The Bookstore That Got Me Out of Accounting

Writers can’t stop talking about bookstores, and I am no exception. Today I am writing this in the downtown Denver location of The Tattered Cover Bookstore. The very same bookstore that I passed every weekday morning on my walk from Union Station to a corporate job. Stopping in at the bookstore before work was my nod to arts and creativity, a chance to breathe before the day rushed in. On paydays, I bought a stack of two or three books as my reward for keeping myself emotionally together in a work environment that caused me great stress and anxiety.

If I had 10 or 15 minutes to spare, I went through the heavy wooden doors on the east side. A quarter of an hour to put off the crushing responsibility I felt at my desk for babysitting the money of rich people. Reading gave me escape routes from work and family stress, but it also kept me in mind of those first thoughts of writing for a living. It took bravery to put that dream to rest while I gathered confidence and experience. Then it took another turn of bravery to quit the corporate world and get to work writing.

One Friday, I bought a beautiful copy of Emma (Austen) and the 50th-anniversary edition of The Master and Margarita (Bulgakov) with the art nouveau cover. I lugged them to the cubicle quad that I shared with Sales. They stayed on my desk for the day. Reminders that I was made of more than balance sheets, payroll deadlines, and catching the train.

I remember other just-bought books on my desk serving as talismans to keep my soul from being eaten up by finance. A few lines from Cat’s Eye (Atwood) sustained me through the headache of payroll. An essay from the Best American Science Writing collection kept me sane while deciphering an account that had not been maintained for two months when the accounting manager left. Caitlin Doughty’s essays about searching for the Good Death gave me perspective and watered the seeds of doubt that I had about continuing another decade of the work I was doing.

The bookstore on the corner of 16th Street and Wynkoop provided a testament to the life available to an artist. A testament that I needed desperately at the time. I still visit the Tattered Cover, still browse the shelves. Sometimes for 20 minutes, sometimes hours. And in those visits, I appreciate all over again what a bookstore can mean to someone who is looking for a sign.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Everyone has a rock star dream. For some, the dream is to work at a prestigious institution whether academic, scientific, artistic, or corporate. The dream might be owning your own business or being your own boss. For others, the dream could be living in an exotic country, in a city far removed from anything familiar. Perhaps the house itself is the dream in the form of a houseboat, a tiny house, an old farmhouse that needs renovation, or a recreational vehicle and a nomadic lifestyle.

Only last year, I dreamed of becoming a full-fledged CPA and globetrotting accountant, but I broke up with that dream in January 2018. So why did I leave that dream in the dust despite a good company with upward momentum and a strong network?

Dreams change.

I moved into my dream and began to follow the steps to make it happen. I was well connected and had clear indication from peers and superiors that my career would fall into line. Their only question was where would I like to live and work next? But making dreams into reality causes some strange shifts. It doesn’t feel the way you expected on the inside. Like a fancy dress with netting in the skirt, the romantic look of it masks the reality of yards of scratchy netting next to skin.

I did not want the dream anymore. The dream made me feel that I was leasing my life from my job. The dream required a two-hour daily commute. The dream meant that when I had time with my children, they saw a woman who was irritated and always tired. The dream severely limited my social life and strained my relationship with my wife. The day the dream became untenable was the day I realized that the next promotion would mean even more hours and even more stress. The promotion was only six months away, but I was already at my breaking point. It had to stop.

Unfortunately, realizing that it’s not working is not the same thing as breaking up. It took me three months to fully see that this dream was incompatible with who I was and who I wanted to be. I thought I had failed the dream, forgetting that dreams should be tailored to the dreamer and not the other way around. When dreams change, it’s okay to mourn a little, kick the dust, and give the limp, worn out dream one more embrace.

If the dream isn’t for you anymore, it doesn’t matter how shiny it is—put it down and walk away. You will find that you are full of dreams and breaking up with the wrong ones will bring those other possibilities to the surface. You will be able to walk through other doorways, down other avenues, unencumbered.

And your mind won’t itch the way it did before.