Ode to Busy Season 2018

With apologies to Walt Whitman

O vodka, my vodka! Our fearful trip is through
The car has rounded every bend, and gently carried you
At the thought of drinking you my step has extra bounce.
I open the trunk and reach for you to carry you into the house.

Mother-fucking piece of shit!
How I cursed my clumsy grip
The vodka tumbled downward
It did not survive the slip.


O vodka, my vodka! How can you not know
This week has been abominable; I desperately needed you so
For you I made a special trip out to the liquor store
For you I pined and dreamed (and rhymed!) and only wanted you more

I can’t believe it; it cannot be!
It’s really just my luck.
You leave me here without even a taste!


My vodka does not answer, all shattered on the ground
It does not recombobulate, my wailing now resounds
The car is parkèd in the drive, commencing its repose.
It’s too cold to go out again; besides the store is closed.

You all enjoy your evening
While I with mournful tread
Walk the ground my vodka lies
Fallen cold and dead.

Professor Kelly’s kids: Our reaction

You’ve all seen this by now, right?  If you haven’t yet, here you go.  Enjoy!

In addition to the pure “awwww” factor, it’s been very encouraging to see the collective reaction!

Some quick observations:

  • We have in front of us a very smart man who is an expert in South Korean policy, and yet what do we know about him?   What do we think about his intelligence and expertise?  We don’t care, because we love his kids.  Usually that’s a thing that happens to women, so it’s nice to see some equal opportunity here.
  • The mother has been described as superwoman with ninja skills for the way she quickly wrangles the children. And deservedly so!
  • Lots of other working parents expressing solidarity. Working from home is fantastic, but adorable interruptions are always a risk when you work from home with small children!
  • Not once have I seen anyone blame him or his wife for “losing control” of the kids. And that’s awesome!  Are we finally learning that one can’t control children 100% of the time?
  • Not once have I seen anyone blame him for the audacity to have children AND a job at the same time. Another win!  Is it possible that we are accepting that people are complex and have multiple priorities simultaneously?

But isn’t anyone curious about what Professor Kelly actually said?  Just me?  Well, no matter – here’s the full BBC segment anyway:

And one final thing I noticed: the interviewer ended with, “You’ve got some children that need you” as the kids have continued to scream in the background.  Usually directed at women to dismiss their professional value, but here it’s directed at a father who is clearly adored by his kids.  We should all be so lucky to be so accomplished and so loved!

Here’s toward being that much closer to a world where both men and women are celebrated, both for their professional accomplishments AND their parenting!

heres to you

To my esteemed employer

Greetings and salutations,

You’re dumb.

I just submitted my expense report for a work trip (this one), and it got kicked back to me.  Why?  I ran through everything I spent on the trip – flight, hotel, rental car, food, and I received the following response:

Lunch is not ordinarily a business expense.

Excuse me?  Yes of course lunch isn’t ordinarily a business expense.  Because I don’t buy lunch when I work in town.  That’s why I tried to run it through – because it was money I spent while out of town that I wouldn’t have spent otherwise.

If there is a valid business reason for this meal, please provide the reason and the attendees, in accordance with the expense policy.

Um – yes.  The business reason is that I’m a human being that needs calories from time to time in order to be productive throughout the day.  Sigh.  Who am I kidding?  I know better than to try that one.

But that’s only how the policy doesn’t work for me.  What you don’t realize is the completely obvious way the policy doesn’t work for you.  Hence my previous assessment of your intelligence.  See – now that I know I can’t get lunch reimbursed, I’m going to go back to the policy, take a look at the allowances for all the other meals, and get more food for those meals to make up for having no lunch.  Instead of a small breakfast, moderate lunch, and light dinner, I’m going to get a late breakfast and a large early dinner that I’ll eat half of in the early afternoon and the other half in the early evening.

Here’s about how my out-of-town meal expenses compare before I was aware of the no-lunch policy and afterward:


You see?  I don’t want to be out the cost of lunch every day, so I changed my behavior.  And now you’re spending more money on my travel because of your policy designed to spend less money.

Good job, genius.

