bunt sign

Tuesday, May 23, 2000

I had a lot on my mind today, and my job was way down the list, which included the excessive heat, my lack of sleep, my preoccupation with having a wisdom tooth pulled tomorrow, and a general malaise pervading the air like the stench from the fruit processing plant. Lack of focus didn't keep me from getting some work done, but I was relieved when 4:00 came and I could relax. Usually the phone stops ringing about that time. Not today.

No, today the Boss suddenly decided that he had to have answers to some questions about the financial statement prepared by the new accountant. So instead of asking the accountant, naturally he comes to me. I don't charge fifty bucks an hour to answer the phone, you see.

The Boss hired this new guy so that he could bully him into coming up the best possible bottom line, which he seems to have done by ignoring some expenses. He wanted to know how the accountant took the figures I gave him and came up with a financial statement that seemed so wrong. He was looking at figures from my general expense breakdown and wondering how they vanished between there and the accountant's trial balance.

I'm not well equipped to answer questions about how the CPA manipulates the raw data I give him. I'm neither an accountant nor a mind reader. But I work cheap and have a vested interest in keeping the Boss satisfied. That's how I find myself on the phone with him for an hour, explaining what I know and justifying what I don't know.

Then working for another hour, adding random figures together to see if I can back into a number from the accountant's output.

Then looking at both worksheets, his and mine, and trying to see if there's any logic behind the comparison.

Then, usually, starting over.

It's like a chess match between two players where each of them knows only half the rules. Even that might work, if they were in the same room, playing on the same board. You start wondering if your opponent is playing checkers, or maybe lawn darts. There has to be a common ground, or you'll feel as if you've passed through the looking glass.

FrustrationThese mental games can be stimulating and challenging, or they can be mind-numbingly tedious. It depends, I think, on whether or not you believe there's any chance that the puzzle will be solved so that everyone can see the big picture. When the Boss and I were thrashing this out on the phone today, we always seemed to come back to the same question: "Where does he get that $23,000?"

There was a $23,000 figure, jammed into the middle of the income statement, that seemed to be a compilation of about fifteen random totals from the expense sheet I'd prepared. So I spent another half hour adding numbers up in different ways, trying to get a combination that added to the $23,000. I got close, printed out a list, and faxed it off to the Boss. I told him I had no way of knowing if this was right or wrong. I suspected, but didn't say, that I was completely off base, and that the CPA was using some factor or principle that I had no way of knowing.

I don't like letting myself get this frustrated. It's hard to tell the Boss that I don't know how to do something. He expects me to have a ready answer, even if he's asking me a question about a report I prepared two months ago. He pays me to be on top of things, everything, every day.

It's easy to blame him for asking questions that have no answer or make no sense, but I tend to expect at least as much of myself as he does. So I get upset and discouraged and start wondering why he puts up with my incompetence. I remind myself what a fraud I am. I know so much less than I let on, even about things that I really should be tuned into. If people could see into my head and know the vast echoing emptiness that I live with, they would laugh and shun me, as I deserve. How I can still have a job at all is a mystery.

That's how I felt this afternoon, anyway. Most of the time I'm working at the tasks that I do best, the ones that make sense to me. As with most jobs that have any kind of reward, there's satisfaction in both the process and in the end result. I love to take a request for something like a job cost report and use the daily transaction records to produce a worksheet that paints precisely the picture I want to show. It's beautiful, really, turning raw numbers into something meaningful, something that can tell us where the company stands and where it's going.

It's frightening, though, how delicate the balance is. On a day like this, I feel so close to being in over my head that I forget what I like about my job and what I do well. I feel a temptation to give in to the fear of being exposed for what I don't do well. I have to talk myself down from the precipice and try to get back on the ground before I can hope to deal with whatever new challenges are thrown my way tomorrow.

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