Episode 31: How To Persevere Through the CPA Exam When You Feel Like Giving Up, with Priscilla Suggs

Episode 31: How To Persevere Through the CPA Exam When You Feel Like Giving Up, with Priscilla Suggs

On Episode 31, Priscilla Suggs digs into her journey to pass the CPA Exam as a Black woman in accounting! We talk about the power of mindset in achieving your biggest goals. 

Do you have a big goal that feels “unattainable” for you? On this episode, Priscilla Suggs tells us what it was like to finally reach a goal that she almost gave up on: passing the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) exam. We talk about what it was like to be one of the few Black women in her accounting major at UT Austin, how she shifted her mindset to achieve this monumental goal, and the many pathways that the CPA opens up for her as a budding entrepreneur.


What you’ll learn from this episode:

  • What it’s like to become an accountant, the types of jobs available and what you can expect to earn in this role

  • The process of becoming a certified CPA

  • How Priscilla overcame being one of the few Black women in her accounting program at UT Austin

  • The mindset shift that Priscilla made that got her to take MASSIVE ACTION towards her goal

  • How getting a CPA has opened new doors of possibilities for Priscilla’s entrepreneurial dreams

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Full Episode Transcript:

Guest Teaser: I feel like, sometimes, chasing this carrot of chasing titles, or chasing a leadership role just for the sake of the title versus “is doing this going to mean satisfaction? Am I interested in the work that I am doing? Do I have a passion about this like”? It is hard to have passion, or it is hard to be incredibly passionate about jobs that are not yours.
Welcome to the Early Career Moves podcast. This show that highlights remarkable BIPOC young professionals killing it on their career journeys. I am your host, Priscilla Esquivel Bulcha – Latin X career coach, corporate consultant, daughter of immigrants, and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat every Friday, as we either dive into a special guest story or I’ll share my own career gems. If you’re a BIPOC professional feeling lost in your career, or just need a dose of inspiration, you’re in the right place. Let’s get started.
Host Intro:
Hey everyone, welcome back to season 2 of the Early Career Moves podcast. I am so excited to be back and I am just really excited to share all of the new guests coming up over the next few months. All of the content is batched, baby boo, so that means all of my episodes are edited and done for the rest of the year. Why did I do that? Because I want to enjoy the rest of 2021, and I want to start career coaching. So that is a new exciting development. I am now taking on one-on-one private career coaching clients so if you, or if someone you know is interested in doing career coaching, go to my website ECMpodcast.com. I have a free coaching call that you can sign up for. You can discover if working with me is a fit for you.
But anyway, other than that, welcome back! I am so excited for you to be here. It was great to take off 3 months to just live my life (laughs). I did so many things and I am filled with so much gratitude over just all of the wonderful experiences. Whether that was my wedding, my honeymoon in Hawaii, my bachelorette, my birthday in August, there were just too many wonderful things happening and even though things were stressful, it’s not like life is perfect, right? Like things got stressful with the Delta variant and with COVID. I still was able to find time to really enjoy those big life moments that, that happen for me in the last 3 months. So, thank you for allowing me to walk away, rest, recharge and come back feeling much more refreshed.
Host Intro:
Great. So let me give you a little preview into today’s episode. So, on today’s episode, you’ll hear from Priscilla Suggs. That’s right, Priscilla – we share the same name, and it is even spelled the same. But I met a few years ago through mutual friends and when I met her, she was on her journey trying to become officially certified as a CPA. And this was a multi-year journey for her that was very challenging, and there were many moments that she didn’t think it would happen.
And I wonder if you have something in your life that you felt like you could never achieve something that you really wanted. That’s what this episode is about. Priscilla will talk about what it took for her to finally shift her mindset and what clicked for her so that she finally was able to achieve this big, big goal that she had in her career. I cannot wait to hear what you think. Enjoy.
