Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Thing About Accountants

Work has been much on my mind of late. Guilt at not doing enough of it probably. But I’ve also been having some career counselling, which must be a real drag for my counsellor, given that I arrived at our first appointment great with child and clearly no intention of getting a proper job. It turns out to be brilliant therapy though (a bit like the Priory, only without the pills). Someone is being paid to work out what makes me tick, and then explain me to myself so that I can live happily ever after.

Most people moan a fair bit about their job, while being oddly compelled to continue doing it. It’s an odd thing that most of us choose our career path pretty blindly and then stick to it. The other odd thing is how I have come to be friends with no less than thirteen qualified accountants (and I’m excluding all the ones I’ve worked with, however nice they’ve been).

Thirteen? This clearly exceeds the point of usefulness. But the unequivocal if surprising fact of the matter is that they are really good fun to be with. And the reason they’re such fun is this: they never talk about their work. They know it’s bloody boring so they don’t mention it.

Accountants kind of mess up our current thinking about work. We live in an age where we define ourselves in large part by our work choice, which is why when people meet you for the first time it usually only takes them 60 seconds to establish what you ‘do’.

If you meet someone who doesn’t ask you that question, I’d bet there’s a 90% chance you’re talking to an accountant. By and large, accountants do not work for the thrill of the challenge, or to create something of their own making, or to leave a legacy, or for the glamour of it, or in pursuit of a higher cause. Work for them is not an end in itself, but simply a job that needs to be done, which pays well, in order to make the most of time not spent at work. They take their sense of self not from their work but the things that happen outside it. Paradoxically, accountants value ‘lifestyle’ above all.

So, respect to my opposite-brained, bean-counting friends. They manipulate their excel spreadsheets with a dexterity not short of artistic genius, without cherishing the conventional modern belief that YOU ARE WHAT YOU DO. The rest of us, slavishly in search of self-fulfilment, might do well to consider this once in a while: if life is one big balance sheet, is work really an asset?

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