“Hope is a funny thing when you think about it. It’s something you always have. You just have to believe you do.”
― Laura Miller,
This is one of my favorite weeks – it’s a 3-day work week and I have no appointments on the calendar. It means I could wear yoga pants to the office without guilt if I had that sort of wild and crazy hair. There are only a couple of other staff in the office today, and Wednesday I am likely here alone and will be closing early. These are the weeks at my employed job I really do like.
Although I have nothing scheduled on my calendar, my phone, email, and text are still very active. For the majority of the firm’s clients I am an advisory resource on navigating the reimbursement process for the regulatory and statutory required clean-up at their sites. From that, for a small handful I have evolved into a trusted business and finance advisor as well, helping them with everything from evaluating accounting software and understanding the terms and conditions of loan financing proposals to assisting them recruit and train office and accounting staff. Through the years it has turned into a weird dichotomy of services I provide the clients … and bill them accordingly.
Then there is my booming self-employment business. For a few of these clients I have been doing the monthly accounting and preparation for taxes for several years, but many of them are new acquisitions in the last several months. Accounting, payroll, other administrative services as needed – it surprises me how frequently I have discussed recruiting and training with absolute strangers, yet this has very quickly become a marketable niche service for me. It surprises me because I do not think of myself as an expert at anything and a truly flawed teacher or trainer. Most of my career I have dreaded hiring new, inexperienced staff, because I take their missteps almost personally, as if it is my failure to impart the knowledge they require for success. It is well outside my comfort zone for me to try and teach someone how to do tasks I do on autopilot much of the time. Yet here I am, being paid to sit in on interviews and then sit down with and train someone in how to do their jobs.
Yet again, next week I will be in a client’s office teaching a new employee how to apply what he knows about accounting to the ways this particular client firm wants things done. In my experience the work flow of paper differs from firm to firm, but the actual debits and credits are always the same. Getting someone new to understand that their fresh and brilliant ideas on getting stuff done are fantastic, but learn the fundamentals of how the business does business before bringing those bright ideas to the table for consideration or change. In those moments I feel like a capitalist dream-killer.
I am surrounded by young up-and-comers, and I love their energy and ambition. I love that they see a pathway from here to there … wherever the unique “there” is for each. I can never recall being that way myself, never dreaming of a bigger role, more responsibility, an office, a bigger office, greater salary and bonus potential. My goals always seemed more modest: to be happy in my job, comfortable in my work environment, to work well with others, to be able to conceal my frustration and impatience with dumb people I think should be smarter. Somehow that led me through a series of jobs and firms and learning about me and what works, what doesn’t, and why. From that I have what feels like blindly walked up an invisible ladder leading to better pay and benefits, bonuses, different working conditions, an office of my own, and a career path that is meaningful and rewarding to me. It’s not what I observed or thought “success” meant when I was working for a national accounting firm, but then again, I never thought I would be an accountant, either.
The people I learned from on the way from there to here were not necessarily traditional role models. Some were people I worked with, who managed in ways that made me sure I never, ever wanted to be a supervisor or manager if it meant turning into a micro-managing control freak. There were mean girls and bullying bosses that had me regularly crying in the ladies room and dreading getting up and going to work. But for every one of those people, there were a lot of genuine, caring, empathetic coworkers who were there get me through the workdays and taught me a lot about my own resilience and mental and emotional toughness.
I have always wanted to be good at the things I choose to undertake, or at least put forth my best effort. Somehow or anther it has propelled me from quiet background where I feel I belong to leadership positions where I am the one influencing others in their career choices and work-related habits and behaviors. I have most definitely not evolved as a micro-managing control freak, but I find myself frequently wishing my mentoring skills were not plagued with a lot of self-doubt and agonizing over the big and small details.
It’s Monday, so training with J. We had a nice discussion about diet and food – which is a tough topic for anyone to approach with candor and sensitivity. He was giving me some advice on handling some of the other outside voices about diet and exercise – which I very much appreciate, because I’m not always diplomatic or tactful with pushy people – and made a comment on my looking to him as an expert. It gave me a moment of pause, because I do not actually look at anyone as an expert at anything. I believe there are lots and lots of folks with greater experience and knowledge in specific subject areas, and the really good ones are also teachers who can share and impart that in ways I can accept, understand, and learn. To think of him as an expert is perilous to me, because that word creates an unreasonable and unsustainable standard of near perfection. Mistakes will be made – his, mine, a combination of both of us – and in my mind experts in their fields do not make mistakes.
If anything, I think those who have been my mentors or taught or trained me had a gift for inspiring hope as well as imparting knowledge and teaching me new skills. The thought in my mind is they would not waste their time trying to teach me something if they did not have at least some belief in my ability to learn. When my own self-esteem and insecurity issues are in full voice and volume, having someone cutting through the bullshit and giving me a safe exit is always welcome.
Next week I will be going to a client’s offices and sitting down with a war vet who has lost a leg, yet still stood with the same proud military bearing in our interview and conducted himself with both pride and humility. This is his first job after retraining into accounting, and I can sense his anxiety and apprehension about it. I have great confidence in his ability to learn and adapt, and my hope for being able to guide him into a safe, successful new career pathway overrides my fear of being an inadequate training manager.
I am discovering that for me, hope is an antithesis of fear. My thoughts of late have been plagued with darkness and images I wish I could permanently erase, but they are pushed further and further into the background with happier or more urgent events in my life right now. While my primary goal of improving my overall health involves going to the gym and eating right, part of me contemplates the possibilities for moving weights to and fro and my capability for doing more, going farther in this realm. Before, even thinking about lifting weights caused this paralyzing fear all through me, imagining my humiliation upon failure or worse. Now it is more an intriguing puzzle to the how to do so correctly, the actual amount of weight lifted or moved will be determined later. Same with food – I am less fearful about continuing poor choices and more hopeful about finding reasonable balance. And work … oh work. For so long I was alarmed about what I would do if when the firm fails. Now I am hopeful that I can see my job through to when that happens, that my self-employment clients do not grow to the point of eliminating my hours/role in the firm before I feel completely ready to take that step.
Today, I feel less fearful than another day. I have amazing advisors, mentors, teachers, trainers, coaches in my midst, and they inspire by simply by example of simply being themselves. My wish is to emulate what they are to me in what I am and present to others. Today, I believe I can do this and do it well. Let’s all hope it holds through next week.