In one of my daily efforts to sell books, three months ago I contacted the Bentley College Alumni Association offering to do an author interview with them, or maybe a piece on career changes in mid-life. I never heard back from them.
Bentley College is now Bentley University. When I was at Bentley The College it was a business school. Years later, after doing the campus tour circuit with my daughters, I realized I was ahead of the curve. At some point in each of our tours, when the overly peppy and enthusiastic tour guide would ask “What are you planning to major in?”, more than half of the deer in the headlights high school juniors and seniors replied, Business. Either that or Communications.
I changed my major five times, starting in marketing, then passing through business management, and I can’t remember what else but always avoiding accounting. The choices were all permutations on the theme of business. I ended up in Economics because that major had the most opportunity to take electives so I loaded up my schedule with Political Science and English. I was hoping to be the next Paul Krugman, although at the time I had no idea who he was and neither did he. I was an idealistic socialist leaning liberal in a school full of Young Republicans, an oxymoron if ever there was one. How can someone be young and Republican? But they had awesome sound systems and threw great parties and despite their views nowadays, they almost all smoked pot. (And some of them probably still do.)
You might be asking yourself, “Why didn’t she transfer?” During my senior year in high school, there was an on-going debate in my house about going away to college versus commuting. I was the oldest of four kids. My parents were worried about money so they were insisting I commute. Luckily (or maybe not), I was taking an accounting class and my teacher was very enthusiastic about a college I’d never heard of in Waltham, Massachusetts.
The ratio of students at that time was seven guys to one girl. Very enticing to an 18 year old who didn’t have the far away future where you work every day for a living on her mind. I don’t know about other 18 years old but I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.
In the end, you never really know what an 18 year old is thinking. Back on those campus tours with my daughters, I fell in love with most of the schools. The amazing dining options. “Look, this campus has an Au Bon Pain.” The unlimited opportunities. “You can do a semester in the Galapagos majoring in urban ecology?” A lot of the time my daughters had already tuned out because the tour guide was too peppy and preppy. “I don’t think I’d like it here,” they would say.
In 1975, Bentley College was actively seeking women and Mr. Madison assured me a girl with a solid B average and good SAT scores could get a scholarship. A lightbulb switched on. This could be my ticket to that dormitory I was dreaming about. Never mind the fact my C’s were always in math. Accounting isn’t like calculus and trigonometry math. You use a calculator. To add and subtract.
It worked. A year at Bentley The College, including room and board, cost $8000 back then. I am told Bentley The University now costs over $50,000. (I know. Let’s not go there. I’ll let Elizabeth Warren tackle that problem.) I received a scholarship for $7000. I could save a thousand dollars in a summer working the day shift at Howdy Beef ‘n Burger and the night shift at a movie theater that played The Sound of Music for a solid year. My parents’ financial arguments fell apart. They could no longer deny me my dorm room. My mother and I started shopping for sheets and shower caddies, which back then were plastic beach pails with a handle because college shopping wasn’t the capitalistic opportunity it is now.
My senior year at Bentley my advisor told me if I took two more accounting classes, I would earn an Associates in Accounting along with my B.S. in Economics. “You’ll always be able to find a job,” she told me. “It will be something to fall back on.” We were in the middle of a recession in 1979, the year I graduated, so I took her advice and I fell back hard. I have worked in Accounting ever since, except for a four year blip when I sold speciality foods to Market Baskets throughout New England.
My advice to my daughters? Follow your passion. Major in what you like. And it is true, if you do what you love, the money will follow. This is why your father and I have no money.
Go to a university if you don’t know what you want to do with the rest of your life. Be well rounded. Be flexible. You will make mistakes but there’s always time to change the road you’re on.
Yesterday I got a friend request on Facebook from one of my old roommates at Bentley College Now The University. I hadn’t heard from her in years. She saw me in the alumni rag, then she Googled me. Because I am everywhere out there, she quickly found me. I was thrilled to hear from her. I was also excited I’d made the alumni newsletter but they never contacted me.
I checked the website and found my name on the page called Class Notes Spring/Summer 2014. It’s a long list spanning the years from 1959 through 2013. I scrolled past announcements of someone merging his accounting practice with someone else. A lot of people had been installed on the Board of Directors of something or other. A lot of people were clearly doing a lot better than me. But there I was, somewhere in the middle of the page, under the class of 1979.
Sheila (McGowan) Blanchette, Boynton Beach, Fla., published her second novel, Take Me Home, in January 2014. She is the author of The Reverse Commute.
No links to Amazon or my web page although I gave them that info. And my email, in case they wanted to do that interview or career change piece. I’m not sure how many Executive Directors, accounting partners and financial advisors are going to seek out and find my books. But my old roommate is now reading my blog, and I am happy to be reconnected with her after all these years.
In the meantime, it’s back to the drawing board. Marketing 101. Maybe I should have stuck with that major. But Twitter didn’t even exist back then.
Another piece of advice I give my daughters: Every thing you do is an experience that helps you grow. It makes you who you are, like that job at the movie theater. I started out as an usher, back when movie theaters had ushers. I watched The Sound of Music over one hundred times. Years later, when I was writing The Reverse Commute, scenes from the movie came back to me.
Sophie looked at her husband, eyes wide open, overwhelmed. “Quick, Ray. He’s got the keys. Pull the spark plugs or something.” Visibly angry, Ray was immobilized in the recliner. “Come on Ray, you’ve got to stop him. Disable the car, for Christ’s sake.”
They heard Jesse stomping down the stairs. He ran by them. “See ya. I won’t be too late. Thanks.” Jesse turned the corner, breezed past the farmer’s table, knocking some mail onto the floor as he headed out the door to the garage. Sophie got up and followed him. “You better not be getting high and driving. What about the bong I found on the deck? That is not your car, by the way.”
Meanwhile, Ray was moving slowly out of the recliner. Jesse had already hopped in the car and was backing out of the garage as Ray caught up to Sophie. They both stood watching their son pull out of the driveway, feeling helpless as the taillights disappeared into the warm summer evening. A fingernail moon left the night dark, despite the hundreds of stars blanketing the sky.
Sophie turned to Ray, extremely annoyed. “What on earth were you doing? How could you move so slowly ? The nuns in the Sound Of Music moved faster than you, for God’s sake.”
Then there was this:
She ran her hand through her hair, fluffing it up after the windy drive. She reached in her purse and reapplied lip gloss. Grabbing her suitcase and dress bag, she straightened her shoulders, feeling very much like Maria in The Sound of Music , arriving at the von Trapp’s house.
“Well, thanks for picking me up. I guess I will see you at the beach party tonight.”
She opened the gate and marched through the arbor, whistling . “I have confidence, yes I have confidence. No , I do not. But I will pretend I do.”
One of my favorite scenes was when Captain von Trapp was on the balcony with the Baroness and they noticed Maria wandering the gardens. The Baroness realizes Von Trapp doesn’t really love her and she turns to him and says, “Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun. Auf wiedersehen, darling.”
My accounting career ended in a cubicle in a dead end job doing the same tasks over and over for four years. Instead of slitting my wrists, I wrote a book. I did become an accountant but it doesn’t mean I have to be one forever.
***UPDATE: I wrote this last Friday morning. I’ve been holding this piece until Wednesday. Popular internet wisdom says that is a good day to post blogs. We’ve discussed this before. Since then I spoke to my roommate on the phone and have heard from another roommate. One of them has bought the book. This is the way it works-one book at a time.