Tag Archives: excel

A Primer on Being Alone With Nothing To Do

Two Fridays ago, I got locked in the office bathroom.  The door had been inadvertently jammed so that it wasn’t budging from the inside or the outside.  So I was trapped, with no cell phone, no crossword puzzle, and no convenient panic button.  Now, being stuck in a 6 sq. ft metal box is pretty terrifying, especially when you consider all the notable people who have died in bathrooms (Elvis, Jim Morrison, Orville Redenbacher).  I was frightened… Would I really die here, having never tried kettle corn or cocaine?

Thankfully, my calls for help were answered.  A co-worker called building security, who assured me that I’d be out of there soon.  But while security tried to figure out how to unjam the door, all I could do was wait, stuck in a box with poor toilet-water feng shui and an odd, bleachy smell.

In our media-loving, tech-happy world, it’s a pretty rare moment when we’re helplessly alone with our thoughts.  There I was, sans-Blackberry, sans-television, sans-any type of entertainment whatsoever.  I tried to kill some time by reading the fine print on Scott toilet paper, but it’s a rather reticent product.  And after my initial panic subsided, I had to settle in for the remaining phases of Being Alone With Nothing to Do.

Phase 1 – Self Pity: Being trapped by yourself in the bathroom yields some pretty dark thoughts.  After I stopped sobbing, “Why me?  Why me?”, I reviewed all my recent misfortunes, like the time I gave away my TV to a “disadvantaged family” on Craigslist… who showed up wearing fur coats and driving a Hummer.  As I listened to the security team discuss the options (“maybe take the door off its hinges?”…”maybe we can get her out through the vents?”), I wallowed in my safe space of self-loathing.  What does my face look so fat in photos?  Why are 60% of fifth-graders taller than me?  Why am I stuck in a bathroom?  Why me?  Why me?  Why me, Nancy Kerrigan?

Phase 2 – Philosophical Evaluations of Life: With any exaggerated-near-death experience, it always happens that you move from panic to self-pity to a profound contemplation on the meaning of life.  As the security team called in backup, I considered the banal questions that people in jail must think about all the time.  I wondered whether The Circle of Life was meant to capture the irony that one enters the world wrinkly and helpless, and usually leaves the world wrinkly and helpless.  This may not have been the spirit of the The Lion King, but losing control over your bowels likely means you’ve lived a long life.  As I sat next to the sink and listened to the woosh of drainage pipes, I felt rather glad that I had some time before I’d be in diapers again.  

Phase 3 – Stir-Crazy: After about half an hour, I was still stuck in the bathroom, no real progress had been made by the team outside, and thus, the delusions had started.  First, I started juggling toilet paper rolls, which are not conducive to juggling.  I gave up on that and tried to remember the words to Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang.  I couldn’t get past “to the hip hip hop,” so I soon abandoned my musical efforts.  Then I started thinking about how rappers often pronounce “shawty” or “shortie” like “shaw-tayyy” (see: Lloyd’s “Get it Shawty”, Bow Wow’s “Shortie Like Mine”).  At that point, a revelation: rappers are all huge contemporary music fans!  Why else would they give so many shout-outs to Sade?

Phase 4 – Peace and Acceptance: To bring me back to normal, the security team outside soon guaranteed that they’d get me out of the bathroom in the next five minutes.  It was Tool Time in the office.  Outside, the team asked me to please step back, away from the door.  I could smell freedom, and it smelled like a sweaty security guard.  I hippity hopped onto the countertop and tried to look nonchalant as the men took a crowbar to the door.  Who knew I would be rescued with a Tonya Harding move?

Phase 5 – Back to Reality: With one final chop, the door handle was removed and I was finally free.  I peeked my head out of the bathroom, looking at my saviors wide-eyed, feeling like a full-grown Baby Jessica.  The security team had been gathered around the door, and they parted like the Red Sea as I came out.  I got a business card from the building manager, who told me to call if I needed anything (perhaps an hour of my life back?).  And although it was finally nice to be released from the confines of the wastebox, I also felt a bit disappointed that it was all over.  Who knew that being alone with nothing to do could be such an adventure?