Kind regards,


How to get your very own TSA pat-down

Wear this.


Yup – that’s what I wore to work today as I flew out of O’Hare to join one of my audit teams for a couple days.

It turns out that there is metallic thread in the shirt, and the airport body scanners don’t like it.  Because of that, I made it to second base this morning with a very nice TSA lady.

So!  Lesson to all of you – watch out for metallic thread in your clothing if you have to fly for business, lest your diabolical plans to go to work at your boring, run-of-the-mill job be foiled by the TSA.

To my boss on my last day


I remember the day it first hit me that I had a stupid, silly, embarrassing schoolgirl crush on you.  I don’t remember exactly when it was, but I do remember thinking to myself, “What the fuck is wrong with me?”

After my last day working for you I came home and cried.  Once again, here I am thinking to myself, “What the fuck is wrong with me?”  And now we’ve come full circle.

“Well if you don’t want to leave, then don’t,” I hear you thinking.  Yes, yes, I know – no one is forcing me to leave.  When I really thought about what I know about you, I didn’t expect you to understand.  I wanted you to understand, because I care what you think of me.  I hoped you would understand, because we understand a lot of really random things about each other.  We think a lot alike, which is one thing that made our professional relationship really fun.  But you also have a ruthlessly self-interested streak, so you shut down long before you even started to see it from my perspective.

When I first told you I was leaving, you sat on it for a day and then came back to me – “Should we talk about this?”  I was not expecting that at all.  I don’t know if you realize how perilously close you came to changing my mind over the next two weeks.  Or maybe you do but you don’t care because I didn’t actually change my mind.

When I thought about how much I wanted to leave, I didn’t fully trust myself because I was afraid my irritation was blinding me to all the reasons I should stay.

But when I thought about how much I wanted to stay, I really didn’t trust myself because I was afraid my feelings were being influenced by how I felt about you.  Remember that stupid, schoolgirl crush I mentioned earlier?  Yeah, that was a real pain in the ass.

It was a lot to work through, which was hard enough, but the hardest part was working through it alone.  Sure, I had my husband and a few friends to talk to, but their perspective on accounting career issues is so limited.  The one person whose advice I really wanted was the person sitting across the table from me.  For obvious reasons, that was the one person whose advice I couldn’t have.

So, I figured if I can’t trust some of my feelings, then I really can’t trust any of them.  It had to come down to intellectual reasons only.  And that conclusion was unmistakable:  I had to go.  Oh, I fought it for a while.   A long while.  Not that you looked terribly closely(*) but I’m told the weight loss was fairly obvious.  That’s how hard I had to hit the gym just to stay sane while I was both getting my work done and accepting the inevitable.  I also lost a lot of hair because agonizing indecision is ever so much fun.

But the biggest thing I was afraid of?  Telling you.  I knew that it would be the end of our friendly professional relationship, and I really, really, really didn’t want that.  So the real reason I lost the weight and the hair?  You.

A year from now I’ll look back and laugh at myself, but the fact remains that today I feel like crap.  Thankfully I only have to keep myself distracted this weekend before I can throw myself into my new job on Monday – I expect to be overwhelmed, which will help more than anything.

I wish you nothing but the best.

I will never forget you.

(*) Which is more than fine, really.  Honestly, if you had said something, I would have wondered if I was in the office or out at a certain client-which-shall-not-be-named.  You know the one.


Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.


Thanks for reading; I feel better now.

We will never speak of this again.

This is my deadline song and I’m gonna play it

Hi everyone!

It’s crunch time for me at work right now, so unfortunately two things have happened:

  1. I’ve been quieter than I would prefer
  2. I haven’t been reading all your posts with any sort of consistency

Now, #1 isn’t so bad – it’s a big, wide internet with TONS of great things to read.  But I feel kinda bad about #2 – I follow so. many. amazing bloggers, and you all deserve to be read and discussed by as many people as possible.  I haven’t been able to make my usual contribution to your traffic and for that I apologize.

Moving on – depending on how long we have known each other, you may remember my deadline song from last year.  Here it is again (below) for anyone out there that is buried under too much work and needs a little tune to hum; crowdsourcing request for improvements is still open.  If we’re newly acquainted, enjoy!

