When you were 17, what did you want to be?
At 17, I had actually been working in a doctor’s office. I was on the pre-med track, so I was getting to work in a pediatric/plastic surgeon’s office, a husband/wife duo. I’d go and sit in the consultation rooms for pediatrics, I sat in consultations for plastic surgery. I didn’t want to be either of those, but it kind of gives you what to expect a little bit.
When you’re little, you have firefighter, police officer, astronaut, doctor, president, 10 or 15 different career paths that people go into. My dad was an engineer - didn’t want to do that. My mom was a nurse and I thought, “I like that, I kind of understand that.” The schoolwork is challenging, I can follow directions, do what I’m supposed to, put in the time, so that was the route I was thinking. And there were so many different aspects to being a doctor; you could do clinical research, you could be helping actual people. It seemed like a challenge, and I always gravitated toward a challenge.
How did you decide to attend Florida Atlantic University?
I played basketball, volleyball, flag football, and softball in high school. And then I got a full-ride to play softball in college. Florida Atlantic [University] was my hometown school. I grew up watching them, I knew the coach. I always wanted to go out of town, but there were some family things that happened and it just made more sense to go local. And at that age, you don’t really understand debt and student loans as well as I do now.
Florida Atlantic was well known for [softball]. That’s something I was really focused on besides my academics. I spent 15-20 years devoting myself to that sport, I put a lot of time into it. I consider it my first career; I worked a lot, it paid for a lot of things that people are still paying off now. And it’s close to the beach! After summer practices, going to the beach and just jumping in the water…we could do that, and it was just 5 minutes away.
And I didn’t live at home. I lived in the dorms and I lived in apartments thereafter. It gives you that sense of freedom even though it was a 10-15 minute ride to go home for dinner if I’d really wanted to. But honestly, I never had the time.
It’s just different when you go to school as an athlete too. It creates a sense of family that you don’t normally get when you go in on your own. I went in and had a family of 20 other girls who were there for me, and allowed me to be myself, who I could learn from on an athletic, academic, and a personal level.
How did you choose your major?
I was in a specialized track. Your freshman year they usually set you up with the basic humanities classes, but when you’re pre-med, you don’t do any of those things. I had a track I had to follow, not only because they want to get you out of there in four, four and a half years, but also as an athlete, you’re mandated to hit certain marks. You have to take 4 or 5 classes, usually you’re front-loaded in the fall or whatever semester you’re not active in your sport.
A lot of the classes in the pre-med track are these huge 300-400 person auditoriums. You’re moving through 3-4 chapters in a class, not easy stuff. It was eye-opening. A lot of the teachers use scare tactics like, “Look to the left, look to the right. You’re not going to be sitting next to these people when you’re done.” I actually was that statistic. But it had nothing to do with the fact that I didn’t want to do it. I just couldn’t make it work with being an athlete. I didn’t have the time. I decided that I couldn’t do this and enjoy my college experience.
I had to pick what kind of choices I wanted to have. Did I want to do humanities or something open-ended, that didn’t give you a specific track? I wanted to come out, take that degree, find a job with it immediately, and try to build a career on this if it’s something I enjoy. At that point, I started to get into finance. It’s something I’ve always been intrigued by, how to make money, how to create wealth.
I decided to do accounting. It was really easy to follow; it’s all about concepts: you step left, you step right, debits, credits, it all balances out to equal. It’s a very easy recipe to understand, or at least it was for me. And you can take it a bunch of different directions. I like the creative accounting aspect, how something simple can explain a billion dollar company. All these ins and outs and these numbers can tell you a story in some sense.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
Even though I made a change in major, I still graduated in four years. That meant that I had to take summer classes and I took a lot of classes my last year. And I was done with my softball career, so I just needed a little break. I actually took a trip with my grandparents; I drove my grandparents to West Virginia, and just took a month off in the country.
I came back, and I got a job immediately with a really small manufacturing firm as a staff accountant. I did everything from payroll to finances to accounts receivable, accounts payable. It was enough to give me the real life version of what accounting is as opposed to the textbook version. There’s software to do all that stuff. And that’s something they don’t teach you in school. They don’t tell you there are programs out there that basically do your job for you. You just have to monitor it.
That was a small company, family-owned, family-run. It was an Orthodox Jewish company, I couldn’t even shake the owner’s hand. The CFO and I were the only gentiles in the whole company. There was a kosher kitchen and a gentile kitchen. That was a very interesting experience. I worked there for a year, which gave me the experience I needed.
