Adventures in Career Change: Part IV–What’s Meant to Be Will Always Find a Way
“I trust that everything happens for a reason, even when we’re not wise enough to see it.” – Oprah Winfrey
If you don’t believe in God you probably should. The sheer number of ironies and outlandish coincidences just in my own life should be enough to serve as solid evidence of the phenomenon of divine intervention. The latest example came just recently when I was struggling to figure out how I was going to make the transition from accounting to writing.
My last accounting job was the occupational version of Custer’s Last Stand. In the days and weeks that followed that disaster, I had decided to put the “stuffy world of spreadsheets and tax returns” (as my friend Katherine astutely described it) behind me and focus instead on my passion for writing. Writing was actually a great fit for my personality type, so it passed that critical test. What writing did not offer was a promise to ever generate a steady and generous income. I had found that pursuing happiness and pursuing riches can sometimes be mutually exclusive endeavors, but this was the point at which my ideals collided with the harsh realities of living. Unfortunately we need money to survive and pay bills, so I couldn’t work for peanuts just writing articles for online outlets like Yahoo Voices. Without an English degree or any job experience whatsoever in writing, I resigned myself to put my dreams on hold, get another job in accounting, and pursue freelance writing on the side for the immediate future. With my situation in mind, my wife Liza and I restructured our budget so that my income would go almost exclusively toward paying off car loans, credit cards, and other debt we accumulated from reckless spending binges like our wedding and the birth of our first child. When our debt was paid off within a year or two, our budgetary demands would be substantially reduced, at which time I could quit my “real job” and take an enjoyable part time job tuning skis or something while I pursued freelance writing in earnest. I could stomach accounting for another year or two, as long as I would have spare time to start working on my freelance writing at least on occasion. However, out of good conscience, there was one accounting job in particular from whose consideration I needed to remove myself.
My friend Jason and his family own a construction company headquartered in the Denver suburb of Castle Rock. In the spring of 2013 when I was exploring opportunities outside of public accounting, construction companies topped my list because of my experience, expertise, and certification in construction accounting and tax. So I sent him an email asking if he knew of any companies in the industry who were looking for accountants. His response, “I am,” started a dialogue between us that lasted a couple of months. Ultimately, his timeline was incompatible with mine, as I wanted out of public accounting as soon as possible and he wasn’t needing a new accountant until the summer of 2014. Even after I started work for Saunders, we maintained the lines of communication, as I was still intrigued by what he was offering—a position at a small, family owned company where I would be the only accountant. Now with my sudden change of heart not only for the position, but for accounting in general, I felt I owed Jason an explanation. So I met him for a happy hour in mid February 2014. I told him I didn’t want to be an accountant anymore and discussed why, and after awhile he asked what I did want to do with my life. I spoke of my passion for writing and my plans for the future, to which he responded by telling me of how his company was looking for someone to write construction bid proposals. He continued with a compelling vision of the position, suggesting that it entail virtually all written communication for the company, including press releases, social media campaigns, and website updates. For good measure, he added taking progress photos of the company’s projects as a duty of the position. He more than piqued my interest; he had just described what might as well have been my dream job. Photography has been a hobby of mine that took a leave of absence with the industry’s switch to digital in the mid-2000s. I had a 35mm film camera in high school and college that I used to take hundreds of slides until slide film became a hassle to buy and a processing lab a hassle to find. I refused to shoot generally much lower quality print film, and for a long time I either couldn’t afford or justify the expense of a quality digital camera. Liza and I finally pulled the trigger on a DSLR in 2013 and my photography hobby returned to new life. The fact that Jason wanted to include photography with the proposal writing position was some remarkable timing. So after our happy hour I sent him some writing samples to review and in return he sent me a couple of sample proposals to look through. Liza commented that she had never seen me have so much fun “working” as I did one night when I read one of the proposals and made notes.
Jason needed 30 to 60 days to get his affairs in order for the addition of the new position, so I needed some gainful employment in the meantime. Quite literally two days after our happy hour, I received a phone call from a recruiter I had been working with to find an accounting job. He had available a temporary contract position at a small local CPA firm named Spicer Jeffries through April 15th—almost exactly 60 days away. I had a phone interview with the partner the next day and I accepted his offer immediately. At only 40 hours a week, it would lack the chaos, stress, and ridiculous hours of a normal public accounting job, and would bridge the gap with my new writing job. It was unbelievably ideal. What I wasn’t anticipating was that it would turn out to be one of the best public accounting experiences I ever had. The environment was relaxed, the people were friendly, and the partners were extremely complimentary of the work I was doing. They wanted me to stay after April 15th and join the firm on a full time basis, but I politely declined. My dreams await instead, and I knew if I didn’t give them a shot—sink or swim—I would always regret it. I was truly humbled and astonished by these turn of events. I left accounting with a smile on my face and a sense of success. The position with Jason’s company provided an almost impossible bridge between the world of numbers and the world of writing. I was blessed. The previous months were a sobering reminder that God does have a plan for us, and if we just take a step back from our feeble attempts at trying to control our futures we can appreciate the work He is doing in our lives.
