In 2018, I started a Youtube channel. I had recently graduated from college, eager to document my experience taking the CPA Exams. The Uniform “Certified Public Accountant” Examination is a four-part test deemed to be one of the most challenging professional exams out there. I knew that young professionals who were looking for guidance or advice while starting the exams would find me on Youtube. It can be lonely to study over 35 hours a week for months on end, so I wanted other scared test takers to have some support.
But I certainly didn’t expect to gain over 50,000 views on one of my videos, which explained how I passed FAR—supposedly the most challenging section. My little CPA exam channel began growing, and much to my shock, it turned into a decent way to earn side income during my time working at one of the Big Four public accounting firms. I even wrote an ebook on Amazon, which accumulated hundreds of sales.
I felt on top of the world. I pushed myself to make more videos with some content focusing on my experience as an entry-level tax accountant at such a large firm. In my videos, I spoke about my anxiety to travel to new states for clients, my insecurities about adjusting to the work, and general rants about working through lunch and dinner. Whether it was giving my subscribers study tips for the CPA exams or sharing my struggles in adjusting to a new career, I wanted to show people that they were not alone in how they felt.
My side hobby became a workplace “concern.”
I read the social media code in my employment contract dutifully and made sure to never mention my employer’s name, coworker’s names, or client data. I also carefully deliberated how to share honest content with my viewers, while still maintaining some professionalism for the sake of respecting my company — in other words, no foul language or raunchy outfits. In short, I made sure my side job complied with the terms of my main job.
Much to my surprise, however, I was called into a human resources meeting regarding the ethics of my channel. HR referred to my channel as a “therapy session” and suggested I make more friends at the firm. I felt so misunderstood. My YouTube channel was meant to inspire young, aspiring CPAs and show them a true and unfiltered reflection of what public accounting can really be like at a notoriously competitive workplace. The social media rules for my firm made it clear to not do any of these things: reveal any client data or confidential firm information, attempt to be a false representative for the firm, or breach the dignity and integrity of the establishment. HR and I had a clear agreement that I never broke any of those rules, and she commended me for never once even mentioning my firm name. But HR also mentioned people may not take well to my creative content. It was hard to digest that my firm allowed T-shirts and Uggs in the office, but not a simple Youtube channel.
HR informed me that someone on my engagement team shared my channel with them out of “concern.” I was assured my channel wouldn’t get shared around the office since HR matters are confidential. Turns out, confidentiality meant something much different to my coworkers. To my dismay, the channel was shared amongst individuals whom I didn’t even know. Not a single person asked me about the channel, but they preferred to “act with integrity” and go straight to my superiors. A journey that I had put so much effort and pride into became something I felt so ashamed of. I was already struggling to fit into the assertive environment, and this tension over my channel—an innocent side hobby—shook me to the core.
I was subtly pushed out of my job.
After a month of dealing with the workplace gossip, I noticed it took a toll on my reviews. I received a review about my lack of improvement, but when I set up a meeting to dispute this, my boss agreed to change the review she made. A week later, she said she spoke with HR and changed her mind, but wouldn’t offer any other detail.
I ultimately left the firm when it was clear my employers couldn’t offer any consistent guidance through this situation. I was trying hard to initiate these conversations, but nobody seemed interested. At one point, I told my team that I could only work in the office from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM, due to my train schedule, adding that I would work at home after the train ride if I still had work to complete. They smiled and said they would work with me on this, but as soon as the meeting ended and I followed my regular commute home, my manager called and threatened to report me to upper management if I didn’t change my commute. I decided to move on. I’d heard rumors about hazing on my team and how people can be pushed out of the firm this way, but I never imagined how horrible it would feel.
In the end, I share this story because it’s something I never considered when I started my channel, which has now evolved to cover a variety of topics. I knew I could handle people learning about my side-hustle and making their own judgments, but could I handle office-politics that felt like a high school rumor? The answer was no, even if it helped me pay off $25,500 of student loans in about a year.
What I would do differently
I do not regret my mistakes and success from my Youtube channel. I’m grateful for the viewers who told me my videos made them feel so much less alone with their nerves in public accounting and their inability to fit in with the culture. I’m also grateful coworkers found my channel, because it helped me learn that maybe I wasn’t being critical enough of how an employer could perceive and react to my side hustle.
My biggest takeaway from the experience in regards to social media is to be 100% transparent. Be transparent with your subscribers, but also, with your employer. After my experience, I think radical transparency with both parties is essential for success in the office and online. I think my experience was a very unique one and worst-case scenario, but it taught me that I truly never know how people will react to social media.
Overall, balancing a social media side hustle with a corporate job is way trickier than I ever expected. With growth and wisdom gained from my experience, I’m prioritizing my accounting career over Youtube by taking a pause on posting videos. Next time I embark on the challenge of a Youtube channel, I will not only have proper transparency with my viewers but also with my employer to ensure that what happened at my previous employer doesn’t happen again.
Lindsey is a 23-year-old in New England, working in public accounting. She has recently applied for her CPA license and has a Youtube channel dedicated to honest conversation about being a young woman in accounting. She aspires to positively demonstrate navigating a complex field and to help aspiring accountants understand the realities of the career path.
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