in numerous retreats with some of the most well-respected mindfulness teachers of our time.

I began a mindfulness journey in 2006 after having experienced many years of acute anxiety and stress that carried over into my work as an accountant. At times it was very difficult to get through a day without a high level of stress which would then spill over into my personal life. It was a vicious circle of anxiety at work and stress at home. It was affecting my ability to focus and give attention to the things that really mattered to me which is called “essential values.” I was attempting to “plow through” my workday that was often filled with stress and short-lived moments of distraction, followed by ever-increasing levels of anxiety and boredom. Not a healthy way to live and work.

Practicing mindfulness is an art. However, it is also supported by scientific research which demonstrates that practicing mindfulness reduces stress, increases job satisfaction, improves focus and attention, provides greater emotional resilience and enhances interpersonal skills. Mindfulness practice may include formal sitting meditation which can be helpful especially for the beginner. But a formal practice is not necessary.

True meditation comes about in your daily life situations when you are being tested and confronted with practical situations at work. Through mindfulness practice these moments can be approached consciously with awareness rather than reactivity, negativity, or fear. I like to refer to it as “moving to a new plane of opportunity” or “goodwill.” Here one senses a power that is non-conceptual, without judgment and yet gives rise to a conceptual response to a problem, often in a unique way. Mindfulness is an intangible asset and this intangible does not amortize. Rather it is already whole and complete resembling a fullness.

Mindfulness is really innate to us as human beings. It is our true nature. We have covered it up. As accountants we sometimes get lost in a maze of thoughts and emotions, especially during the busy season. Mindfulness will help you to stay fresh, alert and ready to continue to learn new approaches. At the same time, you will learn to savor a newfound peace and joy in your work and everyday life.

As you work with the debits and credits on the ledger and in your personal lives, you will begin to notice that they are balanced. More and more, you will begin to acknowledge both the ups and the downs with equanimity and compassion.

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