Sunday, June 21, 2015

25 Stories About Work - From College to Work

I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)...

Chicago, early 1990's

Today it seems like everyone goes into college after taking many Advanced Placement (AP) courses with a lot of college credits. When I did this in the late 1980's, however, it was much rarer. I was able to cut out an entire semester with credits from high school and with summer school and a heavy course load I was able to graduate with an undergraduate and graduate degree in accounting in four years.

I remember finishing college at the end of May. Back then we didn't have air conditioning in our house nor in the buildings on campus and I remember just sweating so much that my arms stuck to the coursework. In graduate school we had a number of group projects which were harder to schedule back in the day before email and cell phones; we had to pick a time and actually stick to it in order to collaborate. Exams were long and we had to turn in all of our projects and I was kind of exhausted.

Immediately after completion of exams I took the CPA exam. Today the exam is much different and it is commonly taken "in pieces" but back then most people sat down and in two days tried to knock out all four sections at once; you needed a score of "75%" to pass each section and I passed all four the first time, although one of the sections was right on the edge with that "75". The exam was in McCormick place south of the loop and on Friday around 6pm I decided to take side streets (Ashland) up from the south loop to the North Side. That turned out to be a terrible decision; at that time Chicago was extremely dangerous and this was before gentrification of the south and west Loop; there were large groups of people milling about in the street and burning trashcans like that scene out of "Rocky". I got through it but it was something I'd never recommend trying again.

By the middle of June I was starting my first job. The accounting firm tried to get me to start in the fall, when the vast majority of new staff joined, and I asked me why I didn't want to just take the summer off.
"Because I don't have any money" was my answer

I started working and it was grueling; I traveled out of Chicago almost every week from Monday through Friday and during "busy season" we stayed over the weekends in the client city, usually in Iowa due to my client base. We stayed in Iowa for six weeks straight at one point, never coming home or taking a day off and we usually worked from about 7am through 10pm every day.

The main point of this story was one Friday night when I was lugging my travel bag through O'Hare and I saw some friends from high school who were still either in college or (wisely) taking off the summer post graduation before starting work. They were laughing and obviously looking forward to flying off somewhere to party. I had been working over a year at that point and it kind of broke my heart to see them all so bright eyed and happy which after only a year of being an auditor had effectively been crushed out of me.

It isn't that being an auditor or a doctor or working in manufacturing was bad per se, and I'm sure some professionals had it worse than me. At that age, however, you start to peer into the future and see decades of work and responsibilities and toil and in the words of the Allman Brothers,
The road goes on forever
Another element that changed over the years is that you started to realize that it didn't get any easier as you moved up the ladder of responsibility; being a "supervisor" is hard and especially since you were just kind of thrown into it without any training, it often ended badly before you got the hang of it. The word "manager" implied that you had responsibilities, and those responsibilities usually meant juggling impossible, competing objectives like completing the work on time, don't exceed your planned costs, and oh by the way utilize this sub par team of newbies to get it done. At the time I couldn't have understood the job of "partner", which really meant "sell, sell, sell" and bring in new money and clients to the firm.

It is important to always remember what it felt like to join the work force and the kinds of thoughts and fears you first experienced, because there's a new generation coming up and going through that right now. To some extent I can see the end of my career, although I hope to go at least another decade or more, but it is great to try to capture that fear mixed with enthusiasm and being slightly punch drunk that makes up the "new hire".

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

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