“After I lost my parents, AAT helped turn my life around”

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Losing his mum to cancer as a teenager and his dad to Covid last year, Joshua Wilson MAAT AATQB has suffered many cruel blows. Yet, he never let these setbacks get in the way of his career.

On a Friday afternoon in February, Joshua Wilson sat down in his Bath living room, opened his laptop and watched AAT’s first-ever Impact Awards. The 26-year-old had been nominated for the Triumph award by his partner, Jasmine, for continuing his AAT studies while his personal life unravelled around him. When the announcement came that Joshua had won, he’s not ashamed to admit things got emotional.

The previous year hadn’t been easy. His beloved dad – an accountant who ran his own practice – had passed away from Covid. The months that followed saw Joshua (who’d already lost his mother to cancer as a 13-year-old) plunged into an unenviable situation: tying up his father’s affairs while also finding a new home for himself and younger brother Ben.

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Despite these challenges, Joshua carried on studying AAT, even sitting his exam while his father was in hospital. In what must have been a bittersweet moment, Joshua was notified that he’d passed AAT Level 4 just four days after his dad passed away.

“I put emotional barriers up”

“Sadly, my dad wasn’t there to see me become a qualified accountant,” says Joshua. “He was so supportive of me doing AAT, possibly because he was ‘qualified by experience’ without sitting professional exams. We always joked I’d end up more qualified than him.”

When Joshua’s father tested positive for Covid in November 2021, Joshua didn’t think much of it. After all, he’d seen plenty of people recover quickly from Covid, himself included. Yet within a fortnight, his dad’s symptoms worsened, forcing Joshua to call for an ambulance. “That’s when I knew it was serious,” he says.

At first, Joshua would smuggle Chinese takeaways into the ward for his dad. But over Christmas, his father was moved to an ICU unit, with visitors needing to wear protective clothing that “made us look like something from Monsters, Inc.”. Things deteriorated quickly. In early January, Joshua’s dad was put into an induced coma, before sadly passing away later that month, aged 54.

Throughout this bleak period, Joshua studied for and sat his Level 4 exam. He also achieved his qualifications through self-studying and distance learning. “All I had was a textbook, the AAT’s interactive learning portal and that was it,” he recalls.

“To be brutally honest, I woke up every morning and just got on with it,” he adds. He credits losing his mother to breast cancer – which swiftly metastasised to her brain and lungs – when he was a teenager as giving him coping strategies which helped deal with the anguish of his dad’s death. “Losing my mum meant it was easier to put emotional ‘barriers’ in to control it [the grief],” he says. “I had to learn how to grow up for myself.”

Joshua dealt with his mum’s death in a very different way. “My inner demon came out,” he recalls. “I’d lash out, get arrested and eventually I was chucked out of school. I left with just two GCSEs. I felt I’d thrown my life away.”

Joshua believes the trauma of losing his mother may have triggered his borderline personality disorder (BPD), where symptoms include paranoia, anger, emotional instability and reckless behaviour (the NHS says “most people [with BPD] will have experienced some kind of trauma or neglect as children”). He also believes BPD could be responsible for him struggling with exams.

Back then, Joshua never wanted to be an accountant. What he really wanted to do was join the Royal Marines. He passed aptitude tests, could run 1.5 miles in under seven minutes, but failed the medical due to a hereditary blood-clotting disorder, quashing his ambitions.

After “bouncing around” in retail jobs at Tesco and Screwfix, he started studying AAT, with the aim of following in his father’s footsteps. He started work at his dad’s practice, which didn’t go to plan. “That wasn’t fun!” says Joshua. “Every time I’d pick up my mobile, my dad would say, ‘You’re always on your phone!’ We were always clashing.”

Making a future

Joshua left and found a job at French utility group Veolia, while studying Level 3. “I probably could have eventually worked my way up and ran my dad’s practice,” says Joshua. “But to me, there’s no sense of achievement in doing that. I’d rather make my future than piggyback from my dad.”

His financial training helped when Joshua was forced to deal with the torrent of admin and bureaucracy following his dad’s death. Joshua set up a GoFundMe page, which helped raise £9,000 for funeral costs, while he also handled the tricky probate, life insurance payouts, pensions, plus settled unpaid bills.

“When somebody dies, there’s a lot more work than many people think,” says Joshua. “I’m lucky I’ve got my AAT skills.”

The hardships didn’t end there. Because Joshua and Ben could no longer afford to live at their father’s former house, they needed to find a new home too.

One of the most remarkable parts of Joshua’s story is that he’s endured these difficulties while living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and BPD. Joshua was diagnosed with ADHD as a four-year-old and today, it’s most evident in his restless nature. “If you met me, you’d see I’m very fidgety,” he says.

The BPD is more difficult to navigate. “I go through mood swings and anger issues: it has a massive impact on my relationships and friendships,” he says.

“Now I know when my BPD is about to flare up, which is usually once a week, so I’ll either talk to somebody such as a counsellor, go for a walk, do some studying or hit the gym.”

None of this affects his day job as assistant management accountant where he particularly enjoys Veolia’s work developing solutions to tackle the climate crisis, such as helping hospitals become more energy-efficient, or firms which transform wastewater into clean drinking water.

He’s also studying ACCA and will sit his corporate and business law exam in August, which should put him on the path to realise his ambition of working as a forensic accountant.

“Both of my parents would be extremely proud,” says Joshua. “They’d be so pleased to see I’ve managed to turn my life around and make something myself.”

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AAT students can hear directly from employers showcasing their apprenticeship opportunities at our free webinar.

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Christian Koch is an award-winning journalist/editor who has written for the Evening Standard, Sunday Times, Guardian, Telegraph, The Independent, Q, The Face and Metro. He's also written about business for Accounting Technician, 20 and Director, where he is contributing editor.

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