ambition

Accounting: my passion, it turns out. Who knew?

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. 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.

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Anxiety + geography fail = self-analysis

The anxiety this week, oh my! It was bad on Monday, improved on Tuesday, and then got progressively worse.

Yesterday, I was addicted to my phone, compulsively checking social media nonstop. Every 30 minutes, if not more frequently #ADDindahouse. Thanks to my recent travels and dance festivals, I’ve a boatload of new Fbk friends, artists and dancers from across the world. My Fbk feed is flooded with promotions for upcoming festivals in exotic locations, pictures of peoples’ travels to all of the places on my bucket list, or posts from their everyday lives – inherently more entertaining when located in Amsterdam/Cape Town/London. My Fbk feed is a vibrant, exciting, diverse, fantasy land, and I’m stuck in grey Montreal with 2-degree weather, reviewing the definitions of internal controls and prepping for month-end. My intense FOMO led me to designate one of the Dubai hotties as my new confidante and unleash unending verbal diarrhea at him. Highlight of that convo: mistaking Agadir for the name of an upcoming dance festival in Ireland. The dude is Moroccan. #geographyismyforte. He eventually stopped answering me. Ooopsies.

Accurate representation of my behaviour when chatting with that dude.

Today, I tried to figure out why am I so overwhelmingly anxious. As I’ve learned, it is important to nip these episodes in the bud, before they spiral outta control. I have the tools. A quick run-through:

  • Medication: my prescription ran out and I haven’t taken time off from month-end to go fill it. Solution: Tuesday morning, GO. My #dreamteam will survive without me for 4 hours.
  • Exercise: haven’t exercised once this week, as Teacher is recovering from his festival and Coach is on vacation. Clear violation of my therapist’s orders. Solution: exercise tonight, ballet on Sunday, resume normal schedule next week.
  • Diet: disaster. I ate bread for breakfast, timbits for lunch, chocolate as a snack and the only veggies I’ve consumed this week have been 2 cucumbers and some cauliflower with spinach dip. Solution: groceries tomorrow.
  • Friends: I wanna isolate myself. Solution: do NOT bail on my dates with my girlfriends today & tomorrow.
  • Writing: no writer’s block, just very busy. Solution: find the time.
  • Sleep: I flip-flop between insomnia and exhaustion. Solution: be kind to myself and listen to my body.

I felt better. Simple, easy solutions. But there remained a pit in my stomach.

Why?

Seeing BlondEyes and BossMan made me realize: I no longer feel that their ability to pursue their dreams and goals is something that does not apply to me. I (finally!) have the same thirst for life as them. My two Big Dreams (moving to Paris and one day living from my writing) are clamoring for my attention – having seen my two friends take necessary risks to build their vision of a thrilling satisfying life, my Dreams whisper, “we can do this too!”

While in Dubai, I mentioned my Paris dream to BossMan – of course, he asked me what I was waiting for? The right position, obvi. Timing too, it’s important to not jeopardize my professional career with hasty decisions. One day, when the right opportunity comes my way, I’ll be able to weld my Dream with my Career. BossMan scoffed at me: if I really wanted to move to Paris, I could apply to any job I’d like, and after 2-3 months of job hunting, I’d be a wannabe Parisienne. BossMan insisted I lookup freelance writer opportunities, in front of him, while he watched. He asked me: why not commit 5 hours a week to this dream? Calmly, between shisha puffs, he dismissed my I dunnoooooos and my maybe-one-days. Bluntly, he told me: You’re afraid, Vanilla. Are you really gonna let your fears stop you from living the life you KNOW you want?

Seriously, the Dynamite family, with their wisdom & advice that echoes in my head for weeks. EXHAUSTING.

