From Art To Accounting

Here is the story you have been waiting for. How did I go from art to accounting?

Do you remember the coffee shop I mentioned a while ago? There was a customer that wanted me to obtain a degree and she had a connection to Elon University. She was an accountant at a chemical company. Surprisingly, she did not lead me to accounting. I don’t think the idea ever crossed her mind, it certainly wasn’t an option I considered at the time. However, there was another customer at the coffee shop.

She asked Jerry if he knew someone that could help her with a project. This was during the off season for pools, so I had free time when Jerry called. He provided an address and I went to meet a stranger. The task consisted of pointing out a cabinet, and then walking to another room to show its new home. 

While taking the items out I noticed an amount of dust. I found a rag and cleaned the books and shelves. Moving the cabinet was easy, and I began to organize the books alphabetically based on the author’s last name. Because this proved an attention to detail and self sufficiency, she gave me more tasks to complete. I was added to the payroll almost twelve years ago. 

Joanne was reluctant to hand me financial duties because of my art interests, and I don’t blame her. However, as she kept handing me more responsibilities, I eventually had nothing new to learn except for such things. Okay, here’s how you balance a checkbook. This is called accounts payable, these are your accounts receivable. This is how you reconcile a bank statement, etc.

I don’t remember the time frame in which I officially took over the finances, but I remember there was an issue with some bank charges. There was a scheduled meeting with a bank manager, and I was considered the numbers guy. To clarify, at this time, I was an art major.

With the annual 990, I was the one preparing records and reports for the accountant. However, because I was the one balancing the check book and writing checks, I knew the cash flow. In terms of my personal life, I was married and recently a college graduate. There wasn’t an opportunity to advance any further, and a raise wasn’t likely with the current budget. 

Our CPA of many years had a stroke and there were a number of various CPAs/firms used for a few years. My job was to prepare everything for review and answer any questions that came up. A common question was, why aren’t you doing this? Everything looks neat and accurate, you should be doing this. My degree is in art, I would reply. Well, go become an accountant.

I thought about it, considered it, and asked Christian for her thoughts. Why? You already have a degree you don’t use, why go through the time and debt for another degree you won’t use. This stung a bit, but she made a valid point. Would accounting be any different? 

We were currently living in an apartment complex, which was nice at first, but the place went downhill after a while. EMS, police or firetrucks were often arriving at late hours. If the night was quiet, the fire alarm might ring and everyone would have to huddle outside. One neighbor set his apartment on fire while cooking drunk, so he was moved to another apartment. We were friends with maintenance and heard all kinds of stories. There were some people we tried to avoid, and a few I still think about.

My wife wanted a house, and I wanted to provide this for her. Yet, with my current employment that wasn’t going to happen. Again, at the same coffee shop, there was a regular customer that owned a machine shop. I didn’t know what that meant, but Jerry said they made stuff for the military. Things like the pin you pull before throwing a grenade. He was looking for a machinist, and I told Jerry I was interested. 

A week later, he told me the job was filled last week, but don’t worry. The company that makes our shirts is hiring. Make a resume and I’ll send you the owner’s email address. I had recently graduated from Greensboro and screen printing downtown made more sense than looking at numbers all day. The interview went great and I was hired before the holiday rush. 

During my year and some there, the company was thriving, the mix of people was interesting, there was a lot of excitement. Yet, screen printing nagged me. It didn’t matter how many prints I had made in the past, it didn’t matter how consistent I had become, the next one could be garbage. The same is true with music or any other art, but for some reason this seemed different.

Even with hindsight, it seems odd to type this, but I missed being in an office. Numbers could be checked, the checkbook and bank statement have to match. I longed for that consistency.

Once again, returning to the coffee shop, and to the same regular customer with the machine shop. He was hiring for another position, this time he needed an office manager. I was rejected last time and wasn’t going to bother, but I applied anyway. 

This job is the one that led me to becoming a car guy, and it introduced me to Quick Books. Weird combination, but that’s the theme.

At this company I handled the accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll and payroll taxes, ordering material, driving the forklift, maintaining material certification records (which was crucial for government contracts and aerospace parts) and all communication with customers including invoicing. It was a small business, but some customers were international with names you would recognize.

I stayed busy for five years, but my favorite thing to do — was reconcile bank statements. It’s ridiculous how much I enjoyed it. I remember thinking this isn’t normal, I should pursue this. If only I had begun to take classes when it was suggested, I would be a CPA by now.

Considering I have assignments due tomorrow, I am back in college. The first time was not fun. I went there after high school, later changed my major, eventually dropped out. I transferred twice but did return and graduate from where I began.

I was waking up at 4am and worked my first job from 5-11:30. I had classes from 12-6pm. Worked a second job from 7-9:30. By the time I showered and ate dinner it was 10:30/11pm. I went to bed around midnight and woke up at 4am to repeat the cycle.

I’m not proud of it, but because of the amount of coffee being consumed during the day to stay awake, I would sometimes drink hard liquor to sleep at night. I was also married at this point, so not a romantic start.

During the majority of our marriage my wife had a better salary than me. Since our son was born and her store shut down in 2020, she’s been a stay-at-home mom. I’ve missed out on a number of firsts, but it’s all coming together.

I now work at an accounting firm, I have all of the payroll, bill pay and reconciliations my heart can handle. It’s been an interesting ride. I am very thankful to be where I am, but there’s no way I would have expected this ten years ago.

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