I’d been hoping to get out of the bathroom that whole time… but now that I was back in my office, staring at another Excel spreadsheet, I couldn’t help but wonder: If I’m going to end up wrinkly and helpless some day anyway, why not enjoy my non-wrinkly days now?  Perhaps this means I should quit my job, or take a permanent vacation to Costa Rica… Or I suppose I could just keep truckin’ until I figure it out someday on my own, without the bleach fumes.

In any case, the next time I go to the bathroom, I’ll have my phone on me.  I don’t want to go through Phase 3 again. Get it Sade, get it Sade, get it Sade, get it Sade…

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Take a Risk, Take a Chance, Make a Change*

* Yes, the title is from a Kelly Clarkson song.  I’m not ashamed.

During the summer before my senior year of college, I did an internship at a large investment bank in New York.  To get the job, I professed my love for DCF models and calculating betas.  I made myself sound like the most interesting person in the world: “I enjoy reading Reuters.com, making data tables in Excel, and taking nonlinear walks along the beach.  I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer A&W.  That company’s got quite the cash flow.”

I suppose it worked.  I accepted an offer from a prestigious bank in midtown Manhattan, working in equity research for the summer of 2006.

salesI thought I would need a few weeks to determine whether I’d find my calling in finance.  But after just a few days, I already hated it.  I hated the dress code, the formality, the hierarchy, and the Big Brother-ness of it all.  I hated the work, which teetered between mundane and soul-sucking.  Most days, I just felt like a highly-paid supermarket cashier, plugging in numbers and being rude.  I quickly learned that there were three tenets of business: 1) Jerkiness is a coveted personality trait…  2) “Fuck” can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, insult, directive, and occasionally, term of endearment…  3) Lastly, in order to fit in, you have to be strongly opinionated about HR, women leaders, and taxes.  (The opinion must also be negative, although you can “support them in concept.”)

Throughout the summer, I felt like I was part of a giant sociological experiment, where you throw fifty impressionable college kids into (what I would consider) the worst job in the world (except, maybe, dairy farming) and record their reaction.  The people who loved it also seemed to hate it as well, but they had all accepted that hatefulness was part of the job — therefore it was palatable.  And for a summer at least, it was palatable, especially given the fact that we were well-paid, well-fed, and living in New York with an unlimited reign over the four-letter word dictionary.

lincolnNearing the end of my two-month stint, I had to meet with HR (ugh) to discuss full-time opportunities.  The bank was well-known for only hiring first-years from its summer intern class.  Even though I knew, deep down, that I didn’t want to do this for two full years, I still wanted to get an offer.  I still wanted to have a job lined up, even though I swore I wouldn’t take it.  I wouldn’t.  Even though it was a prestigious firm.  I wouldn’t.  Even though I’d built up a strong network.  I wouldn’t.  Even though I’d get to live comfortably in New York City.  I wouldn’t.  Or would I?

During my session with HR, I was bombarded with a barrage of questions that I hadn’t prepared for: “What are your three biggest weaknesses?  What would you title your autobiography?  Which historical figure do you identify with most?”  To the last question, I blurted out “Abraham Lincoln,” after a long, awkward silence in which I contemplated whether Chairman Mao had any redeeming qualities.  (For some reason, he’s the first “historical figure” that pops into my head.)  After trying to justify to HR that Abe was a perfectly legitimate answer (“I see myself in him through his honesty…his passion for humanity…his log cabin roots”), I realized that I would always be better at BS-ing about Lincoln than modeling cash flows.

So when I got my full-time offer, I turned it down.  I took another job, still in finance, but at a media company where I could learn to hone my creative talents.   And now, two years later, as I’m coming to the end of my term, I have to make another decision — whether to stay in my backup plan, or to go ahead and do something crazy, like compare myself to Abraham Lincoln.  Like eschew a stable finance career for the peripatetic life of a starving writer.  I’m leaning towards the latter, because I’m finally ready to give it a real shot now.  And I do truly believe that all things will work itself out in the end…

After all, the full-time offer I turned down, in the winter of 2006, was from Lehman Brothers.