So there you have it: my anxiety stems from the war being waged between Risk-Averse Accountant Vanilla and Vanilla with Dreams. My Dreams won’t be silenced – they’ve paid their dues, patiently navigating all those years of depression. Seeing my Facebook feed full of people living their unconventional lives their way, pursuing their goals… makes it very hard for me to pretend that I am not, as BossMan suggested, letting my fears stop me from living the life I know I want.

I don’t know yet how to reconcile these two Vanillas. But at least I understand what is going on in my brain, and acknowledge that this is something worthy of my time and consideration. Ideally, I’ll continue achieving these moments of clarity and self-awareness, without first portraying myself as an annoying platinum blond Kim K wannabe to a guy I barely know.

“Whaddya mean, ‘Agadir’ is NOT Portuguese for ‘leprechaun’ ?!”

Follow the church spire 

I’m staying at the same hotel in Paris as during my last trip. It’s conveniently located, reasonably (for Paris) priced and clean. Every day, to and from my 30min walk to metro – I walk the first 5 metro stops in order to take in a feel of Paris – I’ve seen a church spire coquettishly peaking out between buildings in the 9th arrondissement.

Tonight I finally opted to turn down the street and check it out.


It is called Église de la Trinité, built in the 19th century as part of Baron Haussman’ attempt to unify the urban look of Paris. It holds no particular significance, other than its beauty.


My view from the window of the café across the street as I enjoy supper (an omelette with salad and fries – how French! – and a tall glass of wine).


Did I ever mention I love it here? I love it here.

Croissants: Swiss vs French

Here I am, at the Geneva airport, waiting to board my flight home to Montreal. My first trip of 2017: done.

A last minute request from head office brought me to Paris for work. I never knew it was possible to love a job/career/company as much as I do mine. Sure, there are aspects of it that drive me nuts, definitely there are some tasks that numb my soul, but what job doesn’t include that? Overall, I believe in what I do, respect my company, am thrilled by the coworkers I am meeting. This is good stuff.

I love work trips because they allow me to see past the perfect veil of tourist traveling. My favorite part is listening to my French coworkers as they sit for their déjeuner at the company cantine – their expressions, their topics of conversation, their customs, the nuances between France French and Québec French. Noticing the tiny differences between our cultures. I’m aware of how they differ from us, from all my interactions with the French immigrant population in Montreal – it’s the topics of memes and endless jokes. But it is jolting to become aware of how they deem that I (we) are different from them, when I am on their land. 

My love affair with France grows stronger with each visit. And with the backdrop of American turmoil shedding gloom over the world (I won’t even attempt to describe the pervasive mépris the French feel for Americans & American politics right now), walking the streets of Paris, seeing everywhere the juxtaposition of past and present, the scars of battles won and lost on buildings that are older than the entire North American continent (as per Western historical chronology) continues to make me feel that weird mix of sorrow and joy – I feel alive. This post from my trip in June resonates again and again.

I took the TGV Friday after work to go visit my friend in Lausanne for a mini weekend getaway. She is Canadian and was my coworker back in my audit days: I worked with her on several of my most intense mandates. I always admired her for her intelligence, beauty, drive and efficiency. 4.5 years ago, she moved to Switzerland to marry her Swiss-Canadian boyfriend; they now have a beautiful toddler, live in a house with a view of Lake Geneva and radiate happiness. While her first years in Switzerland were filled with homesickness, she now loves it. The fresh air, the quality of life, the absence of all the North American noise and consumerism. She says she has time to breathe and look around her.

And boy, oh boy, is there ever a lot to see.

With every visit to Europe, my Dream grows stronger: I will live here one day. I must. My soul demands it.

Sick in Paris, le zut alors

I’m back in Paris this week, for work. Just like that. Apparently, I’ll bring value to a special project that is getting fast-tracked from inception to execution and roll out. So wee, here I am, and I might be back in the spring du coup.

Its my third visit to France within 8 months for work. It blows my mind. I have trouble reconciling that I, Vanilla, have insights and inputs valuable enough to merit that kind of company spend. Part of me knows how hard I’ve worked to get here, part of me knows that I deserve these opportunities, but a huge part of me feels like an imposter and the rug will be pulled out from under me at any moment. The terror of joy.

