Here’s an interesting question for you. If you could not say what you do for a living or where you come from, how would you describe yourself to a stranger?
Suppose you are attending an event and you are introduced to someone outside of your normal circle of acquaintances. These conversations often start with “What do you do?” or something like that. I think we are all guilty of hiding behind our occupations. The trouble is that as soon as you say you are an accountant, there is a pause as though you had just admitted to being a tax inspector. I did hear of an accountant many years ago who habitually said he was a test pilot.
So, does your occupation and your origin define you? Do you identify with that stereotype? Is your own personal brand built up from what you do rather than who you are?
The Census asks where you are from. What do I answer? I was born in England in a family that as far back as we can see, was English. However, I went to university in Scotland and have spent all but 5 years of my working life in Scotland. My wife is Orcadian, and my children all identify as Scottish. So what am I? The answer seems to be that I am English.
I think that what this tells me is that questions like where you are from, are outdated and irrelevant.
Several years ago one of my clients was having his tax affairs reviewed by a tax inspector. I had spoken to this inspector many times. He had a broad Glaswegian accent. When we met for the first time in person, he was obviously from an Asian background. My view of this Glaswegian was that he was one of the most sensible and practical tax inspectors I had come across. Did that change when I met him face to face?
Another client sold a successful business many years ago. He told me after the event that one of the hardest things about this was the fact that he could no longer describe himself as a director of that company. This was a company that was well known in the local community, and he was one of the founders. Did he feel that this relationship with his company in some way defined him? He had lost something very close, and he was suffering the loss. I have heard this feeling of loss described as bereavement.
How do you stop being a human doing and become a human being? That is a bit too deep for me to answer and I suspect many people have written numerous books on the subject. I shall leave you to consider that question.
So, in future how should I describe myself? I could say that we help small business owners to navigate the choppy and treacherous business waters, or perhaps that we help small business owners to build better businesses, generate more wealth for themselves and their families and pay less tax. But these are still “doings”.
Alternatively, I could say that Helen and I have worked together now for 34 years and have been a couple for 30 years. I could say that we have both been married before and have 7 children, 4 of mine and 3 of hers, and that we have lived in our current home for 28 years. I have enjoyed sailing, riding and archery. I could say that Helen and I have been equal business partners for the last 21 years. I describe her as our finance director, a role that suits her perfectly. We have grown our business over the years so that we currently employ around 27 staff and operate out of 4 offices. I am not describing us as accountants, but am I guilty of still being a human doing?
I think it must just be a human condition that makes us want to pigeonhole people and add some sort of simple label. At the end of the day is there any way of easily getting away from this. I have my doubts.
So, for the moment, I am a tax accountant, living and working in the North of Scotland, helping small business owners make more profits and keep more by paying less tax. I suspect I will always be an accountant, even when I am not! Does that define me in some way? Probably, but does it matter?
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Alan E Long
The Long Partnership