Posted by: Kiersten | March 2, 2010

Piles of Files

Tuesday was my first day at my new job.  I woke up to the radio alarm and the cell phone alarm, which I’d set the night before, worried that I’d forget I had a job to go to. 

Well it turns out if I’d forgotten, my new boss wouldn’t have missed me.  She had forgotten I was coming!  She greeted me all flustered, led me through a series of dark corridors and up stairs to her office, which was also my work space.

Except that I had no work space.  There were four chairs in the office, all of them had piles of files.  There were piles of folders and loose papers on top of the four filing cabinets (one cabinet was entirely empty) there were stacks of hanging folders on the floor, all over her desk, and wobbling jenga-style on a rickety card table set up in the corner under some low cupboards.

There was dust on everything.  Food crumbs on everything.  The room was hot and stuffy.  The teeny window at the end of the room was wide open, but the fresh air did not make it to the card table in the corner.  Over it all buzzed a florescent light, and just under it hummed a ceiling fan, creating a nice strobe effect in the claustrophobic room.

My new boss is a nice enough lady, though it is clear she is under great strain.  She does not have control over the factors that make her job stressful. 

I cleared off one of the chairs by removing the pile of files and adding it to another pile on the table.  I listened and began to learn about the new system, the structure of accounts, and soon the numbers drew me in.  I love a puzzle, and once I could focus on my first reconciliation I was able to ignore most of the unpleasant aspects of the environment…  Except when I needed some table space to work at.  I had to move more files to clear a spot, brush away dust and food crumbs from the buckling, vinyl covered surface, wishing I had a damp cloth.

When I talked about the job to Donna at Cynamoka, she guessed that if they told me they were three months behind when they interviewed me, they’d be six months behind on my first day.  Donna was right on the money.  The first six-inch thick folder I was handed was labeled “September 09”.  I left my old job September 30th.    

My first job was to organize this folder – except there were no tools available for me to organize it.  No space – no table or even floor space to create piles.  No file folders, no stapler or paper clips, no dividers or binders or post-it notes!  We managed to scrape together the supplies I needed after walking around to various other offices raiding cupboards for 30 minutes.  I started moving piles around and uncovered a travel file folder beside a coffee mug with a picture of a cat on it and four inches of mold inside it.

So there I was with my hodge-podge travel file, make-shift dividers made from masking tape, managing to categorize the papers by receivables, payables, expenses, revenue, etc.  The backup was *so* random.  Deposit slips for a week, but none for the rest of the month.  The last four pages of a bank statement.  A note scrawled on the back on an envelope. 

My first reconciliation was between an account and a report.  The total on the account and the report should match, but they didn’t.  My job:  figure out the discrepancies.

Well it was pretty easy to figure out how to export these reports from the accounting system into an excel file.  My boss didn’t know how to do this, but the system was similar to the one at my old job.  Once I got them into excel files it should be pretty easy to find the discrepancies.

My boss left me to it for a couple of hours while she put out some fires of her own and went on two smoke breaks (add that smell to the room too).  After fiddling with the numbers I decided to print out the previous month’s reports just to be sure that they actually agreed the month before.  Presumably they should agree, since August 31st is their fiscal year end, and the books had been closed for the year.

The report and the account did not match the month before.  So the opening balance was not the same, which means it was actually impossible to balance these two accounts.  When I brought it back to my boss she said “Hmm.  Well maybe it didn’t balance.”

Wow.  Just, wow.  Wow, wow, wow.  The mind, it just boggles.  The accounts are as messy as the office.  It is a nightmare, a horror show.  And to top it off, my boss couldn’t tell me exactly how the report is generated.  The program obviously wasn’t just extracting information from one account and displaying it in a different format.  It was querying or filtering the information somehow, but no one knew how.  We couldn’t call the software company and ask because they cost $100 / hour.

Huge piles of problems, no shovel.

That’s my new job.

*** I wrote the first part of this entry last night.  Today, the saga continues…

Let me preface this by saying that I am a tough cookie.  I have a great work ethic, I enjoy working hard, I do not balk at a challenge.  I’m still kinda bewildered at my physical, visceral reaction to my first day at my new job. 

I drove home last night with a migraine.  The perfume, smoke, dust, mold and stale food smells plus the strobe florescent lighting was a surefire trigger.  I really thought I was okay until I walked up the stairs at home.  The tears were rolling when I opened the door, and all I could do for a half an hour was cry.  I tried to chalk it up to a rough start, I resolved to start my own sideline business so I could quit this job as soon as possible.  Then I had a panic attack – I haven’t had one of those in years.

I managed to get some sleep last night, and I thought I was fine when the alarm went of at ten to six this morning.  I showered, but I was too nauseous for coffee or breakfast, and right after I put on my office work clothes I had another panic attack.  That was it.  I had to admit it:  I am done, done, done with corporate finance.  I just cannot do it. 

So I quit my new job after just one day.  I’ve never done that before.  We need the income, but I could not get out the door without crying.  I just had to admit defeat. 

I sent an email to my now-former-employer thanking them for the opportunity and informing them that I would not be returning, apologizing for the inconvenience of replacing me.  Then, Kat & I went for a walk in the sunshine.

It was a good day to be unemployed.  We took the dogs to Little Beach where they roared around on the rocky beach.  I sat on a wet driftwood log and watched the hot morning sun cause the frost to steam off all around us.


I heard the “Cheerio! Cheerio!” call of an American Robin, setting up nesting territory.  Nearby, a warbler tested his amazingly varied, bubbly song.  The family of black and white oyster catchers flew into the bay and spent a few minutes diving daintily in the calm water.  This is worth more to me than $18 an hour.  I felt tired but a hell of a lot better by the end of the walk.  I can’t really justify or explain my decision, I only knew with calm inner certainty that I had made the right choice. 

As it turns out, I didn’t stay unemployed for long.  This past Sunday, Kat & I had covered Image West Gifts so that Barri could watch the US vs. Canada Olympic hockey game.  I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed retail.  Barri hired me over the phone this afternoon, and I went in for an hour’s training just before they closed.  I start my first shift tomorrow at 10:30. 

This is so much better for me.  I can sleep until I’m rested, I can walk the dogs and have a decent meal before I go to work.  Getting to work will take five minutes, and I’ll get to talk to tourists all day long.  I’ll be home in time for supper, I’ll have brain power and energy to work on our other projects.

I’m having trouble describing what I’ve learned about myself in the last 24 hours; I’ll let that thought simmer for a few days.



  1. Life is just like that sometimes!

    Good for you for figuring it out quickly, so that you were ready to take on the new opportunity.

  2. Oh boy, what a rough time for you. But you listened to your body – good for you!
    You moved for serenity, not for stress.
    Here’s to your new job, and peace of mind!

  3. we are cheering you on
    No one should work in a situation that
    effects your health.
    A great response to a bad scene.
    and a very nice recovery

    • Thanks so much. 🙂 I really appreciate the cheers.

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