My journey to becoming a CPA was not typical, as accounting was not my first career. I was born and raised in Lublin, a city in eastern Poland. My parents were engineers by trade, and they encouraged me to pursue that career. Despite my interest in science and math, however, I did not quite see myself as an engineer.

I did follow in my parents’ footsteps in the sense that I attended a business program offered at the Lublin University of Technology, an engineering university. The five-year program in the school’s management faculty led to a dual master’s degree in engineering and management. The program was designed to prepare students for a management role in technical fields where it would be essential to understand processes to effectively make executive decisions. Aside from engineering classes, the business program had an extensive accounting curriculum, and I found myself drawn to those classes. I was fascinated with the way numbers can tell a story about a company, helping management make crucial decisions. In addition, the financial statements were like a puzzle to solve. Unfortunately, when finals came around, the accounting material turned out to be more difficult than I anticipated. I struggled with testing, and though I persevered and passed all my classes, my fascination with accounting was dissipating. By the end of my studies, I was convinced an accounting career was not in my future, and I chose a different path.

Seizing Opportunities

After college, I moved to the United States, where I pursued a career in finance. I obtained securities licenses (Series 7 and 66) and an insurance license, and began working in the financial services industry. I felt I was making a difference in people’s lives by helping clients make smart decisions with their money. In 2011, I joined UHY Advisors NY in a consulting role. I worked directly with Mike Zovistoski in a wealth management practice. We worked together to service the firm’s investment clients and build up the practice. (Aside from being an accomplished CPA and audit partner in the firm, Mike is also a former NYSSCPA president.) Over the years, I was privileged to learn great business skills from him. He became a true mentor, and I am very grateful for all the guidance he provided along the way.

During my initial interview at UHY, I expressed an interest in exploring the public accounting profession at some point to become a more versatile and well-rounded employee. He listened and truly took my words to heart. One day, he came over to my desk and told me, “If you want to learn, I have an opportunity for you.” That’s how I wound up helping out in the tax department during busy season.

The process of becoming a licensed CPA teaches resilience and that failure is an opportunity to learn and do better next time.

Over the years, Mike presented me with many more opportunities that were outside of the scope of my job description, but gave me a chance to explore various areas of CPA practice and get an introduction to what public accounting is all about. These experiences shaped my path to becoming a CPA. The light came on in my head: “I can do it.” I decided to pursue a CPA license. I filled out an application with New York State Department of Education to evaluate my foreign master’s degree, only to be informed that I was not eligible to sit for the CPA exam. I had to go back to school to make up accounting courses that my program back in Poland had lacked, including courses in federal taxation and external auditing.

Within a year, I fulfilled my eligibility requirements. I was so excited that I could not wait for the opportunity to sit for the exam. Studying for the CPA exam was a serious commitment, one that required daily dedication and finding time not already filled by my full-time job.

The process of becoming a licensed CPA teaches resilience and that failure is an opportunity to learn and do better next time. It is not easy by any means, but I have learned that great things in life never come without leaving your comfort zone. There is a tremendous sense of accomplishment when you actually become a CPA, and I highly recommend it.

A Rewarding Profession

While I was working to obtain my CPA license, I transitioned from advisory services into an accounting role. I gravitated toward the tax department because I liked research and the ability to work independently on projects. Also, the role seemed to be the best complement for my previous experience as a financial services consultant. Today, my job gives me opportunities for growth and to constantly learn new things alongside a team of amazing people who are tremendously supportive of my career growth. It’s hard to believe that I am already approaching the first renewal of my license as a senior staff accountant for the tax practice in UHY’s Albany office.

Becoming a CPA gives you respect and admiration from your peers, clients, and the general public. It’s a very rewarding feeling to become a trusted advisor to the public. CPAs are viewed as elite professionals who go through rigorous academic and technical training, and their ethics and character are further tested with on-job training. Earning a CPA license demonstrates commitment to the profession and highlights the individual’s potential for management and leadership positions.

My journey to becoming a CPA taught me that no matter how many obstacles stand between you and your goals, you should keep pursuing them with determination. You can’t give up just because something is hard, and you need to get “comfortable with being uncomfortable,” and become confident about being uncertain. Pushing through challenges is what makes you grow, and I can’t wait to see what challenges come my way as my career progresses.

Ewa Ulanowska, CPA, is a senior staff accountant at UHY LLP, Albany, N.Y.