Hey before we head into today’s episode, I want to encourage you to follow us on Instagram at ECM podcast. Also head over to ECMpodcast.com where you can get freebies, read the latest ECM blog post and sign up for our monthly newsletter. And if you or someone you know is looking for a one-on-one career coaching, you can sign up to work with me on my website. Lastly, if you’re a big fan and supporter of the show, please make sure to leave us a review on Apple podcast. It’s how we can reach other people.
Okay let’s head into the show.
The Interview
Priscilla Bulcha: Great. So, really excited to have Priscilla Suggs on the podcast today. Welcome Priscilla.
Priscilla Suggs: Thank you, Priscilla (laughs). It’s always like, interesting when I meet another Priscilla and hearing my name, yeah.
Priscilla Bulcha: It’s funny because it, it is such an uncommon name.
Priscilla Suggs: Right.
Priscilla Bulcha: So, when you do see someone who has that our name, it is like very strange, right?
Priscilla Suggs: Right (laughs). I have only met one other person growing, her name was Priscilla, so it’s, it’s kinda nice.
Priscilla Bulcha: Yeah, I love our name, so.
Priscilla Suggs: Me too, me too.
 Priscilla Bulcha: Cool. Well, so I’m super excited to have you on the show because I want you to share your story about becoming a CPA, about what it means to be in accounting, and I just have so many questions for you but before we get into that, can you tell us a little bit about yourself like, where did you grow up? What was your upbringing like? Yeah, just tell us about how you identify and everything.
Priscilla Suggs: Yeah, absolutely.  So, I identify as, gee, I identify as a black woman. I grew up in a two-parent household. My dad was in the Army and he retired, and my mom cleaned homes. So, I grew up in a very humble household. I learned at a young age the value of hard work, and just to having a strong work ethic. I grew up in Fort Hood Killeen, which is about an hour north outside of Austin, and my mom is from Germany. My dad was from North Carolina. And so, growing up in a blended household, I got the southern hospitality from my dad, and I got the regimen from my mom. Germans are very organized and disciplined and hard-working, and I knew growing up, seeing how hard my parents worked, that, and, education was always stressed in the household.
So, I’m the youngest of three siblings, but I was the first to pursue college and so I didn’t know what I was doing. But I knew it was something that I was always, always going to go to, but I wasn’t sure of the path and how that looked. What, I just went from step to step. So, I actually applied to UT and Texas State. Those are only universities, and that process was interesting enough of, in and of itself just because as the first kid in the household to pursue this route, and so my mom wasn’t quite sure what to. So, we just stumbled through it together.
I remember her dropping me off at UT. And I remember the process of choosing which college. When I was looking at the application I was like, I applied to the business school because I thought, well, I wanted to give myself opportunities, I want to make sure that I have a lot of open doors, and so that is literally how I approached the application process. I looked at the type of degrees offered in the business school and I figured, it was between Finance and Accounting because the other degree options, Management, Marketing, I felt like what couldn’t I teach myself on my own. If I have the opportunity to go to college maybe picking up a skill that wasn’t an easily teachable outside of the University setting, and so I was like well it’s either accounting or Finance (laughs). And I said accounting. And so that is what started my career path in this direction. I just remember wanting stability, and wanting security and wanting to be able to have options as far as jobs, and that kind of steered me down this path towards accounting.
 Priscilla Bulcha: Yeah, I love that you use those words stability and security, because I feel like when you are like the child of immigrants, or you are the first in your family to go to college like that’s what we are seeking a lot of the time. It’s just like, I just want to be okay. Like, I just don’t want to struggle anymore and so
Priscilla Suggs: Absolutely.
Priscilla Bulcha: I think that really informed your career decision right?
Priscilla Suggs: Absolutely. I watched like, my brother, he took the, uhm, route of going into the military, and my sister, she had different jobs. And I was kind of like, I was the guinea pig watching their lives play out, and then I just took that as lessons of what do I want for myself – how can I move forward in life. I didn’t have a lot of examples of people that did go to college and I remember after I graduated from UT my mom sat me down. And I, I just got my first job, it was with a state agency and it was an audit role.
