The Choices We Can Make For Creating Success

Do you ever have moments where you realize that despite stress and pressure, everything is going to be okay? Last weekend I had the pleasure of being a panelist speaker at the Women of Isenberg Conference, held at UMass Amherst by the Women in Business club and the conference steering committee. And it wasn’t in my presentation, but sitting in the session following mine, that this clarity overcame me.

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In the past, I’ve reviewed some key takeaways by going through my notes from what other speakers shared. This year, my takeaway was more existential than any one piece of advice I heard. Listening to the experiences of others, I didn’t feel alone. I felt kinship and admiration that the women at the microphone had overcome obstacles I had also previously faced to achieve happiness and self-defined success in their lives and careers. I heard the stories of happy outcomes, and within them the hard work, the resilience, and the perseverance.

What I heard from the women on stage was that what was most important to remember is life is full of ups and downs. The quality of life with those ups and downs is highly impacted by how we react and who we surround ourselves with.

We have a choice to be positive. Or, complain and wallow.

We have a choice to take action. Or, sit back and do nothing.

We have a choice to be courageous. Or, decide any risk is too much risk.

Isn’t it clear where we need to be headed with our choices? And for those of us who are in and aspire to leadership roles, there is even more impact on those around us by how we make our choices and reactions.

As leaders, we need to force ourselves to be challenged, and be receptive of and advocates for those productive challenges. No idea is ever as great as it can be when first presented. A diversity in thought and experience adds to the initial benefits to improve what is possible. And a challenge doesn’t automatically mean no, but is a recognition of barriers that can be overcome.

As leaders, we need to lift up others around us in spirit, recognizing the power of appreciation. From a simple thank you to rewards and major recognitions, and everything in between, go to the very base human nature of needing to feel involved, engaged, and a part of the team. We’re better together than alone.

As leaders, we need to remember that we and our teams are humans, capable of yes, making the impossible happen, but also not infallible or perfect. Career isn’t everything, and family and home sometimes need to come first. Breaks in action or slowing down on the accelerator are perfect career opportunities. It doesn’t need to be nose to the grind every single moment. Breath and reset.

Lately, I felt like I had been struggling through life. I wondered if I was using my resources enough, burning both ends of the candle, giving too much when I didn’t have enough energy or time. I’ve been fortunate to receive some kind words recently, from my professional world, volunteer arenas, and personal life. Everything came together, and seeing the success of others at the Women of Isenberg Conference reminded me that nothing except a few points in a plane is truly linear (remember geometry?!). Success is an internal measurement, though society likes us to believe it measures externally for us. Onward doesn’t always mean upward, change isn’t always for the better, and we aren’t always right at first glance.

The important thing is to enjoy work, enjoy life, enjoy the people we love. Have fun every day with whatever you choose to pursue. It makes the efforts more tolerable and gives us the ability to savor sweetness of success, however we define it.

Remember that things will be okay. If you feel like you’re failing, it is because you care. It takes time and self love to learn we aren’t failing, we aren’t falling behind, and we aren’t imposters. Not everything is perfect, but we have choices in what we do with what life and career bring to us. Besides, a ladder is a lot of work to climb. Doesn’t a career jungle gym sound like more fun?

‘Tis the Season: Ask the Accountant

The days are getting brighter and longer and the doldrums of winter have a light at the end of the tunnel the closer we get to March and April – at least here in New England! February is a tough weather time for the northern parts of the world, but it also falls smack dab in the middle of a season you may not have defined before: tax season.

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In our family, tax season is a way of life for my brother Rich Toomey. My favorite (and only) brother, he is a Tax Supervisor with a CPA designation (Certified Public Accountant – the gold standard for being able to practice accounting) for a regional accounting firm in Baltimore, MD. This is his busiest time of year as April 15 looms large on the calendar. He is one person not afraid to dig into tax returns and contact the IRS!

What kind of person loves tax, you wonder? Someone who is a die-hard New England sports fan, with a license plate of logos of the Pats, Bruins, Celtics, and Red Sox to prove it. Though playing baseball was his favorite, Rich is a former Zamboni driver. He is married for over a year to the love of his life Melissa, smart and talented in her own right, going after a PhD at Johns Hopkins. They have a sweet, curious cat and love exploring new restaurants. Rich has accounting degrees from Holy Cross (BA, 2012) and Northeastern (MA, 2013). And he is super willing to talk about what he does, which benefits all of us who are receiving the W-2s and 1099s and reporting self-employed income.

