the gray

I love black and white. It’s the gray I’m not such a big fan of.

In the accounting world, many mistakes are black and white. An incorrect equation, excel formula gone awry or just a simple math error. The shades of gray come in the form of interpretation of rules and pronouncements, which can vary greatly, often making two different answers “correct”. One may be “more correct” than another, but argue each effectively, and there you have it – two correct, through vastly different, answers.

I appreciate the black and white. It comes with a straight forward, finite solution. The analysis is objective, so when a mistake is found, it’s a bit easier to swallow that, yeah, I messed up. The gray keeps things interesting, but admitting you were wrong comes with far more frustration. The very fact that the gray areas require subjective analysis means that someone else is deeming whether your work is worthy.

In the bigger picture of life, mistakes shape who we are. We are constantly surrounded by shades of gray. Whether society views your actions as mistakes or you do, the stigma remains. The next time, perhaps you approach things more carefully, or try to avoid risky situations altogether. Live and learn, right? Car accidents lead to a driver slowing down a bit, checking blind spots more carefully, giving more notice to approaching traffic that, ‘Yes, I am breaking now. Please prepare to stop.’

In the professional world, performance reviews are an objective way to evaluate mistakes and learn from them. And, interestingly, it seems you learn the most from the bad reviews. The ones where you’ve messed up. The good reviews don’t give you much insight in to your areas of improvement. The negative aspect of reviews (or “constructive criticism” as the more politically correct would refer to it) is what sticks in your head. Whether you agree or not, someone judged you and found you lacking. It doesn’t matter if ninety percent of your review was phenomenal, you focus on that ten percent where you could have done better. The sad thing is, the reviewer most likely focuses on the bad as well. Think of an employee from the past; one you’ve given both good and “constructive” reviews to, and tell me, what do you remember of them? Their stellar work? Or the fact that they took advantage of office leniency by coming in late, taking long lunches and spending too much time on personal phone calls? As much as they may have offset the “bad” behavior, that’s what sticks with you. That’s what gave you headache. That’s what gave you stress.

Maybe we’re designed to retain the bad feelings as a sort of safety mechanism for ourselves. Or maybe we’re just better at holding grudges than subscribing to a “forgive and forget” mentality. Either way, it’s probably not going to change any time soon.

Isn’t it crazy how I can find an accounting or work analogy to relate to any part of life? I definitely need to get back to work. :)


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Mom to "C", wife to Ben. I'm a part-time blogger, cook, organizer, seamstress, house cleaner, taxi, nurse (the mom kind), accountant... I could go on, but really... it's all in the blog. Read away!

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