Deadlines never bothered me anyway
(to the tune of Let it Go)

The lights are on in the office tonight
Not another soul around
With stacks of my workpapers
On my desk and on the ground

My kids are howling ’cause I can’t see them tonight
Couldn’t keep my promise; heaven knows I tried

Don’t stop to think – just get it done
You’ll only make it worse for everyone
Can’t take much more; I don’t know why 
I even try

Fuck it all; fuck it all
Don’t give a shit anymore
Fuck it all; fuck it all
Grab my keys – I’m out the door
I don’t care what my boss will say
I don’t give a fuck
Deadlines never bothered me anyway

It’s funny how my world now
Comes suddenly alight
As I leave my work behind me
And run into the night

It’s time to see what happens next
When I send my boss a nasty text
Fix this, fix that – no not for me 
I’m free!

Fuck it all; fuck it all
What a sweet refrain to sing
Fuck it all; fuck it all
Strike a match to everything
What delight on this beautiful night
As I drive away.

My boss comes in now like a hurricane of flame
With clenched jaw, bulging eyes as he spits out my name
And one thought crystallizes like the frosty air 
I’m getting fired now – and I can’t seem to care!

Fuck it all!  Fuck it all!
You are all a bunch of tools
Fuck it all; fuck it all
Flip the table; screw you fools
I won’t take this bullshit one more day
I don’t give a fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!!

Never liked that company anyway.

I actually do like where I work, and I actually would care if I got fired.  Still, I really hope my boss doesn’t find this.  I would never hear the end of it.

How to talk to clients: intermediate

(Content warning: moderate sufficient profanity)

For those of you that have mastered the skills in the elementary course, now it’s time to step it up: this time I am going to give you some tips on how to communicate diplomatically.  I am joined today by More Charitable Athena (MCA) who more accurately represents my true professional persona.

Scenario 1:

When the client gives you a supporting schedule that has no relation whatsoever to the area you are trying to audit:

Don’t say: Your stuff is fucked up.  Fix this shit before you give it back to me.

Although this is probably the most accurate thing you can say, it is ultimately unhelpful.  Mainly because if it were obvious to your client how fucked up their shit is, they would have fixed it before they gave it to you.  So you have to point out specifics about where and exactly how much their shit is fucked up.

Also, the aggressive phrasing can be a bit off-putting.  They might get defensive, cry, or worse, complain to your boss about what a big meanie you are.  Bosses are notoriously unsympathetic to client misstreatment of their employees, so if that happens you’re really screwed.

Instead try: I am having some difficulty with this supporting schedule you provided (point out at least two or three specific things that don’t work).  Could you please prepare a reconciliation between the supporting schedule and the account I’m looking at?

MCA says: Many people who work in private accounting (i.e. our clients) spend all day working in the trees.  They see the bark on one tree, the sap on another, that damn squirrel that ALWAYS grabs those acorns that need to stay JUST SO to put the picture together.  (Their training conveniently neglected to mention that goddamned squirrel, by the way.  They had to figure that shit out all on their own.)  They don’t see the forest because they have more than enough to do with just the goddamned trees.  So when we auditors come in looking at the forest, we need to communicate with them in terms of the trees they understand.

Bonus: When the client gives you the exact same shit they gave you before that’s fucked up in the exact same way and says, “Here you are – I fixed it.”

Don’t say: What in the actual fuck?  This is the same shit as before, fucked up in the exact same way.  Try again, numbskull.

Same pitfalls as above.  Do you want to be right or do you want to be effective?

Instead: Bring your computer over to them and ask, “Can you walk me through exactly how this reconciles these two areas?”

MCA says: I have found that a lot of people don’t know what it’s like to not know what they know.  Sure, THEY know that you have to add these three numbers and subtract 1/3 of the fourth number and multiply by the average internally-assigned acuity code of the patient population because they DO it every month.  But you don’t.  If you ask them to reperform what they did, one of two things will usually happen: 1) you will understand it, too; or 2) they will see that the supporting schedule they gave you is actually wrong and will fix it for real.

