Continued from Part 3 of 4 – My Crazy Maternity Leave
To Work or not to Work – that is the question
Before I knew it, I was in Month 11 of my insane year of maternity leave and was due to go back to work soon. I had a lot of questions and important decisions to make and still wasn’t emotionally stable. Do I even want to go back? What about my little girl? She still has so many appointments. How can I possibly leave her with strangers at daycare? How would she ever adjust over there? Would she eat? Would she nap? Would they ever understand her needs? Would she spend all day crying? And how can I go back to a work environment which is known to be so demanding? Would I spend my days struggling at work? Would I ever reach the end of the tunnel? I felt so clueless and had no real answers to any of these questions.
The daycare part was hands down the toughest to think about and find a solution for. The last time I went to work, I was pretty much single. Now I had a family – a baby to dress and feed in the morning before catching my train and somehow making it to work on time. I used to hardly reach my office for 9am, so this new daily routine seemed impossible.
As you may recall from my preivous post, my husband had also just recently moved to Canada. For the first time in our marriage, we were actually going to live together on a “permanent” basis. We were kind of like newlyweds, learning each other’s habits and trying to get used to living with each other for the first time. We had lived together during our honeymoon phase, literally, in Australia, and then during some tough times in Pakistan. But never as a “regular family” leading a “regular life”. And of course, we already had a baby in the mix. Fun times!
I also couldn’t remember much of what I used to do at work. I felt like I had forgotten everything I had learned in school and on the job. Continuing with this career journey also meant that I would have to write my remaining two professional CPA exams within the upcoming six months. Moreover, that year was the last round for the traditional CA route. If I didn’t pass the exams, I would’ve had to figure out my transition to the new CPA system. More complication and more pressure was the last thing I needed.
Needless to say, I wasn’t ready at all. But there wasn’t much time to ponder. The firm-sponsored study classes were already starting (before my maternity leave even fully ended) and I had to enroll in them as soon as possible if I wanted to take advantage of those classes. I don’t exactly know how I came to this decision, but given the lack of time, I basically decided that I would at least attempt to finish what I have started. If things got really difficult, I would just have to quit and figure something else out. We’ll leave it to God at that point. A good thing I did was that I requested HR to allow me to take a couple of extra months off from actual work, while letting me attend the study lectures. Thankfully, they were flexible with that and I was able to hold off on client work. I also decided to put daycare on hold during this time. My mom, sister and husband were going to help me and daycare would come in the picture when I officially started back at work. So this is it then, I thought, sitting in a classroom setting at my workplace. I’m back, although just physically, not mentally.
Writing my final CPA exams
Attending the “School of Accountancy” (SOA) for three weeks at York University was part of the process when I did my CPA. Had I known the SOA would be so brutal, I would’ve probably thought twice about it. But I didn’t realize what my days would look like until I was in the middle of them.
I was back at my university and as I walked around campus through familiar hallways and buildings, I couldn’t help but be in awe of how much my life had changed in a matter of three years. I pictured the younger me running to classes, finding a quiet spot in the library, hanging out with friends and attending school club meetings. It felt like a dream. What a different and carefree time that was!
Now I was waking up every morning at 5:30am. My dad would drop me on his way to work at a bus stop at 6:30am where I would take the bus to arrive at my university for 7:45am so that I could sit in class at 8am. Why did they have to start so early?! The entire day was spent in a classroom setting: writing cases, doing tax problems, and watching others raise their hands to answer questions that I didn’t even fully understand.
I decided not to have any study buddies, so I had no one to swap test cases with and compare answers to. While many students stayed behind to write practice cases, I would rush home to my little one. It was a two-hour commute door-to-door to get back home. I would eat, play with my daughter a bit, stare at my long list of “things to review,” struggle to study and just fall asleep…My mom and sister were once again my saviors at this time. They helped me so much with taking care of my daughter all day, making us lunch and dinner, and even in the evenings. My mom had still not recovered from all that she had gone through, but she somehow still did so much. I felt so guilty the whole time, but in that moment I had to remind myself – it’s okay, just three weeks of this!