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Top 10 Signs You Should Get a New Job… Top 10 Pickup Lines For Accountants

I had to write some Top 10 jokes for a project I’m working on (entitled, “leaving finance”), so here they are!  Also, a reader asked for more accounting jokes, so I included my Top 10 accountant pickup lines as well.  Please let me know if you attempt them, as I would like to chart out the success rate in a spreadsheet.  I’m forecasting zeros, but you never know.

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Top 10 Signs You Should Get a New Job

10. Your boss calls you “Employee #243.”

chainedpen9. When you finally leave at 9PM after twelve hours in the office, your co-worker asks, “Taking a half day?”

8. Bonuses are taxed at 40% and paid out in Venezuelan bolivars.

7. All your office supplies are chained to the desk.

witchdoctor6. The CEO makes decisions about layoffs with a Ouija board and a Magic 8 ball.

5. Employees have the option of trading in company shares for a bag of Skittles.

4. The healthcare plan only covers visits to witch doctors and accredited shamans.

3. Company memos include the following disclaimer: “We are not responsible for asbestos-related illnesses.”

2. Your office is in Pittsfield, MA.

1. The 20-year anniversary gift is a shotgun.

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Top 10 Pickup Lines Used By Accountants

10. Your body is like the perfect balance sheet, except that you have no liabilities.accountant

9. You’re just like revenue… I don’t want to defer you any longer.

8. If I could rearrange the alphabet, I would put U and I near Enron, so we could take it down together.

sales7. My job is to tell clients that they can’t spend money.  Lucky for you, I don’t work for myself.

6. Hey baby… Did you know that consolidated entities get significant tax breaks?

5. I’ll work you over like the buttons on my calculator.  I hit ‘em hard and  I hit ’em quick, and I always get the right answer.

4. I don’t care if you’re rich or poor, because I will make your cash flow.

3. I have incredibly liquid assets right now, and they’re dying to get a good return.

2. Want to come back to my place and work on Sexcel?

1. Sales aren’t the only thing rising today.

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Breaking Down the Professional Learning Curve

When you start a new job, you’ll always have a learning curve. For the  most part, regardless of where you work and what you do, these curves take on the same trajectory:

This is HR.

This is HR.

Orientation: On Day One, you’ll fill out paperwork, watch a company slideshow, and get welcomed by smiling, amiable HR representatives.  Orientation is always full of enlightenment surrounding arcane company policies and sexual harassment no-nos.  Example: Hugs and kisses in the office are generally discouraged, although exceptions can be made for foreign clients and the CEO’s hot secretary.  Handshakes and man-on-man butt slapping are OK.  Catcalling and outright groping are cause for termination, except when it happens during sales meeting at Flash Dancers (then it’s just good business practice).

High on acronyms, integrity speeches, and excitement/nervousness for starting a new job… Low on actual learning

monkey

This may be you.

The Grace Period: In the first few weeks on the job, you’re allowed a certain grace period to become acclimated with what your role actually entails.  This may involve learning about VLOOKUPS in Excel, copying and pasting charts in Powerpoint, or working the coffee machine in the kitchen.  In some cases, you may think a trained monkey can do your work.  In other cases, perhaps a fifth grader with terrific Powerpoint skills would suffice.  Either way, by now you’ll be able to tell whether you’ll like your job, or if you’re going to hate your life.

High on Microsoft Excel/Powerpoint/Outlook, subtle recognition of official company colors and fonts, becoming acquainted with IT, and finding where the best lunch place is… Low on actual thinking

Settling In: It’s been a few months now, so you’ve become supremely aware of what your company actually does.  You’ve learned the acronyms, discovered the fastest way to the office, and categorized your co-workers: who is good at their job, who is bad at their job, and who will likely become the new sexual harassment case study for HR.  You’re working hard and hustling: it’s about getting noticed, getting praised, and getting paid.