As we all prepare to file forms with all sorts of letters and numbers for names, Rich is happy enough to share some of his expertise to help us understand the basics.

MKD: What does a tax account do?

Rich: Tax accountants provide “compliance” or preparation services to individuals and businesses. In addition to this we act as advisers to our clients and help them plan for tax and non tax issues throughout the year.

MKD: What exactly does compliance mean?

Rich: Compliance as in to provide what is asked by the tax authorities

MKD: What does a tax accountant do outside of January to April 15?

Rich: A lot of people think that tax accountants have nothing to do outside of the typical tax season. This is far from the truth. A lot of clients have their returns extended for six months which can create a second busy season in September and October if you don’t keep busy during the summer. If a tax accountant plans their year correctly they should have a steady flow of work to do from April 16th to October 15th. Between 10/15 and the end of the year we keep ourselves busy with year-end tax planning and fiscal year end clients who have different deadlines than a typical year end client.

MKD: What kind of people or businesses have different deadlines?

Rich: Individuals have a regular deadline of 4/15 and an extended deadline of 10/15. This is not an extension to pay but an extension to file. You can file by 10/15 but all payments must be made by 4/15 or you will face late filing penalties and interest. Businesses have different deadlines depending on their structure. Pass-through entities such as partnerships or S Corporations have a deadline of 3/15 and an extended deadline of 9/15. The idea is that since the income from these entities pass through to individual owners their due date needs to be earlier than individuals. C Corporations pay tax at the entity level and share the same deadlines as individuals.

MKD: Why should someone hire a tax accountant for their taxes instead of doing it themselves?

Rich: For the majority of people filing a tax return should be very simple. A lot of the instructions are very straightforward and easy to understand. However, things can get very complicated very quickly. Maybe you bought a home or purchased a rental property. These can create tax issues that the average person may not know about. Basically the further you get from only having a W-2 and claiming the standard deduction you should consider using a tax preparation service. If it is in your budget I would recommend going to a CPA rather than a big national tax prep shop as they will be able to provide year-round service.

MKD: What are the advantages of using a tax professional year round?

Rich: Using a tax professional year round allows you to be more prepared for significant tax events throughout the year. For example let’s say an individual ends up selling some stock during the year. An average person won’t know what capital gain tax rates are or know that they might need to make estimated payments to cover the tax that will be due on the gain. Using a tax accountant year round will make sure that you are prepared for any event that might come up

MKD: Why did you get into tax accounting?

Rich: I was in my junior year of college and like a lot of accounting students I didn’t know what field of accounting I wanted to have a career in. My first semester I was taking an Auditing course and we had a visiting professor. On the first day of class he says “you probably aren’t going to use anything you learn in the class in the real world”, which was a great way to grab my attention. I knew right then that I probably didn’t want to go into auditing. The next semester I had my first tax course and on the first day we were already applying things that we had learned to real world scenarios. I was hooked. I knew that was what I wanted to do.

MKD: What do tax accountants want us regular people to know during tax season?

Rich: We know that your life is hectic, but please, please, please provide your accountant with all of your tax documents as soon as possible. The sooner we have it, the sooner we can prepare your return and hopefully it will result in you receiving a refund faster. The days leading up to April 15th are always hectic, and the client who waits until the last-minute usually isn’t our favorite client.

Thanks to Rich for sharing your experience! Hopefully this post opened up your eyes to what goes on during tax season and helps you think about the best way to approach your finances, whether personal or for your business.

Do you go confidently into tax season, or terrified to begin? Do you use a professional, software, or go old school with calculators, pencil and paper? Feel free to comment and share your thoughts and this post!

 

The Accomplishments and Lessons Learned in 2017 and What’s Next in 2018

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Who doesn’t love the feeling of winning, or accomplishment, or satisfaction? I sure love those feelings, and I’m sure you do too! 2017 was a pretty incredible year for me both personally and professionally. It’s important to take time to recognize all the good in our lives. The end of the year is a great time to reflect on accomplishments, and daily gratitude and appreciation exercises increase happiness and can have impact on future successes. I use a Daily Greatness Journal to help with my gratitude exercises as well as planning my days and reflecting each night on what went well. These practices help me stay both grounded and hopeful. Even on days when I struggle with frustration, intense stress, or failure, there is something to end on a positive note, even if it is only that “tomorrow is another day,” according to Scarlett O’Hara. In this post, I’ll take a look at my accomplishments, the lessons I’ve learned that are worth sharing with you, and what I think is next in that area.