And I was making pretty good money, for at, at that time, it was I think like $45,000. And my mom was like you need to understand how blessed you are (laughs). There are four-membered family households that don’t make this much money, and you are a single person coming out of college and you’ve got your head on your shoulders, and you need to understand what a blessing this and try to do right by, try to make good decisions. And so that kind of started my career path in accounting.
Priscilla Bulcha: Yeah, and I just want to say like, congrats on getting into McCombs Business School as an undergrad because it’s so competitive. Like it’s so hard to get into the BBA program. It tells me a lot about you like you really… I’m assuming you were very studious or like maybe you were strong and just good at school.
Priscilla Suggs: Yeah, yeah, so academics was my thing growing up, I was an athlete, and academics. And fortunately, this high school that I went to, it had those College Prep programs, so the Ivy program that really prepped me for college. And I was always a straight A student, I was the third in my class. And then when I got to UT, it was regrouping really, and trying to find people that looked like me. That kind of started the reality of, it’s a privilege to be able to go to university, and have access to the quality of education, and to be a person of color, because there’s not a lot of people that went to McCombs and graduated through their accounting program. And it really opened my eyes to, I have a great opportunity here and I need to take advantage of it.
Priscilla Bulcha: Yeah, that is huge. That is such a huge opportunity and I’m assuming there were not a lot of black students or like Latino students in your accounting classes and your track.
Priscilla Suggs: Yes. Like so, I remember some of my core accounting classes, there would be maybe like, two or three other people of color that were not Asian. So, I was like always spotting out the other individuals of color in the classroom, be like, all right, we are going to be group buddies (laughs), so we are going to help each other with the homework. And so it was that part of the experience at UT. It was, it was different, cause I was used to having friends from all walks of life, and just having a really diverse circles of, of friends growing up. And then going to UT and being in my core courses where literally I was the one splash of color, that, that was challenging. And so, for me like I know that helped frame my mindset when I chose to continue down the career path and becoming an accountant. I think I read recently the Journal of accountancy, they were publishing stats on the percent of black CPAs, and it is less than 2% – and that was the stat of April 2021 I believe.
Priscilla Bulcha: Wow.
Priscilla Suggs: Right. And so (laughs), being in this space, that taking all of this into consideration, and that not a lot of people of color have access to accountants and if you don’t know how to manage your money or if you don’t have a lot of access to professionals that can help guide you that is one thing that kind of helped me decide that this is a career path that I want and this is space that I want to work in and I wanted to start my own side company so that I can get people access because there’s a few of us. And a lot of times when you don’t have somebody to go to that is relatable you don’t seek out that advising, or those services.
Priscilla Bulcha: So, when you were going through your college courses and you decided okay, accounting is what I want to major in, were you naturally pretty good at accounting, did you struggle through the classes, because I struggled through the classes (laughs).
Priscilla Suggs: Absolutely (laughs). So, I, there were moments where I was like, oh I need to just change my major this is not… I think managerial accounting was so annoying for me.
Priscilla Bulcha: Oh my God
Priscilla Suggs: But intermediate, like getting consolidated statements, all of that just bring some awful memories (laughs). So my journey in accounting was not an easy one. Accounting did not come easy to me (laughs). I had to put in a lot more work I think, than the average person. Sometimes, different subjects come easy to two different people, and I generally chose the harder path (laughs). But more because I just recognized like the benefit of having this type of expertise, it fascinates me.
So early on in my career, when I had started out an audit, I got lucky and I found, I identified this fraud, and, that was happening in a local non-profit here in Austin. And that kind of really sparked my interest and it was the moment where I recognized I have to get my CPA if I want to make this a career. I just, year after year, I’m working, I realized my potential’s limited if I don’t get the CPA. And there are a lot of fields where it’s like you either need a license or certification to qualify to move up or to be in leadership roles and ultimately like I realized I got to buckle down and just tackle the CPA. And so, I had to go back to school and I got my MBA, did additional accounting course work.
