Individual Leadership

Telling strangers you’re an accountant, and other ways to find humility

Written by Sean Smith

3 Min Read

From a silhouette across the bar, a beautiful figure appears. We lock eyes across the noisy, crowded room. As she approaches, a sudden hush settles over everyone.

“Hey, I’m Sean.” A pause. “You’re a photographer? You don’t say?” Another pause. “I work in Manhattan, too. An accountant, actually.” A little longer of a pause. “Well, I audit a company that makes the cardboard inserts that go inside the covers of binders.” A slightly longer pause. “No, I don’t make them, I do the business side.” An even longer pause. “Well, sort of, I make sure they are doing the business side correctly.” A pause that stretches for an eternity. “Oh ok, yeah I have to get back to my friends, too.”

A silhouette once more.

Being an accountant is not as glamorous as it might seem. It’s not all pivot tables and macros — sometimes things can get a bit less exciting. At times, being an accountant can even result in some hard life lessons (as seen in the totally fabricated and not at all true example above).

The tool for a successful and happy sense of self

But I believe that the universe always gives what I need if I just know where to look. And being stereotyped as “not cool” is just one way we accountants have been gifted the tools for a successful and happy life! That gift is humility.

Humility is essential to our job. It’s not uncommon for us to spend our time confined in a small room with several colleagues working long hours. This creates a jambalaya of personalities that need to be able to mix together to create the perfect dish. The easiest way to spoil the sauce? Adding the flavor of arrogance.

Timelines are always tight and the calendar never stops rolling towards the filing deadline. Stress is a natural part of the occupation. When you’re humble in situations like this, people are more likely to enjoy your company and you’re more likely to control your own level of stress.

Being wrong’s not the end of the world

Everyone is wrong at times and everyone has bad ideas, and most of us find being wrong embarrassing or something to be defensive about. Developing an open mind about criticism (or being humble about your ideas) can free you from the stress of needing to be right above all else.

Accounting, like many things, should be the pursuit of what is right, not who is right.

I’ve found that it’s easier to improve the overall quality of my efforts (both at work and at home) when I can embrace being wrong. Not to mention, when I’m OK with being wrong, it adds credence to the (hopefully more frequent…) times I’m right. Being open to and encouraging about other people’s ideas puts them at ease that you’re not just nodding along, but really hearing them. It lets them know that you don’t hold yourself above others, and that the assessment being given is without ego or unfairness.

So, humility. The great secret to being an accountant. Well, really the great secret to just being happy being you. I encourage everyone to go out there and be wrong. To have the confidence to laugh at something dumb you just said rather than try to bury it. Be mindful that the pursuit of ego does not benefit anyone. If all else fails, go out by yourself and explain to a group of bar-goers the specifics of your day job. People love that! Tell them the name of your calculator, teach them the accountant’s handshake, and share the joke about the bookkeeper and the aging schedule that you really like.

You might just walk away with some new perspectives.

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