I’ve written about my 2 boxing fights, including the moment where I debated telling my coach that instead of fighting, I’d prefer to eat a slice of pizza with him. Soon after the pizza dilemma, as I was preparing to climb into the ring, Coach tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I was ready. Calmly, I answered, of course: I had passed the UFE, after all!
Unfortunately, I was wearing my mouth-guard and my helmet was fastened tight around my chin, so it sounded a lot more like “wuf course, mumble mumble fiiiiii.” Coach didn’t look impressed.
To non-accountants, it might seem weird to compare a boxing match, with all its physical risks, to the challenging professional exam required to obtain the Canadian CPA designation. But it’s true: I have never come close to facing a similar magnitude of fear, doubt and despair as I did in summer 2011, as I prepared to write the Uniform Examination (UFE).
A summer of self-discovery
Preparing for that 3-day exam involves 4 months of full-time study: writing practice cases, debriefing them with brutal honesty, identifying one’s inadequacies in problem-solving and response and coming up with better approaches. As there is an endless supply of unique cases, there is an endless amount of possible self-improvement.
I caved into despair, early on in the process. I wasn’t performing like I wanted, I couldn’t address my weaknesses quickly and consistently, and the journey to success seemed impossible to achieve in the short timeframe before the exam. To my friends’ surprise, I went from an over-achieving nerd to a listless wet rag, perpetually bleating the refrain of “I can’t!”
One day on Facebook, my kickboxing coach posted this (cheesy) inspirational video. I credit my UFE success to that video, which I listened to daily, sometimes 4-6 times a day.
Rocky + Muhammad Ali = wisdom
The first time I listened to that video, I experienced a series of revelations.
But somewhere along the line you changed, you stopped being you.
You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you’re no good, and when things got hard, you started looking for something to blame, like a big shadow. (…)
You, me, or nobody, is gonna hit as hard as life; but it ain’t about how hard you hit, its about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward.
That’s how winning is done!
No better description of that summer. I had given up on myself, because I couldn’t handle the hits to my self-esteem and humility from perpetually failing my practice exams. I’d fallen to my knees, and was growing comfortable there, learning to accept the idea of defeat.
Cause if you’re willin’ to go through all the battling you gotta go through to get to where you wanna get, who’s got the right to stop you? (…)
It’s your right to listen to your gut, it ain’t nobody’s right to say no, after you earn the right to be where you want to be and do what you want to do.
Rocky’s speech reminded me of all the trials and tribulations I had gone through to get that point: failing out of my engineering degree at McGill, working as a secretary for years while attending night school; eventually putting myself through school, graduating at the top of my class, and getting hired at a prestigious accounting firm. I had paid my dues.
Rocky also reminded me of a technique I had used during exams throughout my undergrad, but had somehow forgotten as I sank into despair that summer. I used to stare at the printed examination booklet and rage at it silently: “Who do you think you are, you inanimate object, to try influence my future? What, you think you can outsmart ME? I am smarter than a bunch of paper sheets. I don’t care that several brilliant teachers wrote this exam, and purposefully made it challenging, I won’t let you outsmart me. I’ll show you. Fuck off, I won’t let you screw me over.” My technique = Rocky’s wisdom. Moment of serendipity!
For the rest of the summer, before every practice case, I’d listen to that video. Every time doubt would creep back into my thoughts, Muhammad Ali’s refrain of “Imma show YOU how great I am; I’m so mean I make medicine sick!” would play in my mind.
After every day of that exam, I would sob into my ice cream cone, wanting to quit, not seeing the point of continuing. Muhammad Ali would admonish me: “All you chumps are gonna bow when I whoop him, all of you, I know you got him, I know you’ve got him picked, but the man’s in trouble – Imma show you how great I am.” And I’d commit to writing the next day’s exam, just to show the Board of Examiners, and everyone who had ever scoffed at me for dropping out of McGill, for going into accounting when I have ADD, for trying to succeed, just to show them all that I was able to meet this challenge head-on.
I passed the 2011 UFE. More importantly, I learned that I can face my worst enemy- my own fears- through dedication, focus, hard work, and the help of some very inspiring boxing legends (of the Hollywood and real life variety).
Best of luck to all the 2014 UFE candidates getting their results today. I don’t envy you your journey, but I promise you it was worth it.
Imma show YOU how great I am.