Priscilla Suggs: And then started down the course of studying for the exams (laughs), which that in of itself was a journey. It’s four parts and I took all four parts, one year and then there is one part – the financial. I could not pass it. For the life of me like, like I said accounting is complicated and it can be you know, more complicated if you don’t break it down into like the bare basics that make up financial accounting.
And so, I was in this position where I had taken all four parts. There was one part that I could not pass and so I took a break. I took a year off from studying and I did other audit certifications just so my career wouldn’t stop and then I sat back. One day I was like okay what is the biggest regret that you are going to have in 10 years and it always circled back to this stupid CPA (laughs). I felt like that was the one thing where like, if I had my CPA, well I could choose to start my own business. I could move up in my career path. This was the one thing that was stalling me, and I got into a situation where the other passes were slowly expiring.
And so, I basically had to start over. And so, I legitimately in January 2019, I was like okay I need to make the decision. Am I going to do this again? And so I just literally within two days, I signed up, paid for the exams, scheduled it for February, had like exactly maybe a month and like 20 days of the study materials still active. And I just, I powered through it. I got on a regimen. I woke up at 3:30 and 4 AM in the mornings, and I was working full-time and I was like I just have to make this work (laughs).
And then after that test day I get my score and I passed that stupid section finally. I did not know whether I should cry or like jump for joy because I was like, now I got to retake the other three sections (laughs). Yeah, so it was like literally one of those, one of those moments in life where I’m so happy that I just I sucked it up and I just powered through it because now it’s hindsight, when I started to, or when I scheduled to retake that section that just kept being the reason that I couldn’t pass and move forward in my life, I think I had reached a point where I was like screw it. I just, I’m doing this and I’m going to put myself on a regimen and we’re just going to see where this goes and I just had a different confidence about it that I didn’t have I think when I was going through it the first time.
Priscilla Bulcha: So, I am curious about that piece because obviously something changed in your mindset, right? Like…
Priscilla Suggs: Yeah
Priscilla Bulcha: Like what you were telling yourself changed.
Priscilla Suggs: Absolutely.
Priscilla Bulcha: And that changed your energy, it changed how you showed up for yourself during that test, and I feel like we all have a story like that where, for a long time, we’re just like, oh I want to do this but maybe we weren’t 100% committed. What did you start to think? What was it that really changed everything and you started to show up differently?
Priscilla Suggs: I think for me uhm, switching gears and getting to getting a different certification, it was an audit certification that helped boost my confidence. And then I did a lot of traveling in between that time. Until I start exploring the world, going to Europe, I think I went to Bali at some point. I was trying to like just learn myself, and get comfortable in my skin. And if there’s one thing that I’ve just learned navigating the workforce as a black woman, you’re always facing stereotypes, right?
Some of my old co-workers, they would say you, “Oh you’re so fearless, like you just say whatever you want” (laughs). And then at some point I got into this stage of where I was trying to mold myself to be what I thought people expected of me. And then I think going through the test, and trying to pursue the CPA and that not working out exactly how I had hoped, it brought me back to having that attitude of just owning my truth. Owning who I am, not trying to live up to other people’s expectations, or to move the way other people may have counseled me to move, or encouraged me to move; got back to being me (laughs).
I think like throughout your profession, like there’s something to be said about being young and bold like you just, cause don’t know what you don’t know, and then I think while you’re in workforce, you’re conditioned to being told that certain behaviors are expected for certain types of roles, or to advance your career, you can’t be too aggressive, but you can’t be too complacent because if you want to move to the next step or move, or advance to another position and you can get lost in that.
I feel like, uhm, sometimes chasing this carrot of chasing titles or chasing a leadership role just for the sake of the title, versus, is this, is doing this going to mean satisfaction do I, am I interested in the work that I’m doing? Do I have a passion about this like, it’s hard to have passion, or it’s hard to be incredibly passionate about jobs that are not yours.
