I made it. Big 4 Accounting. Beaming so brightly with pride for achieving the ultimate accounting goal, I couldn’t quite see clearly in front of me, but I paddled on forward on that sturdy new canoe I built. Surely, nothing could go wrong since I was paddling towards the promise land…
*BEEP BEEP BEEP* I’m jolted awake by my unwelcomed alarm. Ugh, I feel like I just laid down to sleep not too long ago. I muster the strength to make it to the bathroom to get ready for the day. I look at myself in the mirror. Bed-head hair jutting out of my head in 12 different directions, yawn proned mouth, and eyes barely open…not because I’m Asian, no, because the bags under my eyes were so puffy it forced me to squint a little…the struggle was very real. How did it get to this? I was living the dream, right?
Well, it turns out no one dreams of what auditors call “busy season” which is most often from Jan-Mar/Apr. What is busy season like? For my team, we were working 8:30am-midnight most days and sometimes Saturdays. Work hours averaged 70 hours/week with no control over personal life schedule. I mean, technically yea, personal life is your time after work…so that’s in the hours between midnight at 8:30am…when most of us decide to take that time to drive home, shower, and go to bed. Rinse and repeat for 4 months and you get the struggle as described above. “Living the dream,” we called it.
This was it, huh? The dream? The ultimate accounting goal? The promise land our professors preached about? Yikes. Now, naturally the first-year staffers like myself calmly smile and say to ourselves in our head, “[email protected]#$%&! *screams/screeches/hyperactive breathing*.” Fortunately, my direct supervisor spoke fluent staffer-coverup and proceeded to explain to us what is known as the “Escalator.”
“When you join the firm, it’s like getting on an escalator. No matter what you do, as long as you don’t seriously screw up, you’re going to get promoted every year. Slowly but surely you ride the escalator little by little making your way up. Now, how long you stay on the escalator will depend on how much you can take. If you can make it to the top, you become a Partner of the firm and are scoring mad money for the rest of your life. Making Partner is no easy feat, which is why many many people will exit the firm. Now, if you choose to exit, there are recommended jump-off points. 1) First day of your third year when you become a Senior, and 2) First day of your sixth year when you become a Manager. The exit-opportunities are golden. Extremely better salary and benefits and maybe half the hours. So, now that you have a picture of some goals in your head, hang in there. You can make it.”
I determined I would ascend this treacherous escalator to the first jump off point. I needed to get through 2 years. Thank goodness I loved everyone on my audit team. They are the reason you make it through and have some fun and laughs along the way. When you’re elbow to elbow with them getting sh!t done, eating lunch and dinner together, and sharing stories, your team really becomes your family*.
Somehow, during all the craziness that is busy season, I was invited to join the Business Development Committee for the Boston Crusaders (stories about the Crusaders to come later). As weeks went by and my committee tasks falling behind, I speak with Chauncey, VP of the Boston Crusaders Board of Directors and Business Development Committee Chair, to apologize for slacking on my tasks due to crazy work hours. He understood and consoled me as I told him the woes of my work life. I explain to him the “Escalator.”
“What’s the payoff at the top of the Escalator? Partner? What does that mean?” he asked.
“Well, you’re scoring a half-mill to 3-million dollar salary.”
“Oh. That’s an awesome payoff. How long does it take to get there?”
“If you’re really good, 10-12 years. Sometimes 15 years I think.”
“Wow. Now let me ask you this, can you see yourself doing what you’re doing now for 10-15 years?”
I was shaken by the question. No. I can’t see myself doing this for that long. I even struggle to see myself trying to make it to that first hurdle of the escalator. I realized that the metaphoric canoe I was paddling…the canoe I built, was not the canoe I wanted to paddle. It turns out, when you build a canoe and use someone else’s as a model, you’ll get remnants of the model appearing in your own. Remember my mother’s? “Obtain a prestigious profession that pays a sh!t ton of money.” Hmm.
Chauncey eventually says to me something like, “Well would you consider leaving the firm to come run the corps/company?” I laughed because he was obviously joking… He wasn’t joking. He told me, “Jim Cronin, President of the Board, wants you on the team. If Jim Cronin wants you to join the team, you should probably join the team.” I got on a conference call with Jim and Chauncey and am presented with the idea and vision of Inspire Arts & Music, the new parent organization of the Boston Crusaders.
“We want you to become the Director of Administration.”
Oh look, a brand new canoe was sent my way…and it’s not modeled after my mother’s.
*I really miss my audit team. I did have the awesome opportunity to reconnect with some of them when I was in Orlando for a business trip I even crashed my supervisor’s son’s birthday party with an old audit team member because really, who turns down BBQ and cake? It’s funny though, those of us at the birthday party (including my supervisor) had all left the firm so we reminisced over old battle stories in the audit room.