What Do Becoming A CPA & Summiting Mount Everest Have In Common?

I am not athletic at all. I played sports casually when I was a kid but I was never really good at any of them. In the last decade, I have also become rather inactive. However, for some reasons, I have always been extremely fascinated by mountaineering. In particular, I read books (highly recommend Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer), watched movies and documentaries on the topic of Mount Everest. The highest mountain on Earth is amazing and scary to me at the same time. I sometimes think people who have summitted or attempted to do so are simply made differently than myself (the endurance, the bravery and the physical ability are something I can only dream of having).

A couple of weeks ago, I chanced upon a mini-series called Ultimate Survival: Everest which followed a team of 4 climbers on their attempt to summit Everest. The footage was filmed back in 2004 and allowed viewers to follow the climbers all the way to the peak of the mountain.

CPA PEP & Summiting Mount Everest

It was CPA exam results day the morning after I finished the mini-series. Several of my readers reached out to me after they found out they have failed their exams. Some were devastated and some were less so but still disappointed. As I was reflecting on my and their CPA journeys, I noticed several similarities between going through CPA PEP and summiting Mount Everest. How can two things that seemingly have nothing in common (e.g., we stare at textbooks and computer screens all day as CPA students while mountaineers acclimatize and push their physical limits for weeks before their summit attempt) in fact share several things in common?

You Might Be Forced To Turn Back Or Take A Break Even When You Don’t Want To

One of the most fascinating things about summiting Mount Everest is the importance of turning back at a non-negotiable time no matter where you are on your journey. The climbers are usually given a turn-around time before they set out to summit that day. Failure to follow this rule could potentially cause them their lives as the weather on the mountain changed rapidly and could turn deadly in an instant. The mental power to turn back when you are so close to getting what you have wanted for months, if not years, is a true testament to your mental strength. Also, due to the high cost involved in an attempt, some people might never get a second chance.

On the journey of becoming a CPA, potential consequences are obviously not as deadly as climbing the mountain. However, we are sometimes forced to take a step back or take a break even if we don’t want to. For example, failing Core 2 three times means the candidate would be expelled from the program (reinstatement is possible but it is up to CPA). When that happens, candidates are forced to restart the program if they are re-admitted or change direction completely. Or, a caretaker responsibility rises up and you have no choice but to spend all your time outside of work to take care of them.

It would be nice if we can all do what we want without consequences, however, life simply doesn’t work that way.

You Need Discipline to Summit Mount Everest But Also To Become A CPA

Remember I said I thought I was simply made differently than the people who summited or attempted to summit Mount Everest? That was because I didn’t think I would have the physical and mental endurances summiting Mount Everest required. However, is CPA PEP a walk in the park? Many, including myself, would tell you no. To get designated, candidates with a Bachelor’s Degree need to pass 6 PEP modules, a 3-day exam and obtain 30 months of progressive work experience. The program was designed to take 2 years to complete but many candidates have taken longer than that. A lot can happen in two years – your career, relationships, health and caretaking responsibilities could all change for the better or worse. You don’t become a CPA by just doing the bare minimum. It requires a lot of discipline to stay on track with your career and the program for over 2+ years.

Before they even got to the base camp of Mount Everest, climbers often trained for months and attempted at least one of the other Eight-Thousanders before. Getting to the base camp was also just the beginning. What followed was the crucial acclimatization process that took an average of 2 months.

You Don’t Need To Do It And You Can Give Up Anytime

You don’t need to climb Mount Everest or become a CPA. There are other extreme sports out there for people who are seeking thrills and adrenaline rushes. There are also other well-paying careers out there that don’t require a CPA.

On Mount Everest, there are 5 camps including the Base Camp before the summit. Climbers can walk away and fly home to their loved ones at anytime (maybe not possible at certain spots on the mountain as human traffic jam exists 8,000m above the sea level). Yes, the efforts and money you spent on the attempt will be lost if you do that but those are sunk costs already. Same goes for the CPA program. If you decide to walk away just before you write your CFE, you might realize your life stays exactly like before. It might be different if the promotion you have been working on requires designation but many times it does not (or you are happy where you are).

RELATED POST – My CPA Journey – How Do I Know If It Is Okay To Quit?

People Do It For Different Reasons And Your Reason Is Why You Keep Going

When I was watching Ultimate Survival: Everest, I probably said this to Eric a hundred times, “I don’t get why they are doing this to themselves.”

Don’t get me wrong – I said that with the utmost admiration for their physical and mental strengths. It was simply fascinating to me how someone can voluntarily put themselves through a process where they were literally dying. The Death Zone at 8,000 metres above the sea level has so little oxygen that the cells in your body begin to die. Yet, over 4,000 people have summited the tallest mountain since it was first summited in 1953 and some have lost their lives trying.

On a gentler scale that rarely involves physical injuries and deaths (but mental health can suffer), people go through CPA PEP for a multitude of reasons. Career progression is obviously a common one but I know people who have made it to senior management before they even think about getting their designation. I also know people who are content with mid-level positions even after they have obtained their letter.

Whatever your reason is, it is the driving force that will keep you going when things get hard and you want to give up. For CPA, it might be failing an exam or getting your PERT report rejected. For the mountaineers, it might be exhaustion or even getting frostbite on your toes or fingers.

They Both Cost Thousands Of Dollars Whether You Succeed Or Not

According to National Geographic, a spot on a guided team costs anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000 USD. If you take into consideration the barely-more-likely-than-not 60% success rate, summiting Mount Everest could cost you a large down payment on a house (maybe not in Vancouver). The amount you pay also does not guarantee success. Part of what makes climbing Mount Everest so difficult is the fact that at certain altitudes, climbers often struggle to take care of just themselves, let alone helping another fellow climber. Rescues done by Sherpas (a genetically adapted group native to the most mountainous regions of Nepal) and helicopters are possible but often come with a high price tag with a mission to help you down, not up (though Sherpas are commonly hired as guides and helpers for the summit attempt).

For CPA, depending on what your undergraduate degree is in, the program costs anywhere from $12,500 to $23,000 CAD. It is a much cheaper option than attempting to summit Mount Everest but it also does not guarantee success. Success in either of these ultimately depends on your effort, circumstances and luck.