Accounting for Oneself

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, March 4, 2007


We're going around the seminar table pitching project ideas. These are advanced seniors, talented liberal arts majors who take their work seriously. One says he wants to write about his life as a young, African American preacher. Another wants to explore why in the world his Chinese mother taught him to lie about being half-Chinese. Another has gained access to rare, personal files of long-deceased steelworkers, and wants to re-create stories of the Industrial Revolution.

I'm excited. I tell them these are essays I would love to read. I turn to Ashley, whose turn is next.

"I want to write about why I'm switching my major to accounting," she says.

Silence. The room grows hot. "Well, then," I say, trying to soak up the awkwardness.

Ben helps: "Oh, I get it!" he says. "This would be, like, a satire?"

Ashley smiles, shakes her head. "No, I'm serious," she says. "I've decided to switch my major."

Nothing wrong with that, of course. "College is a time for exploration," I say, stupidly.

"But isn't accounting something most people switch out of?" one student offers.

Interesting point. And certainly the way we liberal arts majors are trained (defensively?) to see the world: Why would anybody "study" business? The story of the opposite journey is, at least, the more romantic: the business major who turns out to be a closeted poet or painter and who finds the courage to bust loose and follow her muse, much to the chagrin of practically minded parents. But to go the other way? It's just not a story you often hear among liberal arts majors.

"This has to do with some parental intervention?" I ask Ashley, trying not to pry but needing to pry. I've always felt grateful to my own parents for not forcing me to take the practical route, but instead allowing for the follow-your-bliss method of career planning. Sometimes I feel a duty to allow that message to at least squeak forth.

"My parents?" Ashley says. "No. I just have finally found what I love. I love accounting! Especially now that we are doing tax returns."

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