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Ben Ellingson, CPA, CGMA | May 2020 Footnote

Editor's note: Updated April 30, 2020

Everyone knows that working through the CPA exam requires commitment, focus and a healthy dose of free time to study. I hear all the time that it is hard — and, you know what, it is. That’s a key reason why obtaining the CPA designation is so rewarding. It’s hard to top that feeling of accomplishment.

Encouragement becomes a valuable resource when embarking on that journey. I remember very clearly a conversation I had more than 20 years ago that was the final push I needed to commit to taking and passing the exam. I was at lunch after a round of golf with a friend and his uncle, a prominent businessperson in the community and, amid the conversation, he asked what degrees we were pursuing in college.

After telling him I was pursuing accounting, he said, “You make sure you pass that CPA exam!” I was initially caught off guard with his emphatic response, largely because he didn’t have a background in accounting. I hadn’t planned to take the exam for a variety of reasons; however, after a short conversation, he had me convinced — if he runs a very successful business and thinks I need to take this exam, then I’ll do it! 

I certainly wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today without the help of great mentors and advocates. Some have helped me for years, while others have helped through shorter — yet very impactful — moments. These individuals saw the potential in me when I didn’t, and they helped me grow both personally and professionally. As I think about the new crop of CPAs entering our profession every year, including more than 200 who passed the exam between October and January, I’m hopeful they find the right people to help them chart their courses. Perhaps you are willing to offer your knowledge to step in to be that occasional guide.

Of course, the exam most of us took has seen changes over the years and looks a bit different today. It’s not done over a two-day time period on a paper exam, and No. 2 pencils aren’t required. However, as I visit with students, educators and new hires in our profession, it’s clear that the exam is as challenging as it has ever been. That is just one of the many reasons I feel lucky to be in a position to offer encouragement and provide others with some of the advice and guidance that helped me carve my path.

When you look back on your career, whether it be three or 50 years, do you recall who or what gave you that motivation — big or small — to pursue your CPA? Reflect on that and keep that in mind when someone new starts in your office.

Take care of yourselves, others

As we continue to adapt daily to new information and challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, whether you work in public or industry, in a small or large organization, we’re learning together as we go. Lean on your partners in the CPA profession, including the MNCPA, and we’ll get through this together. Please take care of yourselves and those around you.

Ben Ellingson, CPA, CGMA