Why am I sharing this?
I’m sharing my Chartered Accountant qualification journey for accounting students who need to know that their journey won’t be ideal.
Students studying towards a professional qualification face a lot of challenges. Passing exams make up some of these challenges, but the mental challenges, self-doubt that creeps in, the long road ahead of them and the enormity of the task they’re set themselves add to this stress.
- It took me 11 years to qualify as a Chartered Accountant instead of the 7 years it should take. (I never failed a subject, I just had to fight the system and my circumstances).
- I didn’t have university entrance after school. I had to study other courses for two years before UNISA ‘allowed’ me to register for my degree.
- I studied under- and post-grad, distance-learning (correspondence), part-time, working full-time through all of it
- I had incredible marks at school. I was a perfectionist, terrified of failure, and doubted myself through the entire journey
- I started lecturing Auditing the year I started my Articles, so I worked two jobs through my Articles, while studying for my Board exams
This photo was taken as I got my second Board exam result. My very last exam.
Even as I look at it now, I can feel the strength of that moment. All those years, that work, finally came to an end!
What did I struggle with?
No one in my family has a degree, or were professionals, so I had no source of information, references (and no internet back then!!!) to guide me. I wanted to be a CA(SA) from the age of 7, so I had direction, and knew what I wanted to do, all I needed was help in getting there.
I got really bad advice from my guidance teacher at school… and so I finished my ‘high school’ at a Technical College instead. I left with a 90% average, and was then hit with the news that no University would touch me.
People at UNISA kept ‘telling’ me what courses to study to meet their entrance criteria… I’d do it, then they’d deny they’d said it, and tell me to do something else. I did this for TWO YEARS before they agreed to register me for their ‘bridging course’ to start my degree.
No-one told me that an older CTA-graduate (I was 25 when I passed CTA) with 8 years working experience was a FAR more valuable article clerk to a firm, so I didn’t think I was ‘good enough’ to apply at the Big Four.
There was no guidance, or information about my journey, so I struggled through it alone. I felt like I learnt everything the hard way, and had to fight the whole way.
We had no money for me to study full-time, so I started working as soon as I left College.
My nights and weekends were spent studying. I discovered private tuition providers in my 3rd year… but that meant sitting in classes after work, until 10PM every weeknight, and a lot of weekends… and then still studying after that. (There was a LOT of caffeine involved in those years!)
I felt like a ‘second-rate’ candidate. As a part-time option, a lot of the perception out there is that you “couldn’t get into the right universities”. (Pre-social media, there was no community to draw encouragement or information from, so there weren’t many places to correct mis-perceptions like this).
The ‘proper’ universities are the ones that the Big Four recruit from… so a lot of UNISA students have never really felt like they’re ‘good enough’, or will get the same quality articles, career and opportunities as others. (I still see and hear these fears ALL the time from my students.)
I started lecturing Auditing in my first year of my training contract. I need the money, and I did like the opportunity.
I lectured part-time students, so I’d rush to class after work and lecture from 18:00 – 22:00, sometimes three nights a week, and often for 8 hours on a Saturday and / Sunday.
I still needed to study for my Board exams through this, so I struggled to squeeze everything in.
I wasn’t very positive through a lot of my journey! Although I never let go of the goal of qualifying, a large part of me didn’t believe I’d actually make it.
This is something I pick up from a lot of my students as well. You’re hanging on, but you’re also doubtful. It’s long, it’s hard, and it seems to be designed for full-time students only… and even they aren’t guaranteed a pass! (CTA has a 10% pass rate… how on EARTH could I get there studying part-time!)
I kept being told to “BE POSITIVE”, but I had no idea HOW to do this, which made me feel worse… I couldn’t even get THAT right… nevermind the studies!
While I watched people I went to school with qualify, I was still stuck in this never-ending journey, feeling like I was stagnating. I couldn’t get a ‘better’ job, because I knew that I’d have to leave it in order to go serve articles for a lower salary.
Very quickly, my distinctions disappeared. As someone who took great pride in my academic results, this disturbed me and I had to re-prioritise a lot. The objective was to pass. Not to get distinctions. I had to believe that I could achieve the same goals by merely passing as opposed to getting distinctions. This was extremely tough for me.