I have no doubt that many of you think I’m crazy for making this kind of change in my life at that time, especially with a newborn. I will admit it did defy logic and reason, but in a way that provided me comfort. In my own mind, I often compare this career change to my decision to move to Colorado. I did not hate Kansas, though at the time what I perceived as an astigmatic nature and concerning lack of imagination of many of its people drove me crazy. It’s actually not that bad of a place. I just didn’t sense that I belonged there. Much like moving to Colorado, what I did with my career felt right. When I arrived in Denver on moving day it felt strangely as if I was coming home, and even after many years here whenever I am in the mountains I feel an inner peace I can’t describe in words. I am where I am supposed to be. Accounting and writing share a similar relationship to my past and present home states. Accounting really isn’t that bad of a career, it was just a horrible fit for me and I never felt like I belonged. And let’s be honest, being chained to a desk with the other inmates for 10-14 hours everyday during busy season drove me batshit crazy. But when I sit down to write and the words start flowing from my fingers, all seems right with the world and my soul is free. A finished article, paper, or chapter brings me a joy and sense of fulfillment a tax return never had a snowball’s chance in hell of providing.
There is one person in particular who, if she thought I was crazy for doing this, did a marvelous job of hiding it. My wife’s support over that year was nothing short of sensational. The crap she had to put up with when I was in my dark days, trying to cope with the stress and unbridled chaos of public accounting busy seasons, would have driven a lesser person far away from me. She was able to see a joyful soul struggling to break free when all I could find within myself was misery and gloom. As I made the decision to leave public accounting, and then the decision to chase a dream, she never once wavered in her support, never once questioned my feelings. More importantly for me was her understanding, because she has been at the same company—for all intents and purposes—since she was nineteen years old. Though she has worn quite a few different proverbial hats in her career, my brand of change is something she has been able to avoid. It’s only fitting then that I did enough change for the both of us. This experience taught me—she taught me—that when you find someone who will support and encourage you no matter your circumstances, you find the key to your success. When I couldn’t believe in myself, she believed for me.
I sometimes have stopped to look back and consider what could have been. What if I had taken personality tests in my high school or college career counseling? It’s of course impossible to speculate on the results of those tests. If the same as now, they might have provided me with some direction. I might have had a counselor tell me, “Listen, you loathe structured, competitive, and chaotic jobs and above all else value creative freedom and esoteric meaning in your life’s pursuits. If you choose accounting you’ll eventually want to throw yourself from a tall building.” That would have been sage advice and saved me a lot of time and trouble. Of course, that’s my practical and logical side expressing itself. The rest of me is appreciative for the ride I’ve experienced; that is because I staunchly believe everything happens for a reason. Could I have survived the tumult of my mid-twenties without grad school? Could I have moved to Colorado and remained financially stable enough to build my life here without the demand that an accounting degree commands? Would I have ever embarked on this journey without the misery and the perspective accounting provided? We’ll never know but I have my doubts. Looking forward in the future yields just as much uncertainty. I don’t know if I will be successful. I do know I felt trapped chasing for five years something that deep down I didn’t really want. Though the future is uncertain and daunting, this is exactly where I want to be. An old friend once described me as a “free spirit,” and I think she was right. I’m at home when the road ahead is wide open, the destination is always somewhere beyond the horizon, and I’m free to take some detours on my way. I’m an explorer at heart, an adventurer in spirit. Routine is my prison and the mundane are my chains. I don’t believe God put us on this Earth to live Thoreau’s “life of quiet desperation.” Find who you are and what you love and, for good or ill, embrace it and let it take you on the ride of life.
On this journey to find myself I came full circle to my life’s original passion. Maybe that’s what “finding yourself” is all about—it’s not figuring out who or what you are right now, it’s discovering personal lifelong truths that have stood the test of time. I have been a writer since I penned my first story at ten years old—perhaps it was earlier. I’ve had many jobs since then, side trips that have afforded me opportunities to gain interesting experiences and perspectives. There’s no sense in considering them dead ends or wasted time. The pages of the past are already filled, but the future has been patiently waiting to be written.