High on productivity, systems and processes, boss’ personal history… Low on time spent with family and friends

buttslapSettling Down: By now, you’ve slogged through the 100-hour weeks, impressed your boss several times, and likely violated an HR policy during a company party gone bad.  You’re accustomed to all the random nuances of your day-to-day activities, allowing you to spend more time thinking about networking, promotions, and your next career move.  Or, for the less-ambitious types, this time affords you greater opportunity to procrastinate, go to happy hour, and talk about what happened on Lost.

High on drinking, Hulu, and visits with HR… Low on excitement

Once you’ve reached this stage, some might be content to stay in their current role, stake out a comfortable seat on the company org chart, and tuck in for the next 35 years.  Others may want to get a new job, get a new challenge, and go through this whole cycle all over again.  Personally, with my career schizophrenia and general aversion to settling down, I’m more inclined towards the latter right now.  I’d like to play the field, because I want to keep learning, keep hustling, and keep getting butt-slapped.  After all, it’s good business practice.

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The Sellout Life

We all know friends who cheerily (and perhaps smugly) proclaim that they have life all figured out: The dream job? Already got it. The ideal career? On their way. The five-to-ten year plan? All mapped out in Excel, with colored tabs.

For those of us who do not have it all figured out, it’s easy to hate these people.

basketFor some of these friends, we wholeheartedly agree that their jobs, are, indeed, perfect… for them. Such modern vocational eccentricities as basket-weaving, tornado-chasing, and non-profit work/teaching typically qualify as “dream job” worthy. Thus, for our panda-saving teacher friends who love their jobs, we salute and applaud you. For our wicker-wielding basket weavers, we wish we shared your passion. The stories of consultants-turned-pastry bakers have inspired us to keep making cupcakes while we churn out our Powerpoints. We are unequivocally happy for our friends who have followed their dreams, and (usually) forgone the riches.

But then, what of the friend who is also our colleague? What about the cheerful pitch-making investment banker? The smiling number-crunching accountant? The unrepentant coffee-fetching sales assistant? Who, in their right mind, could truly enjoy the soul-sucking work of betas and cash flows and Xerox malfunctions? Yes, there may be lifelong accountants working in windowless cubes who have found a way to squeeze joy out of balancing a balance sheet. There may be i-bankers who enjoy not sleeping, consultants who enjoy not having a home, and lawyers who enjoy not being honest. But most of us look at such friends and immediately discount them as sellouts, money mongers, ladder climbers, naifs, and/or deluded cherubs. We cannot possibly believe that they would actually like their tiring, mundane, “sellout” jobs.

DREAM CHASER —————- “SELLOUTS”

Author/Artist ——————- Advertising/Marketing

Public defender —————– Corporate lawyer

Doctors without borders ———- Plastic surgeons

Microfinance ——————- Investment banking

Physics professor ————— Hedge funds

Human rights worker ———— Consultant

Fifth-grade math teacher ——— Accounting

We’re trained to think that the left is somehow better than the right, that “selling out” is a condemnation worthy of disgrace. But no, it’s not impossible to like accounting, and it’s not wrong to have ambitions to be a principal controller. It’s easy to be cynical about our jobs when we haven’t figured everything out yet, and it’s even easier to be cynical about the choices of others, especially when they take the convenient “sellout” route.

In the end, though, we should probably be fair in how we treat our cheery, smug friends; we ought to congratulate them on their convictions, and embrace the environmentalists along with the i-bankers… Either that, or we shun them both for having figured out their lives before we did. Weaving class, here I come.

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Why Do Young People Hate Their Jobs?

Most college students I have talked to are excited about the real world after school – excited about the work, the perks, but most of all, the freedom. In the real world, there are no tests or papers looming over their heads, no professors to answer to, no dealing with the stresses and dramas that invariably accompany the college experience. Yeah, college is fun, but there’s almost a mythic quality about life beyond college: it’s substituting the sweats for suits, the kegs for martinis, the hookups for a steady, sickeningly-attractive significant other… While college seniors go through the requisite nostalgia in their last few months as an academic, this nostalgia is still often dampened by lofty expectations for the next stage in their life.

Why then, do so many young professionals hate their jobs?

