How I Became an Accountant, with a Few Stops Along the Way
By Janice A. Page, CPA, Ball Baker Leake
Becoming an accountant didn’t occur to me until my late twenties. When I was young, I never had any aspirations and just assumed that at age 22 I would be an educated housewife, married to a doctor who would take care of me financially. I went to college for fun, studying literature and art and majoring in theatre, but I also took math and science courses, which I enjoyed. Unlike my older sister, I did not have a wedding the day after graduation. Instead, I went to Europe for three months, and, to my parents’ horror, I moved to Manhattan three months later, still unmarried.
Now what does a college-educated girl with no skills do? After rejecting numerous offers for secretarial jobs, I started telling employment agencies that I wanted the kinds of jobs that men had. That got me to a major advertising agency as an assistant TV media buyer, being wined and dined and entertained regularly. The perks were great, the job was boring, especially because I rarely watched TV. I left a year later to work in the fabric department of a major women’s pattern company. I was able to get this job because I’d been making my own clothes since I was 12. The job was fun, but I didn’t relate to the women I worked with, who felt insecure unless they were wearing a designer label. A year later I was bored again, and I realized I needed to be in a more serious field—one that would be more meaningful to society and help people.
So I began a two-year Master of Arts program in audiology and speech pathology. I had been exposed to this area as a theatre major because I was required to study anatomy, physiology of speech and hearing, and acoustics. I loved the field of study but found the day-to-day work too routine. I diagnosed hearing problems, fit hearing aids, and performed language therapy with brain-injured adults. The only way I could be more creative would be to become a director of a clinic, which would have required a PhD. I loved school, so I seriously considered this career path.
Practical thoughts now entered my mind for the first time in my life. I realized that obtaining a PhD was too costly for a field that did not have enough jobs to go around. At the clinician level, every job advertised had 300 applicants; it would only be worse at the top of the pyramid. I also felt that the field did not receive enough respect, reflected by the fact I was underpaid.
I reasoned that if I needed to go back to school to be happy, there was no reason that I couldn’t change careers. I spent the next year considering all kinds of professions: textile design, botany, law, medicine, dentistry. My boyfriend, a math professor, suggested I become an accountant. He knew that I loved playing with numbers because I regularly took the exams he gave his students. I had no idea what an accountant did, so I took one course in accounting at a local college. Now, this was fun, I thought: Just change your depreciation method and you change your profit. For the first time I had some understanding of how business could be interesting.
The accounting profession now became a serious alternative. I thought it would satisfy my need to be involved in a dynamic field, keeping me from becoming bored. It would challenge me intellectually. It had the potential to be more financially rewarding than audiology and speech pathology. And I could still help people, but as an accountant I would be helping them with their money rather than with their communication skills.
I obtained my MBA from New York University, I have been working as a CPA for more than 20 years, and—you won’t believe this—I still love it. I’m never bored and all my original considerations have been satisfied. Currently, I’m a partner with the public accounting firm of Ball Baker Leake, in New York City having merged my own practice with them two years ago.
Besides eventually getting married and having a son, entering this profession was the best decision I ever made.
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