Do you remember the first day on the job after graduating college? You studied and struggled for four or more years just looking forward to that first day. You earned decent grades in school. Your professors thought highly of your abilities and told you how well you would do in your career. You graduated with honors and thought you were one of the top five smartest people in the world.
Does this sound familiar?
That describes me. I had all of those feelings and reinforcements. I graduated high school with a 4.2 grade point average and then college with a 3.8. My family and teachers told me how smart I was and how proud they were of how well I did in school. I never had failed in anything. I was invincible. No one could stop me.
Does it sound familiar yet?
No? You’re lucky. If you struggled to graduate or didn’t even go to college, your head probably wasn’t filled with the “everything is easy for me” thoughts. There would be excitement about the future but no let down if you struggled or failed. The only place you could go was up.
For me, the only place I could go was down. I was already at the top. I could either stay at the top or fall. This is where the story gets interesting.
I should have been fired after my first day of work! I deserved it. I failed in everything work-related I did that first week, much less the first day. I’ll never forget how I felt each evening as I drove home. It was terrifying because I kept expecting a phone call saying I should come into the office rather than going to the client the next day.
What did I do that first week that was so terrible? Nothing right, that’s for sure! Today, we are completely electronic for our work papers. When I started my career, we created hard copy work papers. We used Excel or Word when we could and printed them to maintain in our files. That was easy. I can type and was fairly proficient in Excel.
What I couldn’t do was use a 10-key. One of my first tasks was to manually input the client’s general ledger trial balance into our trial balance software. Typically, we would obtain an electronic file and transfer it into our software. The client couldn’t provide it electronically so I had to manually input.
If you know anything about accounting, you will know that assets and expenses have debit balances and liabilities, equity and income have credit balances. I should have known this after graduating from a very good business school. However, I input the trial balance backwards. Every account had the wrong sign. What made it worse, is that the second time I input it, I did the same thing. And, since I couldn’t use a 10-key very well, I wasted almost the entire first day inputting that trial balance. Talk about being over budget. Ouch!
I’m so thankful for the person who was leading the engagement. She was so patient with me. Today, she is one of our firms partners. She’s always been a great teacher and I learned so much from her (and continue to today).
It was the second week of August when we were working at this client. The air conditioner in the building went out that week and there were four of us working in a room no bigger than a broom closet. My in-charge asked me on Wednesday of that week to leave in the middle of the day to go and buy a fan at a store down the street. It was extremely hot in that little room but I’m convinced that she really wanted to just get rid of me for a while.
So that was my first week on the job. I know I must have done other stupid things that week. Why didn’t I get fired? I know I deserved it. Here’s why – all new people have the same issues. Schools can teach how to handle all the complex accounting rules and unusual accounting situations. But nothing teaches more than doing the actual work.
Thirteen years later, I remember my failures and I try to coach our new employees on how they will feel and how to go about learning. We will teach them how to audit. We can’t teach them how to have a personality and be a hard worker. Those things need to come naturally. If they communicate well, work hard and learn from the mistakes made on each job, they will succeed.
Why did I tell this story?
I’m not the best accountant in the world. I never have been and never will be. I will continue to make mistakes. But, I will learn and change each time I do. In the same manner, you’ve failed too. You’re not perfect either and you shouldn’t expect to be. Instead, learn from the mistakes you make.
From that first week on the job until today, so much has changed. My entire personality has changed. I’m still the stereotypical perfectionist, detail-oriented accounting nerd. But I’ve changed based on my past experiences. I’ve watched and talked with successful people and have gleaned great nuggets of wisdom from them. You can do that too. You can be successful. You can enjoy your job.
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