A little context of my journey to becoming an accountant:
I failed out of engineering in 2004. I chose to put myself back through school in 2007, in night school for a whole year as an independent student to get my GPA up from the 1.wtv it was after engineering. Graduated top of my class in 2010, and the rest is history.
But why accounting? My mother burst out laughing when I told her. She thought it was a practical joke, no way somebody as creative as me could go into accounting. So why?
Because I wanted a job security, even in the worst of recessions or during wartime (granddaughter of WWII survivors). I wanted qualifications that were recognized across the country and easily harmonized in the US. I wanted a career that I could scale up or down, depending on my family situation, and when my husband would ditch me for a younger model, I’d be able to continue providing my children the standard of life that they were accustomed to. I wanted financial independence. The only career I could identify that met all those criteria was accounting, so without further ado, accounting was my career of choice. It never occurred to me to question whether or not I’d enjoy it. I had a goal and I was gonna achieve it. Which I did.
I interned at a mid-sized accounting firm in 2008-2009. I hated it. Everybody was so stiff. The drudgery of the work, the hours (little did I know! lol, such #innocence), the black and grey poorly cut suits. I felt trapped, having chosen a career that didn’t suit me, but I felt too old (LOL!!! little did I know!!!!) to start over AGAIN, so I kept at it, miserable.
After one 60 hour week during tax season, I brought my hundreth personal tax return to the head partner for review. He had some questions about some of the data. I explained that the client was unresponsive, the government unhelpful, so I just winged it, a reasonable wild-ass guess, an example of “creative accounting”. The partner took off his glasses,
Vanilla, don’t ever use those words creative accounting ever again. We are professionals. People rely on us. Our clients trust us. What we do matters. We aren’t saving lives, we are helping these individuals make the best decisions so as to maximize the returns on their hard-earned money. That money that pays for their children’s education, sick parents’ hospital bills and their nice vacations which is their just reward after working HARD to reach their level of success. We safeguard the results of their hard work. We free them up to make the best decisions, while protecting them from making mistakes. They trust us to watch out for them. It is our responsibility to always do the best job we can, so as to be worthy of that trust. That is all we can be. Every day. With every action we do. It is no easy task being worthy of trust.
I left his office, shaken.
I recently became a CPA mentor. In this capacity, I have the duty to monitor, guide, advise and shape CPA candidates throughout their 2 years of required experience for their professional title. My first mentee? My adorable little GAB (mentioned here and here. And here. Oh and, sassily… here.) She flip-flopped a lot before committing to accounting. She told me that if she could “become anything closely resembling” me, she was pretty sure she wouldn’t regret her career path.
My team has seen me stressed out of my mind. Laughing hysterically, swearing loudly, crying tears of doubt and insecurity. I am messy and myself. I let them know what parts of my behaviour they should NOT emulate in order to be successful. I’ve never been someone’s inspiration before.
They trust us to watch out for them.
I recently helped a friend clear up the last 4 years of undeclared tax returns, as a self-employed individual. It was frustrating, painstaking and there were moments where I feared I wouldn’t be able to sort through his mess of missing information. I developed multiple scenarios, read up on tax credits I’d never heard of before, and after 3 weeks and 100+ hours, I finally got him to file all 8 tax returns (provincial and federal), mere hours before the deadline. I was exhausted, fed up, and wanted to take a 3 day nap.
My friend hugged me, right after filing and paying. He had tears in his eyes, so grateful was he to have finally discharged his debt to the country that has been so very good to him since he immigrated a few years ago, coming from a place of poverty and violence. “I could never do what you do for a living, I would kill myself, I’d hate it so much. But I am so very grateful you do it, as well as you do. I am free, now. That is priceless. Thank you.”
We free them up to make the best decisions, while we protect them from making mistakes.
On my recent trip to Oregon, one of my coworkers told me that she had been very nervous to meet me, because “we work so hard here, and we didn’t want you to find us inadequate, or not understand what we do, and maybe get us in trouble.” I tried to explain, I do not have that kind of power within the company, and besides, my job is not to get people into trouble. It is to understand what we do as a company, find ways to do things a bit better, and to protect us against risk. My job is to make sure that the people who work on the front lines, in Sales and Operations, can be free to do what they do best, because behind the scenes, I’m making sure that we are properly guarded against human error and fraud. All it takes is 1 big error or 1 dishonest person to wipe out everyone’s hard work. Our bonuses, our reputations, our value on the market, gone. It’s my job to protect all the time, money, effort, teamwork that goes into making our company great.
It is no easy task being worthy of trust.
We published our financial statements on Thursday, following a few days of chaos. I cried 3x on Wednesday, convinced I wouldn’t make our May 31 deadline. Thursday was intense. I felt like I was flying, my mind working in overdrive, pulling everything together, and then suddenly at 6pm, there I was, holding signed financial statements. A year’s work, told in a numerical story. It seems miraculous, that I can summarize one year of operational struggles, wins and loss, mistakes and inspired decisions, hundreds of employees clocking into work day in and day out, late nights in the office and emergencies, promotions, and new hires, into a few dozen pages.
It is our responsibility to always do the best job we can, so as to be worthy of that trust. That is all we can be. Every day.
I love what I do. I am so very very grateful that my cynical decision in 2007 has granted me a life of satisfaction and purpose.