February 17, 2013

The 20 year path to where I started

"There's not a word yet
for old friends who've just met."

~ lyric from "I'm Going To Go Back There Someday", The Muppet Movie

It sort of feels like I've returned to someplace I have never been. Returning to a job that I have never had.

I studied business and accounting in college, but I have barely worked in the industry. Before I graduated, I went through a series of interviews at school, but did not snag an accounting job. After graduation, I took a review course and studied to take the CPA exam. If memory serves (and it has been a long time) there were four parts to the exam stretched out over two days. If you passed at least two of the sections, you could keep those successes and only have to pass the remaining two parts on your next attempt. The wrinkle is that the exam is only held twice a year.

I managed to pass all four parts on the first try, something only 7% of CPAs accomplished at the time. With the passed test in my hip pocket, I thought it would help set myself apart from other recent graduates. More typically, beginning staff accountants have to split their time between learning the job, and studying to pass the exam. I returned to my college to go through the interviewing process again, and with that successful CPA exam highlighted on my resume, I got even fewer interviews.

I was pretty discouraged. I kept looking, but eventually gave up. I kept working at the restaurant, not sure what was next. Then I got a call. I had left my resume on file with the local CPA association, and was brought in for an interview. It wasn't a typical firm, and they dealt exclusively with clients in trouble with the IRS. Soon I had 350 clients, and I was putting out fires and trying to prevent seizures of property. There simply wasn't enough time to take care of our clients properly. It was chaotic, combative, and unmanageable.

In the end, it wasn't for me. I ended up going back to the restaurant full time. Not much later, I had the opportunity to work for a buddy in construction. It was great learning a new skill, working with my hands, and actually finishing a project. Instead of continually putting out fires and scrambling to cover other people's mistakes, at the end of each day, I was able to point to something I built. Something tangible that would last.

After about five years, I moved on to running the office, managing the jobs and crews, and yes filing the business returns. It was a great mix of the business skills I had learned in school, and the things I had picked up in construction. Construction being what it is, there were up and down times, and when the owner and I decided to move on to something different, I went into real estate and mortgage lending. I enjoyed the work and the finance part was another step closer to actually using my degree.

Of course I got into the industry just before the market crash. I tried to weather the storm, but clients disappeared and my broker closed up shop. When my marriage suffered the same fate, I moved down to San Diego and I returned to construction. I was back to working with my hands, on my feet and outside in the sunshine. I enjoyed it, but as before, the work wasn't consistent. When I decided to move back to Seattle, I really wanted to find something with steady hours and a steady paycheck.

But what sort of job? On paper, I wasn't really tailored for a particular job. I haven't exactly job-hopped, with jobs lasting between three and eleven years on my resume, but the changes of industry along the way wasn't helping my case. In a better economy, I could probably work my way in the door, but with so many out of work, there are lots of resumes out there with great experience for nearly every job opening.

I went through a couple of unsuccessful job searches while I was in San Diego. Initially, I was looking for a foot-in-the-door sort of job, a beginning position that could lead somewhere. Even with my accounting degree and experience in lending, I couldn't get a job as a bank teller. After failing to get a nine-to-five job of some sort, I decided to go back to restaurants. With eleven years of restaurant experience, I couldn't get a job as a waiter. It was pretty discouraging.

When I decided to move back, I didn't have a job lined up. After the failed job search in San Diego, I was open to most anything. I couldn't be too choosy. I just wanted something with a steady paycheck, and maybe some benefits. If I couldn't get a job that might start me on a career path, I wanted to at least shoot for a company that I believed in.

As I was drawing up a list of good northwest companies, I sent out an email blast to my family, and friends I had stayed in close contact with. Though I had little to back it up, I figured it would be easier to find work back in Seattle, where I had more long-term work connections. I also threw out a message on Facebook. I told everyone that I was moving back, and that if anyone knew a company that was hiring...

