insight magazine

GEN NEXT: Your Career Is a Journey, Not a Destination

By always focusing on what’s next in your career, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s now. By NICOLE PRESPERIN, CPA | Fall 2019

presperin-310From as far back as I can remember, I was going to be a CFO. Of course, I had no clue what that meant as a high school student, but I knew I was going into finance and that role seemed like the apex of a successful career. If you made it to CFO, you had “made it.”

When I was a freshman in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s College of Business, I saw a presentation given by PricewaterhouseCoopers and that was it—I would become an auditor at PwC. I spent the next four years studying and interning. I earned my master’s in accountancy, passed the CPA exam, and stayed with PwC until I was a senior associate. For the next 10 years, I single-mindedly stayed on my finance track, focused on my end goal of adding those coveted three letters—CFO—to my job title.

Now, I can see this singular focus meant I wasn’t stopping to consider my path or celebrate my wins. With every accomplishment, promotion, and new opportunity, I simply moved on to the next big goal. I didn’t stop to celebrate with family, appreciate the progress I made, or even consider if my current path was the right one. All I was thinking about were the development opportunities needed to get to the next stop on my CFO path.

In 2016, I was promoted to U.S. Controller for Aon’s Commercial Risk Solutions Group. I had hustled to get this role—networking, putting in hours of work, and addressing every development opportunity. I spent a full year proving that I was the right person for this role. Throughout this year-long push, I kept thinking, “Just a little longer! When I get the role, I’ll have made it to the next big rung and can finally be content for a while!” But there was a problem: Once I had the role, I still wanted more.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the job and my team and found the work fun. But throughout that time, I continued to wonder, “What’s next?” I kept wondering and started to realize that maybe becoming a CFO wasn’t the apex of my career.

With that realization, for the first time in 17 years, I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted and therefore what I was working toward. I had been working my entire life toward a goal I had made at the ripe old age of 16 when I didn’t even know what a CFO was. I was in a tailspin.

I allowed myself to wallow in this new angsty feeling before pulling myself back up and realizing that I might not know my path, but I know how to put together a plan. I was going to figure this out.

I started networking inside and outside of my organization to learn about other types of roles and opportunities. I asked CFOs, COOs, and brokers out to coffee, learning all I could about what they do and how they got there. Soon, I was able to determine the types of roles that I could thrive in and enjoy.

Earlier this year, I took a leap and moved into a business facing role within Aon’s New Ventures Group (NVG). Embarking on this new path was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I was leaving a group I had known for seven years, one where I knew the people, always had the answer, and understood how I fit in. Now, I am learning how to navigate new colleagues, unfamiliar business units, and where to find my niche and bring value to the group. It is scary, but it is also an amazing developmental opportunity. I have never learned more in my life and felt so energized and invigorated.

Being in NVG has been an experience of a lifetime and for the first time in my career, I don’t wonder what’s next. I enjoy the journey and celebrate the wins of growth and development. I have redefined my definition of “making it” and realize that the process is just as important as the end goal. I have yet to reach the apex of my career, but at this moment, I feel like I have truly made it.
Illinois CPA Society member Nicole Presperin, CPA, is a senior director in Aon plc’s New Ventures Group. She was awarded the Illinois CPA Society’s 2019 Young Professional Leadership Award in recognition of her outstanding leadership skills in her career, for public or community service, and for her involvement in professional organizations. Presperin is co-president for the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) Auxiliary Board, is involved with the local RMH Board of Directors, and served on the RMH Auxiliary Council Alignment Task Force.

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