Episode #5: Forgive Yourself - You Are Not Going To Be Perfect with Boyd Search
Nobody is perfect; otherwise, there would be no such thing as weaknesses and mistakes where you can learn great lessons from. In this episode, Boyd Search, President and CEO of The Georgia Society of CPAs (GSCPA), tells the story of his accidental journey into the association world. He shares the shifts in mindset along the way that have helped his transformation towards leading a statewide organization. As people, especially leaders, constantly strive for perfection, Boyd reiterates that no one is perfect and that we should forgive ourselves for not being so. He reflects this to creating a culture that brings a win-win satisfaction for everyone. He also tackles the importance of putting moments of pause to your career for you to understand which direction is right for you.
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Forgive Yourself - You Are Not Going To Be Perfect with Boyd Search
I interviewed Boyd Search, who's the Chief Executive Officer of the Georgia Society of CPAs. His career spans 21 years in association management. As the CEO, he focuses on creating opportunities for CPAs to be leaders in their profession. He’s directing legislative initiatives and advocating on behalf of the profession. He’s safeguarding the profession’s high professional standards by attracting the best and the brightest to careers as CPAs. Boyd holds a Bachelor's degree in Political Science with a minor in Economics from Ohio State University. He has a wife, Kristin, and their three daughters. Boyd tells the story of his accidental journey into the association world. He also shares the shifts in mindset along the way that has helped him transform to leading a statewide organization.
I'm here with Boyd Search, the President and CEO of the Georgia Society of CPAs. We’ve finished with the keynote for the Southeast Accounting Conference. We'd love to hear a little bit about you and the role you have with Georgia Society.
I have spent my entire career in association management and CPA association management. I had a job right out of Ohio State that was a couple of years. I went to work for the Ohio Society immediately after that. I was there shy of fourteen years before coming down to be the CEO of the Georgia Society in 2011.
How did you get into the career that you're in now? How did you even start in association management in the first place?
It was dumb luck. I had gone to Ohio State and gotten a degree in Political Science and a minor in Economics and thought I wanted to go to law school. Six weeks before that was all going to happen, for a variety of reasons, I decided this is not going to be for me. I thought of a political future.
What started that? Why did you want a political future?
Growing up, my dad worked for Ohio Bell Ameritech at AT&T. One of his last role there was as Director of Public Relations. He was the chief lobbyist in Washington and Ohio for Ameritech and AT&T. I saw a lot of the behind the scenes stuff. I also had a passion for, I think public surface makes it sound too altruistic than it was, but I thought I like the game. I had some examples in my life of people who had gone through law school and at that point they were in debt up to their eyeballs and had trouble finding jobs. I thought, “Maybe this isn't the path. Maybe I better pause.” I had always been in such a hurry and for the first time in my life I was like, “I'm going to maybe not be in a hurry.”
Why are you in a hurry?
I felt like I was supposed to get out of school, get a job, get married, have kids and do everything my parents did. That all wound up happening. I figured out what my reasons were and what I wanted as opposed to just modeling what I knew and what I thought was supposed to be the path. I decided not to go to law school. I went back and got a second degree in accounting. I'm not a CPA though. I went to work for a small family-owned company doing bookkeeping and things like that and computerized their systems. They were all on index cards and stuff. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I was working full-time and going to school full-time. I got married during that stretch and was doing all the networking I thought I was supposed to do. When I finished my second degree, I applied for industry jobs, public accounting, back then it was the big six, I think. I sent out 50 resumes and had a network of people that were like, “You've done the right things. It’s going to be great.” I didn't get a single phone call from all those resumes. I started panicking a little bit and I'm like, “What have I done wrong?”
I started calling some of the companies I had sent resumes to. One of those was the Ohio Society of CPAs. Laura Hay, who is still there and the COO there, I left her a voicemail saying, “I'm interested in this job.” My father-in-law, who is a CPA in Ohio, knew the organization and thought it'd be a great place to work. I said, “I'm interested. Is there anything else you need?” It was the first phone call I made. “Here's my phone number. Give me a callback.” This was in the fall of 1997. She called me back about a half-hour later and said, “I don't know how to tell you this, but you've transposed the last two digits of your phone number on your resume.” She says, “If you're not too embarrassed, I'd still like to interview you.” She did and I got the job.
