I am not good at numbers. I’m not an accountant, and I never wanted to be. In fact, ever since kindergarten I hated math, and I often cried when I couldn’t figure something out. I would try and try, three or four different people would try to explain to me, and I still wouldn’t get it. I thought I was stupid.
As I grew up, my teachers told me, “You will have to learn math because you’ll never ever have a calculator with you at all times!”
Well Mrs. Blackwood, there’s a chance you may have been wrong about that. Hello, iPhone!
Anyways, like I said, I’m not good with numbers. As you also may (or may not) know about me, I work at xMatters, and when I interviewed, I was very clear about the fact that I wasn’t someone who wanted–or had any natural talent or ability–to sit and look at or manipulate spreadsheets all day.
However, I understood that there would be some aspects of the job that required this and that I was OK with a max of 20% of that, but I knew wouldn’t be a very strong candidate if the job consisted of any more spreadsheet work than this.
My boss said, “That’s totally fine. Most of the job is more around HR and People Operations, but it would be your responsibility to handle the engineering department’s expenses. However, the software that we use is pretty simple and makes it a quick job.”
He was right. I’ve been at (x)Matters for over two years, and I do a pretty good job of the departmental expenses. I’m pretty fast, and I plow through them easily.
The system that we use is called Concur, and it’s normally OK, but something went wonky recently with the automatic importing of engineering’s expenses. We could no longer trust the automated process, and that meant that I needed to do it manually until it was fixed.
OK, so that was annoying enough in itself. It was a manual task that didn’t take my brain power, and it was just a bit labour intensive.
“All right, no problem–I can just plow through quick and be done.”
But then Concur did something SUPER weird. After I had spent a good chunk of time manually entering each expense, a popup came up with a bunch of transactions asking me if I wanted to ‘match’ these transactions. And you know that moment when a popup comes up on your screen, you’re not sure what you should click, you just want it to go away, but your options are limited.
I clicked “CONTINUE,” which turned out to be a BIG mistake.
The entire report changed! The numbers didn’t add up anymore, some things were missing, and some things were added twice or even three times! It was the end of the day at this point, so I was already reaching my wit’s end.
“OK, this is all about attitude. I’ll just need to figure out what happened. Stay calm and don’t panic. You can figure this out,” I told myself.
I went through the entire report again and thought it was fine, but then it didn’t match up, so I couldn’t submit, and it had to be done by end of day.
I told my boss, “I can’t do this.” I went home and cried. I felt like I had failed and let people down for not being able to do this. On my way home, I decided to phone my dad and ask him what he thought. I kind of knew what he would say, but sometimes he does have good insights.
I told him what happened, and he said, “Well, you’re not an accountant. Can’t they get an accountant to do it?”
I thought, “OMG why didn’t I think of that? I just need to ask someone who actually likes this stuff! They work with this ALL DAY, and they do it BY CHOICE!”
In the morning, the first thing I did was send a Slack message to our senior accountant, Julie (who’s in another office, but she’s always so amazing), and she was able to figure it out in less than 2 minutes!
So, what did I learn? Well, I was in such a frustrated state that I didn’t even think to just call up Julie and ask her. I’d been staring at the stupid thing for so long that I couldn’t even see it clearly. That was $50k worth of expenses with a nightmarish amount of little tiny transactions all adding up to $50k!
Accounting is not a job for me. It’s my worst nightmare actually!
The lesson here is this: Know yourself and know when to ask for help! I didn’t need to try so hard to be good at something that I’m not good at (and don’t even WANT to be good at). I just don’t enjoy it, and it’s not my interest, but it’s part of running a business.
If you’re in a job that you’re not enjoying, the likelihood is that you’re doing more than 20% of things that don’t play to your strengths. If you’re in the right place, you like the work that you’re doing. Maybe not every minute of every day, but you enjoy it at least 80% of the time. The other 20% isn’t necessarily your favourite time spent, but you’re capable of it, and you know it’s a necessary part of the job.
For me, my 20% is dealing with the accounting portion of our department. My 80% is hiring new people, interviewing, performance management, and all the people stuff, which I could go on and on about forever.
While every job is going to have 20% (hopefully less) stuff that you’re not super passionate about (but still needs to get done), that 20% is where asking for help from people who are passionate and knowledgeable is key.
Don’t do what I did! I wasted way too much time and, more importantly, mental energy on that when there was an accounting fairy (Julie) who literally could take a look and solve in less than 2 minutes.
If you’re considering a job, you want to keep these things in mind and be upfront in your interview by asking the right questions, because if you pretend to be good (or pretend to enjoy) something you’re not really into for the sake of getting the job, you might get the job, but you’ll probably hate it soon after you get hired. This has happened to me, which is why I am now completely upfront about my love/hate relationship with numbers right from the beginning.