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But be careful. No one likes blood in a boardroom.

July 3, 2008

(note: realized only half of this post was actually posted. i guess I could blame wordpress or the firewalls, but really I’m just an idiot when it comes to copying and pasting things over from Word documents. anyways. it’s fixed now. read the thrilling conclusion to this story below.)

From the outset, one of the aspects of this job that I was genuinely looking forward to was the chance to do some consulting work. The job title alone made me a little excited. Moving from ‘Auditor’ (which elicits choruses of ‘boo hiss’)  to ‘International Tax Consultant’ (or ‘Belastingconsulenten’ in Dutch and ‘Conseils Fiscaux’ in French) felt like a move towards a more interesting (and less despised) position.

Say it out loud – “International Tax Consultant.” Sounds cool, right? Well, not “cool” exactly. But definitely less lame than “Tax Accountant.” You hear ‘tax accountant’ and think of a guy with square black glasses and a pocket protector. But “International Tax Consultant” – that person is an exciting world traveler who just happens to know a thing or two about numbers.

Yeah. Well. After almost 6 months of doing the boring taxes part of the job I finally got a chance to do some real consulting this week.

“How was it?” you ask. “Did it live up to your expectations?” “Was cool and exciting?”

All I can say is “Oh. My. Goodness.”

It was demonstrably neither cool nor exciting. In fact, it was approx. 47 times more mind numbingly boring than plain old tax work. Words cannot describe the excruciating pain inherent in a 13 hour day filled with nothing but discussions of taxes. But I’ll try.

(Think of this as a public service announcement to all those foolish enough to consider entering the world of accounting. Note: How I ended up in this forsaken profession is a post for another day…)

I arrived at the client site 20 minutes early and used the time to walk around the area. The office was in one of my favorite parts of Brussels – all beautiful old buildings, lush green parks and trendy little restaurants. There were even a few potentially cute stores with those big ‘Solden’ signs in the window. Obviously, I made a mental note to stop by at the end of the day and see if I couldn’t find any deals.

Turns out that mental note was unnecessary as the next THIRTEEN hours were spent sitting in a boardroom. Granted, it was an impressive boardroom – leather executive chairs, large mahogany (or something like that) table, floor to ceiling windows with spectacular views of the city. However, when the floor to ceiling windows are covered with blinds for better viewing of the Excel spreadsheet projected on the wall, they lose some of their mystique.

Now, 13 hours is no big deal when the topic at hand is something that is either interesting or relevant to your work. This failed on both accounts. Instead, it was a full day of acronyms. DTL and DTA and TCFL and OMG! WTF? And discussions of data aggregation processes ‘should we be doing this at the consol level or at the business unit level? What time is it in Saudi Arabia? Should we call their controller?” Obviously my ears perked up at the mention of Saudi Arabia but then I remembered that any discussion with them would probably involve more financial acronyms and not discussions of oil reserves or women’s rights.

Now, I didn’t catch on to what was being discussed until hour 4 or 5. Then it was like light dawning as I realized what the acronynms stood for (I certainly wasn’t going to ask) and what they were trying to accomplish. And then I realized that I didn’t actually care. That I never wanted to get worked up in such a tizzy over deferred tax liabilities (that’s what DTL means).

A terrible, terrible revelation to have when you have 8 hours of tedium ahead of you.  What do you do when you are sitting in a room with your manager (an incredibly intelligent person you still want to impress),  the head of the International Tax department and the CFO and you can’t possibly keep your eyes open?

By the end of the day, I had remembered and subsequently perfected my ‘do not slip into coma’ tricks originally developed during my 8am Econ class Senior year. For anyone else that might find themselves in a similar situation (i.e. needing to be awake but without any useful distraction like the internet) I thought I’d share some of these methods:

1.  Make lists. Ideally, you should write these down on paper under the guise of taking thoughtful notes. However, sometimes your manager sits next to you and will realize that ‘Need: Eggs, milk, shotgun’ probably has little to do with the current topic. In this case, mental notes will suffice. During the day I made many, many useful lists.  “Places to travel in Belgium, France and Germany,” “Top Weekend Getaways,” “Weekend To-Do,” “Alternative career paths that pay as well as this one & would give me a Belgian work permit” (Didn’t get very far with that one).

2. Write this blog post.

3. If you don’t have internet but you do have your personal laptop and noone can see the screen, you have a few options – you can write a blog post in Word, play solitaire, look at & edit your pictures (these will make you happy and remind you why you came in the first place), draft emails to friends and families telling them about your super exciting job and how they should be so jealous of you  or read old emails.

Note: It is essential that you do not get too immersed in whatever you are doing. The key is to look like you are doing something relevant to the meeting – if you look interested in what’s on your scrren they will realize it’s not related to work since work is not that interesting.

4. When all else fails and you feel your eyelids getting heavy, start digging your nails into the back of your hand. Just be careful not to do this for too long as you will develop bruises. Or cut yourself (depending on length of nail). No one likes blood in a boardroom.

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