It’s amazing that we can sit there feeling bad about ourselves. If you hadn't made that phone call, you would have also been thinking it was something about you.
I was. That was the first big lesson that you're not going to get things perfect. Maybe a little humility and forgiveness of yourself is a good thing. It was meant to be. I went to work at the Ohio Society and fell in love with the work of associations. I worked for Laura and eventually reported to Clark Price, who is the CEO there forever. He is still one of my closest friends and my mentor. It’s a lot of luck finding a place like that with bosses like that.
Going back to your father, this is why you were going to go into law school originally and become a lawyer. What were some belief systems that were instilled either by him or that you interpreted because of growing up that way?
It’s interpreted because as I look back on my childhood, I have an older brother and older sister and things they went through and stuff. Our parents gave us a lot of latitudes to find our way. I assumed that you did things in life in a certain order and in a certain way and that's how it was. Maybe I lacked courage, vision or whatever when I was younger in my life to realize that things could be different. I was fourth generation in my family to go to Ohio State. My sister didn't go to Ohio State. My brother went to Penn State. I was the last one and the youngest. I did what I thought I was supposed to do. Looking back on it, that was very much me. It was not my parents.
You say you didn't have the courage. Why do you say that?
I had thoughts in high school about being a marine biologist and biology was hard. Rather than digging in and figuring out if it was a passion or not, I was like, “That seems hard, so let's just follow a different path.” I may be scared of hard work. I think that's somewhat a lack of courage. I had thoughts about going away to college. I want to apply to the University of Hawaii. I want to do all these things. I never did because I didn't have the gumption or whatever. I don't know. I applied to Georgetown and I applied to Ohio State. Georgetown didn't want me. Ohio State took me and I kept following that same path.
When did you break that?
In choosing not to go to law school.
What changed internally?
I didn't realize it at the time. When I graduated from Ohio State in the spring and I was looking for a job, I would pace my parents' kitchen area. I moved back home. I was engaged to my now wife. If I had downtime, I paced because I was so nervous and I was so anxious to get everything started. I don't think I recognized it at the time, but looking back on it now, I gave myself the opportunity to breathe and to not be in a hurry. It's okay if you don't have it all figured out.
How did you make yourself okay?
My wife probably or my fiancée at the time had a lot to do with that. We wanted to get married. We wanted to have a family and buy a house and do all these things, but she has never put pressure on me for how I would go about finding my happiness or my career. To have this voice in your life that's like, “Find you, be happy,” whatever, was a big impact.
It's so important to emphasize the point that you pause because many of us don't. We're feeling pressure, whether it's work pressure, family pressure, internal pressure that no one is putting on us except us. A lot of stress is created internally. When we don't listen to that and in yoga, it's called your intuitive mind. We listened more to this rational mind, but we've got this intuitive mind that we're in a boxing match with half the time and pushing down. When you pause and listen to it, you see the shifts that can happen.
It’s pretty insightful if you do.
You can teach yourself a lot. You're now in management and have moved into leadership as well. What have been some lessons that you've had to change in your thought process of what you thought a leader would be and how you've had to change in the way that you approach it?
As I watched other people in leadership positions, I'm like, “It's not that hard. They're making it way harder than it has to be.” First of all, I got that wrong. I'm sorry that I ever had those thoughts because I am more on an island than I ever have been before in my work life. I crave interaction. It's weird because at my core, I’m more of an introvert that when I have the energy and the gumption, I thrive in an extroverted environment at that time. I’ve had to adjust my expectations about what work relationships are. That was a big adjustment for me.
What was the change?
Particularly in Ohio, I had a pulse of everything that was going on. I knew things that Clark didn't know because people were either afraid to be honest or wouldn't tell him or whatever. As I watched that happen, I always had an underlying feel for what was going on that I thought would always be there. When you get the CEO title, whether your organization has 50 people, 100 people or 25 people, which is what ours is, you don't necessarily have all that because people aren't as open and honest. Even if you try to cultivate an environment and culture, people have an inherent fear. I’ve had to adjust because as a leader, you have to be much more deliberate about cultivating an environment and a culture where they can help people get over that idea that the title somehow creates a barrier.