I have mentioned before, I have found myself defending Facebook lately. For the past three years, it has kept me in touch with friends both near and far. Now I have one more reason to appreciate it. I found my new job there.

A friend I went to college with has a CPA firm, and he needed a staff accountant. I was completely honest with Steve, and told him that I was 15 years gone from my last accounting position, and even that one didn't translate many applicable skills to his firm. He understood, but believed that those accounting lessons we had learned together so long ago would come forth, and more importantly he trusted me as a person, and that is hard to quantify on a resume. Steve and I actually come from the same, "If there's time to lean, there's time to clean" school of work ethic, picked up during our mutual stint at McDonald's in high school.

As a side note, I have always wanted to answer the interview question of what sets me apart by simply saying, "I actually give a shit." I have worked with so many people who just don't care. Whether I am flipping burgers, digging holes, or representing a client, I take my job seriously and want to do the best I can. I won't tell you I am going to give a 110%, but I am always shooting for a hundred.

So here I am, back in Seattle, returning to a job I never really had. There have definitely been challenges these past months, scraping 20 year's worth of rust off those old lessons, but  I am excited for this opportunity. As suspected, who you know can trump what you know, and I feel very fortunate to have the door opened so I could get my foot in. Now that it is open, I want to kick enough ass to show that this trust was well deserved.

February 9, 2013


I was listening to the Grammar Girl podcast on the way home today. The subject was the word "however", and whether or not it is acceptable to start a sentence with it (spoiler alert, it is).

She started with a couple of examples where there is little dispute, instances where the word is not used as a connector with a meaning of  "nevertheless" or "but". The times you can use "however" to start a sentence without causing a ruckus is when it means “to whatever extent,” or “no matter how.”

For some reason, the two examples she gave made me pause the recording and write them down.
“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results."
~ Winston Churchill

“However bad you think you’re going to be in that room, not being there is worse.”
~ Dr. Foreman from the TV show House

February 6, 2013

Strangely familiar roads

Much remains the same, but things have changed.

I will be driving along, headed on a random errand, and I will turn a familiar corner and not recognize it. What was a low group of stores with one of the last remaining bagel shops, is now a three story mix of retail and condominium  A large garage has replaced the park and ride lot, hopefully implying more people are hopping on the bus these days. 

There are places with more meaningful connection that I haven't made time to visit yet, but I still stumble upon memories small and large just the same. I went out for another bike ride this past Sunday. We started along the Burke-Gilman path, a place I have biked and run a hundred times, but since we are training for the Chilly Hilly, we veered off and headed to the hills. We tackled Norway hill first, one of the eight hills on the S.O.B. ride from 2007. I am still several rides from good form, but my legs haven't entirely lost their muscle memory. 

Joe was in charge of the route, so after enjoying zipping down the other side of Norway, I wasn't sure where we were headed. We rode south toward Kirkland past a Juanita neighborhood more built-up than I remembered. We resisted the pull of the new coffee shop and made the right turn toward the next hill. 

I can't remember the last time I had been up this road, but I wasn't more than a few hundred feet before some random memories pushed forward. There was a parking lot where my car wouldn't start some 20 years ago. There was an apartment that I could completely visualize the interior, without remembering why I knew the place. A mile farther up the hill was a turn off to where a friend used to live, a place that seemed so remote when I visited it a single time 25 years ago. 

The hill was longer than I remembered. Of course that's no surprise with how random and suspect my memory seems to be. We rode past a wooded area with trees that looked like they hadn't seen full sunlight in those two decades. There wasn't much traffic out on Super Bowl Sunday, and the three of us climbed alone at our own pace, adding to the feeling I was farther away from civilization than I really was. 

As Hemingway said, “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.” The physical effort tends to bring you into focus, and into the moment. The slower speed, and not being wrapped in steel and glass, also puts you into closer contact with your surroundings. And of course without the radio playing, you are left alone with your thoughts. 

And the random memories oddly tethered to the different, but strangely familiar landscape.