With the grace of God, I passed that exam. Alhumdulillah! Now there was that final exam to write – the toughest of them all. I was so glad there were no classes involved in this one. Once again, people studied in groups or with study buddies, whereas I studied all on my own. It was scary, but it was for the best. I think there were a few weeks where I did find an online study buddy, but I never submitted my cases to her on time. It didn’t help me or her so I stopped. There was also this grueling and over-ambitious study schedule that I consistently couldn’t keep up with. Basically, confidence was at an all-time low.
Though this time-off was meant for studying, I was actually visiting daycare centers too. We finally decided on one that was close to our house and my husband and I did a couple of weeks of transitional half-days with our little one. Those days were tough and emotional. It’s not easy to walk away from your 18-month-old who’s screaming for you with her arms stretched out, and leaving her with strangers. In those moments you really start to think – what am I doing? Why am I doing this? The daycare teachers keep telling you – don’t worry, I’ll get better. And although it’s so hard to believe them, they’re right. It really does get better. And you really see a difference when your child gets to interact with other kids, plays creative games, and does more outdoors activities at daycare than you could possibly do with them.
In all honesty, I truly only studied in the last three weeks before that exam. And when you’re trying to study binders and binders full of material in three weeks, you have to try and study smart. I had always been one of those students who studied a lot, and this time it was like I didn’t recognize myself. But circumstances can do that to you and you have to adjust. At this point the study schedule had been scrunched into a ball and thrown into a bin. There was a new strategic study list. I just focused on my case writing, tried to learn from my mistakes and hoped for the best.
Well, I wrote that three-day final exam. The thought of failing it and re-writing it seemed like the worse thing that could ever happen to me. Finally on results day, there it was – my name among the list of all successful candidates. It was one heck of a dose of dopamine and definitely one of the biggest moments of this journey! I celebrated with my family and honestly felt like they had all passed with me. I really couldn’t have done it without their support. Passing the final exam meant that I was finally done studying. And boy, was I done or was I done! I was so thankful to have passed all my exams at the first attempt. Alhumdulillah x a million!
Back at Work as a Brand New Person
Right after writing the UFE, I went back to work. Most mornings, we would struggle to get out of the house but thankfully my husband would work from home quite often back then. That meant that I could rush out of the house on my own and he would get our daughter ready later and drop her off to daycare. He even picked her up pretty much every evening and gave her after-school snacks and sometimes even dinner. I found the long work hours to be challenging and demanding as expected. There were some late nights too, though I know for a fact that I started to work much more efficiently so I could get up and leave as soon as possible.
I would think about the people I was working with, and realize that not many of them understood my situation. Very few of my peers were even seriously dating, let alone being married or having a child. Many of them lived in downtown Toronto as well. They had a shorter commute and could more easily put in the long hours. With the exception of a few, most of the people who had kids were the ones who had already been through the CPA process, qualified, and were now working as managers – which is definitely a more flexible and preferred position to be in with kids.
For my peers, my overall situation would be tough to understand or empathize with. I knew that because less than a year ago, I was one of those people. I had no idea what life with a baby is like. Now I know that when a mom shows up to work at 9am, she’s already had a really busy morning, and when she leaves work at 5pm, her day is nowhere close to being done. Every single day, she’s using almost more energy than her single co-workers and is more tired at the end of the day. I don’t mean to disregard the efforts of dads. Of course it affects men with families too. But I think it’s safe to say that women are the leading caregivers in their homes, no matter what culture or society. And frankly, I don’t think that’s appreciated in most workplaces or even society at large. And it really needs to be.
I had definitely come back as a different person. I would hear people talk about work-related deadlines and issues, and in my head I would think – okay, those are not real problems. I had a brand new perspective on life. I came back as a mother. As someone who had seen a lot of suffering in ICUs and hospitals. And as someone who had realized that if you have good health, you have everything. And if you don’t, even the best of life’s blessings are not enjoyable. Basically, I was just on a different frequency now. No one could scare me with a report deadline, because there were bigger things in life to worry about. It doesn’t mean I didn’t do my work 😀 but I really noted that I wasn’t feeling anxiety due to work like I used to.