This current (French) manifestation of my joy-terror feels suspiciously like the worst case of jet-lag of all time. I landed in Paris Sunday morning at 9am – as my hotel room was not ready, I walked aimlessly about town, trying to stay awake. I decided to go to the Louvre, as it has been 15 years since I’d last been: it would be like window-shopping, browsing bougie style. 25 euros later, I made my way to the Mona Lisa, laughed at the dozens of people taking bad selfies of themselves with La Jaconde, and almost fainted from exhaustion. 25 euros for 25 minutes. Win! 2pm, back at the hotel, got my early check-in. 3pm, asleep. Woke up at 5:30am today feeling like a marching band had taken up residence in my brain.

Behold the pics I managed to take before my body decided to hibernate:

 

Today I had fever, chills, a brain that was 100% wool and 0% grey matter, weird pasty tongue and dry mouth, and my kidneys hurt. I also lost my appetite. Do you know what sucks more than just losing your appetite? Losing your appetite in Paris. I see all those macarons, baguette, profiteroles, I am aware that my time here is limited and that I cannot find the equivalent in Montreal so I should eat up… and I just can’t do it.

The universe has a petty sense of humor. Hmph.

Zut alors.

Busy season as an accountant

So I’ve been MIA because of work. I worked easily 70 hours last week (Jan 2-8). By Tuesday, Jan 10th, I’d lost track of what day of the week it was. I was tired.

When I am tired and stressed, my body plays tricks on me. First, there was the whole wannabe kidney failure, brought on by a feeble attempt at health. I know, I know, that will teach me to have such bizarre priorities. Next, as during every busy season, the combination of lack of sleep, and the lack of time to do groceries or cook, is deadly. Body is convinced it at risk of starvation from over-counting (“1, 2, 3, 10, 42, calculator, excel spreadsheets, oh look at all that concentration we just did, we have consumed too much brain energy, we are going to die from famine“) such that I am hungry all the time. ALL THE TIME. It doesn’t matter that the hunger isn’t real, that it is a product of fatigue and unbalanced hormones. My body requires all the food.

 

That, coupled with the lack of time to workout, makes for a pervasive icky feeling. Je ne suis pas bien dans ma peau. I tell myself that this is temporary, that I am doing as best I can, balancing exceptional work requirements and committing to a minimum of self-care to avoid jeopardizing my health. I make sure to walk 30-60 mins every 2 days, as per therapist’s orders to avoid medication. But walking 30-60 mins is not the same as the 4-6 intense workouts I’d been doing for the past 15 months. I can feel the emotions bubbling up inside me, harder and harder to keep a lid on them, threatening to spill over, and scorch everything, me especially, in sight. I’m scared, not going to lie. I wonder if my decision to trust myself to handle a full return to Career Vanilla was the right one, or if I will end up paying a huge price. My last depression in 2014 was vicious and has left me with scars; the next one might maim me permanently.


During my supper with Kirsten, Friday night, she reminded me of a not-so-gentle reproof I gave her 15 months ago that has made a major impact on her life and her dealings with people, especially her coworkers and bf.

You are fair. You apply your high standards equally to yourself and others; you are not wrong in your assessments of people. But unless it comes from a place of kindness, you are judging others, always. Fairly, but hurtfully.

It must come from a place of kindness. I remember that conversation. I remember my life when I said it: in the thick of therapy, unhappy at my (former) job, exploring vulnerability, all my defences stripped away, emotions raw and true.

I’ve not been kind for a long time.


