Making Opportunities Count

Great opportunities don't come everyday -- Maria West discusses the importance of recognizing and seizing them with every chance you get.


Many people have written “Run a marathon” on their bucket list.” However, it is not often you hear, “Walk nearly four marathons in a row!” But that is exactly what CPA, CMA, Maria West, was able to check off her bucket list.

 In 2013, Maria’s husband, a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, was posted to NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) base located in Belgium. Maria had been working for Bell Aliant in finance for the previous 15 years and decided to take the opportunity to move overseas, opting for a temporary early retirement.

While living in Belgium, Maria could not work due to her residency status. However, she made the most of her retirement and volunteered on several committees located on the base. She also taught financial literacy to Canadian military families through CPA Nova Scotia and visited over 22 countries. One of the most memorable aspects of her travel was when she took part in the largest multiple day marching event in the world, The Walk of the World. The event is a four-day March covering 160 kilometres. Due to its large size, first-time marchers are entered into a lottery to decide who gets to participate. Over 45,000 people start the walk, and roughly 40,000 finish. It took Maria nine hours to walk the 40 kilometres each day. “The March has been happening for over 120 years; it was a great experience to be apart of,” she shared.

Maria is grateful that she jumped at the chance to live and travel abroad, especially since the global pandemic has since put a halt on most international travel. Her motto to “find and seize opportunity” has carved out her career path.

Maria graduated from Dalhousie University with a degree in Commerce and pursued her CA designation. However, life happened, and when she discovered she was expecting her first child she decided to stay at home with her
children. While at home, she took the freedom to run her own accounting business, doing bookkeeping for medium to small businesses. When her life circumstances again change
d and she became a single-parent, Maria knew it was time to go back and complete her designation. However, this time, she opted to go for her CMA designation, which allowed her to have more flexibility with work opportunities. “As someone who had the unique experience of having done training for both the CMA and CA designation, I believe when the three legacy accounting groups amalgamated to form CPA Nova Scotia, it combined the best of both worlds in terms of training,” Maria states.
Since her return to Canada, Maria has returned to work, but in the non-profit sector. Her most recent role being the Manager of Finance and Donor Services for Dartmouth General Hospital Foundation. She currently volunteers as the Chair of the Board for the Community Justice Society of Halifax, a non-profit group that helps to implement the Restorative Justice Program for the Department of Justice of Nova Scotia.

When asked if she prefers working with non-profits over corporations, Maria admits it is a grey area. “With larger corporations you can try out different areas. However, sometimes you can feel like just a number because of its size. I enjoy working in the not-for-profit sector because I can see the direct impact of my job. It is inspiring to see the impact of what donors’ money is doing for healthcare in HRM, and how my work plays a role in making those improvements happen.” Nonetheless, when it came to financial compensation, Maria did not sugarcoat the dif
ference.
“You make less money in non-profit, which is easier for me now because my kids are all grown-up. Fifteen years ago, making less was not an option; I was a single-parent and needed to make enough money to support myself and my kids.”

Her advice for CPAs choosing to work for a non-profit or for-profit organization? “Decide which path is right for you, and as life goes on, that’s okay if it changes. Your designation will allow you to go in different directions. By getting the designation, you’ve already created new possibilities for yourself.”

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