Zen and the Art of Career Advancement: Greg Powell

One of my favourite books is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. In the novel a man’s 17 day journey on his motorcycle serves as a metaphor of sorts for a journey of self-discovery. Perhaps this is why I felt a particular kinship to Greg Powell once I read his blog. It details a 10 month journey that he took on his motorcycle across the Americas. He braved all types of weather and circumstances, emerging a stronger, more centred person with a lot of fascinating stories.  Professionally, he has reached a senior level finance position working in a Canadian mining company, completed his CGA and successfully transitioned between industries – often a difficult task.  Greg’s story inspired me and reaffirmed something I have always believed – I never want to say “what if.”

Why did you choose accounting as a career?  It was not that accounting was a passion to be honest. It was simply that I excelled in accounting in highschool and college. I stuck with it, got 3 degrees in the process and tried to develop myself.

Was there a plan? No, not at all. When I was studying and working part-time I took what I could get and worked with whoever would hire me.  It wasn’t until I was unhappy at a large retail firm and a recruiter asked me what industry I really wanted to work in that I realized I had never consciously chosen something.  I ended up falling into mining and loving the work and decided that I wanted to stay in it.  There was no definite path, just new opportunities that I chose to chase.

I realized I had never consciously chosen something.

What is the biggest evolution that has happened in the past 5 years? The greatest shift has been in the area of increased self-confidence. At Silverbear Resources I was on my own and I had to do a presentation to the board, feeling confident with what I had done, and the decisions that I had made.  It was my neck on the line.  I was confident before, but I would say that it grew exponentially as I became unafraid of taking a risk. You get to a point in your career where you realize that if you don’t take risks you don’t advance.

You get to a point in your career where you realize that if you don’t take risks you don’t advance.

What’s the biggest professional risk you have taken? The biggest professional risk I’ve taken was leaving a full-time job in retail to take a contract at Barrick because I wanted a change. I wanted more growth and I wanted a new industry. I had never really managed staff before and I wasn’t going to manage staff at in my current role and this was something I wanted to do. Barrick let me manage a staff of 5 people and I knew that skill would advance my career. I made the decision by enlisting the support of my family and they helped me make a positive change.

Why did you want to leave retail? It was a very routine job with limited growth. You knew the company would expand, but there was always pushback without the upside. They were very risk averse.

What were the hardest parts of your early career? Initially, it was getting my foot in the door because I was young and inexperienced and didn’t realize that I had a lot to offer. My very first job was at Indusmin, which was partially bought out by Unimin. I was 20 years old doing accounts payable and it was a co-op placement. I was there for 2 semesters and decided to move on.

Initially, it was getting my foot in the door because I was young and inexperienced and didn’t realize that I had a lot to offer.

Why did you choose to do your designation? I realized I wasn’t going anywhere without letters after my name. I was in a corporate environment that was very structured and hierarchical. If you wanted to progress you needed to get your designation and the recruiters were telling me that I needed it. Within Moore, the company I worked for after Indusmin, there were very few people who did not have their accounting designation.

Why the CGA?  At the time I couldn’t afford going to university and I could work at the CGA part- time. It made practical sense.

What was the first failure in your professional life? I failed one of my CGA courses. This caused me to carefully consider whether or not to continue getting my CGA, but I realized that it was a lot of  time and money to have invested not to finish. I decided to take the course again and continue on the path I had set for myself.  It was a difficult time in my life because I was at work, surrounded by people who had their designation and I felt like a failure because I had to repeat this course.  Really though, for all I know, they each failed a course, but nobody ever talks about that do they?

It was a difficult time in my life because I was at work, surrounded by people who had their designation and I felt like a failure because I had to repeat this course.

So tell me about the trip you took on your motorcycle and how you made the decision to go. Well, who doesn’t want to have an adventure? After a 26 year hiatus from motorcycles I made the decision to go because everything in my life came together to allow me to do it. My job was at a “care and maintenance” level, and I had the financial discipline to save the money. People often say you make sacrifices and I disagree. I say that you make choices because it is only a sacrifice if you don’t like it.

People often say you make sacrifices and I disagree. I say that you make choices because it is only a sacrifice if you don’t like it.

How many times did you almost turn back or quit? I never thought about turning back, but there were times when I stopped and asked, “Why am I doing this?”   One of the first times I wondered why was when I was in Quellon, Chile which is the end of the Pan American highway and I still had another country and a thousand kilometres to go. I didn’t want to look back on my life and ask, “What if? I started the trip with 4 goals:

· Drive to the most easterly point in North America

· Drive to the most westerly point in North America

· Go to the most northern point in Alaska

· Go to the most southern city in the world Ushuaia  Argentina

I met all 4 goals. I am very proud of that.

What lessons did you internalize?  I learned that it is important to enjoy the moment. Don’t worry about the past and don’t sweat about the future. I couldn’t do that before.

Also, I realized how important it is to set a goal and work towards it personally. When you achieve it, you feel such an incredible sense of accomplishment. When I reached Ushuaia there wasn’t anybody to pat me on the back, but I realized that I had reached the end of the earth. There is a sign at the end of the road and you realize that you are one of a handful of people that have reached that sign by motorcycle. I don’t remember leaving that park because I just drove to the sign, got my picture and drove out. I was so focused on the drive in and so exhilarated on the way out that everything in between got lost. I was in the moment! Such an incredible experience and no regrets.

I was in the moment! Such an incredible experience and no regrets.

Greg Powell makes me want to buy a motorcycle and set out on a journey of my own. He’s a great storyteller and I encourage you to read his motorcycle blog. His story encourages me to set goals, to take risks and to live in the moment. It emboldens in me a restless spirit who wants to embrace adventure and explore the unknown. Most importantly, it encourages me to work harder in the face of adversity, to accept failure as a bump in the road and to continue to chart a course of self-discovery and perseverance.

 

Greg’s Blog – http://www.gregsadventure.com