I started down the “dark path of accounting” …so begins my dear student Isaac’s reflection in the fall of 2016. His funnies article does contain various humorous anecdotes such as Nate N. being compared to a fish, and the registrar’s office being hopelessly maze-like, lost in our gigantic campus.
Unfortunately, for those of you who have spent little time chatting with a real world accountant, many of Isaac’s tongue-in-cheek observations sounded like the dark and foreboding (and boring) “accounting” that you’ve heard about.
Climbing “the corporate ladder”, “decades in the field cubicle”, and my personal favorite “the accounting abyss”, conjure up images of the evil, isolated and antisocial accountant.
There is however a much lighter side to accounting, a counterpart to the dark image that Isaac and perhaps society have created. But I digress; this is after all a funnies article. So here’s my joke for the piece (which I heard by the way at an accounting seminar, told by an accountant who was presenting to the group).
Why are hamsters and cigarettes both dangerous? They’re not until you light them on fire and put them in your mouth… (no animals were harmed in the telling of this joke).
In all seriousness, accountants are not “bean counters”, as is commonly believed (although I once counted soybeans at a grain elevator in my first job as an auditor). Accounting is, as are most professions, what you make of it. Accountants can hide out in a cubicle and “crunch numbers” if that is their cup of tea.
As I frequently tell my students however, if you want to open up a world of possibilities in accounting, learn how to explain the use of resources to non-accountants. Most effective accountants have to be good communicators, able to explain “scary” concepts to others.
All accounting boils down to is understanding how to tell the story about the financial health and effectiveness of an organization.
So let’s reset the narrative. Let’s call them “number storytellers”. These storytellers are needed in all organizations: non-profits, governments, schools, small family businesses, and big businesses (essentially everywhere).
All organizations function on resources and all organizations need to work to manage those resources efficiently in order to have the greatest impact possible. As a result of this need, number storytellers can be a tremendous asset to organizations in all facets of society, not just “corporate America”.
So if you are an accountant and you find certain corporate pursuits distasteful, then (insert loud throat clearing noise here) get off the corporate ladder and use your numerical storytelling abilities in an organization or facet of society where your other passions intersect with those abilities.
In conclusion, if you gleaned very little from this article aside from the fact that hamsters when lit on fire are dangerous (I’m not suggesting you do this), please remember that accounting is not the “dark side”, and that accountants can help you with things besides just counting beans.