Are you laying bricks or building a cathedral?

You may have heard of the old story about a traveller who came across two bricklayers who were busy working…

He asked the first worker what he was doing and the man replied he was laying bricks. He then asked the next labourer the same question and he said he was building a cathedral. They were both doing the same thing but had very different mindsets about it. The first worker had a job, the second had a career (or calling).

What’s your mindset about what you do in accounting & finance?

And mindset plays a very important part in how much fun, reward, and success you can expect to have from being an accountant and finance professional. If you are approaching accounting & finance as a job you also probably belong to the 2 in 3 people who are disengaged in their workplace. Even if you feel happy with your current employer it’s still estimated 1 in 3 engaged employees are looking for jobs or watching for opportunities (Gallup). Given there’s so many people looking for something what is it that they’re all searching for?

The good news and not so good news

Up until recently we’ve had space for both mindsets in our profession but the not so good news for some people is that we also operate in a dynamic, global market environment and we’re not immune from the rate of change going on around us, particularly the two megatrends of digitisation and finance business partnering (link to previous article) myself and others have written and spoken about.

If it’s a job in accounting & finance you’re searching for then, you’ll continue being unhappy. If you do find your way into one of the more functional jobs in our profession, it’s highly likely it is being or will be automated (article) by robots or artificial intelligence so I wouldn’t look there.

The good news is that if you really want a fun, rewarding & successful career it’s possible for you to have this within accounting & finance, although you’ll need to begin to become aware of how to think about what you do as building cathedrals by continually asking yourself a few questions:

  • What impact do I want to make & where?
  • What type of work do I need to be doing to make that happen?
  • What strategies or skills do I need to do this work?
  • What do I enjoy doing? and
  • For Whom do I enjoy working for?

An example

I also use the word ‘continually’, because it’s a repeating process, or journey, and lately I had to answer similar questions to overcome some initial reluctance I had about performing ad hoc urgent work for a client who needed some basic trend (longitudinal) analysis done on some key metrics I’d introduced. Thing is, our team was maxed out so to keep the client happy I’d have to do it, but I’d be doing work running multiple SQL queries, linking databases, constructing Excel pivot tables & charts, etc… I thought I’d left that type of bricklaying behind much earlier in my career.

But I knew the work, if done well, would provide the foundations for us to add a lot of value and make an impact. So I had to get-over-myself and accept the type of work it involved, I knew I had the skills (although rusty) to make it happen and I enjoyed building the success of our team as well as working with this client. Such a mindset helped me enjoy the work, feel a sense of reward as there was a clear sense of taking one step back to go two forward, and meant we delivered a much more successful outcome that the client thought was extremely valuable to him.

Ultimately in accounting & finance we may be laying bricks every day, but if we can envision the cathedral and move through our days with intention and asking the right questions we’ll have much more fun, rewarding and successful careers, as well as be making a positive impact on those around us.

Are you laying bricks or building cathedrals? What are your recommendations for having a fun, rewarding & successful career? Let’s all contribute to make this another resource for other aspiring finance business partners so please like or add your comments below.

If you feel you wish to know more about these topics we’re launching a podcast, Strength in the Numbers, bringing you practical advice, real stories and hard won lessons from leaders in finance & business so you can make an impact as well as have fun, rewarding & successful careers.