Original webinar date: October 22, 2021
Do you want to know how your thoughts and attitudes manifest reality? Are you considering how shifts in the accounting industry can help you create yourself in a new way?
We were thrilled to bring inspiring executive coach and non-practising CPE Amber Setter to the stage. She helps individuals and groups cultivate consciousness that expands what is possible in their personal and professional lives. A natural intuitive, she brings insight and compassion to all of her offerings.
The power of the unknown
As an accountant, you’ve measured your success and value based on your expertise. Clients trust you with their finances, so you probably take pride in having answers. It makes sense! You work with numbers, you rely on math, and you learn rules, regulations, and systems to help your clients navigate their financial world.
While accounting is one of the most grounded and practical professions there are, it’s still subject to unexpected shifts, possibilities, and unknowns. The automation revolution is one such unknown. What does the future of accounting look like? How can accountants navigate the new normal, where machines can outpace them in terms of skills, speed, accuracy, and scope? In addition to a rapidly evolving industry, accountants must learn how to grow and shift their careers. They also may need to help clients navigate their unknowns. This is a scary place to be for anyone.
What if you could look at the unknown as exactly what you needed? What if you could find the opportunity in the unknown? It’s a chance to recreate yourself. It’s a chance to identify and go after your dreams. But, do you know what your dreams are?
Amber explained that it’s good practice to spend time in meditation to connect with your inner knowing. The inner knowing—or what some call intuition—isn’t quantifiable, measurable, or objective. It requires self-awareness, the ability to slow down, and the willingness to let a spark of curiosity or excitement come up. Amber shared how her intuition spoke to her:
“I’ve had my own dreams for my own life. First I wanted to become an accountant, then I wanted to become a CPA, and then I wanted to become a professional certified coach. And my journey to coaching started with this little whisper that started inside of me, and it said, ‘Be a CPA who works with hearts and not numbers.’ [I thought] ‘What? Be a CPA who works with hearts and not numbers? What does that even mean?’”– Amber Setter
Amber’s successful and soul-satisfying career began with that little whisper, which she could have laughed off, suppressed, or dismissed as ridiculous. Remember that every new idea probably seems a little outlandish at first.
The challenge for accountants in this type of thinking is having to decondition themselves. Being comfortable with the unknown, let alone leaning into it, is just not valued in this profession.
“Many accountants build their brand and their sense of self-worth on expertise. The more one knows, the more valuable they believe they are. Yet the unknown is a place of pure potential. It’s where all possibilities exist.”– Amber Setter
Since there will always be shifts and changes no matter what industry you’re in, learning to embrace the unknown is a professional and life skill. As industries evolve, conditions change and new horizons emerge. New circumstances present new challenges and opportunities. To tackle complex challenges and identify opportunities, one must not only tap into expertise, but also into possibilities.
“When we put our expertise on the shelf, we can get curious, and in this magical place of curiosity, whether you’re sitting with a client or you’re sitting with a team member, you can discover greater value to deliver new possibilities for overcoming the complex challenges we’ve all been faced with and just have a moment to slow down and reconnect to our own self and to our purpose.”– Amber Setter
Manifest success with dream work
Amber walked the audience through one of her professional coaching techniques, an exercise to help clients identify dreams and make them concrete. If you know how to connect with yourself and have a regular practice of doing so, you’ll start to really navigate the first level. If you don’t have regular practice, it may feel uncomfortable at first.
“The three levels of reality is a metaphor that depicts how things move from the quantum [reality] into everyday reality. And at the outset, this might sound a little bit odd because what accountants do is they tend to dwell in their heads. Most of the accounting work that is done is at one level—in the head or what we call concrete reality. Measurable facts, reasonableness and expertise all feel safer and more valuable than matters of the heart or those wild and instinctual ideas [about which we think,] ‘I don’t know how to do that. There’s no procedural checklist to teach me that one. I’m going to pretend it’s not there.’”– Amber Setter
In other words, accountants work with the known. They look to concrete reality to make decisions. However, before this reality became concrete, it started out on the first level. This is known as the quantum level and it is the place where we get that creative spark, that idea, that emotional reaction or intuitive hit that gets our juices flowing. It’s the place of invention, vision, and creation.
To look at this level more closely, we can consider one of Amber’s examples. Let’s say you’re a hiring manager at your firm and you’re sifting through resumes. You’re flipping through one after another after another, and suddenly you get a feeling to pay close attention to one of the resumes. You lean in a little closer, you feel excited. As you scan the resume, some things pop out to you. Maybe you see credentials or education there that would be a great fit for the job. You feel a spark of excitement. That’s the quantum level of reality, before things have really taken form in the concrete world and even in your imagination.
After that initial gut instinct, you begin to imagine what it would be like to have that candidate working for you. You might think “Oh, I can delegate these tasks to them! I won’t have to do it myself, and that will be great because I can finally get some sleep.” You start picturing how this person will make the office run more smoothly, how it will feel to have a trustworthy person to whom you can confidently hand off work. You start picturing what the interview will look like, wondering how they will respond, and thinking about questions you will ask. This is the dreaming level of reality.
“The dreaming level is all about the collaborative and interactive nature of the world. What we look for influences what we find. Our world becomes shaped by our hopes and our fears, our experiences, our expectations, and our projections. From the moment that the resume evokes something in you, you begin to dream.”– Amber Setter
The final step is where you take your vision from dream to reality. This is what’s unquestionably true—it’s not debatable. When you go through the interview process and hire the candidate, you have now entered the third level of reality.
