Faith & Humility: Accounting Graduate Shawn Grewal’s Winding Journey to Success
words Lauren Edwards
photography Sydney Wong
Shawn Grewal spent his young teen years playing right defence on the BC Soccer team. As a student at the Roman Tulis European Soccer School of Excellence, he got to compete against some of the best in the world in England, Scotland, Wales, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Belgium. He was sure he would be moving down south on an athletic scholarship. That changed when he was abruptly cut from the BC Men’s Metro Under-17 team.
The shock and what he deemed as a failure sent him down a lifestyle of partying. His grades plummeted, and he tried multiple post-secondary institutions before landing in the marketing management program at BCIT when he was 22. He didn’t finish his education then, and instead got a job as a labourer at a construction firm, where he received crucial mentorship and advice.
The most prominent advice he was given was to work for his dad’s trucking company—which goes back 33 years—instead of trying to forge a new path. “That started to find a purpose in my life a little bit. I [felt] stabilized a little bit, but I still was still in that dark side of partying lots in that scene I was using sort of alcohol and other things to kind of fill this hole in my soul. It came to a headway in 2010, when God entered my life and changed it. I was able to walk away from that lifestyle. I’ve been sober for 10 years [as of] February,” says Grewal.
After five years of working at his dad’s company, a newly hired accountant took Grewal under his wing. The accountant assigned lots of work to his apprentice, which tapped into Grewal’s natural problem-solving, business strategy, and intrapersonal skills. According to Grewal, mitigating professional and personal relationships is vital in a family business.
Fast forward to ten years later, and Grewal had successfully worked his way up in the company and helped elevate his family business. It was around that time he felt he wanted to do different things, with the idea of not finishing his formal education still at the back of his mind.
Falling back on his professional and life experiences, he knew he enjoyed the business and the technical aspects of his work. When he decided to come back to BCIT, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.
With an accounting degree in his sights, he knew he had to weigh in the implications of pursuing his education in his mid-thirties (i.e. financial security). Still, he saw his window of opportunity and took it.
Having the experiences of problem solving and exposure to different kinds of things benefitted him going back to school, and ultimately in the future.
After his efforts and talents were recognized by one of the big four accounting firms, PwC, Grewal is headed there this May to realize his dream he’s worked hard for. He describes going back to school as daunting. “I purposely chose to come back to BCIT because this is where my education ended. I wanted to come back in and do my best to create a different story,” says Grewal.
Although he doesn’t associate his success with his own earnings, rather that they were gifts from God, I have no doubt it was his own determination that amplified those gifts into successes.
If I were to summarize Shawn Grewal in one quote, it would be Isaac Newton: “if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Can you tell me more about how pursuing accounting impacted your life?
The main goal of accounting is trying to get everything to balance. Once it balances, it’s okay. After streamlining everything and getting all that stuff put together, I was like, now I sort of know who I am and what I want to do. After having some stability in my life and addressing those other things, I decided to go back to school.
I was 34 when I started back part-time. At the same time, that’s when my health condition came into play. It’s IBS, a stomach condition where they don’t really have a cure for it.
It started to impact my life on a daily basis. Even though I wasn’t playing soccer at the time, I was running and going to the gym regularly. I [was] a part of some running clubs, marathons with a friend and things like that.
Financially, I didn’t see how that was going to be feasible for me to go back full-time. On top of that, I was learning to deal with this physical condition.
I knew at that point wanted to go do other things because it was myself, my brother, and my dad running the company. The company was not big enough for all three of us to manage it.
Initially, I was going to work part-time for a company and then still continue to go to school part-time. And then it was wild. I remember sitting in an interview with a business owner in his office downtown.
He said, “why do you want to suffer and do part-time? You’re older, just go full time, get it done, do whatever you need to do.” In my mind, I didn’t see how that was financially feasible. Then after hearing the same advice from an older cousin of mine, who’s an accountant, I decided to put everything on the line.
Because I had other assets, I didn’t qualify for student loans. I went to school and, and that’s really where my test of faith happened. On a day to day basis, I was dealing with my physical condition and sometimes having flare-ups, especially during the first year because it was so intense. Despite those things, faith and perseverance carried me through that.
It’s hard for me to put to words; a big challenge for me was always comparing myself to other people. Especially when you go into school, and you’re around colleagues.
I had to make a personal choice to adjust my schedule. I mean, everyone’s taking on a full schedule at the end of the day. With my physical condition, I decided to take one extra semester to finish my degree, which at the end of the day, it’s not the be-all-end-all.
Especially going through the wringer of the degree program, not very many people finish right on time. They end up maybe going to do an internship, or they have to upgrade classes. I just focused on doing the best that I could and with working within those constraints that I had. Then I ended up graduating and getting some job offers from some big firms. I just never felt good enough for that, and it was kind of wild to kind of see that all come to fruition.
I always dreamed of going to school, and it’s a blessing and it same time it’s funny because I’m so much older than most [students]. Even when I was doing interviews with some of these big firms, it was like your interview with managers, and I’m like usually older than them. I can’t say enough good things about just how faith and God worked in my life and the people at BCIT that supported me through that process too.
When you became part of your religious community, did you become a mentor?
The thing is we all face different challenges in life. One of the key things I learned about being a part of a sports team is that you’re part of a community. Like your friends and you build this camaraderie.
The main thing that sticks out for me is you’re contributing to something that’s bigger than yourself. I played defense and [I wasn’t] scoring goals, it was more like [filling] in the gaps to help the team win.
The people usually playing midfield get more of the accolades because they’re scoring goals and I was always comparing my strengths to other people’s strengths. I wasn’t able to see that some of those strengths were things made me different. I got back to that when I got involved in a church and in other communities where it’s about being of service—about getting outside of yourself.
That’s where I feel like I’m a part of the team and part of something that’s bigger than myself. I have one mentor that’s pretty much walked alongside with me for the last nine and a half years. That’s been the key. He shared his experiences of going through school, through similar challenges and contributing to a community. It doesn’t have to be the biggest thing. It can be serving coffee, cleaning up a little bit, or taking time out to talk to somebody. Helping somebody in need is the most fulfilling thing.
How will your experience at BCIT translate into your CPA?
I think the next step is going to be challenging in itself. The CPA designation is another three years of work and study. If you don’t learn these skills now, it’s not going to help you later on.
Obviously, each situation seems more scary and overwhelming at first because it’s something new. I think after having the experience of going through school, you realize, if I do my process, if I study, if I study the way that I study, like exams are going to be fine, I’m going to be okay. I might not get straight A’s, but I’ll get what I need to get in order to move forward.
What would you like to be the biggest take away from sharing your story?
My story is that it’s never too late to go back to school. One of the challenges is sometimes it’s very difficult to figure out what you want to do at the beginning, and it was very scary for me to come back to school full time at this stage in my life.
It’s never late to, to educate yourself. If it takes a little while to figure out what you want to do, that’s kind of normal. It’s very difficult to sort of see what you want to do for your career when you’re still young and figuring this stuff out.
I know that a lot of people change their area of study as they go through the process too. I guess in my experience, the one thing that never sat well for me was I just never finished it. I just feel very blessed to be able to go back to school full-time.