 

The “Accomplishment”: I walked down the aisle in a white dress and married my now husband! This was an exercise in project management, planning an expensive celebration of the love of my husband and I. It was an unforgettable day surrounded by amazing family and the best friends (and included a hoppin dance floor!).

Lessons Learned: Managing budgets, schedule, and vendors. And that managing family and personal expectations about events that are deeply emotional are extremely different from straight up project management.

What’s Next?: Hopefully decades upon decades of happiness! In a few weeks, on our one year anniversary, I’ll write a post on how I think marriage impacts our careers, based on my experience thus far. I’m sure this will change over time as life rewards us and challenges us in different ways.

 

The “Accomplishment”: This year I not only went to my first foreign country, but to TWO foreign countries. My honeymoon was in Costa Rica and my husband and I finally took a long-anticipated trip to Ireland in November.

Lessons Learned: The world is small, yes expansive. While we all have much in common, each corner of the world is special and unique. It is a privilege to travel, no matter where we get to go and how we get there. It is important to try new things, even if just to know they are not a good fit.

What’s Next?: I’m going to be lucky to spend some time in DC with my friends, celebrating the wedding of of one of my husband’s best friends in SoCal, visiting my sister in Indiana and my brother and sister-in-law in Baltimore, attend Alpha Gamma Delta convention in Texas, and maybe take a few days down on Cape Cod during the summer. There is much to explore in the US and the world – maybe I even make it up to Canada this year to see Lake Louise or Quebec City!

 

The “Accomplishment”: All of my projects at work have received a level of success during the year. The teams gelled and performed in amazing ways, always looking for continuous improvement and keeping the promises we make to residents. We’re meeting the goals we set out to achieve and having fun doing it! It wasn’t all fun, though. I had to learn to raise my hand and ask for help with managing the multiple projects when too much was happening at once. It was something I wish I did sooner and wish I was more open about the difficulties faced earlier in the process.

Lessons Learned: Nothing is worth achieving or has been achieved at a high level without significant collaboration. It takes a combination of experience and novice to see things in new ways. Managing difficult conversations is a key personal development opportunity. Speak up, be honest, ask for help, and learn to delegate better.

What’s Next?: More successes on more projects! 2018 is bringing a new set of opportunities, new teams to work with, and existing teams to smash new goals alongside. I’ll get to try new types of projects and learn new skills. And, I’ll be better set up in asking for what I need now that I know my limits.

 

The “Accomplishment”: In February 2017, I “opened the doors” to my official platform presence on the internet via this website and blog. It was a leap of faith and is constantly a work in progress.

Lessons Learned: Be more thoughtful about what I want to say, and how I say it. Putting myself out there and being more vulnerable publicly. Practice writing and thinking more about the intended audience than me. Connection is key.

What’s Next?: The goal next year is to write at least 50 blog posts – so you will start hearing from me on a more regular basis! I hope that you’ll take a part in sharing in the creation and discussion of what is interesting and worth sharing. I’d love to hear more from you.

 

There is much to be thankful for and much that remains to be accomplished. Hopefully you are inspired to look back at your own life. Find the victories that you gained along the way – it may not be something as monumental as getting married or starting a website, but maybe you started writing that book you’ve been meaning to, or organized a closet, or developed a new routine that has brought peace to your life. Break free of the winter blues, and reflect on your own talents and abilities and accomplishments. Celebrate all that makes you a better you this year!

What is it you are proud of or makes you happy that you did this year? What are the lessons you learned and where will you go next?

Experiencing the Joys of Vacation, and What is in it For You!

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“I can hear you smiling!” My VP laughed through the phone to me. It was my first day back from vacation last week, and I felt great. I was smiling, and I was eager to jump back into work. Energy and enthusiasm radiated from me. In my current role, I enjoy coming in to do my work every day, but coming back from a week in Ireland with my husband I was kinetic. A week spent exploring the entire country of Ireland left me feeling only physically exhausted and on an emotional high.