How do you do that?
What I think I'm doing is being open and honest about my issues and mistakes. If I am candid about where I'm failing or the path that I'm on and the things that I'm trying to do better or different, I hope that raises the permission index of the people that are around me to do the same thing because it's in those moments where we better ourselves. Whether it's a better father, a better husband, a better boss, a better coworker, whatever, showing those frailties is important.
Can you give an example that you've had a talk to your staff about your issues?
I have struggled, particularly in my 40s with energy. When you're younger, you think I'm never going to not feel this good. I'm always going to be a powder keg of energy. The people that say they're tired and run out of energy, I’m like, "What are they talking about? That's not going to be me.” You turn 40 or you gain some weight or things happen in your life and you don't have the energy you once had. My schedule is not a burden at all. I am a creature of habit and used to the routine. My schedule does not allow for that routine at all and that drains me. There are days where I can't give what I should be giving it. That's a big one for me and it still is. That's a battle I’m still fighting.
What was the response when you talked about this?
I had employees, people that I consider friends and care about come up to me and talk to me about how they've had those issues too. People that are into certain things that have helped them, whether it's a product or whatever. There were some open conversation and possible solutions to my problem.
It's an important thing to bring those up because in leadership, a lot of times the lines of communication starts shutting because people are afraid to speak up. You also have to create that culture so that if other people are saying, “I do have a lot of energy in the morning and that's when I like to work out.” How do I work my schedule around that without feeling their job's going to be at risk? Having those conversations is important twofold where you're opening up for everyone. Can you talk about how you shift that?
Clark once said to me, “Work gets in the way of life and life gets in the way of work.” I always felt a large degree of permission to adjust my life within the physical the framework of the day, and Laura too. If the office was open 8:00 to 5:00 and I wasn't there at 8:00 or 9:00, never once were they like, “Where are you and what are you doing? Why aren't you here? Why aren't you in your seat?” That made me want to perform better for them because it created this existence where that guilt, which is still sometimes there. When you've got a dentist appointment, your kid is sick, the air conditioning is broken or you want to exercise and better yourself, whatever it might be that is in your life, you can take care of those things without this weight of, “I'm going to lose my job.” Now I'm failing at it because it was always about outcomes and not necessarily process.
It is so important as people move through innovation and change that you shift that thinking. I know starting out in my own career, it was real face time, not FaceTime on the phone, where you had to get in before your boss and leave after. At the end of the day, that doesn't drive business results or employee happiness or engagement.
My dad went off to work with a briefcase and came home with a briefcase. He would leave early and he was like, “I want to be there before my team and I'm going to leave after my team because I'm the boss and that's what you should do.” He retired young. I remember him telling me within a few years of retiring. I would have been in my early 20’s. He's like, “Do you know what was in my briefcase?” I have no idea. I assumed it was important stuff. He's like, “The newspaper because I would read it when I got there until people showed up. When the people left, I would finish the newspaper and then get in the car and come home. You're supposed to have a briefcase, so I had a briefcase.” It wasn't that what they were doing wasn't important or busy or whatever. He modeled what he saw. That was this moment for me where I was like, “Okay.”
“I just took away from my family life and everything else because I had to have the appearance.”
They still marvel because my schedule is so garbled. I find time to be at home and either taking care of me or being with family at odd times. You can tell that my dad still doesn't quite get it because at 10:00 on a Tuesday, if I'm still home, because they live with us now, they're healthy and it's all good. He's like, “Shouldn’t you be at the office?”
Now he’s putting the guilt on you.
No, it's turned from that. He's like, “This is cool. This is so different than what I had.”
You said that you're very routine-oriented. What have you done to break that? That's a hard one to break.