Like when you are working for somebody else like you’re working for their vision. Their goal, there’s always somebody telling you this is what our shared goal is going to be; this is what we are working towards.But like does that align with you and the person that you want to be? And how you want to live your life? And for a while I was working in one office where one of the executives, she would sit me down, and say you can’t really just communicate openly like that. She was trying to mold me into what her vision of what I should have, should act, and how I should move, versus just letting me be.
And I think that’s, that was a really good experience for me because it reminded me that there are going to be people that may be threatened by like, your perseverance and how you want to move forward and advance your career. And then there are going to be other people that pick you up or pull you up with them and recognizing like what space you’re in.
And for me, that was a very critical moment of my career where I just realized, I took a step back and I thought about like what do I want? And it all went back to getting the CPA and opening more doors for myself. And for some people, it’s not going to be a certification I’m learning now, uhm, navigating this entrepreneur space – it’s just a whole new world (laughs).
And it is almost like I am absolutely loving it because I’m meeting people that they don’t have the wild credentials, or they’re not coming from Ivy League schools, or top-tier schools. They are sharpening their craft, and they communicate, and they relate, and they’re building a platform that people can buy into, whatever their choices. Like for example you and starting your own podcast. You had an interest and a passion for this and you’re doing it (laughs). And I have so much respect for that like, when I feel like meeting other entrepreneurs that are chasing their dreams like they have an interest, they have a skill, and they are just pushing forward like that. And I just… it’s fascinating to me, like…
Priscilla Bulcha: Yeah. Tell us about, so getting the CPA becoming officially licensed like what did that mean for you in terms of being able to build a business? And then what are you building your business around? What are you trying to build now?
 Priscilla Suggs: Yeah, so I think for me getting the CPA, it meant having credibility, right? Like, so, which this just happens to be for the space that I’m working in – something that adds greater value to being able to advise and coach people on running their small businesses and managing their finances, and preparing for their taxes. Right now, I’m figuring it out. This is the first year and I’m running my own small company and so I’m actually, you know how I mentioned that you can plan all you want but things just don’t always shake out exactly like how you envisioned?
I feel like this is my opportunity to really do work that interests me. So, I had a career in audit and eventually, I transitioned and now, I’m a forensics accountant, and that’s what I do in my nine to five, and I really enjoy it. Like, I’m dealing with fraud (laughs), and it’s really interesting tracing money. And I support, in my nine to five role, I support 5 prosecutors, and 16 investigators for insurance fraud. And you, I had no idea like just there were all that insurance fraud (laughs) how big of an industry it is, like you wouldn’t think that there were that many criminals out there that are just out to commit fraud, whether it’s like insurance, auto fraud, facilities, medical, all types of insurance fraud out there but, in that space, I’m subject to the rules and regulations for supporting those types of investigations.
And with my own company I can do whatever I want. And though it, there’s a certain liberty that I feel being able to choose who I work with and what I do and right now a lot of the work that I do I advise for individuals and small business taxes, and then small business consulting.
Priscilla Bulcha: Yeah. So, I actually have some pretty basic questions I’m hoping you could answer for me and for any listener who doesn’t know a lot about the accounting career path. So, like rapid-fire, what is accounting? How do you describe that? Can accountants expect to make a lot of money? Cause I think sometimes people assume, that I’m curious if that is you know, he case? And then what do the career paths look like for accounting? Like what are the options that you have?