Passing through the countryside with the stone walls and fields filled with sheep, and into the towns with the Christmas decorations lighting up the quaint yet lively streets, we drove about 1,000 kilometers (or roughly 620 miles) on the left side of the road (okay, my husband did all the driving!). While we paid in Euros and snacked on Dairy Milk, we found the best seafood chowder (Cronin’s in Killarney) and best fish and chips (The Lemon Tree in Blarney, right across from the Castle). We discovered Galway Bay Brewery for the first time, that Guinness does taste different in Ireland (I found it slightly sweeter/less bitter), and that Jameson’s Irish whiskey triple distillation is what makes a difference in the flavor. The Cliffs of Moher are more majestic than any photo or video can document – the colors are more vivid, the wind is fresh in feel and smell, and the mist makes it an iconic Irish experience. Dublin reminded us of Boston at home, but much more old worldly in all of the best ways. Each night we were drained from our adventures, but we slept well and woke up refreshed and with anticipation of what fun was to come that day. We fit a lot into a small time frame, and will definitely be back.

Upon return, I didn’t expect this feeling of relaxation. In my entire career, I had only taken two other week-long-plus vacations – one to Cape Cod where I felt like I had to check in everyday via email, and the other was my honeymoon to Costa Rica. The first versus the last two was a drastically different experience. I was stressed, even as I was at the beach and feeling the ocean breeze. The emails I read through in the morning kept piling up and stayed in my mind as a reminder of all that I was missing and how far behind I would be when I came back. For Costa Rica and Ireland, I changed my behavior and was happy to have the support from work to truly separate.

If you have the means to travel, by all mean, get out and get away. Explore a different corner of your country or the world. If travel funds are tight or non-existent, try new corners of your town or a short drive to one you haven’t been to. Growing up, my dad and grandfather would pack my siblings and I into the car and take us out on adventures. It might have been the Quabbin Reservoir, touring a college campus, a free sporting event, a shopping trip to BJ’s, or visits to family in neighboring towns, and not only was it a chance to give my mom some “me time” after dealing with three wild children the whole week, but we all learned more about where we were from. The connections you make with people are even more important than the connections you make with the new places you visit. Take a friend or cousin or parent with you. Build stronger bonds, whether it is your hometown or a new town. Feeling connected with the ones you love makes you ready and more engaged for when you reconnect with work.

Being that ready and engaged meant eliminating work stress and creating a feeling of being refreshed. A successful vacation is one where you are relaxed and fulfilled. This takes intentional action, and there are some practices that can help make a difference.

  1. Completely ignoring work email – truly being out of office! Take the app off your phone if that helps you stay true.
  2. Setting up contacts for while I was out – this allowed work to continue in my absence since someone else could answer any questions.
  3. Plan activities that help you separate from what is normal – outdoors, dancing, at the beach, or the mountains. Use a different part of your brain.
  4. Get out and explore. Maybe you don’t plan every moment, but go on a journey (a walk across town, or a flight across the world) that not only separates, but opens your eyes to wonder and possibility.
  5. Connect with people you care about. I spent time with my husband, maybe you want to see your parents or an old college roommate or your best group of girl friends.

You might have heard the benefits of taking a vacation, and they bear repeating. Do not ignore these – take them to heart!

  1. Stress reduction
  2. Increased productivity
  3. Intentional connection with loved ones
  4. Feeling Happier

With the holidays and New Year upon us, the end of the year is a great time to use your vacation time. Here are some reasons why:

  1. Your vacation may not carry over until the next year.
  2. Your personal life is busy, and you need time to get all of the personal things done
  3. You need a mental health day, either just because, or because you’re hosting the whole family
  4. Your spouse or kids or friends or nieces/nephews are off of school for the week and it would be great to spend time with them
  5. Take time to reflect heading into the new year – set goals and decide where you want to take yourself moving forward
  6. You’ve worked hard and flat out deserve a break!
  7. Seemingly everyone is taking time off, so no one is answering their phones or emails, preventing you from making much progress.

Take time for you. Your work, your loved ones, and especially YOU will be better off for it. I highly recommend going to Ireland if you are interested and have the time and funds because it was majestic and pictures don’t do the experience justice. Go live life. The work will be there when you return. Take your vacation, and take all of it!

Why Now is the Time to Reflect: 3 Questions To Improve Your Mindset

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Thanksgiving is a good time to get our emotional mindset in check to finish out the year strong. “The Holidays” are a challenging time because of formal and informal commitments, the amount of money typically spent or not had in hand, stressful interactions with family, and seasonal affective disorder due to less sun and the bitter cold in many parts of the country.