(I must preface this by limiting my observations to those in the field of business. Most would-be doctors I know are happily trucking away in med school, most would-be lawyers are busily debating each other in law school, and for the rest of my graduating class—those who are doing research in Bolivia or writing articles for Mother Jones—they seem, on the most part, relatively satisfied. Then that begs the question: are jobs in the business fields overly cruel, or are those people that go into business just overly hateful? Note: This observation also excludes investment bankers, who should expect to hate their jobs even before they start.)

Some theories:

  • The College Hangover: For many young people, you’re thrown into the fire right out of school. You’re not used to waking up before noon and having to look somewhat presentable. You’re not used to being “on” all the time, every single day, at least five days a week. If only you could skip work without anyone noticing (like college lectures), and still get your big performance bonus…that would be the life. Of course, that would never happen, and thus the nostalgia for college never really goes away. However, the College Hangover only serves as a legitimate excuse for your first few months out of school… After that, if you’re still falling asleep at work in reminiscence of those college glory days, well, you should lay off the drinking.
  • The Bottom of the Totem Pole: You were a pretty big deal in college… president of some organization, captain of some sports team, leader of the beer pong circuit. Now, you’re the entry-level analyst who is seen as the little know-it-all who wants to shoot straight to the top, but in actuality is only making a contribution as a master formatter or lunch bitch. You’re relegated to modeling (thankfully we’re talking only about Excel), and making sure that someone less smart than you looks more smart than everyone else. Of course, no one is as smart as us, so it’s a tough reality to stomach.
  • Those Lofty Expectations: You thought it was going to be first-class, up in the sky, sipping champagne, living the life… Your job was supposed to be glamorous, impressive, and telling of your smarts, skills, and talents. You thought that you’d be challenged every second of the day; you would have interesting coworkers, exciting projects, and intellectual discussions. You’d be an integral part of the company, just short of the glue that holds everything together. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have interesting projects all of the time, and we certainly know a couple of coworkers who have a few screws loose. We don’t foresee the hours of administrative tasks and unrewarded legwork that is part of the daily grind. You start asking yourself why you are here, what you are doing with your life, and how you can get into a new role/company/industry that is way more glamorous than what you are in now…or so you’d like to think.
  • Too Much Freedom: When you’re young, there’s an ordered sequence of how things happen. After pre-school you go to kindergarten. After kindergarten, you’re in first grade. After first grade… etc, etc. The proverbial “life train” goes through a predictable sequence: elementary school, middle school, high school, college—from A to B. But after graduating from college, you’re alone at the train station, and only YOU have to figure out where to next. Get on the banking train, or the consulting one? Marketing, or sales? It always seems like the other train is moving faster, with nicer seats and greener grass on their side of the scenic route to your future. Anxiety strikes. Uneasiness festers. Resentment grows. You end up curled up in the corner of the caboose, hugging your knees, thinking you should have become a doctor instead… at least that would’ve delayed the decision-making for a few more years.
  • Your Job Actually Sucks: If you liked the train analogy above, then your standards for quality have obviously been lowered from your time spent on the job. Maybe all that modeling/formatting/Excel-ing is getting to your head. Or maybe your job actually sucks. Hey, it happens. Perhaps it’s time to go to business school then.

Regardless of all the reasons why many people hate their jobs, most of them are still in these jobs…so perhaps “hate” is a strong word. Only a few recent graduates I know have been so fed up that they decided to quit well-paying, respectable jobs and brave unemployment. Then, despite all the negatives, there must be some reason why we are still in the grind. Maybe it’s the money, or the benefits and perks, or the hope that things will get better. Or perhaps we are just paralyzed by fear that the next job will be worse. The main challenge is to balance the expectations of our jobs with a tempered ambition. There will always be days where unemployment looks preferable, but unless that starts to happen day-after-day, week-upon-week (meaning, Your Job Actually Sucks and you should start updating that resume), I’d say to just put your head down, put the hate aside, file it all under “Learning Experience”, and get to work.

Update (3/30/09): Why Do Young People Stay in Jobs They Hate?

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