03 November 2009

Social Misadventures III

I've gotten some new readers around here recently, so allow me some background. Those reading since at least September or so will find the first part quite familiar.

Here at school, I have generally made an effort to keep to myself and try not to ruffle too many feathers. My natural introversion borders on the autism spectrum; the company of other people is something that (except for my loving wife, and even she knows I have my limits) I try to avoid as much as possible. I'm right at home poring over a set of financial statements, fiddling around with Excel, putting pencil to paper for my Statistics class work (60/60 on the latest test---that's right, I rock. If I get at least a 7 out of 40 on the next homework---that's not a misprint---I'll get an A in the class without having to take the final exam.) I prefer the company of animals to people, and to be quite honest the animals need not even be the live kind---the company of stuffed animals is preferable to the company of humans far more often than not.

One of my favorite quotes from a video game comes from Ganredhel, an Elven woman in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, who says "Dogs are loyal and stupid. People are devious and smart. I'll stick with dogs." I think I have pretty well incontrovertibly established just how much I dislike human contact...so why is it that I'm Treasurer of the Entrepreneurship Club and a reliable go-to guy for networking events?

Well, it started as a favor to a faculty member. I took a class in marketing during summer session and the teacher took a shine to me as I was actively engaged and hardworking in her class (even though the material did nothing to tamp down my extremely strong dislike of the "science" of marketing and its weasel practitioners. I wrote about this in June.) I ran into her at the campus orientation fair on the third day of school and stopped by to say hello and pass a little small talk about "how was your summer" and similar banalities. She gave me a brochure and told me I should "come join the E club" (which to me, as a late-stage Generation Xer, sounds like a club dedicated to doing crappy party drugs from the late nineties.)

I went to the first meeting as a courtesy with the intention of being able to say to myself "OK, I didn't totally give an Eff You to the teacher, now I've got work to do." What I didn't expect was that I'd caught the attention of the Associate Dean of Business here at the college, a woman who acted from zero hour like she'd known me for years (well, given my horrendous past, probably not "years", or she'd have run away in terror or told me to get lost. Months, anyway.) She nominated me for the vacant treasurer position in the club, and flattery will get you everywhere with me so I accepted. Well, there went any hope I had of "go to class, go home, ballgame"! And with it went a sizeable chunk of my free time.

Fast forward to now. I've been to two club events and I'm sitting in "my office" now passing the three hours between my Statistics class and when the networking portion of tonight's event begins at five (or is it 5:30? Eh...not like it matters. I'm here either way.) I will be gladhanding, telling stories and jokes, and generally acting like someone who isn't a borderline-autistic introvert with a major aversion to social contact. And somehow, through the actions of the gods via instruments I am thoroughly unfamiliar with, my presence will be welcomed, my wit will spark the desired level of amusement in my audience, and I'll generally be treated like a valued member of the community.

I remain absolutely astounded by all of the above...and even more astounded that there may be a scholarship in it for me since through the dean I have begun to attract some attention from Reno's business community, some members of which would be more than happy to provide a scholarship for an ambitious non-traditional student with a goal that could pay dividends to those same business people down the road. And here I thought I was just trying to get a piece of paper to my name.

I've also got to wonder if mine isn't the most extraordinary spread between one's talents and one's personality out there. I'm looking at a career in the fast paced world of business and finance, tossing around numbers by day and bons mots by night if I'm to get ahead and make the money I'll need to be able to retire in comfort before my family history of dropping dead at a startlingly young age gets to me first. It's a career track that favors the extrovert, the natural-born salesman, the gregarious grandmaster of ceremony and delight. It is, quite simply, the sort of track in life that one would naturally tend to believe would lead me to spend meaningful time on a psychiatrist's couch...but it's also what I have a natural gift for and about the only thing I can do correctly that happens to have marketable value.

If I had my way I'd be a freelance columnist, maybe a sportswriter, maybe churning out anecdotal puff pieces (like this one) for publication somewhere. Maybe I'd be a travel and food writer, sort of an Anthony Bourdain but minus the penchant for thinking Third World travel is enjoyable---I'd rather write reviews of pizza places in Napoli or New York. Sadly, my chances of getting a college degree in the liberal arts, humanities, or journalism is near nil---I nearly flunked out of high school because I was so bad at the literature requirements in English class.

So I'm an accounting major. And a treasurer. And an all-around hell of a guy...but my gods, I'm going to be glad when I get this coming Friday to myself and I spend all day while my wife's at work playing video games alone in the house. The Monday through Thursday grind is driving me bananas.