The job broke me. It didn't break me but it changed me. I travel around Georgia a lot and I travel around the country a lot because one of my roles is to have relationships with other organizations. I do a lot of public speaking like you do as well. I enjoy that and I’ll do that for other colleagues in other states. The schedule is weird. I used to still treat Monday through Friday like it was Monday through Friday. Even if I was gone all weekend or I was gone early Monday and got home late Wednesday. Maybe a year and a half into the job here in Georgia, I started thinking, “If I'm gone a lot, I think taking a morning to take care of me is okay.” Every single chair of the board I've had have been supportive of, "Do what you need to do for you.” The permission index was high to change. It didn't have to break me as much as I was like, “I can take advantage of these opportunities to be different.”
To also hear that no one else is putting that on you except you, a lot of times what gets in the way of us is us. There's never “I can't.” I always feel like there's a way. It might just not be the way we pictured it.
My life is very different than I would have imagined it 25 years ago.
Which is so important for people they hear about because when you see someone like you running an organization of this size, you have impressions of like, “They must have this very certain way of being.” It’s important that everyone sees that we're all human and we all have our own needs of making sure our lives are fulfilled so that we're not sorry later that we miss something. I’ve got a couple of rapid-fire questions for you. You get to pick a category. The categories are family or friends, coworkers, money, spirit or health.
I was originally going to say family, but I'm going to go with health because it’s a big thing right now.
First question, what are the things or actions I don't have with my health that I want?
We talked about how my life is scheduled garbled and stuff. I'm a creature of habit. It has been hard for me to maintain habits and routines that take care of me. I’ve always been a big guy. Weight has always been a thing. I fluctuate up and down. I don't have those habits around my health and taking care of my body. One thing I hadn't been able to achieve yet is finding how I live in this existence and do those things necessarily. It's an excuse, but it is a mental one.
I never can carry on my suitcase because I travel so much and I'm trying to make sure I maintain. I'm bringing all my energy drinks. I bring my protein drinks and my snacks so I can control the day. You grab whatever. Everyone always makes fun of me because at the beginning of the week my suitcase is really heavy.
We're the same, but different things. I travel with other guys. They have these little carry-ons and I’ve got my big check bag. They’re like, “What do you have in there?” I’m like, “None of your business.”
What are the things or actions I do have with my health that I want?
While I am not as healthy as I want to be, I am pretty honest with myself about it. I know where I'm at. I’ve got some chronic knee pain right now. I did that to myself. It's not genetic. It's not any of these things. I don't spend my time wallowing in pity about everything because I'm honest with myself about who I am and where I'm at. I'm good with me.
What are the things or actions that I don't have that I don't want, as far as my health?
If you asked my friends and family, they would say I’m a drinker, that I like to drink and I do. I don't drink that much. We go out for dinner with friends and I’ll have some wine and some beers. Maybe around golf on the weekend with friends and I’ll have some beers or whatever. Outside of that, I don't drink nearly as much. I think people in my life would tell you, “He's a drinker.” I don't drink that much and if I don't have a drink, I don't miss it. It's not a big deal. Food is my addiction.
What are the things I do have that I don't want?
I'm an emotional eater. When I'm happy, sad or depressed, I eat. I love sugar. I love meat and cheese, pretty much anything. The healthy stuff, unhealthy stuff, I like it all. Back to the health thing, if I am recording what I eat, I am much better taking care of myself. Otherwise, I get lost in the wonderfulness of eating whatever is there.
To bring up some main points that I want to make sure people read that you talked about, one, taking that pause in your life. There are different times that you've even talked about in your career that you take that pause. It isn't just you do it once. There are certain modes and rather than feeling you have to keep pushing towards something uncomfortable, not quitting or running away from it, but assessing where's my next best path and what would make most sense. You also talked about, as far as leadership, that it’s a lonely job.
You have to create a culture where you're approachable, that you're creating an open and honest culture so that people feel comfortable to come to you. They can speak up as well, give their ideas or else you're closing that down and being okay to assess your life and saying, “My energy is shifting, my habits are shifting and what does that mean? What self-care do I have to do to shift my energy back?” Which you talked about with traveling and things like that, making sure that you're very present and the things that you need as well.
