3 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming an Accountant
I assumed that accounting would be the perfect fit for my number-obsessed, introverted personality.
I was wrong.
When you get a degree in accounting, at least in the United States, it most likely means you will get a job at an accounting firm right out of college. Here, you will start as an auditor. In fact, unless you shift over to a more specified field like tax, you will most likely start and die as an auditor.
This isn’t the kind of auditor you might be thinking either — where a terrifying agent from the Internal Revenue Service scours your records determined to catch you in a “lie.”
No, this kind of auditing is much less exciting.
You will aimlessly flip through the records of companies who hired your firm to prepare their annual financial statements. You will analyze their internal controls, evaluate company policies, and interview the staff to see if they are aware of any fraud — as if they are going to tell you all the deep dark secrets of their employer.
Sometimes, you get to spend an entire day reviewing timecards to make sure they all have proper sign offs.
I know…it’s exhilarating stuff.
I am not saying it’s all bad. It’s not. I have a good stable income and have met some of my best friends through my job. However, if I had a better understanding of the occupation before I spent a fortune on my accounting degree, I probably would have gone down a different path.
These are the things I wish someone would have told me before I took the Certified Public Accounting exam, a four-part, year-long, soul-sucking process.
It could have saved me a lot of trouble.
The Things I Wish I Knew
Accounting has very little to do with numbers.
I love math and you could even say that I am obsessed with numbers. They are constantly running through my head. I count everything. I mean everything — my calories, the number of tiles on the ceiling when I am at the dentist, the number of power lines between the poles as I drive down the road, and of course, my steps.
When I say steps, I don’t even mean that I look at my Fitbit periodically throughout the day (I do that too), but I mean I count as I walk. Every single step up to 100 and then I start over.
I can’t stop. It’s like a disease. I am a numberaholic.
Naturally, I assumed accounting would be perfect for my counting OCD.
What I didn’t know was that being an accountant means ten times as many checklists, procedural documentation, and what I call total pointless bullshit, as it does actual numbers.
Some days, I don’t do a single calculation. My 10-key sadly collects dust, and my calculator doesn’t even see the light of day.
Accounting is not for introverts.
When I envisioned my future job, I pictured a quiet office with my door closed as I ferociously pecked away at my calculator.
What I wasn’t prepared for was giving financial statement presentations to the Board of Directors of multi-million-dollar companies. As the stereotypical white males stared me down, I could feel myself sweating. Even though I had spent countless hours the night before rehearsing what I was going to say until I had it memorized, my heart was still racing and my stomach was churning. I was nervous for days and thought I might even have a heart attack that morning.
That was the moment I decided this was not the job for me.
People say public speaking gets easier the more you practice, and I am sure it does. But what if you don’t want to practice? What if you don’t care if you are ever good at public speaking? Not everyone needs this terrifying skill.
Busy “season” is all year long.
Supposedly, January through April is what accountants refer to as “busy season.” This is super misleading because it’s always busy. Different industries have different fiscal year-ends, which means summers are spent out of town auditing colleges whose year-ends fall in May or June. Other companies might have September 30 year-ends.
Aside from the varying time that a companies’ financial statements are due, there are many other types of documents that are due throughout the year. Basically, it never ends. There is always some sort of encroaching deadline looming over your head.
To me, that is no way to live.
I Quit, Kind Of
I am still an accountant, but no longer for an accounting firm. In fact, I now work for the company that I was so terrified of presenting to. How ironic.
I got my quiet office and although I leave my door open, the option is there to shut it. And now, with the pandemic, I have shifted to working remotely from the comfort of my spare bedroom, snuggled in pajamas, with a cat on my lap.
Even though that sounds dreamy (and it kind of is), I am still blasted with hundreds of emails and phone calls every day that I could really do without. I am still busy all year long and I still have plenty of pointless bullshit to do. In other words, accounting is still not what I had hoped it would be.
I am not saying that I completely regret my career choice, but if I could do it all over, I would listen to my ten-year-old self.
I would be a wildlife photographer!
In a graduation speech, Jim Carrey said the following:
“You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”
Ironically, when he said this, he was referring to his dad who was an accountant.
In summary, if you are thinking about being an accountant because you love numbers and would rather keep to yourself, I highly suggest exploring a different occupation.
You will interact with a ton of people, your main tasks will have nothing to do with numbers, and busy season is 365 days a year.
If those things don’t bother you, I am not trying to persuade you otherwise. I just wish I had those facts in 2008 when I wrote “accounting” as my major on my college application.
Don’t wait until you are sweating in the board room with your heart pounding out of your chest to rethink your career path.