The 3 Levels of Reality (and Why It Matters to Accountants)

Gusto Editors

What’s your biggest, wildest dream for your life?

Throughout our lives and careers, it’s important to ask ourselves the big questions: What do I want to do? Am I connected to my true purpose? How can I be the happiest, healthiest version of myself?

Fortunately, Gusto, along with our partners at CPA Academy, presented an informative webinar that will take you through a valuable coaching model to help you understand the different realities of your life and how you can reach your highest reality. We released our webinar, “A Coaching Experience: Envisioning a New Reality,” on November 8, 2021, and you can watch the entire presentation here. The webinar featured the goal-setting expertise of non-practicing CPA and executive coach Amber Setter

This article will walk you through the coaching model Amber explained in her presentation and help you identify actionable steps so that you can accomplish your goal and live in your highest reality.

The three levels of reality

Amber started off her presentation by walking the audience through the three distinct levels of reality, which come from a coaching model designed by Arnold Mindell. She explained that the three levels are a metaphor depicting how everything we experience begins at the lowest level and moves upward to the highest level. All three levels are important, but they have some key differences:

#1: The quantum level

The first and lowest of the three levels of reality is the essence or quantum level. Have you ever had a gut feeling? If so, you have experience with this level.

“The essence level is the place of pure potential and all possibilities.”

Amber Setter

At the quantum level, ideas have no concrete meaning. There are no numbers or practical calculations. This level is all about intuition. 

A woman looking the documents.

To further explain, Amber used the example of a person looking to hire someone for their organization. Imagine that you’re that person, and you’re looking through resumes trying to find the right candidate for your open position.

“You’re scanning resumes, you’re looking at them, virtually going through PDFs, and then suddenly you look at one, and you get a hit. You experience a feeling that you’ve come upon a resume that’s distinct from the others, and in that moment … there’s something that catches you. Maybe it enlivens you. What you notice when you slow down and you allow yourself to get to that soul, instinctual, gut-level [is that] there’s something there and a reason for you to pay more attention and to tune in and to hone [in] on the information that’s available to you.”

Amber Setter

The quantum level is often the most difficult for accountants to access. Accountants tend to prefer to work with concrete details — that’s why they enjoy working with numbers. However, the quantum level is essential for every accountant and firm owner. It’s important to remember to go with your gut feelings as you make decisions concerning the leadership of your firm.

#2: The dream level

In the first level of reality, you experience vague gut feelings. Your intuition kicks in, and you have an inclination in mind, but you haven’t started to attach meaning to it. That’s what the second level of reality — the dream level — is all about. Amber continued to explain through the same example:

“As you begin to explore this signal or cue, meaning begins to be revealed, [and] something starts to emerge. Imagine in this scenario you interpret this signal that you received as positive. You’re seeing that there’s potential for a good fit. When you start making meaning, you have entered a new reality, which is what we call the dreaming level, or the heart. This level is all about the collaborative and interactive nature of our world. … So imagine you’re looking at this resume, and you’re scanning it, and you’re reading the words, and it evokes something in you. … You just start to imagine them being in your organization.”

Amber Setter

Have you ever found yourself daydreaming? If you have, you know all about this level of reality. The dream level is where you begin to imagine that gut feeling taking shape in the real world. In the case of the imaginary hiring scenario, you might begin to imagine how that person would interact with your team. You imagine delegating tasks to them, and you consider how they’ll hold up under the pressures of the busy season. You envision them taking on an important role in your office.

At this level, you may also begin to talk about your dream to others. You might show the resume to a colleague and discuss what it might be like to have that person working on your team.

Consider your dreams for yourself and your firm. Do you envision yourself working less overtime this year? Do you imagine what it would be like to offer benefits to your team? Perhaps you’ve even spoken to a friend, coworker, or colleague about your goals and ambitions. If that sounds familiar, you’re in the second level of reality. But there’s a third level where everything comes together.

#3: Concrete reality

The third level of reality, the concrete level, is nearly every accountant’s favorite. This is where the feelings in your gut and the ideas and dreams in your heart actually manifest in concrete reality. They can be seen and heard and quantified. 

“Once something has risen out of the essence level and it becomes shaped by the dreaming level, it manifests into concrete reality, and we call it concrete because we can all see it. This level of reality is solid, practical, and has a measurable level of facts. … When it comes to hiring a professional, we create a compensation package [and] a start date and we put them on payroll, and then they become an employee on the roster. So, in other words, that little signal that you noticed back on the resume in the essence level, in the place of pure potential, that moved all the way up to the dreaming level and has manifested into what’s next, a concrete reality in your organization.”

Amber Setter
Young happy business woman in video conferencing call.

Once you’ve reached the third level of reality, your dreams have become real. At that point, your firm has actually brought in your target amount of revenue, you’ve hired your ideal number of team members, and you’re thriving in a successful accounting firm. This is the level you want to reach, and it’s the level you want to help your clients reach. It takes time and effort, but you can achieve the concrete level of reality no matter your dream.

Why are the three levels of reality important for accountants?

You may still be thinking, “Why does this matter to me? I’m an accountant — I deal with hard facts.” But the truth is, the three levels of reality are important even for accountants and other financial professionals for two major reasons.

First, by understanding the level at which you are most comfortable, you can develop an awareness of how you operate at the other levels of reality and improve your ability to travel between them. For example, if you know that you are most comfortable at that third, concrete level of reality, it may be beneficial for you and your firm for you to work on living in the first and second levels. It’s wonderful to have a strong ability to work with concrete details, but to be a well-rounded people advisor, it’s important to be able to follow your gut and envision your dreams too.

But secondly, as a people advisor, it’s essential to understand the levels where your clients are most comfortable as well. By understanding where your clients are coming from and the level of reality from which they’re approaching their financial goals, you can better serve them as an accountant.

“If someone is an accountant and they’re like, ‘I’m here with my intellect, and this is the right way to do it, and this is the correct treatment,’ but they’re not paying attention to how someone feels about a transaction, … you’re intellectual arm-wrestling with a dreamer or someone like me who’s intuitive.”

Amber Setter

Consider your current clients. Have you noticed what level of reality they seem to feel most comfortable in? If you have a client who feels most comfortable making financial decisions from within the first level of reality — from their gut feelings — it’s important to work together in a way that suits both of your comfort levels.

Here’s the good news: Amber shared that within this framework, the most healthy relationship is one that has two levels of reality equally represented — and that applies to your relationship with yourself, too. When you can bring someone with big dreams and someone who can work with concrete details together, you really can achieve great things and conquer new challenges. And when you can learn how to operate on multiple levels of reality yourself, you can begin to manifest your dreams into reality.

Learn more about the three levels of reality

Understanding the three levels of reality is an essential part of being a successful accountant and people advisor. Everything you experience begins at the quantum level, moves up into the dream level, and finally manifests into the level of concrete reality. By considering your accounting and business decisions through this framework, you can gain a better understanding of the steps you need to take to bring your dreams into reality. Further, by considering which level is most comfortable for you and your clients, you can improve your ability to advise and guide others toward sound financial decisions.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can accomplish your dreams and achieve your highest reality, look out for Part Two and Part Three of this webinar series. You can also check out the full presentation here.

If some of your goals include expanding your firm and improving your ability to serve your clients, consider signing up for Gusto. Gusto provides accountants with exceptional tools for helping their clients and offering new insights. We also provide small businesses with payroll, health insurance, and benefits, and we even automatically file and send payroll taxes for businesses under 100 employees. To learn more about how Gusto can help you achieve your accounting goals, visit our Gusto for accountants page.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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