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No One Ever Died From a Late Tax Return

Before flying to the US last month, there was a mad frenzy at work, as associates swarmed around trying to make sure their jobs got signed off before I left. Heaven forbid it wait a few weeks for my return.

We all get a similar feeling before going on holiday: It’s kind of like clawing your way out of hell with a swarm of demons grasping at your limbs trying to pull you back into the underworld.

(Incidentally, I reviewed jobs at the airport and hotel during my entire trip anyway, because: THE CLOUD. *yawn*)

It was so bad in fact that it culminated in me pulling an all-nighter (because that’s what everyone needs before a 16-hour transpacific flight). By the time I was boarding the plane there was still 40 hours of work that could have been done before my boarding, and all I could think was: Fuck it.

Your job doesn’t matter.

We were actually eight weeks ahead of schedule, so everything we were trying to get out was nice to have, not must have. And at the end of the day… it’s taxes. Nobody (that I know of anyway) ever died from a late tax return. No, not an audit, budget or EOM board pack has ever been documented as the cause of death in an autopsy report. And that’s because:

Your job doesn’t matter.

I know this sounds like a massive contradiction, considering my other spiels about how important purpose is in the accounting profession. But to put it into context, I was hanging out at my parents’ house a few years ago, talking to my brother, a doctor, who had just come off the back of a 16-hour shift in the emergency room. I had been ranting about busy season for like 15 minutes when he looked up from his drink and said, "A kid came into work today. He had shot himself in the face and was puking skull fragments into a bucket."

Then he went straight back to looking at his drink.

In that moment, I realized that accounting doesn’t mean shit.

Sure, it’s useful in the context of the world and the economy. And sure, we are the storytellers of commerce. But by no means is accounting life and death. Yet we experience stress and anxiety as if it is.

We get that tightness in our chests whenever we’re approaching a deadline, or when a regulator comes to look at our work. The stress in accounting elicits the same fight or flight response as if a wolverine is about to claw our face off. But accounting is not a matter of life and death. So why do we as a profession constantly act like it is?