April 15, 2020 was not met by the collective sighs of CPAs nationwide nor the acknowledgment of arduous work done well for the nation’s millions of taxpayers. This April 15th marked an indistinguishable day amongst many of social distancing, sheltering in place, and bearing witness to the sudden collapse of a robust economy.
As a career CPA, I had to spend a few hours that week doing absolutely nothing, save quelling the high emotions of grief and loss I was experiencing. It feels high time to carve out some space to explore the CPA’s social, financial, and, yes, emotional role during this crisis.
Consider your client list and the intimacy of information you share. How often do you know more than their financials? How often do you keep track of those not only financially reliant on your clients, but also emotionally?
Here’s the thing, the real job of a CPA is to understand the dreams of your clients and balance those aspirations against financial realities, market trends, and a million other variables in order to help them get as close to that dream as you possibly can. Our role extends far past the limitations of keeping the books. In fact, our value is measured by the intangibles of personal investment in achieving our clients’ goals. That’s how we know we’ve done a good job: when our clients succeed in building their perfect small business or supporting their 10 kids through college!
This past few weeks, I've watched loss after loss. Perhaps it seems crass to draw attention to material collateral when people are dying. I know. However, I’d argue that the sum of COVID-19’s damage is in the full breadth of what it has robbed us of. To limit the scope to death would deny other forms of pain.
In the past, I've coached my clients through bankruptcy, through mass layoffs, through systemic reorganization…. But never have I had to field these extremities of financial collapse at this scale. 57 clients. And by the end of this, likely more. That's countless calls per client, countless hours of bureaucracy and filing, sleep lost trying to keep up with new legislation, new papers to be filed with new government entities...I can go on and on. Needless to say, the past few weeks have marked a perilous time for all Americans, and it has been my job as a CPA to help mitigate loss and traverse the demise of professional lives and many dreams. It’s been nightmarish!
I want to offer this up to my community of financial professionals to let them know that you are not alone, and you are not wrong for having an emotional response to the losses suffered by your clients, who are in many cases your friends and family.
I’ll be dedicating a handful of blogs to a guidebook, of sorts, on how to protect ourselves from the overwhelming chaos surrounding us while continuing to emotionally and professionally support our clients. The aim is to get through COVID-19 as a marathoner, built for endurance, so we can be there with consistency and avoid, as much as possible, burnout and “ugly crying.” We got this.
Here’s the quick list provided by my guardian angel, and CEO of pLink Leadership, Gretchen Pisano:
- Put Your Oxygen Mask on First Before Helping the Person Next to You: To best be there for your clients, and heck—even your family—you have to take care of yourself. That means taking time for micro-recoveries: 15/20 minutes of whatever it is that calms you down! And if that doesn’t do it, respect the mental health day. Doctor’s orders.
- The Stories of Loss You Are Hearing DO NOT BELONG TO YOU: Doctors with excellent bedside manner tend to have patients with a better outcome: Your empathy and tenderness while working with hurting clients is key to their wellbeing. But, like the doctor, you have to understand that what the patient/client is going through is not yours to experience, but yours to treat. Internalize that distance while not losing your bedside manner. All it usually takes is awareness and maybe a mantra: “This is not your story.”
- This Is a Marathon: In the past you may have been able to get through a crunch period on four hours of sleep per night. Unlike that period, we do not yet have the light at the end of the tunnel. You have to take care of yourself with sustainability in mind. That means sleeping eight hours, eating well, monitoring numbing behavior like drinking or eating sweets, and finding outlets for yourself like walking, talking to a friend, screaming in your car with the windows rolled all the way up…whatever it takes.
Get to Know Your Emotions: Take a minute. Ask yourself what you are feeling emotionally and where you are feeling it physically. Check in with yourself like this as often as you want because acknowledging that this is an uncertain time—and uncertainty triggers emotions—is fundamental to getting through this. Checking in will literally allow you to track your decision-making processes and protect you from reactive, purely emotion-based decisions vs. well-informed, logical choices.
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