Focus On What Matters (#2 of 6 – Lessons That Impact Life)

This is second in a series of six posts about lessons I learned from my grandfather that apply to career growth and development, in addition to just being generally good advice for life. This is in his memory and in honor of Father’s Day.

In middle school and high school, I spent countless hours playing basketball with my siblings and the neighborhood kids. There was seemingly no significant improvement over the years. But for me, it was fun anyway: an excuse to be social, play, and exercise. In seventh grade, my skills compared to the other girls were obviously lacking. So to help compensate, I worked hard and hustled every practice. In high school, I was last on the bench, but at least on a team with girls who were fun to play with and cheer on from that front row in the bleachers. I lived for practice; games were not as fun for me.

20180622 - Pops Lesson No 2 Focus on What Matters.png

Though effort was frequently rewarded, my grandfather saw very early on that my siblings and I were not going to have even a chance at competing for lucrative college scholarships. Forget playing at a professional level. In a way only a grandparent can say without bruising a teenager’s ego, Pops stopped by the driveway game one day to remind us that there were other ways to spend our time than playing basketball. If we weren’t going to make it to the pros, shouldn’t we concentrate our efforts on other things?

This moment, though I can’t exactly place it at a certain age or specific date, has stayed with me. Why do we spend so much time on what isn’t going to matter, and not enough on what does matter?

Figuring out what matters takes time and mistakes. We are not born so smart to know everything that matters instinctively. Priorities can change over time. What mattered to me at 10 and at 20 is inconsistent with what matters to me most now. Certainly, the same is largely true for you. We have to learn through getting to know ourselves better, and we have to learn from those around us who are also on the journey or even confident in knowing what matters to them.

Setting goals is another area where I often confront if something matters, and especially consider the why of it mattering. Is it important to me, or to someone else? Will the goal get me to where I want to be? A goal without a meaningful reason behind it is a recipe for failure. It must matter to me. And, it may even have to matter to the world around me depending on the size of the the problem I am working to solve. What does it matter if I am never a “40 Under 40” recipient? It is wonderful for those who are winners, but that award doesn’t change my mission and what I want to accomplish in this life.

Problems by their very nature are not easy. When I become frustrated, whether by lack of weight loss or missing communication by others, I am often reminded by others of the Serenity Prayer, which contains an ever insightful request “to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” Usually after I have settled down from whatever rattled me to react and remembering the Serenity Prayer, I think of that driveway moment with Pops, wondering about what does and doesn’t matter.

Intense soul searching often helps me reflect and focus on what matters. I can journal during morning coffee or take a long walk on a weekend morning. Sometimes I will talk it out with my husband or a friend. Ultimately, you need to make a decision or nothing gets done. Take reflective time and opportunities to have those deep conversations, internally and with others, to narrow down what you should focus on. Not everything can be a priority all the time. 

Lately, I’ve had to do some prioritizing of my time. It means I need to say “no” to more, and focus on only what is important. I was honored to be asked to fill some prestigious and inventive roles for the Alpha Gamma Delta Volunteer Service Team, including opportunities to work directly for some of my mentors and role models in the organization. I ultimately put myself forward for the Philanthropy Committee so I could focus my time on making a difference on a team guiding the organization’s fight against hunger. That was what mattered to me – to impact the work thousands of women will do to help even more people affected by hunger.

Who do you want to be in life? Where do you want to go? Understanding the journey you want to have in life has incredibly impact in determining what you should to do head toward the destination. Whichever direction you choose at the fork in the road, keep reminding yourself to focus on what matters.

The remaining four posts will be published in coming days. Please check back soon!

‘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.

20180217 - Tis the Season Ask the Accountant

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!

 

Why Fitness & Career are the Perfect Combination

20171209 - Fitness & Career

There are more factors that are within our own control affecting our careers than we realize. The more we can self-govern our actions and words, the better we can manage the perception of our ability to perform and the actual performance itself. Not everything can be controlled, but putting a best foot forward can contribute to increasing the odds of success in your favor. When you have the opportunity to influence your own situation, it is one that should be grabbed with immediate and meaningful action to follow.

One career-focused influence opportunity I’ve noticed is incorporating fitness and emphasizing health-based activities into life and the inadvertent impact that it has on how things go in the office. When I exercise, practice meal prep, sleep, and stay hydrated, I realize that I have more confidence, focus better, communicate better, and am in more control of my stress.  

In recent years, I let the worst of work get the best of my good habits. Instead of sticking to my routine of running or walking or the gym, I succumbed to the pressures of deadlines and the falsity that working longer means better results. I was (and am) smarter than that. With poor time management around work activities In combination with injuries, I went from running a half marathon to having to work my way back up to two slow miles. But I don’t have to stay stuck in that spot  – and neither do you, if you’re in the same trap.

It is disappointing to admit the reality of falling out of shape over the past six years. But along the way, I’ve become a mentally stronger person and have learned some tools and reincorporated practices that make fitness part of my routine and part of my career.  

Research shows that fit employees are paid more than their peers. It isn’t because of their athletic prowess is applicable to the workplace. Think instead about all of the personal improvement that comes from being dedicated to not just fitness, but any mission: commitment to a goal, dedication in the face of “adversity”, ability to push through when things get tough, and ability to prioritize what is most important. This is certainly an abridged list, and a list of admirable traits that directly translate over to the professional side of the table.

When I workout consistently, I find the following to be true:

  1. I focus better, and am able to be more productive
  2. I feel more confident in myself personally, inwardly and how I perceive my abilities
  3. I feel more confident in what I am able to accomplish, externally with others
  4. Sleep comes more easily, I am rested and ready to go
  5. I’m more energized consistently throughout the day – negating the need for the 2pm crash and coffee
  6. When I work out in the morning, I start the day with an accomplishment, setting the tone for the rest of the day.
  7. I’m happier, and that makes me a better wife, friend, daughter, colleague, and leader.

Knowing what the benefits of certain practices are always drive my willingness to adopt them. With full recognition of the advantages for my well being and potential impact on my career, what are the next steps for me?

  1. Build routine. This includes planning my days and weeks more intentionally.
  2. Find ways to up my game. In addition to a simple gym membership, I also have a rowing machine at home. This piece gives me the opportunity to change pace and work different muscles.
  3. Measure and track progress. I believe that what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done, so I need to create and stick to methods of tracking what I’m doing and how I’m getting better – in one place.
  4. Find goals. Doing this will make it easier for me to get motivated and get going each day. Whether it is losing weight or new distances or a milestone number of workouts, having goals drives my progress and success.
  5. Make it social. What activities can I join with other friends doing? This spring, a group of my college friends and I are going to another city for a race together. It becomes a girls’ weekend on top of a fitness event, so benefits abound!

These next steps are largely what it takes at work to succeed as well – again, the crossover effect of fitness and work is clear! You can still be successful without fitness, but why wouldn’t you want to benefit your mind and body and create an advantage for yourself? Many of my colleagues are former college athletes at both club and varsity levels. Not only do most still work out, but you can see the competitive drive still alive, striving for excellence. Those attitudes flow in both directions in all of us, to and from work and fitness. Fitness is a way to get relief from the stressors of work, to build relaxation, to focus, and to reset the mind to be ready for what is next.

Have you seen your fitness impacting your career? How does the cross section of the two worlds work for you? Look forward to hearing your comments below!

 

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

20171127 - Experiencing Vacation.png

“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

20171123 - Why Now Is Time to Reflect.png

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!