I’m convinced three things are necessary for turning dreams into reality: imagination, courage and tenacity. I’ve been “accused” of having all three, and as a result, my dreams—owning a horse, having a country home with access to land available for riding, and running my own home-based practice—have come true.
My life and my career have not been typical. Aptitude tests suggested I was ideally suited to be a forest ranger, but, in the 1960s, that was not a career open to women. The tests also showed great aptitudes for computation, so, like my father and grandfather, I decided to become an accountant.
I graduated from college a few years after Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was enacted, and the large firms were clamoring for female accountants. I decided on an offer from a Big Eight firm in Dallas. What I did not understand, though, was the rigorous time demands of working for a large firm. I let it be known 16-hour days did not appeal to me. Needless to say, my days with that Big Eight firm were numbered. When my employer terminated me, he said, “You have the most potential and the worst attitude of anyone we have ever hired!”
He was probably right. I went through eight jobs within six years, but I didn’t lose all of the jobs because of attitude. Two of my corporate jobs were with real estate development firms that went under. The experience and knowledge I gained from my aborted careers paid off when I opened my own home-based practice in 1975.
Getting established as a sole practitioner took a lot of imagination and courage. In those days, direct solicitation of clients was not permitted, so to get work, I knocked on the doors of area CPA firms for per diem work. A friend and fellow CPA advised me to take any “bones” (tedious work firms didn’t want) tossed at me. One “bone” I picked up was creating accounting records for an entrepreneur who owned about 10 small businesses but did not have any books. It was tough work, but I created his ledgers. He became my largest client and stayed with me for 29 years.
Another of my largest clients was a friend and co-worker from one of the bankrupt real estate development companies. He opened a single pawn shop, which eventually evolved into a small chain. I worked for him for free for a period of time until he got established. Today, he represents a big percentage of my income.
In 1970 I fulfilled the first of my dreams: I bought my first horse and started riding with an equestrian group. One day we rode on land owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, about 30 miles from Dallas. I fell in love with that land, which was so ideal for riding, with its native flora, fauna and open spaces, that in 1973 I bought some acreage near it, and two years later built a house with my office. I thought I would be able to ride whenever I wanted.
The Corps, though, had other ideas. To reclaim the land from motorcycle gangs, drug addicts, and people who used it as a landfill, the Corps fenced the land and created a limited-access park without equestrian trails. In 1983, it started enforcing its “no horseback riding” rule. To fight the Corps, I formed the Committee to Save Pilot Knoll Park for Horse Riding Recreation.
Using CPA skills I had acquired dealing with the IRS, we began to battle the Army. We circulated petitions, gained the approval of local elected officials, and won the support of the area’s congressman. I also found a loophole in the Corps’ rules: If we could get the approval of the Corps’ district engineer, the area would be open to riding. So, we tenaciously fought a public relations battle with the result that most of the 3,000 acres was opened for equestrian use. Realizing that a good long-term relationship with the Corps was necessary, I have continued to work with the Corps in land cleanup campaigns and other conservation projects.
Life has a funny way of turning out just right. It was probably best that I didn’t become a forest ranger. My career as a CPA has given me the flexibility and income, not to mention the skills and experience, to live all my dreams and to help others achieve theirs.
—As told to Linda Segall, email@example.com,
a freelance writer from Jacksonville, Fla.
More from the JofA: