Considering the stuff that really creates success, it is actually a lot more simple than you might think. The overriding ingredients are sourced from places other than pure brains and intelligence. In fact, they emerge from two basic character traits:

  • perseverance and
  • determination.

Now don’t let me confuse you.

Simplicity does not mean ‘easy’. Easy and simple are very different ideas. ‘Simple’ actually means ‘very difficult’ (until you’ve mastered it – and then it can become simple!), especially when it comes to practical application!

We celebrate success with aplomb and fanfare but sometimes the greatest successes remain undiscovered. Strangely enough this construct emerges because the people who achieve them, never see them as successes – they hide them away.To them they perceive them as shameful and humiliating!

Well, here is a story that needs telling. It would have remained untold had I not heard it from a client. It inspired me to write and tell you about it, a remarkable success story.

Agnes (not her real name) recently qualified as a CA(SA). On the face of it, she appeared to be like any other CA. But there is one massive difference – Agnes failed the final qualifying exams 6 times before finally passing!

We all know that the CA(SA) course is a 7 year marathon (including Articles). It is not unusual to find this being even longer as it is such a difficult process that dropping a year or two is absurdly normal.

But then there is the part we don’t often hear about: the people who don’t make it. And there are a surprisingly large bunch of people who start out on the CA and give up along the way.

I say this with no judgement. In my view the CA(SA) is one of the most difficult degrees to attain. I’m not sure of the exact statistics but the last time I looked, a staggering 2% of all candidates make it through from start to finish without dropping a year. That says it all.

Why is it so hard? How is it that any academic course could have such a large drop-out rate?

Here are a few good reasons:

  • The amount of study material is immense.
  • Often study occurs on a part-time basis. Lectures are held after hours and on weekends.
  • The final qualifying exam is exceptionally difficult – where do you find another profession where the final entry exam has a failure rate of 50%?
  • The course material is a moving target with complex updates and changes flowing through continuously.
  • The exams are long (4 hours and more) and the questions are highly analytical and riddled with complexity.

Don’t kid yourself. This is one mother of a course to pass. Anyone who has attained this esteemed qualification will humbly acknowledge its complexity and challenge.

Hence, there can be no greater feeling in the world than getting your results and knowing that you have finally attained the right to join the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants. For me it was euphoria. It was an extremely proud moment underpinned by a massive relief and coupled with the comfort of knowing that there are no more after-work-lectures and late night studying.

But what about friends who did not make it? Their abject despair was palpable and pitiful. Somehow, you can not avoid their pain. The thought of redoing the exam is a horror burden of note! You just know exactly what they have to go through.

There are a lot of good people who are unable to face the Board exam again and gracefully fall away. Most give it another go. Failing on a second attempt must be soul-destroying.

And there are other, deeper repercussions. If you are at any of the Big 4 audit firms and you fail your exams, the consequences are humiliating. Your peers surge forward leaving you behind eating dust. It is a shameful experience. This alone can shake your self-esteem and destroy your confidence. Going down a second time is catastrophic. You might as well spend your time in a corner with a dunce cap on!

So, Agnes’ story is one of titanic proportions! Each time that she failed, she collapsed into despair only to gather her wits and come back for another attempt . . . and another and another etc! Remarkable. And by the way after 5 fails, you have to repeat the CTA course! Can you imagine!

But in the end this tenacious, determined woman won through.

There is not a CA(SA) alive who would not laud this incredible show of sheer grit and guts.

So, as fellow sisters/brothers in arms, let’s pour ourselves a Bells and quietly salute this massively courageous colleague!

An it doesn’t end there:

  • What about Fran who in here mid-forties who failed the Board 8 times before she finally made it! How’s that for unbelievable determination?
  • And Lily who was schooled in the Zimbabwean outback where there was no running water and the nearest town was 3 hours away. She came to Johannesburg to UJ and passed the Board first time.

This is success, the unacknowledged warriors who just might be more successful than all of us!


Clive Kaplan is a top-rated Executive/Leadership/Career Coach.