Wealth and Happiness

Through this trip I have posted blogs that thematically connect Scandinavian culture, values, and history to the innovation, progress, and practices of both newer and more established businesses. For this last post I would like to view the trip from another angle, looking at my experiences through the lens of a public accountant.

Over the past two years I have recruited with a variety of public and private accounting firms, both big and small, and interned at a mid-sized predominantly west-coast accounting firm. Each firm, whether it was one of the big-4, or a local private firm with 40 employees, claimed that they hired based on cultural fit, and provided their employees with a unique work-life balance. In every interview I asked how the company differentiates itself from the other firms, and every interviewer answered with a “work-life balance,” “accessible management,” “unique culture,” and “opportunities for growth,” each inadvertently contradicting their own point by making the same claims as every other firm. With confirmation that each firm is essentially the same, I began to wonder if they even offered the unique features that they advertised. My trip to Sweden put this into perspective.

Through my trip I heard many companies use the same buzz words used by accounting recruiters. At Spotify, our presenter talked about valuing company culture and hiring based on cultural fit, not academic success. At accounting firms, does only hiring students with a 3.5+ GPA with internship experience and multiple extracurricular activities truly reflect their focus on cultural fit? In many Swedish companies nobody has an office, and managers and lower-level employees alike sit together in communal office spaces. At accounting firms, are managers truly accessible and easy to communicate with when they grace a lower-level employee with their attention during a coffee-break, while otherwise spending the majority of their day locked away in their office? In Sweden, 5 weeks of paid vacation is legally mandatory, and work-weeks are 40 hours. The companies we visited go above and beyond to accommodate their employees’ lives, ensuring they have time to spend with their family. At accounting firms, does 5 weeks of paid vacation and an understanding that you may come into work at 9am instead of 8am every day because you have to drop off your kid at school, as long as you stay one hour later every day, really count as work-life balance when you have a 50 to 70+ hour workweeks?

7 years ago I came to the realization that success is not defined by wealth and power. To me, success is happiness, being with loved ones, and leading a fulfilling life. While, as outlined in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a person requires some level of wealth to ensure that one’s basic needs are met, money can only get you so far. Swedish culture reflects my own values, and through this trip I was able to see that my goals in life are attainable. As I begin my career as a CPA, I will keep my definition of success in mind to ensure that I will lead a fulfilling life, pursuing happiness instead of wealth.

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