Scenario 2:

When the client disagrees with you and you turn out to be right (duh):

Don’t say: In yo FACE, sucka!!  Haven’t you learned yet not to argue with me?  I’ve forgotten more shit than you’ll ever know!

So you know all there is to know about accounting and auditing.  Fan-fucking-tastic.  Is that really where your sense of self-worth comes from?  Has it occurred to you that most people have priorities other than your particular area of expertise?  Look, the unfortunate reality is that while you see how important it is for people who do accounting for a living to, oh I dunno, actually know something about accounting, the rest of the world doesn’t feel that way.  And it shows.  Don’t suffer under any illusion that you’re going to change this.

Instead say: I’ll go ahead and post the adjustment on my end.  Would you like a copy?

MCA says: Most people care about doing their job right, but unfortunately may have been taught some incorrect or expired information.  If you want clients to be more helpful, get good at explaining things.  Talk to them in terms of the trees they understand (see Scenario 1 above) and walk them through how things work.  Draw pictures.  It helps.

Scenario 3:

When the client says to you on Thursday, “Let’s try and get these financial statements issued before I go on vacation next week.”

Don’t say: Well if you would quit having me change little LITTLE things that ripple through 7 workpapers, 2 adjusting entries, and 3 places in the report, maybe this would have already been done.  Don’t expect me to fix your shit and then question the manner in which I fix it.

Instead say: ….

(I got nothin’ here.  Ya just gotta do it at this point.  Sorry.)

MCA says: Can’t think of a positive spin on this one.  Your client’s just an asshole.

Note: This may or may not be inspired by my job right now.  I will admit nothing.

Help wanted

If you look between the buildings, you can see the lake.

If you look between the buildings, you can see the lake.

This ^^ right here is the view from where I’m sitting this week.  It’s sunny, it’s over 90 degrees outside, and I am desperately trying to come up with a business reason why I need to go jump in the lake.  Bonus points if you can help me come up with a business reason why I need to go skinny dipping in the lake.

Any ideas?

How to talk to clients

Or: A professional tutorial for the awkward.

I was reading a post by Elizabeth Esther some time ago in which she gives some great advice to a reader who is working on catching up to everyone else in knowing how to be socially normal.  And that reminded me – you know, I had to do something similar.  I was a bit of a loner growing up and I am naturally socially awkward; I had to teach myself how to be normal.  So if that is you, you are not alone.

I have also noticed, after a handful of years in the workforce, that even people who are more than fine socially are not comfortable handling themselves professionally.  So you have a situation where the awkward person (that’s me) has to teach the not-awkward person how to not be awkward at work.  IRL irony!  It’s the best.

I’ve found that having a basic script to work from can really help you develop your confidence because you have some stock phrases to fall back on.  Now, when you work as a CPA (an auditor in particular), you start at a disadvantage, interpersonally.  The client might be polite and pleasant enough, but the bottom line is that you are a nuisance to them, and you interfere with the timely completion of their job.  So your keys to success are to be the most likeable, pleasant, respectful nuisance you can possibly be.

Disclaimer: Some of this may be pretty female-specific, because I am aware that I have to walk that assertive-submissive tightrope in order to be effective in certain circles.  But I think the general principles still apply to males as well. 

Here’s how I usually begin:

1. Get their attention.

I usually do this with a knock on their door / cubicle or a verbal “knock, knock” if my hands are full, followed by, “Do you have a minute?”  Now, this opening gambit serves two purposes:

a) actually getting their attention while giving them a bit of time to shift their focus from (insert miscellaneous task here) to whatever insightful, brilliant question you have come to ask them.

b) showing them that you are respectful of their time (pleasant, respectful nuisance, remember?) by giving them the opportunity to say “no.” If they say “yes” right away, game on! If not, follow up with “When would be a good time to come back?”  And then make sure you arrange your schedule to accommodate them, if possible.

2. Open with some general background information that leads into your question.

Example question: “I was looking at the detail of your expenses for dilithium containment field generator maintenance ….”

