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Technology and the gig economy are not only changing how work gets done, they are disrupting our very definition of success.
Let’s start with a quick pop quiz: Please choose the correct definition of Work-Life Balance for accounting careers. Here are your options:

A)  Work 40 hours a week for 40 years, then retire comfortably, travel freely, and dote on your grandkids.
B)  Work your tail off for 30 years – sacrificing time with family and friends – then retire 10 years early and pursue your passion for _______ (e.g., golf, sailing, interpretive dance…) full time.
C)  Work enough to secure your financial future while maximizing time spent on relationships and experiences that mean a lot to you.
D)  Who the heck cares about work-life balance? All I do is work!

Congratulations, you answered correctly! Because our notion of optimal work-life balance is a fluid concept that varies from person to person and from generation to generation – technically there are no wrong answers. You’ll find plenty of accountants who gravitate to each of these thoroughly unscientific definitions; However, the vast majority would agree that in the tug of war between work and life, work generally wins.

If you’re like me, you might know an accountant who embodies answer D; someone who is ready, willing, and somehow able to work constantly. Also like me, you may think of that person as successful – their hard work having earned them plenty of money to perhaps enjoy one day. And finally like me, you may have first-hand experience operating a typewriter or rotary-dial telephone.

But if the Internet has been a part of your life from an early age, chances are you think people living the A, B, and D lifestyles are all off the mark to varying degrees. For you, work-life balance is not some utopian mirage that people dream about but can never actually achieve. You see people around the world posting how they leverage technology to work smart, deliver value, and find time to enjoy their lives to the fullest, now. In fact, USA Today reports: More Millennials want freelance careers instead of working full time.

Finding balance in your accounting career

If answer C speaks to you, there’s never been a better time to be in the management accounting field. Automation, blockchain, and artificial intelligence may be taking over routine functions in public accounting (particularly in auditing and tax), but companies are more than ever in need of accounting and finance expertise applied to support strategic business decisions. And a large, well-paying, and ever-growing portion of that work is now available on a freelance basis via the “gig economy.” This is great news for you millennials seeking more career flexibility!

But before you start thinking the path to work-life balance is just a Google search away, you need to take stock of your qualifications. To succeed as a freelance consultant, you need to demonstrate you have the skills and relevant experience to consistently land assignments. Keep in mind, while you may have an accounting background, businesses are often looking more specifically for management accounting expertise; that is, people who know how to find business-building insights in financial and customer data, and can apply cost-based planning, budgeting, and forecasting to drive smarter decisions. Moreover, management accountants are uniquely qualified to help companies maximize the value of new technologies and data analytics tools used to support business innovation and growth.

If that doesn’t sound like you at the moment, don’t despair. As with everything in this day and age, there is a way to hack the system. Earning a benchmark professional certification, such as the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant), shows employers and potential clients you bring validated accounting and finance expertise as well as strong business management skills to any assignment. (For more perspective, review the core management accounting competencies in demand today.) As a globally recognized certification, the CMA could be your passport to a wide range of consulting opportunities.

In practice, achieving work-life balance is more complicated than just deciding to be a consultant. You had better be a master of time management and ready to travel at a moment’s notice – just for starters. But perhaps more important than deciding if consulting is the right path for you, it’s knowing that technology is modernizing the definition of success for millions of accountants.

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