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.

Editor’s Note: Most of the CPAs who responded to my “Would you do it over again?” question posed last year could point to a fairly linear path that led them to the accounting field. This month’s guest columnist took a less direct route than most, but she learned about her strengths and weaknesses along the way, absorbing anything she might be able to apply later—including guidance from people who are successful and happy in their own careers.
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