In today’s world, we’re often led to believe that our credentials map out our future, pointing us toward what we can—and cannot—do. If you have an MBA, you’ll undoubtedly head for business or finance. If you majored in literature, you might gravitate toward publishing or teaching. And without a college degree? The path is supposedly clearer: a technical trade awaits.
But what if you’re none of those things? Or several of them combined?
That is precisely my story. Yet, this has not stopped me from dreaming big — and making my dreams come true.
You see, I am both a CPA and a well-reviewed author. Not only are these two fields completely unrelated, requiring entirely different sets of talent and skills, but I have few if any credentials in either field.
I failed my final high school exams and never received a diploma. Nor have I ever stepped foot in a college lecture. A twist of fate, a door opened by a family friend, saw me reluctantly dive into the world of accounting. Faced with the daunting choice between hunkering down to master a discipline I knew nothing about or failing and having no clear path ahead, I chose to hunker down and learn. In doing so, I discovered that I had the skills needed not only to become a CPA, but also, to succeed in whatever I set my mind to.
Today, I can clearly see that whether you fail or succeed has nothing to do with degrees or credentials, and everything to do with what you want and what you choose. In fact, credentials can be a trap, creating limiting beliefs about our potential.
From my journey, I’ve distilled some guiding principles for shifting you shift your mindset so your credentials don’t define you or hold you back from following your heart and making your dreams come true:
Drown Out the External Noise
My mum, an immigrant with a strong accent and no formal education, defied societal expectations to achieve her dreams. Friends often told her to stick to what she knew, but she pressed on, proving that you should never let external voices set your limits. Just like her, I’ve faced countless naysayers who felt my background was a barrier. Without so much as a high school diploma, how could I hope for any professional job? And later, as a CPA with no experience with creative writing, how could I imagine writing books?
That last question is especially relevant to the concept of being boxed in by your credentials. CPAs are known as dry, number-crunching types. All left brain methodical thinking, no creativity.
But I shut out the noise and forged ahead. Today, I have a successful financial consultancy and am about to publish my third book.
Listen to Your Inner Voice
After being expelled from high school, the options before me seemed limited. But deep down, there was an urge, a voice whispering about the untapped potential within. I realized that society’s script wasn’t for me. Instead of wallowing in despair, I listened to that voice, which became my compass. Each time something motivated me I dove in with gusto, even if the endeavor seemed far above my level of experience. When I was offered a position with an accounting firm where I would have the freedom to drive around and see clients rather than being chained to a desk as I’d been in my previous job, I embraced it wholeheartedly: instinctively, I knew that interacting with clients was where I belonged.
I knew, too, that telling my story through creative nonfiction would be an important part of my journey. It didn’t matter whether friends and family laughed or shook their heads in disbelief when I told them I — a CPA — had started writing: my internal compass guided me forward.
Reframe Your Perspective
For a very long time, my lack of credentials bred in me a persistent sense of ‘if.’ If I could get a decent education. If I could break free from my circumstances. If I could make a better life for myself.
But ‘if’ was a question that often left me in a pool of uncertainty, wrapping me in fear and doubt.
So when it came time to hunker down and master the basics of accounting to pass the qualifying tests, II asked myself: “how do I need to prepare in order to succeed?: I made the choice to give it my all. The third time—which according to the rules was the final time I could try—I succeeded at last.
After that, I decided to shift my perspective. I began asking ‘how’ instead of ‘if’ whenever a challenge arose. It was a transformative moment that took me from passively pondering my fate to actively charting my course. It was that mindset that helped me find the confidence to write as well.
Take it one small step at a time
Every great journey begins with a single step. If one thing doesn’t work, you have to keep trying. It’s never about immediate mastery; it’s about persistence. One task at a time, one challenge after another. The important thing is to start. Before you know it, the leaps you’ve made are astounding.
Believe in Yourself
Let every challenge you overcome, no matter how small, serve as a reminder of your strength and resilience, reinforcing your conviction that no matter what’s behind you, you can carve a path forward.
I hope my story serves as a testament to an often-overlooked truth: our potential isn’t defined by certificates or accolades. It’s shaped by our passions, our grit, and our choices. Whatever your dream, remember: your journey is uniquely yours, and the only compass you truly need is your own heart and determination.
This guest post was authored by Emil Rem
Emil Rem is a creative nonfiction writer, an eccentric accountant and an advocate for overcoming the odds. An Ismaili Muslim originally from Tanzania, he has faced—and overcome—daunting circumstances all his life, from being raised in foster care in England to emigrating to Canada as a young adult. He is the author of Heart of New York and Chasing Aphrodite and has more books in the works. His mission in sharing his stories is to instill hope and inspire people to choose action, resilience, hope and determination for overcoming even the tallest of odds, undaunted.
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