All three levels of reality are valid, but it’s important to understand that everyone has a tendency or preference toward living in one of them. Many accountants prefer to live in the concrete world, which is objective and quantifiable. Keep in mind that some of your colleagues or clients might have a tendency toward living in the quantum or dreaming levels of reality. Once you understand this, you can work with them more effectively. You can learn to speak their language. So if you have a client who is visionary and imaginative, you might appeal to that nature instead of always needing to put things in the realm of the concrete. This is bound to strengthen your relationships.
Identifying high and low dreams
The dreaming level of reality has potential to do good or bad. If you consider dreaming to be imagination, consider how your imagination will help or hinder you. When you have an idea—a vision for your life, your work, or your client’s work—the way you imagine it will affect whether you will be able to fulfill that vision or not. The emotions you have about it will either feed that vision or take away from it. You can let excitement and possibility drive your dreams, or you can let fear and worry drive them.
Unfortunately, the very things that make accountants good at their jobs—skepticism and pointing out errors—are not good for being visionary. Identifying possibilities requires a big shift in how you operate. Luckily, it’s a skill just like anything else, so you can master it.
For practice, look at the coaching example Amber gave the audience. She asked them to first identify a “high dream.” This is your grandest, most ideal vision for your life and for your work. She explained that it’s super important not to hold back at this stage. Don’t worry about how it can happen. Don’t fret over whether it’s possible. The more wild and outlandish your dream, the better.
You can also use these questions to guide you:
In your ideal work environment…
- How much money are you making?
- Which clients are you working with more?
- Which clients are you moving away from?
- What type of accounting work are you doing or not doing?
- How do you feel when you go to work?
- How would it feel to go to work and love it every single day?
In contrast, identify your low dream. What are your fears? What do you fear happening in your work the most? Maybe you fear that your office will go back to working in-person instead of remotely. Maybe you’re worrying about whether your role will stay the same, or how the industry is shifting. You might fear that nothing will change, and everything will go back to being exactly the same. Look at the same questions you answered for your high dream in terms of the low dream.
It’s important to not only know what each dream looks like, but also how they feel. The way you feel will drive whether or not you achieve your visions or not. While it’s easy to succumb to the low dream, it’s not very productive. It will not help you achieve big dreams, either for yourself or for your clients.
“Low dreams are rooted in fear. I hate to tell you all this, but this is the second most common place I find accountants. This is the stereotypical accountant space where there’s professional skepticism, conservatism, and expecting things to be [the] same as last year.”– Amber Setter
Once you’ve identified your high and low dreams, it’s time to take action. Insights won’t do anything if you don’t back them up with action. Since you want to manifest the high dream, you’ll want to focus on that.
“If I took full responsibility for my high dream, if I took the responsibility rather than expecting others to own it, what is the one action to take? You taking the responsibility is key. … I’ve had clients try to convince me how hard the profession is, how complicated it is, ‘The IRS is never going to change,’ ‘The rules are always hard. Life is hard. My firm is hard.’ … You can never control the external environment—that’s going to be complicated—but what you can control is you. You’ve got to take responsibility for your dream.”– Amber Setter
What’s your dream, and what can you do to make it a reality? Just taking that first step can make all the difference.
Using coaching as a people-advisor
Amber’s coaching technique is helpful to do by yourself and with colleagues, but you can also use it with clients. In the energy exchange of a client-advisor relationship, you’ll want to be very mindful of your tendencies toward certain levels of reality and ways of thinking. Remember, while being skeptical and hyper-focused on errors works in bookkeeping, it’s not always the best approach to take. Not only is it detrimental to your ability to envision possibilities, it can also affect relationships.
According to Amber, accountants can use advice from The Gottman Institute to combat these tendencies. The institute advises a 5 to 1 ratio of positives to negatives. In terms of relationships, you would tell your partner you balance one criticism with five words of praise or encouragement. In terms of your client relationships, you might consider looking at five possibilities for every one challenge.
Be the person who can envision possibilities for your client, not the person who says that they can’t possibly achieve them.
As accountants shift more and more into people advisory roles, they’ll need to find new ways to engage in client relationships. In some ways, you may end up working more like a coach, which requires some adjustments:
“First off, [advisors] partner as dream-makers. They can put their expertise on the shelf—and go back to it if they need it—and they see the value of not knowing and being curious. What a mindset shift, this embracing ‘I don’t know.’ It’s usually ‘I have to know. I have to know. The more I know, the more I bill. The more I know, the more I bill.’ How are you going to solve problems with clients—problems that have never existed—if you’ve already got your answer? Become curious.”– Amber Setter
As a people advisor, you’ll also be consulting with clients about more than just numbers. You’ll be there to help support them achieve their goals and dreams, which means you’ll need to become more fluent in the language of emotions. This is bound to be uncomfortable for some people, but try to look at it as a growth opportunity.
“Get into matters of the heart. You can hone this craft by not only mentally preparing for your meetings, whether it’s a client meeting or a meeting with your team member, but emotionally preparing for these meetings. I’m also doing a lot of conversations and a lot of support in the profession right now around mental health. When you want to help people through mental health or people-related challenges, you’ve got to be able to hold the space that when someone asks you something or someone shares something deep that you don’t contract back because you’re not practiced in the dialect of feelings. Feelings are okay. Feelings are good. We all have them.”– Amber Setter
The future of accounting won’t just require shifting the types of roles you play, it will require shifting how you approach your clients.
Learn more about becoming what is next
The unknown isn’t typically the realm most accountants like to dwell in, but it’s the key to igniting your creative spark. The unknown is the creation space, where you can dream up possibilities for your future. Connect to your inner wisdom by noticing moments when you get a gut instinct and seeing how you feel when you imagine possibilities. Follow through on opportunities that make you feel excited. Practice noticing your thought processes and veer away from negative ones. This will not only improve your ability to manifest, but it will improve your client relationships.
Don’t forget to watch the full video of Gusto Next 2021 to gain even more insights into the future of accounting.
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