Over the past 2-3 months, I’ve been increasingly assertive at work. I need to be. The projects I am working on involve collaboration and clear communication across many departments, with people that in no way report to me. I have to speak up, to be heard and to effect the changes I’ve been mandated to bring about. It’s exhausting. I try emails, phone calls, patience, explanations, direct orders, nagging… After weeks of getting the roundabout, I usually find myself with two alternatives: throwing a full-blown rage tantrum (“No, I do not accept “that isn’t my problem” as an answer, I am expecting you to exhibit the teamwork, leadership, and problem-solving skills for someone at your level in the organization, and provide me with the timely information I require to be able to do my job.“) or going into CFO-boss’ office, and requesting him to intervene, aka being a tattle-tale. I hear some of the words that come out of my mouth, and I wonder how long it will take until certain coworkers hate me. 100% of my statements are true. I even manage to assume positive intent on behalf of my coworkers. But I am not kind. I’m a full-blown judgmental bitch. A hilarious one, with a sense of humour, but critical AF.


One of the first things my therapist worked on to staunch the flow of depression in 2014 was the idea of compassion vs perfection (explained here). While I struggle still, I’ve come a long long way in accepting my imperfections. Yet, since the fall, I’ve lost compassion. Stretched to my limit, taking on projects that thrill and petrify me, I need that protective wall of Bitchy Vanilla. I don’t understand how to get the results I need from my coworkers without resulting to the bullying techniques mentioned above. To pull off those bullying techniques, I must be close to blameless, delivering exceptional work, quality communications, meeting deadlines, universally respected for my competence and knowledge… I must be perfect.

So. My fear that this challenging period at work poses a serious threat to my mental health is justified. I’m falling back into the cycle of perfectionism and justified perpetual judgment.


It must come from a place of kindness.

Yes, it must. I’m just not sure how.

Year-end pettiness

While all y’all might be excited about Christmas/New Year’s/Festivus, nah. December 31 = financial year-end for the company. Aka, the suspension of all aspects of my life that are not work related. I haven’t started my Christmas shopping.

Case in point:

I left work “early” on Wednesday, at 6:30pm, to get my hair dyed and cut because #prioritiesyo. How can I possibly determine if we are missing any accruals or if margins are off if I have roots? Impossible.

15 minutes after I’d left, my emails stopped working on my phone. I tried to suck it up. I did breathing exercises. By the time I’d arrived at the hair salon, I was having cold sweats. I sipped on a glass of wine, telling myself that this was an excellent opportunity to work on appreciating the present moment, that taking a break would allow me to return to my workload refreshed and concentrated.

Yeah, no.

My scalp halfway covered in dye-goo, I had a nervous breakdown, insisted on getting the salon’s wifi code, booted up my laptop, and spent my hair appointment working from my hair salon chair.

The next morning, I arrived to the office to sort through the 50+ emails that had come in overnight. These included an email chain between a French coworker and somebody in one of our sister companies. In that chain, he makes reference to me “Vanilla, the Chief Accountant of XYZ Co.”

Now. My signature clearly states Accounting Manager. French Coworker has met me, multiple times. He has introduced me to people as the chief accountant of XYZ Co. I’ve bit my tongue, tried to talk myself out of this fixation on my title, reminding myself that such small details don’t matter, its probably just a language barrier/translation issue, it’s the quality of my work that dictates my brand & professional reputation. I can’t do it. I’ve worked too damn hard to get where I am. I negotiated this title just like I negotiated my salary. I firmly believe that in a business setting, titles matter: people respond differently depending on the rank of an individual. Sucks, but so it is. And don’t get me started on the whole gender thing and how THAT impacts perception. I’ve fought my way to where I am, I will continue to fight going forward, and I will NOT accept that any of my due is casually discounted as being a trivial detail.

That is why, Thursday morning, when everyone across our organization was mad scrambling to close out the year, I took the time to call French Coworker and gently remind him that my title is not Chief Accountant, it is Accounting Manager. Because why be a mature team player when you can be the Grinch of Year-End Pettiness? #oops

#imajoytoworkwith

#brash

#holidaycheer