Twenty years, 36,000 tax returns, and Wisdom

February 2004 was the first time I started preparing tax returns for clients. The first year was very modest: only 40 tax returns. I was a financial advisor at the time and my clients had investments and life insurance that I managed for them. I asked if they would like me to look after their tax returns and some of them said yes.

The numbers grew gradually and then exponentially.

The year 2008 was a pivotal year. The federal government introduced the pension income splitting for the 2007 tax year and that tax complication made my business explode. Clients needed some expertise in preparing their previous simple taxes.

Little did I know that after all I have given to my clients: tax expertise, they have given back to me unknowingly.

Twenty years and about 36,000 tax returns later, I would say that dealing with all my tax clients (about 3,000 per year more recently) has given me the opportunity to increase my wisdom.

I recently heard about wisdom on a radio program called Science Unscripted. I listen to this weekly program most Sunday mornings on CBC radio. It is a program from Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster. I enjoy the weekly program (it is in English) as the hosts are engaging and the material varies widely.

As I was contemplating my February article and to write about what I learned from preparing 36,000 tax returns over the past twenty years, I listened to them talking with a guest about Wisdom. The guest explained that you cannot get wisdom from reading a book about wisdom; you get wisdom from engaging with people.

You can search the internet about how you get wisdom; and I would say I have gained wisdom from all of you.

Almost all of our 3,000 tax clients are different. They have different backgrounds, they have lived and worked in many different places, and I have heard many of their stories.

What is Wisdom?

This saying sums it up well, “Knowledge is knowing what to say. Wisdom is knowing when to say it.” Knowledge is required for wisdom. After all, you must have a foundation on which to build. But it is possible to have knowledge — book smarts or awareness of something — without the judgement that goes along with how to use it.

Aging in itself does not make you wiser; it is life experiences and what you do with those experiences.

How to Develop Wisdom

There is a lot of information on the internet about Wisdom, but I want to share a few items that really struck me about my twenty-year journey as your tax preparer in the community.

Consider others. We need a sense of empathy toward others. It makes sense: When making decisions and deciding on courses of action, the wise person thinks about how their actions will affect those around them. By listening to many of my clients about their backgrounds I have learned more about them and the residents of my (adopted) community. We have a varied community and I have learned a lot about the Metis population and what it was like to grow up here. Not an easy life I have learned. I do not have children by choice, but I have learned more about how difficult it is to get quality or timely childcare. And through committees I have served on, I have learned how important the first six years of a child’s life can be. I have never been a recipient of EIA Employment and Income Assistance (social assistance or welfare), but I have learned from my clients what it is like and that no one planned this type of life.

Self-reflection. Another element of wisdom is the ability to regulate emotions and look inward. I have become aware of myself and have reflected on my own state of mind. My opinions and attitudes and political views have changed over the years as I have learned about other societies. My travels to Denmark (my parents’ homeland) since 2007 have opened my eyes and mind to what a society can be when everyone is treated with respect and taken care of. We all become a happier society when everyone is lifted up financially.

Seek diversity. My clients have diverse values. Wisdom demands ongoing learning, and this can only come from true openness to different points of view and a belief that we don’t already have all the answers. Humility. I realized my point of view is not the only one and appreciate how much I don’t know. Wisdom demands asking questions and listening to expand understanding, appreciating all that is unknown. I am fortunate that I have many clients that I can ask questions and they are willing to share. I have become a more rounded person through learning about my clients’ situations and experiences.

Embrace uncertainty. Another element of wisdom is the ability to deal effectively with ambiguity. As taxes have evolved and client’s situations have changed, I have learned to say: “I don’t know but let me see what I can find out.” I have taken on tasks that I was not qualified for, but willing to learn. I let my clients know what I have learned and presented them with the findings and let them decide. I have at times asked my client if they are willing to be my “guinea pig” and they have said yes. They trusted me. And fortunately for me the situations have all turned out ok (so far!).

While wisdom can sometimes be the purview of older or more senior members of our community, it is also a helpful perspective to apply to our work, no matter what our age. Whether you’re seeking to make better choices in business or for your community, a little wisdom can go a long way.

Has your life brought joy to others?

One of my favourite quotes comes from the movie, The Bucket List. Morgan Freeman says to Jack Nicholson: You know, the ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death. When their souls got to the entrance to heaven, the gods asked them two questions. Their answers determined whether they were admitted or not. The first question is: Have you found joy in your life? Most people would answer yes, and then he asks the second question: Has your life brought joy to others?

Getting clients larger income tax refunds or helping them with their applications for the Guaranteed Income Supplement or applications to reduce their Pharmacare deductible may seem small, but these small acts of kindness have brought joy to others.

Anni Markmann is a Personal Income Tax Professional and Certified Financial

Planner; living, working, and volunteering in our community. Contact Ste

Anne Tax Service at 204.422.6631 (phone or text!) or 36 Dawson Road in

Ste Anne (near Co-op) or