This is a story about how an English major became an accountant. When I was in college at San Jose State in the mid-60s, I had a group of friends who were liberal arts majors. I was an English major, as were a number of people in the group. But one of our group, a guy named Jim, confessed one night that he actually had a double major in English and Accounting. We all pounced! How could he truly be one of us? I will always remember Jim’s plaintive counter-argument: “But I do see beauty in a balance sheet!”
I have to admit I was among the ones who jumped on him then. How ironic is it that I too ended up as an accountant? It was far from the teaching career I had envisioned for myself. I was going to get a master’s degree in English Lit. and a teaching credential for that (then) newly popular educational phenomenon, the junior college. However, let’s just say that my student teaching experience did not go well. I ended the semester without my master’s degree (though I did get it later), without a teaching credential, and with less than $100 in my bank account. It was time to take on the world of business that I had earlier spurned. But the job search was no slam-dunk either. Despite “almost” having my M.A., the only thing the recruiters cared about was my typing ability, and that was not so good.
Still, I was sent out on job interviews, presumably in cases where a lack of typing skills was not a great detriment. One of those was with a brokerage company in San Francisco, a branch office of a firm based in Philadelphia near where I had grown up in South Jersey. The first thing I noticed about Norm, the man who was conducting my interview, was his accent, which sounded so much like home. I commented on it and found he was indeed from a city not too far from my hometown. We struck up a conversation and I was soon hired.
It was that lucky accident that propelled me into the world of finance as a general office assistant. It gave me much-needed experience and a bridge to my next job in the Securities Department of a bank in Denver, where I moved with my husband after we were married. When we relocated to Ann Arbor several years later, I was again on the job market and had another lucky break. I was sent on an interview for a bookkeeping position with a property management company despite the fact that I knew hardly anything about either bookkeeping or property management. For some reason Mike, the financial V.P. of the firm, thought I could do the job anyway and hired me.
I quickly set out to learn the basics of the trade. I took a night course in bookkeeping at the Pioneer High School, followed by a number of accounting courses at Eastern Michigan University, and I discovered that I was not only good at accounting but that I loved it! Far from being boring or routine, it was interesting with problem-solving, analytical, and management skills essential my job. Completing the annual financial statements and even the monthly budgets gave me a great sense of satisfaction. Accounting became my career and I was able to rise through the company ranks, more than justifying Mike’s gamble in hiring someone who in the beginning didn’t know a debit from a credit. I stayed there for 28 years, far longer than he did.
As I’ve grown older, I now see that beauty comes in many forms, often where one might expect it, as in art and literature, and also in some unexpected places, such as balance sheets. One form of beauty does not make the other illegitimate, but perhaps different people will not always see the same things. In this case and many others, beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.