Pursue Your Passions: Career Change Advice From an SVP

Sponsored by Navy Federal Credit Union

Sharon Poach. Photo courtesy of Navy Federal Credit Union.

Sharon Poach. Photo courtesy of Navy Federal Credit Union.

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April 22, 2024 at 8:52PM UTC

“I have never been one to chase money or a title; for me, it has always been about making a difference, adding value, and contributing to something bigger than myself,” says Sharon Poach, SVP of Finance at Navy Federal Credit Union. “Your career truly is a journey and, sometimes, finding what you’re passionate about takes time. Give yourself the grace and space to find your passion.”

Finding what was right for her took patience and time, she tells Fairygodboss. Not being afraid of taking risks, resiliency, and believing in yourself are also important, she adds. After all, Poach journeyed in her own career this way.

Early in her career, Poach worked for a global health organization with the mission to support the economic development and improvement of public health in developing nations. There, she managed finance, accounting, and compliance for government grants, and traveled abroad to establish an office and hire locally. Her teams provided cross-training of standard medical practices used in the United States with hospitals in developing countries.

“It was amazing to witness how sharing information and best practices could literally save lives,” she says. “I learned the value of information sharing and collaboration. Working abroad in developing countries also helped me to better understand people from different cultures, backgrounds and to appreciate their diverse perspectives. The experience and gratification of helping others was priceless.”

Poach has since leveraged that global experience to, ultimately, make a career change and finally pursue her passion for accounting.

“A passion for accounting led me to leave the workforce to return to college to pursue a second degree in accounting, and to journey down the path to becoming a Certified Public Accountant,” she says. “As a mother of four, this was not an easy or popular decision, certainly not one made lightly. There were a lot of risks and unknowns, as well as concerns about managing life without a salary. I also worried my absence from the working world would be viewed as a negative, making it more challenging to reenter the workforce and find meaningful work.”

We caught up with Poach to learn more about how she decided to make the career change, as well as how she went about doing it. Here’s what she had to say about the lessons learned along the way.

To start, how did you make this switch, and who supported you in this process?

I did a lot of research and evaluated how long I could afford to be an unemployed college student with four children. I sought insight and advice from many professors, bosses, and colleagues. My biggest supporter was my husband. He, too, worked in public service where the work was gratifying, but the pay was low so we had to devise an economical plan that could support our family of six and the cost of college. We became minimalists, making sacrifices, and learning to live with the bare minimum. My husband certainly wins the award for being my biggest advocate and supporter.

How have you benefited from the skills and experience you’ve gained in your career pivot/journey?

I grew up twice, personally and professionally, during very different time periods. These experiences prepared me to become a more effective and well-rounded leader. Relaunching my career in an entry-level position was humbling, and I gained an appreciation of the full accounting experience from the ground up. Today, I am better able to understand and identify with the needs of my team members and help them achieve their goals and objectives. And, I learn from them everyday.

What are your best pieces of advice for other women who are thinking about making a career pivot like you did?

Find what you are passionate about and don’t be afraid to take risks. Do your homework and spend time talking to others to gain other perspectives and input. Accept that things may not go as planned, which is okay, because that, too, is part of the journey.

Speaking of unplanned moments, looking back on your career, what would you say has been your most valuable career mistake?

Putting my work ahead of my life. Living through the pandemic, I realized my life was unbalanced, and I needed to recalibrate. Resetting boundaries and being very mindful and intentional with my time helped me establish a healthy work-life balance.

Switching gears, can you tell us a bit about your current job? What’s your current role, how long have you been in this role, and what is your day-to-day like?

As SVP of Finance, I lead a diverse 200+ person accounting team dispersed across four locations. I am responsible for all the accounting and reporting at Navy Federal, and I have been in my role for 12 years.

I am an early riser, so my mornings generally start with a workout around 5:00 a.m. By the time I leave for work, I have caught up on current events and cleared my email. Some days I have scheduled meetings and conference calls, while other days I have scheduled desk time to review reports and information — no two days are alike.

My schedule can be fluid, and I keep myself open for my team. I spend a lot of my day meeting and talking with team members, my leaders, colleagues, and peers throughout the organization. Maintaining strong relationships through regular connections helps to ensure that we are aware of their needs and are providing the service they need so that they can remain focused on serving our members and we can deliver safe and sound financials.

What do you find most rewarding and challenging about your current work?

One of the things I love most about my job is the people. A large part of my time is spent with my team. Whether it’s discussing strategy or system implementations or coaching, mentoring, and developing them — the most important thing to me is taking care of my team members and ensuring that they have everything they need. I hold regular one-on-one discussions with my leaders, skip levels with team members, and fireside chats with groups of cross-functional team members. All my team members are empowered to choose how they engage — whether in person or remotely — whatever works for them and their daily work-life schedule.

My only request when engaging remotely is that we turn our cameras on. It is easier to read whether we are in sync in our discussions, something that is key particularly when covering complex matters. In accounting, there are a lot of moving parts, and it can be challenging sometimes to find the signal in the noise to make timely decisions.

Finally, what are your favorite things about working at Navy Federal Credit Union?

The people, the mission, and the culture. I will never forget the first week I joined Navy Federal and my entire team of about 65 at that time held a surprise breakfast one morning. Everyone gathered; we had 100% attendance. I was totally surprised and in awe. I thought how amazing it was to have everyone get together for breakfast and share just a few moments together talking about life and their families and children before beginning the workday. The team said it was their way of welcoming new members to Navy Federal and the Accounting Team. I choked up. Yes, as a leader, I was in tears of joy my first week on the job.

The heart and passion of the team members was and is still so compelling. You can see and feel it, like the wind on your face or water running over your hands. I still get goosebumps today just thinking about it. The look on their faces as they embraced me and welcomed me into their family. I went home that night and it hit me. While I was passionate about what I did, I had joined a place where I not only loved what I was doing, I also loved who I was and am doing it for and, most importantly, who I am doing it with; I felt at home.

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