Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Story Time

My story is in response to a meme that I saw on Pixie Purls' blog that I really enjoyed. I thought I would continue it and write mine as well to let you all know a little more about me. I don’t think my story is anywhere near as interesting as hers, but here goes.

Some of you know that I’m an accountant, more specifically in tax, as the director of a mid-size company’s tax department, and people are usually surprised when they find out that’s what I do. I would have never guessed back in junior high or the first few years of high school that I would be doing this. My best subjects in school were always English and Social Studies as I love to read and write and learn about different types of people and societies.

My mom taught me how to read at a very young age and throughout most of elementary school reading was my passion. I would walk to the library with my mom and take out 12 or 13 books that were “too old” for me in a week and read them all. I remember I was reading “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” and other quasi-young teen books by Judy Blume in 2nd grade, covering subjects like puberty and sex, so I was “wise beyond my years” for the time (late 70s/early 80s as I was born in 1972.) I really didn’t like being a kid much and always felt older than I was (and now, feel younger than I am – how does that work?)

Since I became an accountant you may be wondering, what about math? Did she like math? Truthfully, I was fine at it but never stellar – liked algebra but hated geometry. And I still don’t have that kind of “engineering mind” to figure out construction-type things in knitting (the loop d loop patterns leave me scratching my head – like how does that fit together?) As for science, with the exception of a few classes in high school, I pretty much hated it. I hated the labs, particularly - they never turned out the way they were supposed to, and I never took anything away from them. In fact when I took the ACTs, my score in math was a 22, whereas my English and Social Studies scores were 31 and 30, and science was only a 20.

So, what careers did I consider? When I was really young I used to want to be a teacher (and I did that for the past seven years online, teaching accounting and tax.) In junior high, I used to want to be a hairstylist or makeup artist. In high school, I alternatively wanted to be an artist, then a psychologist, then a doctor when I really liked my biology and anatomy/physiology classes. My dad talked me out of all of these alternatives. He said I had a mind for business and that accounting was a great career choice. He always had side businesses like auto body shops as well as being an engineer as his “day job” – he knew how much he relied on his accountants and he impressed upon me that I would always have a job (a big deal to him, and ultimately to me.) He also impressed upon me that I should never depend on a man to support me, that I should be self-sufficient and that women could do anything men could do. This had a profound effect on me and I really internalized it. My mom reinforced this philosophy for me, even though it wasn’t the choice she had made for herself, because I think if circumstances were different for her, she may have wanted to be more independent.

When it was time to pick colleges in junior year, my dad said I should go with the school that would give me the biggest (academic) scholarship I could get and live at home in order to stay focused on studying and save money. He said it didn’t matter whether the undergraduate school I went to was a big name or not, because later when I got my master’s, that would be when a bigger name made more of a difference and everyone would only pay attention to where my last degree was from.

All of this advice led me to select St. Xavier University, a small private school on the outskirts of Chicago near the suburbs as they offered me a 50% non-need based academic scholarship. My dad was familiar with the school as he grew up in the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago, not far from the school, and went to high school at Brother Rice, the Catholic high school nearby. My grandmother had actually worked at the university in the kitchen when my dad and uncle were growing up so that as an employee, she could get the tuition paid for over at the affiliated high school for her kids.

Anyway, with the choice of SXU, I could live at home and work, because my dad said he would pay the other ½ of the remaining ½, or 25% of the total cost, and I would be expected to cover the other 25%. I didn’t understand why he did this at the time as he could have easily covered the entire amount, wherever I would have chosen to go. It (and everything that went along with this) caused me a lot of trepidation then but I do believe it made me a stronger person.

At SXU, I tentatively declared my major as accounting at the outset, but was full well expecting not to like my initial accounting class. Surprise! I loved the rationality of it, and that everything made sense to me. I liked that accounting really was “the language of business” and that it was an important way to get involved in the business world. I liked the focus in my classes on explaining accounting to non-accountants, and aha - here’s where I saw my communication/writing skills setting me apart from some other accountants, who hated the world of words and writing and communication.

So the rest is history. I ended up having to maintain a 3.8 GPA to keep the Presidential Scholarship that SXU had given me and so I graduated magna cum laude. I interviewed with Deloitte for an auditing job and Arthur Andersen for a tax job, and Andersen must have clearly recognized that I was more of a tax person by nature and hired me. I worked at the firm for a year, and really didn’t like not knowing much about each client at my lowly staff level and the bureaucracy of a huge organization. Also I had gotten married the November after graduation to my college boyfriend, and he was extremely threatened by the social aspect of working at the firm – the late night drinking with co-workers, the camaraderie.

So, I quit the firm and began work at a mid-size bank in the western suburbs of Chicago. I did both tax and investor relations work at the bank, and although I didn’t fit well within their culture (stodgy and resistant to change) I learned and accomplished a lot. I also divorced my college boyfriend/husband and met Jim, who would later become my husband in 2002. At 26, I was promoted to Assistant Vice President, and I also started and completed my MST (master’s in tax) at DePaul University, which is nationally reknowned for this program (fulfilling my dad’s game plan for me, although I didn’t think about this at the time.)

In 2000, I left the bank to become the manager of domestic taxation at the US headquarters of a well-known European auto manufacturer. I learned a lot here as well, but again this organization was too slow and bureaucratic for me (they had meetings to plan to plan and were extremely resistant to change) and so I left to join my current organization in 2002. The way it worked out, I ended up having the new job lined up so that I gave notice to the auto company, Jim and I married on a two week Mediterranean cruise, and when I came back, I started my new job here.

After some initial challenges that I got through and working with a fabulously supportive boss who was not planning to relocate to the area long-term, I was promoted to tax director when he left the company in 2004. I enjoy working at my company as it is mid-size (although publicly traded) and there isn’t much bureaucracy. I also love running my own (small) department and I have another great boss who doesn't micromanage anything - basically leaves me to my own devices. The only thing I dislike is that I really like being busy and some days there's not enough to do, even though I'm also working on my MBA now at NIU and have four more classes left.


Blogger Carol said...

Holy cow woman! A very interesting read. Your dad sounds like a very smart man.

12/06/2006 09:40:00 PM  
Blogger Penny said...

Wow, I didn't realize you were an accountant! I am too, but at a mid-sized public firm. It's a wonderful place to work, but I'm getting tired of tax season hours (coming up on my fourth season). I'm thinking after a few more years, I'd like to get back into the private accounting sector.

12/07/2006 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger Twisted Knitter said...

What a marvelous story - yay for Dad! And good for you for taking his advice.

I clicked over here from the Ariann Knitalong and LOVE your finished Ariann. The color is awesome on you

12/13/2006 10:32:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home