The Power of Purpose: How an Accounting Career Can Support Your Passions
Workers today, especially among younger generations, are prioritizing roles that provide a deeper sense of meaning and purpose. Six CPAs share—and prove—how a career in accounting can offer just that.
Although the cadence of work appears to have reverted to pre-pandemic levels, several recent studies highlight a subtle but significant shift in the American workforce: the employee mindset. Instead of weighing job opportunities based on pay and
benefits, job seekers today are prioritizing roles that provide a deeper sense of meaning and purpose.
Earlier this year, Gartner released “The Human Deal Framework,” a study that suggests the pandemic prompted many to reevaluate the connection between their career choices and personal principles. According to the study, employees are seeking
jobs that closely mirror their personal values and provide deeper connections with people, greater autonomy, opportunities for personal growth, holistic well-being, and a shared sense of purpose. Another survey of Gen Z workers, conducted by Monster.com,
found that 70% of respondents ranked purpose as more important than pay.
“You could call it the ‘Great Reflection,’” said Caitlin Duffy, research director in Gartner’s HR practice, in a recent press release. “The intent to leave or stay in a job is only one of the things that people are
questioning as part of the larger human story we are living.”
The accounting profession is no stranger to this workforce shift. Stakeholders have long been looking for ways to build a stronger pipeline of certified public accountants (CPAs) and attract younger generations to the accounting profession—one way
is by changing perceptions of the profession itself. According to a July 2023 study from the Center for Audit Quality and Edge Research that surveyed about 1,400 undergraduate business students and recent graduates, the most common reason students
said they didn’t major in accounting is that they didn’t find it interesting.
While accounting is often perceived as a field of just taxes and busy seasons, many young professionals are disproving this myth, demonstrating how the profession can create pathways to pursue personal passions. Here, six CPAs share how they’ve
purposefully pursued, and successfully found, personal meaning in their work, and what organizations can do to help others in the profession find the same.
A Passion for Teaching
Julia Ariel-Rohr, CPA, Ph.D., started her career at a large public company as part of its finance and accounting rotational program, and then spent a few years at Grant Thornton before leaving the business world for academia. These days, she’s an
assistant professor of accounting at DePaul University. As she looks back at her professional journey, she says her career was always driven by three goals: to impact lives, to constantly learn, and to give back to an institution that felt like home.
“There’s nothing as fulfilling as teaching students a skill like accounting that’ll enable them to thrive,” Ariel-Rohr says. “One thing I love about teaching a technical skill like accounting is the upward mobility such a
degree can provide for students. I personally owe so much to the profession. It’s enabled me to work with amazing organizations and people, travel the world, buy a house, and even meet my spouse.”
Ariel-Rohr hopes to guide her students to blend accounting with their personal goals and interests. While a career in accounting can certainly fulfill everyday base needs, she stresses it’s also possible to find purpose and meaning in the field.
“There are so many opportunities for students with an accounting background. If you like sports, the Chicago Cubs organization needs auditors and accountants! If you care about the environment, there’s opportunities with organizations like
the Environmental Protection Agency, the Alliance for Great Lakes, or the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board,” Ariel-Rohr stresses.
Ariel-Rohr believes a sense of belonging and authenticity can influence day-to-day work and recommends that organizations actively consider and implement ways to genuinely support their employees. She suggests organizations establish mentorship and coaching
opportunities and provide employees with more autonomy—both efforts can help lend ownership and purpose among employees.
“Following the Great Resignation, and accounting for the current shortage of accountants, focusing on a sense of belonging and purpose can have a great impact on reducing turnover and attracting talent,” Ariel-Rohr suggests.
A Love for Animals
In 2022, Morayma Barron, CPA, left her role as a senior tax consultant working with high-net-worth clients at a Big Four firm and transitioned into industry. In her current role, she serves as a senior accountant at Blue River Petcare, a Chicago-based
private equity firm that provides back-end business support for a network of veterinary practices. This move enabled her to combine her love of animals with the opportunity to help people in a challenging industry.
“It’s extremely important to love what you do,” Barron says. “The more you love it, the more you’ll do to succeed. It’s just like the saying goes, ‘If you love your job, you’ll never work a day of your life.’”
Barron stresses that when personal values and interests align with day-to-day job responsibilities, employees will be internally motivated to continue learning and growing, which benefits both the employee and the employer.
“If people aren’t interested in their work, then work will just be viewed as that—work. It won’t be seen as an opportunity to grow, learn, and help others. The more our values and interests align with our work, the more exciting
and enjoyable our job becomes,” Barron stresses.
Barron acknowledges that sometimes it’s difficult for employees to see outside of their day-to-day responsibilities. However, there are ways that employers can help their workforce find meaning and purpose in their roles. The first step, she says,
is learning the difference between having a job and having a vocation.
“Companies can help employees identify how their jobs are more of a vocation. And if it truly isn’t that person’s vocation, companies can help employees transition to positions where they’d feel more sense of purpose,” Barron
Barron also suggests that companies can help facilitate volunteer opportunities for employees, which could help engage employees and foster a greater connection to their work and their community.
An Energy for Entrepreneurship
Andrew Coombs, CPA, MST, is the managing partner and CEO of Coombs CPA PC, a New Jersey-based accounting firm that he launched in 2018, which now serves almost 1,000 clients across a wide range of industries. This year, NJBiz Magazine named Coombs the
sixth most powerful CPA in New Jersey.
Coombs knew early on that he wanted to be an entrepreneur and launch his own firm, partly because he wanted a certain level of autonomy that isn’t often found in larger organizations.