  1. I am a CPA. I have been one for quite a few years. There have been a lot of changes in that time.

    I can tell you a couple of things - you put words together well which eliminates borderline autistic as an adjective for yourself. Also, you read for entertainment - and entertainment is a foreign concept to autistics.

    So - help me out with a couple of things. What atrocious previous life did you survive before becoming enamored of the accounting profession? Were you a nude dancer in a gay bar? Lawyer? Piano player in a whorehouse?

    Maybe accountants in Reno are more fun than elsewhere but being an accountant most places is like being the weatherman in the lead-in to the lumberjack song.

    Still, if that's what you want I will wish you well.

  2. Atrocious previous life? Short version: emotionally abusive mother, drug problem, womanizing early twenties, professional gambler (which is how I ended up in Reno after growing up in Boston), living above my means on disability because I convinced a psychiatrist I was too fucked up to be expected to hold a job.

    And even my accounting professor, a CPA herself, says "anyone who loves accounting is either messed up in the head or gifted in strange ways" to which I replied "I'm pretty sure 'gifted in strange ways' appears in so many words on my Permanent Record from childhood."

  3. I think your success as a socializing introvert can be summed up as "fake it 'til you make it." Like any skill, a little insight and practice helps it grow until it becomes second nature. Certainly it's a skill you need if you want to have your own business.

    PS - just catching up on your blog. Fascinating, Captain.

  4. Has anyone explained to you that accounting is most like a video game? Every once in a while when someone makes a really big mess of things (Enron, Worldcom) they make a new set of rules - and publish an updated version of that game.

    We are also like the Pentagon and the airport security people, working hard to win a battle that's already over.

    Passing that exam does open a lot of doors, but there are a lot of sharks in the water.

  5. Tonto, considering how much my wife derides me for "playing Microsoft Excel" because I play trade simulation games in my spare time (Port Royale 2, Capitalism II, East India Company, those sorts of games), it doesn't surprise me to find that accounting basically amounts to "playing Monopoly with real money."

    I was talking to my Accounting 201 professor today, asking for her advice on courses to take besides those that are strictly CPA-track, and she recommended as much finance, economics, and even law as I could cram into my schedule. Considering my ultimate goal is to own an accounting and wealth management firm for small business, I've even thought about dual-majoring in finance and going where the money is so I'll have plenty of seed capital when the time comes to open that firm.

  6. Fox, those are good suggestions.

    You might wish to consider a minor in psychology. I am not too keen on economics since that was my undergraduate major. That has proven to be useless except for understanding the jargon.

    Business law and finance could be extremely important if you wish to pursue a wealth management practice. The dual major or even an MBA in finance would be worthwhile pursuing even if it takes an extra semester or so to complete.

    I am sure you understand that trading and investing are completely separate disciplines.

    One concern I have is the trend toward accountants actually selling investments. Even if it is legal and permissible under the states' so-called ethics rules, there is an inherent conflict between advising and selling when you are earning a fee and a commission.


  7. Psychology makes me want to shoot someone. The idea of spending any more time than I have to in classes with psych majors is enough to drive me to a cabin in the woods in Montana and arm me to the teeth...or turn me into a Scientologist. Long story...I won't tell it here.

    Anyway, I haven't ruled out that dual major, but the first obstacle comes next Friday when I meet with an academic advisor and try to bulldoze into her head the idea that fifteen credits is a lame excuse for a limit per semester and could I have an exception, please, so I can be better equipped to take on that dual major. I've only got a minimum 3.98 overall GPA (I say "minimum" because it depends on whether I get an A or an A- in one of my classes this semester), and besides that I'm motivated primarily by seemingly impossible tasks---the more "you are fucking nuts!" comments I get for my ambitions, the more I want to go out and achieve them.

  8. I admire the fire in your belly, but it is not an attribute that an accountant should ever admit to. Psych majors (...and how did that make you feel?) are just another group of Vogons that get in the way from time to time. It's more fun to beat the grading curve in a class full of Psych majors than it is with Finance majors, and probably easier.

    Oops! There are a million and one ways that a so-called academic advisor can cause problems for you. It gets even worse in grad school. Finesse, Grasshopper, is what you need to apply here. If this advisor doesn't work and play well with others, change your major and hope for a different one.

  9. Changing the major is a non-starter. The school uses a centralized one-size-fits-all Advising Center (which is part of my trepidation, as they don't get to know each program's students.) Getting friendly with the dean of the college's School of Business, on the other hand---her exact words to me today were "if you have trouble with Advising, come see me and I'll give you an administrative approval."


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