Want to have a successful CPA career?

Posted on Friday, February 14, 2020 by Jessica Salerno


Embrace a growth mindset 

By Stephen Gravenkemper, Ph.D. 

The pace of change for CPAs continues to accelerate.

CPAs operate in a rapidly changing environment. Data analytics, blockchain, complex client problems, changing accounting statutes and tax laws, project management and the need to develop strong business advisory skills all place increasing demands on CPAs.

Organizations that embrace continuous learning quickly build a competitive advantage. Individuals who embrace continuous learning better position themselves for career success. In a sense, the world is quickly evolving into learners and non-learners.  For most organizations, standing still is not an option.

Are you highly capable of changing and growing?

If you believe this statement is true, then you may exhibit what Carole Dweck terms a “growth mindset.” (If you haven’t heard of Dweck, her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, is an interesting read.)

People who adopt this mindset that they can improve their abilities and skills — provided they’re willing to put in the effort to gain experience — tend to demonstrate significant improvements in learning which in turn equates to greater career success. An ability is like a muscle that can be stretched and strengthened with practice. You may not initially be as skilled as others, but with the right mindset and effort, you can catch up or even surpass the competition.

Dweck contrasts this approach with the “fixed mindset,” which assumes abilities are carved in stone with limited room for improvement. One benefit of the fixed mindset is that people develop great confidence in what they do well. However, they often become cautious and resist venturing outside their comfort zones because they may not want to risk embarrassment or being criticized.

One key difference is how people with growth mindsets respond to setbacks. Individuals who embrace a growth mindset tend to view setbacks through a learning lens. Lack of initial success becomes an opportunity to grow and improve with coaching and practice. This belief encourages them to tackle new challenges and projects, as they recognize that by leaning in to stretch assignments, they will be building skills that will be valuable throughout their career. This creates momentum for a virtuous circle where they also build confidence in their ability to tackle future new assignments.

Those who embrace a fixed mindset tend to view mistakes through a failing lens, unleashing their punitive internal critic. In extreme cases, this may result in people labeling themselves as a “failure,” which leads to avoiding new challenges which require them to step beyond their comfort zones, stopping themselves from developing skills that are important for career success.

Benefits of a growth mindset:

People who demonstrate a growth mindset:

  • Display increased willingness to stretch outside their comfort zones.
  • Better accept feedback from others. They see constructive criticism as providing helpful coaching advice to improve. This becomes critical as individuals who can accept feedback and act on it are more successful than individuals who tend to take feedback personally and spend their energy worrying rather than acting on coaching suggestions.
  • Bounce back more quickly from setbacks and adversity. People view setbacks as part of the learning process. Consequently, they are more successful in applying key lessons, adjusting, and continuing to move forward.
  • Take a long-term approach to building skills rather than expecting to be perfect on the first attempt. Whether it’s learning to drive, play a musical instrument, improving as a public speaker, or using a new app on your cell phone, we each improve with practice and training.
  • Are more receptive to new ideas and change: People with a growth mindset demonstrate greater curiosity regarding new ideas. They demonstrate greater comfort in challenging traditional assumptions and experimenting with multiple alternatives. Because they value continuous learning, they are drawn to new experiences.
  • Collaborate better with others: Because they have less of a need to “be right” and to learn, they are more receptive to alternative viewpoints, seek out opportunities to credit others for success, and encourage team members to tackle stretch assignments and learn new skills. Co-creating with others is an important skill to develop as organizations place a high value on working effectively in teams.

The good news

Everyone can adopt a growth mindset. Whether it has been learning to walk, to play a sport, to communicate in a second language, or to use a new software program, each of us has demonstrated the ability to learn. The bottom line is this: embracing a growth mindset becomes a choice.

So, let’s get started today. To position yourself for career success, how might you benefit from adopting a growth mindset? What’s one immediate action you can take today to have a positive impact?

Stephen Gravenkemper, Ph.D. is a consulting psychologist and can be reached at:



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