Priscilla Suggs: Yeah. Okay so, I would start, I would say accounting is, it’s a broad field. You can either be a bean counter which you do journal entries for companies, and it is literally you’re logging in your transactions. Or you can go a different route of being on like the other side going into audit or financial roles, where you are reviewing the work and the reports that are produced by accountants. So, you can either be doing the leg work or being, be on the other side of actually reviewing and understanding the legwork. And accounting is just classifying transactions. It’s really at its core that is what it is. But as far as career opportunities I would say it is pretty broad. You can work in government, you can work in industry, you can work in nonprofits. Most companies, they need accountants.
That’s the person that’s doing accounts receivable; they’re doing accounts payable, and a lot of times I find that for those types of roles, most people working those roles don’t even have an accounting degree.
And the state agencies I work for here in Texas, a lot of times people just find themselves in, they can be learned roles but having the degrees a game-changer. Like most accountants starting out nowadays they are starting at 50k and up. And if you’re a licensed CPA then you know, your salary can go into the low one hundreds, I would say.
Priscilla Bulcha: That’s a pretty big jump.
Priscilla Suggs: Yeah, yeah, it is a lucrative uhm, career. Again, every company has an accounting function, so it’s something that the job opportunities are going to be very available, and as compared to other types of roles.
Priscilla Bulcha: Yeah, that’s good to know. And then another quick question about around that is what are the kinds of like personality types or a like strengths that people have that makes them really like really successful in this profession? And then what are the kinds of people who you have seen like they struggle? Like
Priscilla Suggs: Oh yeah. I would say that for this profession, very analytical detail-oriented individuals tend to perform well. This is not for the dreamer, the spacer-outer, the person, the creative. This is not for the creative, yeah. Like I would say that because creatives frustrate accounts (laughs). Creatives are the ones that, they want, they have all these visions, all these ideas, and all the accountants are like look, we have X dollars. This is how this needs to work. I’m telling you; you can work whatever magic you want, but within this budget or these are the actual numbers.I definitely so this career path, the pandemic changed the whole work from home and I feel like a lot of companies it’s going to be really hard to not provide some hybrid option. One thing it’s, I always remember like some people don’t like being behind the desk, and don’t like staring at spreadsheets all day cause reality is, that’s this profession. Like it is very sedentary. It’s very, you are powering through spreadsheets quite often so that is something that you have to consider. Like, is that what you want for your life? Or do you like to be up and moving?
And it’s very collaborative because you are working with other areas within the company or the agency, helping steer them in the right direction. But we’re having conversations and going over reports and performance, so in one, aspect you need to, having the skill set of being able to communicate well, articulate things to simply state facts, and recognize actual.
Those are strengths for accountants and I would say for people that are very creative, and want a lot or flexibility, this may not be a career path that would fulfill them.
Priscilla Bulcha: Great! Well, Priscilla, this was such an amazing conversation. I’m excited for people to hear your story, and also to just understand what is accounting a little bit better, so that people can find their way with this career if it’s a good, fit you know?
Priscilla Suggs: Yeah. And if I have a last or a final comment it’s people of color like if accounting, if numbers interest you, and you want to be able to paint the story of what is, and we’re tracing money and, or helping people with personal wealth or just helping a company run and understand how to manage its operations, this is a really, it’s a rewarding career in that gives you that stable income and it’s always a function that is going to be needed and there are less than 2% of black accountants out there, and black CPAs specifically so. This is a career path that help advance a profession like, if you’re a person of color, seek this out if this is something that interests you because the rest of the world needs you.
Priscilla Bulcha: Yeah. Amazing! Well, thanks so much for your time, Priscilla.
 Priscilla Suggs: Yeah, thank you so much for having me, Priscilla. I really appreciated the opportunity to share my story.
Hey, are you thinking about changing careers? Then you need to head over to my website, ECMpodcast.com and sign up to get your free 20-page guide that I wrote, with you in mind. I wrote this guide to help you change careers and get really clear on what it is that you want to do next. Career clarity is key to a career transition journey. All right. Can’t wait to hear what you think about it. Have a great week.