Why do I do this?  Again, two purposes:

a) give them a bit more time to mentally shift their focus from (insert miscellaneous task here) to whatever insightful, brilliant question you have come to ask them. Yes, I know that was the purpose of “Knock, knock – do you have a minute?” but it takes a bit longer than that for most people, so you want to stall for a FEW more seconds before you jump into the heavy content.

b) show them that you are not lazy or stupid. You have started the work on your own to the limit of your understanding and while you need their help to fill in the blanks, you will not be asking them to do your work for you. You are well on your way to being the best likeable, respectful nuisance you can be.

3. Ask the question in a blame-neutral way.

Example question: (continued from above) “I was looking at the detail of your expenses for dilithium containment field generator maintenance, and I noticed an item labeled ‘JACK DANIELS’ for $5,000 – could you help me understand what that is?

Note that I do NOT ask – “Why are you running alcohol purchases through company expenses?  Did you REALLY think I wouldn’t see this?”  That would immediately put them on the defensive, and you would get zero cooperation from them for the rest of the job.  Which would of course be your fault because that’s how your company works.  So don’t do that.

If you phrase your question in a way that assumes they did everything right, you give them an opportunity to continue to be right and explain why this thing that looks weird to an external auditor (i.e. you) is actually totally cool.  Because let’s face it – they know their job WAY better than you do; if you assume that you can walk in there and in 30 minutes figure out that they screwed everything up, you have been reading too many juicy audit fantasy novels.

Wait, those don’t exist?  Huh.  Well, they should.  Maybe I’ll write one.

Like this

Like this

Anyway, moving on –

4. Listen to their answer and ask them to repeat key details until you understand what they are saying.  If necessary, ignore relevant details, interrupt with an “excuse me, could you please clarify?” – type question, and / or redirect them to the actual issue at hand.

Example dialogue:

Client: “Oh man, that project was a real doozy.  I gotta tell you, man, I was already running late that day because my frakkin’ dentist was SO slow, so I’m in a bad mood, but then Beuchamp across the hall just comes in practically skipping with glee, so I’m like, whaaat?  And then …”

Me: *Smile, chuckle* “That sounds really great, but could you tell me specifically about this ‘JACK DANIELS’ expense for $5,000?”

Client: “I’m getting there!  So we had this contractor who was just the worst.  Showed up late reeking of booze, did a crap job, we had to fire him …”

Me: “Okay, but …”

Client: “ … and then to top it off, I saw him hanging around the front desk a week later!  I told him, dude – GTFO or I’m calling the cops …”

Me:  “Wow, sounds like you guys had some issues with this guy.  But I just need to know what this expense item is – could you help me understand it?”

Client: “Oh sure!  Why didn’t you say so?  The contractor’s name was Jack Daniels, and we paid him $5,000 for his time and the work that he started.  See?  Here’s the contract, here’s the invoice, and here’s the memo from legal documenting the termination of the contract.”

Me: “Great – thanks for your help!”

Now, I just want to go on record and say that most clients are not as scatterbrained as this hypothetical guy.  But some of them are much, much worse.  I once worked with a guy who was every bit the stereotypical monotone accountant.  He would just go on and on and on …. And on … and on … A simple phone call with me trying to pick out the actual answers to my questions was exhausting.

“But Athena, how can I be a respectful, likeable nuisance if I’m interrupting them?”

Great question – generally they won’t react badly if you interrupt with a respectful “excuse me”; this is their expectation of you as a nuisance working in your favor.  Also, if you are successful in managing the conversation so you are out of their hair faster, they will dislike you less.

5. End by saying “Thank you.”

Example: See above.  Alternatively “Thanks for your time.”

Regardless of how helpful (or unhelpful) your client is, ALWAYS say thank you.

Why do I do this?  It just ends the conversation on a pleasant note.  Nothing more complicated than that.


Now, I wrote the above with examples from my job as an auditor, but the script is more broadly applicable than that.  For example, I use it every time I approach a store employee when out shopping, or a coworker in my office, or really anytime I need to approach someone in a professional setting.

Feel free to let me know if you have any suggestions!