How to be thankful – even in 2020

Shutterstock_488784811For me, Thanksgiving has historically been an endurance sport. I’ve repeatedly proven to myself that if I can only survive my family’s barrage of questions regarding my singlehood, if I can simply feign an interest in football, if I can laugh off an inebriated uncle’s inappropriate limericks while covering the ears of my innocent siblings, then I will be rewarded with hours of judgment-free gluttony. Turkey with gravy and stuffing. Warm biscuits — split, buttered and steaming. Multiple unnecessary versions of the ever-ubiquitous green bean casserole. Tomato aspic, ostracized and jiggling in a darkened corner of a makeshift buffet table. And pies. Pecan pies. Pumpkin pies. Chocolate chess pies. The delicious bounty makes the familial challenges worth it all.

But this Thanksgiving is different. For many like myself, instead of the bounty and the family, there’ll merely be isolation.

So, in a doldrum, I did what any sane person would do: I called my CPA.

CPAs, after all, have an earned reputation for telling it how it is. For not mincing words. It’s an occupational advantage. Equivocating on the facts, after all, could mean a client’s business folding, a company may not properly address essential cybersecurity risks, a tax client getting a much-dreaded letter from the IRS, a startup’s intellectual properties being undervalued or overvalued… and so on.

I expected to have a partner in sadness — a misery-loves-company companion. Instead, I got a quick rebuke. My CPA reminded me that, regardless of current realities, there’s much for which to be thankful.

I’ve discovered that those in her profession mostly share her sentiment. In a recent AICPA Update Weekly Weigh-in poll, AICPA members were asked to state, in a few words, what they were most thankful for this year. Many answered, and the results showed that accounting and finance professionals aren’t so quick to let current events diminish their gratitude.

Heather Meier, CPA, is one example. Like many in the profession, she began her career at a public accounting firm. She’s since worked in accounting for various higher-education institutions such as Villanova University and now manages five teams at Montgomery County Community College. She can see “MontCo” from her home office. During the pandemic, her convenient commute across the street became even more convenient — at least physically. Now, she walks from one room to the next.

She admits to missing the clatter and chatter of formerly busy hallways, hallways she’s proud to say are bustling with diversity, from first-generation college students to older women pursuing fresh starts and new careers.

There’s a wistful tinge in her voice when we speak, but there’s also plenty of hope. When asked what she’s most thankful for this year, she’s quick to point out what may not have been obvious a year ago: “Accounting can be done anywhere.” For Heather, this flexibility has translated to job security. She admits that there has been a lot of adjusting. She and her teams have had to create new processes for collaborating virtually. It’s involved plenty of mental and procedural agility: scrapping what doesn’t work; keeping what does; and keeping a team of remote workers engaged, committed and connected. Ultimately, they’ve discovered that many virtual processes are more efficient than their traditional, more manual counterparts. She and her teams have also learned that by creating a sunshine fund for birthday cards, holding virtual coffee breaks in the morning and partaking in virtual happy hours in the evening, the distance between doesn’t seem as vast.  

Heather is also thankful for this year’s many challenges. She states that the influx of federal dollars and resulting compliance with Paycheck Protection Program and CARES Act requirements have thrust her into a tighter-knitted knowledge-sharing network of accountants across her state’s community college system. “Things are changing so quickly. I don’t even think the government even knows all the rules,” she says. That makes this network irreplaceable. She’s also dealing more with small details, partnering with academic departments in her institution on best ways to save and leverage funds and even helping the culinary arts director get creative with sourcing chickens.

Bill Wood, CPA, also works in education, heading finance for Concordia University Wisconsin. Like Heather, he misses the face-to-face energy that comes with working with and among students. He leads a currently shorthanded finance team. His biggest pandemic-related challenge has been finding and onboarding talent. Yet, despite having fewer people on staff, Bill has recently undergone probably the most seamless audit of his experience. After 17 years with the same auditing firm, the University decided to make a switch, and he’s incredibly thankful for that decision. While many organizations are opting to delay audits during the pandemic, his university’s audit was done ahead of schedule with few, if any, hiccups.

Michael Murray, Director of Finance at the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, was also surprised with the ease and seamless level of service of his annual audit. He attributes this largely (and with gratitude) to the availability and affordability of technology such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, which for nonprofits such as his are free — or close to it. Before the pandemic, Michael led his organization through a thorough digital transformation. For obvious reasons, the digitizing process then has proven serendipitous now. “[COVID-19] drove a lot of this forward, and it’s going to stay in that forward position when all this is over,” he says.

Thank youJean-Luc Bourdon, CPA/PFS, is most thankful this year for his clients. The relationships he forges in the personal financial planning process are truly reciprocal: he helps those he serves secure their dreams and futures and, in return, he enjoys indescribable feelings of fulfillment. He’s even been able to help estranged family members set aside their differences and come together again at long last. He cherishes these memories and achievements, keeping a drawer full of thank-you cards in his office as a reminder of the impact he’s made in others’ lives.

So, despite the pandemic, , social unrest, hurricanes, wildfires, UFOs and — yes — murder hornets, plenty of CPAs (and those they serve) don’t view 2020 as a dystopia but as a year of challenges that can serve to highlight all we have to be thankful for.

For more heartfelt messages of gratitude, be sure to check out this amazing ThisWayToCPA Instagram story, and — above all — have a wonderful Thanksgiving. You’ve earned it.

Association Staff