I ended up getting a job with Tyco/ADT, a security company. They’re a Fortune 500 company in South Florida. It was another eye-opening experience going into real corporate finance, real corporate accounting. Everything is structured, and they use Oracle and all these different CRMs and systems that manage not only your accounting, but they also create efficiencies in your work.
I was on a team of 20 people, and they all had their own little roles. I was a cash accountant, I took care of all 25 cash accounts, reconciled them, tied them in a bow every month, deadline, deadline, deadline. It’s a different type of environment, different rules, strict guidelines, but it was what I needed at that point in my career, because you need that experience. They went through an IPO, I saw that firsthand. They acquired companies, so I saw mergers and acquisitions. It was a fast-paced environment. I really like being challenged all the time and it gave me a challenge.
If you want to make it in the business world, to advance your career, you have to work for a big company and learn how to build relationships, talk to people, work with men, with women.
As a young female, you’re trying to give yourself a voice, speak your mind with a little bit of authority, and you want to be an expert in your field, but you’re also trying to learn how to communicate with people. How to have your niche be respected, but also be approachable. And I’m still trying to find that balance.
And then I was ready for a change of pace. I was hitting a wall in the company. It’s hard to move up, and sometimes you have to shift and up, shift and up, so that’s what I did. I shifted to another company and moved up into a different position. So I was a senior accountant now. It was another project I could experience, insourcing from a failed outsourcing to India.
CEMEX was a Mexican concrete company, another larger company. I enjoyed the work I was doing, I enjoyed the challenge of it. But the company culture was terrible. I wasn’t happy, the corporate environment was very cold and boring and cement-like. They were typical accountants, dry humor, dry everything, no personalities. Everything by the book.
So I left that company and I went to Lennar and I really, really enjoyed working for that company. They build homes, and they have a really heavy presence in Florida because they’re based in Miami. It was a dynamic role; I was regional accounting manager for the east coast of Lennar.
I had never worked in the homebuilding industry, but it kind of tied some things together because my dad was an engineer in commercial construction. I was also fascinated by real estate in general because I own investment propertiesI actually bought a house from Lennar before I even started working for them. They taught me a lot. I only worked there for 9 months. I would have worked there a lot longer, but my boyfriend moved back to Sarasota.
So I was trying to find a role that would also take me to the next level. It’s harder to do in small towns, because they don’t have the bigger companies. I just stumbled upon the job that I’m currently in now on Indeed or LinkedIn or something like that; I didn’t even know it was remote to begin with. It was a controller position, and it scared the shit out of me. It meant that I was controlling a company and doing things I’d never done before, like HR management and multi-state taxes. I’d done aspects of all these things, but I’d never completely owned them where I was the person who researched and called the shots and presented it to leadership. I almost didn’t apply for it because I was 27, 28 at the time and I thought I wasn’t qualified.
It was the best decision I’ve ever made. You can’t stay in your comfort zone. And the cherry on top was that it was a remote company. I wasn’t actually looking for a remote job, but it afforded me a lot of freedom, and it taught me more self-discipline, nobody’s looking over your shoulder. You’re on your own schedule, but you end up working more hours because it’s hard to separate the personal from the professional when you desk is literally 15 steps from your couch or your bed.
It’s hard sometimes. It gets boring. I have conversations with my cat, my dogs, I play hide-and-go-seek. I have worked outside in the grass, in my car, in coffee shops, but staying motivated is something you get from human interaction. And that’s probably one of the reasons I wanted to come on this trip.
I want personal freedom, I want to create my own future, so I think my next step is going to be shifting out and finally taking ownership of something, whether it be small, big, just doing it for myself. And each step I’ve taken has just been one step closer to that realization. We’re all looking for a certain type of personal freedom. It could be financially, it could be spiritually, just trying to find something that truly makes you happy. And I don’t think I’ve completely found that yet, but it’s actually a fun quest to try to get to it.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
There are a lot of things that I wish I had realized more quickly. We lie to ourselves more than anybody else. And we lie to ourselves saying we’re happy in our current situation. I’m able to read my emotions more quickly, and that’s something you don’t learn in school. Taking time for myself, just listening to myself more; I would have gotten places faster, or realized certain things didn’t make me happy just because there were dollar signs associated with them. I don’t think it’s something that’s really talked about when you talk about careers.
I’ve realized what makes me happy is being challenged, new cultures, new ways of doing things, meeting new people, trying something I didn’t think I liked. Keep challenging yourself. That’s the only way you’re going to get over those hurdles.
And a lot of times our education system is pass/fail, you either did well or you didn’t. And if you stop, you fail. But that’s not always the case. You have to look at it as more of a pivot. You just shifted your direction. Give yourself the ability to change your direction.