I will close it with forgiving yourself if you're not going to be perfect. You're not going to get everything right at home. You're not going to get everything right at work and you're not going to get everything right for yourself. The quickest way to move past any mistakes you've made is to forgive yourself. I think that's a big deal.
Is there anything you want people to know about Georgia Society or to check out?
The world is changing and this type of stuff creates communities in different ways. There is a lot of angst and anxiety within the association world about how we survive or thrive within that. I would encourage people, whether it's the Georgia Society of CPAs, the Ohio Society of CPAs or any other association is don't give up on that idea of community in old school ways. Be a part of the solution moving forward for how your association can best serve you. One of the things I lament about what I’ve seen happen within the profession is there's still a strong commitment to the association. It hasn't necessarily passed down. This is me looking for support. How do we as associations continue to attract younger people and do things in newer and better ways that will help us thrive in the future? This is more an ask for help. Give me a call if you’ve got ideas.
Thank you so much for joining me.
I appreciate it.
I enjoyed this discussion with Boyd. I wanted to take a moment in our Mindful Moments as we conclude to reflect on some of the things that Boyd talked about. First off, I love his story about transposing the phone number on his resume and feeling like nobody was getting back to him. This is a lesson in life and it's such a simple lesson of things we make assumptions on that we might start feeling bad about ourselves. We’re coming up with all these reasons on why something is going wrong and it's not the reality until we go seek the reality and ask the questions and get the feedback. This is a little story in life, but it spans so much bigger for us. It’s understanding the bigger picture of our lives and what it is that we bring into an experience versus other people's perception of the same thing.
The other thing that he talked about was how he made assumptions of how he was going to go about his life by watching others or what others had done. He just automatically started following in their footsteps. That's important to reflect on in our own lives because that's what we do. We look to others. For example, we look to our family, friends, people online and say, “That worked for them. Maybe I should do what they did.” Instead of sometimes stepping back and looking at what is in line with my own values, my own belief systems. What is my purpose in life?
He talked about how when he was interested in marine biology. He stepped back from that because he made the assumption that it was too hard. When we have a passion for something, even though something might be hard, the time disappears. I had this experience where when I went to school. I went to become a CPA but in my heart of hearts, I wanted to go to art school. Whenever I'd see the students in the art school on campus or I met someone, I would get this pang of “I wish I could do what they were doing,” and then I'd let it, I'd move it away.
In my head I thought because I'm doing accounting, that's hard. That's the way things should be when you go to college. A few years back, I was stepping back and trying to decide what my next steps were and I thought about it and I was like, “Maybe I’ll go back to school. Maybe I’ll go back to the art school that I had always wanted to go to.” I went to college orientation. I was sitting with a bunch of sixteen-year-olds in the room. As they took us on tour and I was peering into the classrooms, I was getting so excited and my heart was racing and I realized this was college. What they were talking about was you're going to have to work 24 hours a day and sometimes we lock the doors and these projects take all night. In my head I was like, “That would be so fun,” instead of looking at that as hard because you're looking at something that aligns with who you are.
It's important to step back from the things that we do and make sure it's aligned with who we are, not just mimicking what others do as well. An important point that Boyd made was in making these decisions in his career of the moments of pause. The moments where we need to stop and breathe. He demonstrated the story with his wife about her not trying to make him be something that he's not. She gave him that space to be able to understand which direction would be the right direction for him. That truly is what love is. It shouldn't be about changing another person. It's about appreciating the best qualities of each other. When we can step back and breathe, give those moments and not try to rush into every decision, we start making better decisions in our life.
About Boyd Search
Boyd Search is the Chief Executive Officer of The Georgia Society of CPAs. As CEO, his work is focused on ensuring GSCPA delivers value to members by creating opportunities for CPAs to be leaders in their profession; directing legislative initiatives and advocating on behalf of the profession; communicating the most critical professional issues; delivering relevant high‐quality CPE; safe‐guarding the professions high professional standards; building community and developing engagement among members and attracting the best and the brightest to careers as CPAs.
Previously Boyd worked as the vice president of education and training for The Ohio Society of CPAs where he profitably managed the Society’s continuing professional education program of over 500 courses annually, as well as developed and managed events and sales.
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