By: Tyler Birmingham, CPA, BS’17, staff accountant at Somerset CPAs and Advisors
February 27th, 2019: A day I remember vividly. The text message came in, alerting me that the CPA Exam scores had been released. I looked at my results, and my heart dropped — Shattering into a million pieces as reality set in. It was my sixth failed exam. The sleepless nights that followed were filled with doubts of my capability. Would I even be capable at succeeding in my accounting career? The goals that had been etched into my brain now seemed like hopeless dreams never to be attained, all while feeling alone and longing for the support system I lacked.
This was how I welcomed myself into what I call the “transition years.”
What are the transition years, you ask? Great question. In most cases, people make this transition from college to adult life. Adult life, to me, can mean having a secure or steady career, getting married, or having kids. I classify the years between receiving a college diploma and entering into this adult life as the transition years.
Rarely portrayed accurately, they are glorified through television shows like “Friends,” “How I Met Your Mother,” and “Seinfeld.” These shows show a group of friends living vicariously through each other with unconditional support for one another while always overcoming obstacles at the end of a 30 minute time frame. In my experience, this portrayal couldn’t be further from the way my adult life started. As friends come and go with each fleeting year, difficulties are rarely solved with rapid comedic flare. This was a deceptively lonely & trying period of time. Social media also plays a major role in these years. With Instagram and Snapchat making it incredibly easy to share one’s accomplishments, travels, or “extraordinary” social life, it can and does become a mirage, creating a false narrative of success and happiness. These platforms become an avenue for young adults to “show their best life” while hiding uncertainty and putting an important focus on attributes that don’t improve personal or professional goals. And like many, I fell for it.
Up until that day in February, I had spent the first year and a half as a professional wanting to highlight my social life for others, while putting the CPA exam as an afterthought. My Friday and Saturday evenings included going out instead of studying. The amount of “likes” on Instagram overshadowed my desire to pass the CPA exam, knowing the impact it would have on my professional career. By allowing this distraction and not focusing on my career, I failed six different CPA exams, which also meant loss of time and money. The day that February text message came in was the day I reached my tipping point.
As challenging and trying as these transition years were for me, I consider them a necessity that finally led me to success.
I grew up in the “helicopter era:” not truly experiencing failure under my parents’ roof. I was given participation trophies as early as three years old. I believe my generation found it much more difficult to fail a grade, as we had our parents’ help with homework and projects – some even had tutors to help with learning the rest. Many don’t experience true failure at all through college. This allowed us to act more recklessly while staying dependent on others into our twenties. As we then transition into the “real world,” we are not adequately prepared for failure, as compared to previous generations.
The most important thing I’ve learned is that failure helps us grow and teaches us how to best overcome it. It will humble us while providing clarity on what is important. This was a lesson I learned on that fateful February day.
Fast forward 111 days later, to June 18th, 2019 — Standing in the same spot I had been in February, only this time hoping for better news. My realization since the day I hit my tipping point, what was truly important to me. This meant skipping out on the fun, popular events, and instead I stayed late at the office during the week and headed to the local library every Saturday and Sunday to study. This required a level of discipline that I was not familiar with.
Finally, after all the preparation and sacrifice, my goal had become a reality, and on June 18th I passed my last exam. It was an accomplishment that was truly an important milestone in my life. While I achieved tremendous growth during that time, it in no way ends my own journey in the “transition years,” as I continue to struggle with the things a typical adult in his or her early 20s does – whether that be personal, financial, or professional.
This experience, however, to me, is a great portrayal of the transition years after college, and the challenges that period of time in life presents. No matter what type of background you come from, the transition years will happen, and along with it, it will bring in real failures, questionable life choices, and periodic doubting of yourself. However – I’m here to let you know – In the end, this time period will be a vital growth period for you to grow into the person you want to become.