The Final Stretch & Becoming a CPA
The last step in this process was to continue working until I had accumulated all the required practical experience. You needed to have a certain number of months and audit hours under your belt to qualify. While I had accumulated something close to 3000 audit experience hours, I didn’t even have 5 out of the 100 required tax hours because those were hard to come by. Thankfully, I was able to get a spot in the limited seats available for personal tax work during tax season. That was really the last thing I needed, but man those 95 hours didn’t come easy either. The office I was going to for this purpose was very far from my house and required me to take a super early morning bus with daily commute time reaching 4 hours door to door. On top of that, my daughter had a surgery during these same days. I couldn’t defer the surgery and I couldn’t risk missing out on these tax hours and waiting God-knows how long for them to come by again. So I did both. Again, it was one of those points in this journey that made me want to quit this hectic process. But I was really towards the end of the process, and thought, okay, these four weeks too, shall somehow pass.
Finally, in the summer of 2015, I sent in all my documents and paperwork to CPA Ontario to prove that I had met all my requirements and qualified. And a few months later (which felt like a few years), I finally got that much-awaited email. I was now a CPA, CA!
Do I think that my CPA was worth it?
I remember the faces of my parents beaming with pride during my CPA convocation, and I remember thinking this was totally worth it. Like all immigrants, they had sacrificed so much for their kids’ future, and I really did feel proud that I was able to give bring them this happy moment.
As tough as the journey was, I think it wouldn’t have been any different if I had chosen another professional route such as medicine, dentistry or what have you. I don’t think any professional got to where they are without working countless hours in labs or hospitals. But there are two ways of doing these things – the easy way and the hard way. The easy way is where you’re single and your professional goal is one of your top priorities. Assuming all else is well, as a single person, you can work hard and get a designation – no problem. The hard way is where you have a family and a bunch of competing priorities. I definitely did it the hard way. I often get messages on Instagram from moms who want to pursue the CPA designation. If someone has just one child, I say it’s still doable and manageable, but not without a supportive spouse. I did that myself and I know others who had one child and did the same. But if you have more than one child, then I would personally advise against starting this process. It’s really long and you need to work for at least 3-4 years, including 3 crazy busy seasons before you can qualify for your designation. That’s really difficult with a family unless you have lots and lots of support, like a stay-at-home spouse, a full-time nanny, or grandma/grandpa always around to help.
I would say this profession is also great from a skills perspective. When you audit different clients, you get to talk to senior management like Directors of Finance, Vice Presidents, and other accomplished individuals. You often have to ask them difficult questions and sometimes you have to point out something that they have done incorrectly. It can be very challenging because others get defensive, don’t like you, and don’t really want to see you or talk to you. But you still have to say what you have to say in the best way possible to be able to do your job. And I think there’s a lot to be learned from that kind of experience in terms of how to deal with people.
Having a CPA designation is also “proof,” in a way, of a certain package of skills.I feel great that I was able to finish a long process that I had started and acheived a designation. If I meet another CPA, I can assume that this person has the following skills to some degree:
- Commitment & dedication – because it’s a long process and not everyone can stay dedicated to such a goal for a long time.
- Analytical Skills & Good judgement – because it’s what we do. While many areas are black and white, there is a lot of grey as well where you have to use your judgement.
- Ability to adapt to change – because we deal with a lot of change, year after year, both within our teams, with our clients, and with the work itself.
- Communication skills – written and verbal communication is a daily part of the job
Last but not least, having completed the CPA does make me feel “accomplished.” CPAs are able to work in a very wide range of roles, which is definitely a great positive. This designation is something I can rather easily fall back on to help support my family whenever needed. And for those who don’t know, it’s the qualification part of this process that is very hard. Once you have qualified, you can easily move out of the Accounting Firm / External audit environment, and do something else where your work hours are reasonable.
All in all, it’s been one crazy journey. Since coming out of school, my thoughts on school and the education system have changed quite a bit. I was a “good” student – like the majority of kids, I fit in the education system well. But only recently have I realized that not all kids do. And unfortunately, schools don’t do a good job of making exceptions for those students. Fortunately, however, this new age of technology is changing that quite a bit and I’m excited to see how these traditional professions will change with it.
If you made it this far, thank you for your time! Please do leave me a comment below or on my Instagram. I love to read what you guys thought and absolutely love to hear if you have a similar story!
Until next time, Ciao Ciao!