insight magazine

GEN NEXT: How My Relationships Made Me a Leader

My relationships with family, friends, and mentors have allowed me to accomplish more than I ever dreamed and have given me the confidence to take on whatever the future brings. By Lauren Smaga, CPA | Summer 2021

Sometimes I can’t believe how much has happened in my life within such a short amount of time. In four short years, I received my master’s degree in accounting, passed the CPA exam and obtained my license, and most recently became an Illinois CPA Society Young Professionals Leadership Award winner. These successes have been the result of hard work, determination and, last but not least, the unwavering support, encouragement, and mentorship of so many people in my life.

It was actually my dad’s suggestion that led me to study accounting in college. Before that, I thought I wanted to be a high school English teacher. However, as I took more classes and began discussing majors with my parents, I realized that career path was not right for me. My dad, with his business background, began to tell me about other potential career options in his field that might be a better match for my personality. After a lot of discussion and research, I decided on accounting. I am truly grateful that he encouraged me to explore all my career options, as I have fallen in love with the work I do each and every day.

As the oldest of five children, I embraced the responsibility of setting a good example for my siblings and have always seen myself as a leader. I was the first to start school, the first to learn to drive, and the first to graduate from college and begin my career. At the time, each of these experiences was new and foreign, and although I always had my family’s support, I undertook each of these challenges alone. Seeing myself as a leader and a trailblazer within my family taught me how to adapt to new situations and become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable—valuable skills for my current role and for life in general.

As I grow, my support network does as well. My professional career started with a tax season internship that allowed me to form close relationships with my colleagues at all levels of the organization. Through the help and encouragement of my peers, managers, and partners, I fell in love with the world of public accounting—and achieved my goal of receiving a full-time offer! Five years later, I am still with the same great company. I was promoted to my current role within a relatively short timeframe, and I continue to develop and grow as both an accountant and a leader. I am grateful to continue strengthening the relationships I started five years ago with my coworkers and leaders who advocate for my success on a daily basis.

I still have so many great opportunities ahead of me both personally and professionally. I look at the broad network of individuals who helped me get to where I am today and cannot help but feel incredibly blessed. Leadership is not something that comes easy—it involves plenty of hard work, self-compassion, and determination. With a great support system of family, friends, mentors, and colleagues, I know I can accomplish anything the future brings—and I bet you can, too.

Lauren Smaga is a senior staff accountant at Shepard, Schwartz & Harris LLP in Chicago and a recipient of the 2021 Illinois CPA Society Young Professionals Leadership Award.

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