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35 years

35 years

June 24 was the 35th anniversary of my professional career.  On that day in 1985, I joined Touche Ross in their Omaha office.  Touche Ross was an accounting firm and was part of the “Big 8”, a term for the eight national accounting firms in existence at that time.  It was a proud firm, with high expectations and a strong culture of serving clients.  I worked at that firm for eleven years.  I loved that job and it was very good for me.  I thought this a good occasion to reflect and share some of what I learned for those embarking on a career.

  • Attach yourself to people who want to see you succeed and are willing to invest their time in you.  I was blessed that a number of people for whom I worked went above and beyond – to teach, counsel & model.  They helped me and others succeed and get better.   Exceptional people like Dave Hamilton, Brenda Wood and Mark Petersen come to mind.
  • Work in a job where you are constantly learning.  I knew just slightly more than nothing on that day I started.  But each week I learned something.  Over time that really adds up. Approaching your career as a journey of learning and growing is a pathway to long term success and fulfillment.
  • Take the long view.  Every job has seasons that you will not like.  I took some assignments I wasn’t thrilled about; I did some work that wasn’t fun; I took less pay than I could have made elsewhere and I worked a lot of hours.  But taken in its entirety, the good way outpaced the bad.  I grew, I learned and I received opportunities that put me in a position to have a great career.  The long view allows for depth of learning, enlightenment and meaning that are simply not available in short-term gigs. 
  • Lean in to change.  Four years into my career at Touche Ross, it merged with another firm to create Deloitte.  Changes and disruption followed.  Many of my colleagues fought change rather than leaning into it.  In doing so they missed out on so much. The truth is, things always change and the world will move on.  Chose to move with it, or accept being left behind.
  • Extend grace to leaders and help them achieve their objectives.  There were times I saw the leaders at my firm as deficient.  They had many flaws and they made mistakes.  The benefit of perspective allows me to see that they were also amazing.  Both of these things can be, and often are, true at the same time.  The thing is, you usually only have a tiny lens into the bigger picture.  You’ll be serving yourself well if you spend less time focusing on the inadequacies of your leaders and instead focus on how you can help them be successful – because that will make you successful.
  • Find the meaning in what you’re doing.  I believed that the work we did was important.  I saw people at our firm make a difference and I knew I could make a difference too.  Looking back through the lens of today, that work does not seem all that meaningful, but what’s far more important is that it was meaningful to me at that time.  Sometimes you need depth to find meaning.
  • Appreciate those around you and build long term relationships with them.  I began my career with a class of a dozen other young CPAs.  There was friendship, but also competition among the class.  None of those classmates stayed with the firm for their career; I believe I stayed the longest.  But I know that each one went on to have highly accomplished careers and there are many with whom I would like to be friends. I am not, because I did not place a value on building those permanent ties, maintaining the network and the friendships.  I regret that, and you will too, if you bypass the opportunity.
  • Do yourself a favor, go all-in.  Very few jobs require you to give it everything you have.  You can get by with less.  But to do less than going all-in, shortchanges you.  The times I went all in, which I think were most of the time, were tough, stressful and exhausting.  And they were rewarding.  Doing anything less than all-in is wasting your precious life.  Thirty-five years goes by more quickly than you think.

Many things have changed since1985.  But the core framework for serving customers, growing as a professional and building a career are amazingly similar to today.  I’ve been blessed in my 35 year career and I hope those of you starting out now have the same good fortune.


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Troy Love | Jun 26th 2020 @ 3:44 PM

Thanks for sharing Mike!

James Klein | Jun 30th 2020 @ 1:05 PM

Excellent Post. Thank you.

Jim Jewell | Jul 6th 2020 @ 11:47 AM

Mike, I enjoyed the wisdom you shared. Passed it on to my daughter, who is just starting out on her work life. thank you. Jim Jewell In Home Medical V0506

Ed Wilkins | Jul 7th 2020 @ 10:24 AM

Mike, great read and brings back many great memories from our interactions in Omaha. Can't tell you how proud I am of your successes. You are definitely a high class individual and leader.

Tim Crawford | Jul 8th 2020 @ 8:37 AM

Fantastic advice, Mike! My start at VGM especially reinforces the first point and I'm better for it. Hope you're well.

Rene` Guardiola | Sep 9th 2020 @ 6:57 PM

A must read for anyone just starting out as well as in their mid-career. I`m thankful I clicked on this story, fantastic read. one thing I have learned after 37 years in the workforce is to never stop believing in your own goals and never settle for anything less. Rene` Guardiola (Quality and Safety Coordinator-Cryogenic Systems at Trillium US)

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