How Do You Prepare Mentally For CPA CFE?

At the time of writing of this post, the September CFE I am writing is 41 days away. Unlike many candidates, I chose to start CFE prep a lot earlier than necessary. I have known very early on in my journey that this was what I was going to do. I know myself well enough to know that cramming and procrastinating are not my style. I am aware that I perform best if I take things in in small chucks over a long period of time. However, I did not make this decision so I can have a chance at being placed on the honour roll (top 1% of successful CFE writers). I made this decision because I knew I wanted to have the best time possible on my CPA journey. I did it for my mental health because it is important.

With Capstone 2 underway (in our third week), some of you have reached out to me expressing the fatigue and meltdown you have already experienced. In particular, one reader asked me how I have been handling starting a new role (from Corporate to Revenue Accountant) and CFE prep at the same time. I want to share what have been working for me during CFE prep (also throughout my CPA journey) in hopes that they will help you as well.

Don’t Let CFE Prep Take Control Of Your Entire Life

I definitely spend more time thinking about CFE prep than candidates on average. This is because of the site (with 74 CPA posts and counting) you are reading this post on. I deliberately made it into a hobby/side-hustle that I enjoy doing in the evenings/on the weekends. However, even I don’t spend an entire day thinking about CPA. On a weekday, I have been spending on average 45 minutes to 3 hours (if I have a Day 2 case to write) after work reviewing technical or writing cases. I also take full-on slack days here and there (you would be familiar with my consecutive slack days if you have been reading my CFE prep diary). You might think I spend more time on the weekend but that cannot be further from the truth. I chose to spend time with Eric or my friends in the midst of CFE prep because there is no reason why it needs to consume your entire life for 2 months. The CFE calendar provided by CPA Capstone 2 and Densmore both designate 2 days per week as rest days. This is because balance is key with CFE prep. Hard work is required but overworking is not always effective.

Set Boundaries At Work

I know I am lucky because my job in the industry offers consistent hours and no OT. It also helps that my manager is understanding and fair. However, it does not mean that you have to suffer in silence and stay up all night just to catch up on your studying. I always encourage people to know your boundaries and communicate them to your superiors respectfully. Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying to throw a fist at your manager if he/she reached out to you on your day off. I am reminding you to expect the same level of respect you would give to someone who has the day off from work. For example, my manager always made a point to let us know he can be reached on his day off. That doesn’t mean my coworkers and I will not try to solve the problems without him and only reach out if absolutely necessary.

I understand this can be a difficult concept for some as I grew up in a culture that encouraged obedience to your superiors. I went to school in Hong Kong for years so questioning my superiors was a foreign concept to me until recent years. The reality is not everyone is equipped to lead without assistance. Some are born leaders and some will take time and experience to get there. They simply might not be aware thay they are overstepping boundaries when they do. Since you can’t always choose your manager, learn to voice your requests and concerns professionally. Explain to them that you have priorities. As cliché as it sounds, sometimes it is just not you.

Pay To Relieve Stress(es) From Your Life

I used to think paying for service you can do yourself (e.g., grocery shopping, cleaning) is a fancy thing reserved for only rich people. I have slowly changed my mind on this over the years as I think about the opportunity cost for paying for such services. For $75, I can either get a pair of heels from Banana Republic (and I am so weak against their shoes) or I can pay someone to clean the house for two to three hours. You probably will not think of someone who spends $75 on a pair of heels rich but you might think of someone “who hires cleaner” well-off. However, that is not true. Regardless of how they spend the money, they have $75 to spend. They can either spend to save their time (e.g., cleaning) or to fill their closet with more shoes.

The next time you have a moment (waiting for your drive-thru, showering), think of things you would gladly pay for someone/something to do so you can have some time back and experience less stress. Find out how much it is and consider whether it is worth it. It might not always be but the worst you can do is going back to doing it yourself.

Personally, I dread cooking. I know I can do it full-time because I had to for a period of time when COVID shut everything down last year. But, I would prefer not doing it more than a few times a week. Eric also doesn’t cook. As a result, we budget for take-outs and dine-ins accordingly. We might spend more than some on food and there are downsides to eating out all the time (my own cooking is not that much healthier though). However, I have more time to do what makes me happy while balancing work, jenthinks and CPA.

Are you preparing for CFE and is wondering what you need to know?
Check out my CFE guides here!

Be Your Own Cheerleader

It is a privilege to have a support network (note, more does not equal better) but that does not mean you have to be alone if you don’t (or they are busy with other priorities in life). I routinely talk myself out of situations or frustrations because why not? For example, I got my marked Elcar case back from the National Marking Center (NMC) few days ago and got a mixture of NCs (common and role) and RCs (for my role). I knew getting these results was part of the learning process but I was still disappointed. This might be discouraging as this happened even when I started CFE prep so early (then how early does one need to start?). However, the way CFE is set up, knowing how to score/answer is as important as having the technical knowledge. The tried-and-succeeded CFE prep process is about improvement over time. As understanding as Eric is, he will not be telling me this as well as I could have told myself. This is why it is important to be your own cheerleader.

Remind Yourself To Appreciate The Process

Unavoidable frustrations early in the CFE prep process can quickly turn into a vicious cycle (you get frustrated > you perform worse > you get even more frustrated). If you don’t adjust your mindset early in the process, you might start to resent CFE prep to a point of hate. There is no need to be unhappy. For most of you, getting your CPA designation is a path you chose amongst so many others. There must be really good reasons why you did and all the case-writing and technical reviews simply overshadowed your ‘why’ temporarily.

Remind yourself why you chose to start this journey over two years ago. Think about the opportunities your designation will open up. Even if you happen to have already decided to pursue another career path as soon as CFE is over, it does not mean you need to resent what you have to do to get there now. CFE prep is a part of the process you might appreciate, if not now, later down the road. Be proud of yourself for making as far as you have so far and cross the finish line as happy as you can be.

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

Remove Yourself From Toxic Situations

For the sake of my mental health, I do everything in my power to remove myself from toxic situations. It could be work-related, relationship-related or environment-related. Regardless of which one it is, being in a toxic situation wears you down and dampens your mood. Treat your mind the same protective way you would treat your body (e.g., wear gloves when you handle hot food). You need a healthy mind to cross the finishing line as it will get hard in the next 6 weeks or so. Do not apologize for taking care of yourself. If you think something or someone does not deserve you, you are probably right.

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