“A lot of times when you’re in a big corporation it’s about driving the bottom line. But there are other things that are more important than just making money. Whose life did you change? What kind of impact can you have?” Coombs
Coombs established his firm in an underserved community about 20 minutes outside Manhattan, NY. Part of his personal mission is to improve financial literacy in the area and drive generational change.
“If you take 10 people here, nine of them probably don’t know what a CPA is or what they do. They don’t know what an audit is,” Coombs explains.
Coombs says his neighborhood is a community in progress, where most people think the only way to succeed is to play professional basketball or go into the entertainment business. Coombs, a former Loyola University basketball player, says the percentages
for financial success are far greater if you consider pursuing other professions.
“I try to give people exposure to different things outside of the norm and show them different ways they can be successful and educate them on different professions, so they have a sense of hope,” Coombs says.
Two years ago, Coombs led a homeownership seminar and taught attendees how to invest in real estate.
“I had people coming up to me and saying, ‘I never really thought of not renting. I never thought I could actually own something.’ That was a good feeling to hear that,” Coombs says.
“Life is more important than just making money and going home,” Coombs advises. “It’s about how you actually impact people, how you can change someone’s life. It’s my purpose to give back and pave the way for future generations.”
A Dream of Inclusivity
Starletta Forson, CPA, is a senior tax consultant with Deloitte LLP, where she helps lead teams focused on corporate, partnership, and individual entity tax engagements. In May 2023, she launched Inclusive Teams, Inclusive Dreams, a nonprofit that facilitates mentoring relationships between young professionals and high school students and helps students secure internships.
“I think there’s a desire—especially among students from underserved, diverse communities—for mentorship and professional experiences that can help them decide if they want to go to college and what major to choose,”
The first Inclusive Teams, Inclusive Dreams cohort will launch in March 2024. Participants will progress through three days of programming during which they’ll receive professional skill development regarding interview etiquette, a “Which Career Best Suits Me” assessment, and a resume workshop. On the third day of programming, industry partners will interview students for internship opportunities.
Forson was inspired by her own experience in high school where she had the opportunity to shadow a local attorney for a month. She said the experience helped her decide whether a legal career was right for her. (It wasn’t, but she still learned
a lot and appreciated the time.)
“Our hope is that through providing some of these students with paid internship opportunities, we can help them strive for a brighter future and make the process a little bit easier,” Forson reflects.
Many Chicago firms are supportive of Forson’s efforts and are providing opportunities for students to apply for summer internships. Forson is appreciative of her own employer’s support of her efforts and hopes that other organizations
will continue to provide a safe space for employees to express personal values and interests.
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a topic that’s very important to me, and I believe the firm I work for does a great job at highlighting and providing opportunities for employees to get involved,” Forson says. “When I volunteer and help with initiatives related to DEI, I feel closer and more involved with the organization and the people I work with, which inevitably makes me a better peer and co-worker.”
A Compassion for the Victimized
Meghan Mokate, CPA, MSCA, started her accounting career at a Big Four firm. During that time, she started volunteering with the Crisis Center for South Suburbia, a nonprofit community organization that provides emergency shelter and other essential services for individuals and families victimized by domestic violence. She served as a special project volunteer, a hotline volunteer, and also worked on technology projects with the administrators. When the organization’s executive director discovered that Mokate was a CPA, she invited Mokate to interview for a finance position with the organization. She now serves as the finance and strategy officer for the organization.
“I always knew that I wanted to end up in the public service sector,” Mokate says. “I feel called to use my skills to create a more equitable world and provide resources to those in need. I am especially drawn to causes related to
gender inequality and gender-based violence, which is why I got involved volunteering at the crisis center.”
Mokate feels lucky to have a job that’s fulfilling and purpose driven. She says that on a day-to-day basis, she’s surrounded by compassionate and driven people who share the goal of better serving victims and families affected by domestic violence. She adds that the nature of her job extends beyond strictly financial responsibilities—there’s other hands-on projects, such as helping to put beds together for transitional housing clients. She says experiences like these allowed her to learn new skills and gain new perspectives.
“Most people spend a minimum of 40 hours a week at work. For a lot of CPAs, that number is much higher. It’s essential for us to feel a sense of purpose at work so that we can stay connected to our core values and can spend time investing in ourselves, others, and society as a whole,” Mokate says.
Mokate also says that when your job aligns with your values and your interests, it’s more motivating to take on challenges and opportunities. “We should be sure that we’re not changing ourselves to fit our careers, but rather our careers should fit us, especially when it comes to our values.”
A Care for the Future
Joey Reeve, CPA, is the founder and CEO of Universal CPA Review, an online CPA prep course that leverages color-coded diagrams, interactive charts, and adaptive learning technology to teach complex accounting principles. He started the business after seeing a lack of CPA study materials that could truly help students understand the concepts being tested. Reeve says the visually rich content caters to all learning styles and especially benefits those who find visual aids helpful in understanding and retaining information.
“The profession of accounting starts with education,” Reeve says. “I wanted to create a program that inspires younger generations to achieve their CPA license and better understand the value that it brings.”
Reeve believes that what motivates him every day is having work that ties in with his interests and skills. He says that organizations that are able to connect employees with their interests will see stronger results.
“When you place someone in a role that aligns with their interests, they feel inspired, and they’ll naturally create more value for the organization,” Reeve notes.
Considering the recruiting and retention challenges faced by accounting firms today, Reeve suggests firms should consider connecting with employees on a deeper level to have a better understanding of their personal motivations. By knowing what employees value beyond the paycheck, he believes organizations will be better positioned to support their workforces.
“It’s important to make your people feel seen and important,” Reeves advises. “Like one of my favorite quotes says, ‘People don’t like you, they like the way you make them feel about themselves.’”
Carolyn Tang Kmet is a clinical associate professor at Northwestern University and a frequent Insight contributor.