Finding motivation in the face of adversity

How one professional stayed on track despite challenges.

Growing up in a home where money was tight and then becoming a single mother at 20, Leah Hahn, CPA, knew that getting the education and experience she needed wasn’t going to be easy.

Though she started out with few professional role models and an uncertain future, Hahn is now general manager at Davis, Josey, Keating & Ranes LLC, a public accounting firm in Maryland, and hopes to be a partner one day. And it all happened because she was able to find new motivation in every challenge, she said.

“I grew up in a low-income household” in Annapolis, Md., said Hahn, now 36. She wore clothes donated by other families in her church, and her family depended on government-provided aid to put food on the table. Neither of her parents attended college or finished high school, although her mother later got her GED diploma.

Although Hahn didn’t have the kind of mentors in her early years who often motivate someone to career success, she did know that she wanted more than the life she grew up in. That prompted her to focus on education as a key to advancement, and she started out by taking general courses at a community college.

Motivation to succeed

Hahn enjoyed an accounting class she took at community college and ultimately decided to go for an undergraduate degree in accounting. During the five years it took to complete her undergraduate degree, Hahn found good reasons to stick with her studies.

For example, she had never expressly planned on becoming a CPA, but in one accounting class the professor focused on material that would be covered in the CPA Exam and encouraged students to consider working toward the exam. The professor talked about the fact that CPAs’ skills were always needed, which meant plenty of opportunities in different fields and good pay. Once Hahn understood the many career options open to CPAs, she became excited about where her accounting studies might take her, she said. She had found something she thought she was good at and she was eager to learn about the career prospects it offered.

The professor’s emphasis on the exam and its value “opened my mind to the possibilities,” she said.

Adapting to new life challenges

Hahn became a single mom while pursuing her undergraduate degree, an unexpected new responsibility that might have sidetracked others. But her new baby “was just further motivation for me,” she said. “I was determined to make a good life for the two of us.”

It wasn’t always easy, but Hahn persevered by finding practical solutions and asking for help when she needed it. When mixing work and night classes became too exhausting, Hahn took online courses that were easier to fit into her packed schedule. She was also able to rely on the support of family and friends to help juggle the demands of her education, work, and personal life.

Identifying her goals

Writing down her objectives beginning while she was in community college helped Hahn maintain focus on them and better strategize about how to achieve them. Hahn’s list included getting an MBA, which she decided was worth pursuing after a professor suggested it would expand her professional horizons.

Hahn’s story demonstrates the importance of persisting despite hurdles. Her advice for prospective CPAs is to keep their eyes on their dreams.

“Figure out what motivates you,” she advised. “When you get discouraged, focus on that. Eventually, you will succeed, and it will be worth it.”

Anita Dennis is a New Jersey-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, associate director, content development.

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