I was working harder than I’d ever done in my life, and was doing progressively worse. My anxieties over all my ‘performance’ stuff was like a 5th major subject for me (“FinAcc”, “ManAcc”, “Tax”, “Auditing”, and “How stupid I felt”). It took up THAT much mental and emotional space and time, but there was no textbook, no help, and all I felt was shame and a deepening sense of failure and despair.
I discovered “Mindset” (A life-changing concept and book for me, written by Carol Dweck) in 2016. I desperately wish I’d have come across this when I was studying. It was so relevant and enlightening for me, explained almost every anxiety I’d had, and WHY I struggled with all this. The things I’ve learnt from this, I now pass onto students I talk to, and it influences the way I teach… so hopefully… other students don’t have to struggle with this as much as I did!
I really battled with Management Accounting / Financial Management (as MOST of my CTA students over the years have done!). You can read some more about my Man Acc journey here.
I passed CTA and both Board exams first time.
It was the bad advice, financial challenges and needing to fit studies into a full-time job and looking after my mom that added the extra four years to my journey.
The first thing I failed was Test 1 in CTA (Post-grad).
It nearly paralysed me. I felt useless, stupid, and believed that I’d never pass anything ever again. It was very difficult to get back up after that, and it’s for this reason I tell students that it would be better for them to experience failure before you get to CTA! It teaches you to accept that you can’t necessarily do everything the first time you try it, and that it’s ok. It doesn’t mean you never will. (SO much easier said than done!).
Friends, patient as they were, got annoyed and tired of always hearing “No, I can’t make it”, to every invite they extended. I lost myself in a world of studies, work and feeling like I was behind from the moment I woke up. There was always a sense of guilt that I wasn’t studying enough and no matter how much I did, this never went away.
The people at work didn’t understand the stress that I was under, since none of them were studying, and so I got no study leave, and not much support. They couldn’t understand why I was wasting so much of my life sitting in front of a pile of books, when I could be doing other things.
The amount of times I heard the saying “It’s just a piece of paper, you don’t need a piece of paper to be successful!” are too many to mention. I eventually learnt to just nod and smile, because they clearly didn’t understand the drive that I felt, and the goal that I was working towards. I’m pretty sure they saw the terror in my eyes though. They thought I was mad.
My chief concern was, how was I supposed to pass this with the limited time I could spend on studies when the full-time students, who had so much more time, couldn’t make it?!
My 'messy' journey is good for my students
Once I started lecturing, I also realised that the challenges I faced in my journey helped me to reach students in a way that I couldn’t have if everything had’ve gone according to plan. Student could hear my challenges, realise that I had still successfully reached my goal, and this motivated them to realise that this meant that they could also be successful, even though they too faced all kinds of challenges.
Sometimes we need to hear the stories of other peoples’ challenges in order to recognize that persistence and dedication can pay off, even if it seems impossible at the time, and we can’t quite see how it will all work out. This makes all my challenges seem worthwhile.
Your professional qualification journey?
On a journey like this, or any other professional journey, you constantly need to reassess your goals, your chances of success, your direction and the challenges you face, and how to overcome them. You realise that life very seldom works out according to plan. What matters is who we are, and the decisions we make when we can’t quite see the sun, and the rain and clouds seem like they’ll never go away.
Even if your plans change, even if you decide not to pursue the same goals, take lessons from your journey. Help others to reach their goals. Realise that the challenges you face now may have a greater purpose than you can see right now.
Most of all, don’t give up on yourself. Find help, support, remain positive and reach out.
What do I do now?
I’ve lectured and mentored Auditing and Accounting students at all levels since 2006, part-time and full-time, face-to-face and online. A lot of them are looking towards the Chartered Accountant qualification themselves. I have spent so much time advising and helping these accounting students with their mental and emotional journeys over the years, that I feel more like a therapist than a lecturer or Chartered Accountant!
I’ve spent quite a few years training other lecturers as well. It’s great to improve our skills, no matter how long we’ve been doing something.
As an entrepreneur, I now do FAR more than teach, and I don’t do much actual ‘accounting’! From marketing, to blogging, to management… the entrepreneur fills every function!
I write this blog because I don’t want other students to struggle with the same stuff I did. “I wish someone had’ve told me that” was a phrase I uttered so MANY times over the years… preventing others from having to say that, feels like my life’s mission!