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Journey from inactive to active CPA

Alan Wenker, CPA | May 2021 Footnote

Editor's note: Updated April 30, 2021

The envelope containing my new active license arrived in a remarkably short amount of time.

Perhaps, I was expecting a delay in the mail with what was being reported in the news about service challenges. Perhaps, I was expecting a delay due to the ongoing challenges related to COVID-19. Or, perhaps, I was paranoid that an active license would be scrutinized heavily because it had been inactive for so many years.

True to form, I put off submitting the application and, thus, barely made the Dec. 31 due date.

After receiving the license, I contacted the Minnesota Board of Accountancy and inquired how long it had been since my license was active. The answer shocked me: 2002. For 18 years?! Two thoughts ran through my head: One, time really does fly by; and two, I am older than dirt.

I’m eager to share my story with you because I don’t want you to make the same mistakes that I made. For nearly two decades, I went without displaying myself as something I had worked so hard to earn in the first place: a CPA. I also want to ease your concerns about taking that first step and the many that follow. Just like the first time through the process, it won’t be a cakewalk. But, if we didn’t have these requirements around the credential, we couldn’t put ourselves out as some of the most respected professionals in all of business.

Search for the why

As I suspect with many of us who let our active license lapse, I rationalized the decision all those years ago. I do not “need” it anymore; after all, I had been in private industry for years and was no longer doing any tax work on the side. It did not matter for the job I have currently nor likely any future positions. My employer really did not care either way.

I was busy and did not want to invest the time. CPE costs can add up and profits were thin at the company, so it is an easy expense to trim. If I truly needed to get my license active, I could cram in a bunch of CPE and all would be well. Blink and 18 years flash by.

Three years ago, I went through a significant life change by becoming an empty nester. I was caught completely off guard by the mental freedom this gave me. The kids were gone and, suddenly, I felt I had more mental capacity than in many years. The feeling was so strong I called a colleague — a human resource consultant — and described my situation to her. Much to my surprise, she knew exactly what I was talking about, because she had gone through the exact same thing several years earlier. I may have been crazy, but at least I was not the only one.

Bit by bit, I started considering putting in the time to activate my license. Even though I did not need an active license, I missed the initials after my name. What if I wanted to change jobs? What if I were forced to look for a new job? Having an active license would only help me. And, besides, I had earned the privilege to display those letters.

Find your guidance

I started slowly by poking around the MNCPA website. I found the Controller’s Special Interest Section and the Human Resources Special Interest Section and began attending regular meetings. I tend to join groups slowly, and I share Groucho Marx’s views when he said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.” After several meetings, I realized my knowledge base and skill set were frozen in time and there was much new material to learn. I did not want to feel obsolete and left behind, yet I had grown stale and stagnant in my profession.

Thus, I began my three-year journey to get my license active once again. The process has been long, but very rewarding and reinvigorating. Along the way, I relearned some things about myself I had forgotten. Among them is that I love to learn at all levels, even simple ways to improve spreadsheets. I love the break from my workday. CPE courses provide my brain with intellectual stimulation, giving me the freedom to bounce around new ideas and generate new solutions to old problems. Yes, it means more time dedicated to my career but, as an empty nester, I have all kinds of time on my hands.

The staff at the MNCPA have been incredibly helpful along the journey. The 1–2 credit CPE webinars, many of which are free, are a godsend. It is much easier to squeeze in two hours periodically to fit the needs of your schedule. In addition, the resources available via the MNCPA are amazing; I could kick myself for getting such a late start. The special interest sections and the MNCPA Connect online forum have helped me on many occasions. You are missing access to valuable resources if you are not using these services.

Bask in the accomplishment

All in all, I am very happy with myself for having put in the time to make my license current once again. I feel proud having the initials after my name on my email signature. Even among your current roles, even if the credential seemingly doesn’t mean to make a difference, it does. Those three letters mean you’ve put the time in, work toward staying knowledgeable and carry a tremendous amount of clout with them.

I am better prepared to go into the job hunt should I want or need to pursue a new opportunity. My knowledge base has certainly improved and the new president of the company I work for is pleased with my efforts. It has been a positive and personally rewarding experience for me. I encourage all of you to do the same — regardless of where you are in life and work experience — and I promise that you will not regret the effort.
Alan Wenker, CPA is the chief financial officer of Origination, LLC. He has more than 30 years of experience working with fast-paced, entrepreneurial businesses. You may reach him at or 651-757-3563.
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