With craziness swirling all around us, now becomes a great time to take a moment and reflect about where we are and how we feel. With five more weeks in the year, for many of us in the working world, it gives an opportunity to finish strong and leave a good impression as annual performance reviews approach. As a former athlete, the importance of finishing strong and competing until the whistle blew or buzzer sounded was a big theme to remain competitive and avoid let downs. It’s where the best separate themselves, or a lack of effort becomes apparent.

If you need a little inspiration for your reflections, try the three self reflections below. Whether you are in the positive or negative on these, your reaction to the question will tell you a lot about how you feel. You’ll feel a change within you immediately – and recognize if you need to make a change. Be truly honest with yourself – no one is judging you, and if you commit to bettering yourself and follow through on the execution of where you want to be, that is what matters more than the past.

Have you been giving your best effort? If you have been slacking, it is easy to get off track. Maybe it is due to burnout and overwhelm, or maybe you aren’t doing what you love. Think about how much energy you’ve been applying, and if it is the right kind of energy. Energy management will be important to effort. What is the best time for you to work? Maybe you can make a schedule adjustment to help with focus and productivity, to work smarter instead of longer. If things haven’t been going well, maybe think about why you haven’t been giving the best effort. What is your motivation, or lack of it? Find ways that you can incentivize yourself for little successes. Sometimes, giving your best effort doesn’t even get you to full success or happiness.  Even despite the best efforts, you may be in a bad situation or poor fit . My husband is a dedicated researcher working to cure cancer, and a recent job wasn’t the right fit. Even though the best effort went into everyday, the desired results weren’t being achieved, and it created stress instead of happiness. Finding a new role that better capitalized on his talents and knowledge has led to dissipation of stress and more eagerness to go into work everyday!

Are you doing the right things for the right reasons? Taking action is paramount. How you take the action is equally important. Reflect with this question about whether you are being true to you and your inspirations. This question backs up the question above about giving best efforts. If your focus is inspired, it is easier to give your all to whatever purpose you choose. This question explores the essence of what is most important to you. You’re unlikely to be motivated to give it your all to something in conflict with your values or doesn’t bring you joy. Are there causes close to your heart? A type of work that utilizes your skills and talents to the full extent? Thinking about this, maybe by exploring your Myers Briggs type or other personality test results, can help you be happier and work in a more satisfying way. I used the Myers Briggs (MBTI) to help focus my skills and interests into a new career in real estate – I knew what I loved, but needed something to pull it all together cohesively to help make a career transition. Work is now rewarding and I feel more successful and that further success is achievable and worthwhile.

Are you waiting for life to happen to you? If you sit back and accept, rather than adventure out to seek and give, you won’t get what you want. Sure, life is no guarantee, but you’re stuck with whatever is on the menu instead of making your own way. Making your own path can be a key to happiness. When you take control of what is possible to control, whether at work or home or personal relationships, happiness increases. The important key to remember is to separate what you can and can’t control – think about the Serenity Prayer if you need extra motivation in separation! It is useful not just for sacred purposes but also secular. Whenever I think about it, I feel calm come back into my life because of its reminder to let go what I can’t control. When I was growing up and even through college, I sat back and waited for people to call me with plans for time with friends. I often felt lonely and left out, but I discovered it was my own fault when I started taking more initiative to call and text and create plans and make invitations.  The happiness in and around me grew, and I always had something and was with someone fun to pass the time. Take the first step always, even if it becomes an imperfect balance. Not only are you increasing your own happiness, but you are positively affecting others also. Following on to the story about my husband above, achieving happiness at work was dependent on him taking initiative to, first, try to problem solve and, second, find a new job. A job was not going to fall into his lap – it was a result of thoughtful action and continued follow up.

You don’t have to be thankful for everything, but do take the time to appreciate your efforts in all areas of your life. Think about the good around you, whether it is people, a job, a home, or anything big or small! Life is in your hands, and the more you take control of what you can control (and let be what you can’t control), the more you have to be grateful and thankful for. If you find yourself struggling to be thankful, the above questions can help you identify how you can help yourself to reset the mindset to finish the year strong.

What was your reaction to the three questions above? Were you answers what you thought the might be?

Happy Thanksgiving! Thankful for you reading, and hope you will comment and share!