During the last few months of my degree, I was courted by all of what were then called “The Big Six” firms. I’m not trying to brag or make you jealous or anything but, without getting into all the nitty gritty details, I’ll just say this:
I was an Accounting Badass.
If there is such a thing.
I signed on with the firm I deemed to be the least nerdy of the bunch. The head scout was personable, easy-going and bought us beers during the meet and greets in the student cantina. (Actually, all the scouts did that).
Upon starting, we recruits were immediately shipped off to a remote and damp city where we spent hours upon hours learning the ropes of how to be a good “staff”–the lowest rung on the totem pole.
Early on I’d set my sights on climbing the ladder. Not everyone aspired to become Partner but, I figured, if you’re good at something, why not shoot for the top?
And then, with a four-word question, everything changed.
We were in love and planned to marry in the fall. I’d only been at The Firm a few months but I was already dreading my weeks. I’d leave town early Monday morning, return late Friday night, only to turn around and do it all over again two days later. I hated it. I didn’t want to start out life with a new husband, me lonely in a hotel room, instead of under what was supposed to be our shared roof.
Contrary to everything I’d previously mapped out, I began to dream differently.
Rather than late nights proving myself at work, I entertained thoughts of a five o’clock whistle and a casual stop-off for groceries. Instead of the wine-y dine-y lifestyle with a side of fifteen pounds, I pictured simple meals by candlelight followed by a Newlywed-Roll-in-the-Hay for dessert.
I sought out the office where light streamed in by enormous windows. The managing partner sat distractedly signing papers as I entered on ballet feet.
“I’ve accepted a position elsewhere…”
I conveniently left out that I was overqualified and the matter of the pay cut, but the look on his face told me he already knew. I’d naively expected him to wish me well on my way. Instead, he questioned my decision, my destination, my dare to dream differently.
“You think that’s success?” he asked incredulously.
When I’d suited up in hose and heels that morning I didn’t know I’d be needing boxing gloves too. I sat still in my small chair but my mind traveled miles, rattling off the possible responses. Meanwhile, the ticker ran busy at the bottom: His desk is so big! …. He’s even biggerl!
Right then and there, Fear threatened to choke me. To silence me with its vise grip while I was smooth-talked back onto a path I no longer wanted to travel. After all, I was no longer a recruit being wooed by a fun-time guy. This was the guy who had to answer for a bottom line. Letting his asset walk out the door would mean a poor return on The Firm’s investment.
My buck-twenty was no match for his two-fifty so I went for the only option I had: the jugular.
“I think you and I may have different definitions of success,” I said.
It was not spat out; just an observation. But, with it, I staked my claim. If he couldn’t hook me at “success” he wouldn’t hook me at all.
That Monday morning, while a clear blue sky peered inside a tall house of mirrors, I was tempted to slink out the back door. Quiet and unnoticed. All the degrees and ability in the world couldn’t have earned me a victory in that moment. Even the love my new husband and I shared could only take me so far.
I still had to speak up.
Choosing courage isn’t a power struggle of bawled fists and angry words. The battle against fear is won only within the landscape of the heart. When a big man loomed across a desk, it was God’s love that made me brave.
A voice taking up for its owner can be one of the most healing sounds there is. Sometimes, it’s not so much what we say, but that we say anything at all.
I’m writing on The Power of a Voice. If you’d like to catch up, read Choose Yourself.
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