Taxing Times

I do so hate to be a negative Nelly but every now and then too many things conspire to send me over the edge. Once I start to slide down the slippery slope of sarcasm into the abyss of apathy, I lose all authority over my little slice of nice.

I spend a great deal of my waking hours in the nice business.  People can make ridiculous demands, ask ludicrous questions, and insult me on every level and yet my job is to make them feel welcome, wise, and worthy.

So surely I expect the same courtesy from others when I have the occasional lapse into unconsciousness and behave like a buffoon or the uninformed citizen I sometimes am.  Imagine my outrage when I am treated with the disrespect and hostility I am never allowed to show in my line of work!

By this stage of the game, I know life is not fair.  Like Eleonor Roosevelt, I know “no one can make me feel inferior without my consent.”  It just surprises me that others can be so obtuse and not realize when they are violating a code of conduct that dictates basic human decency.

I’ve spent my whole life preparing for my current job.  Years of spiritual training wandering in the desert and soaking in the silence and solitude of sacred spaces has prepped me for handling the daily onslaught of demands, conundrums, and outright perplexities that present themselves in the form of other people.

But nothing ever quite prepares me for tax time.  Call it a numbers block.  Tell me what we resist, persists.  Encourage me to just do it.  Suggest to me that creative types can’t be expected to balance a budget.

I don’t know what it is about facing the spreadsheet that makes me so crazy.  Every year I ultimately do it.  I account for all my income and expenses and then write a check to the US Treasury, the State of Illinois, and the State of Iowa. I’m an equal opportunity tax payer.

It isn’t that I resent paying taxes.   (Unless I think of  former Illinois Governor Blagojevich, who violated taxpayers’ trust.) All I have to do is recall the many freedoms I enjoy or one person I know who is serving our country and imagine my money contributing to his or her salary and I’m okay to pay.  The problem for me lies in the preparation.

Like counting calories consumed, counting money spent is not nearly as pleasurable after the fact.  I tend to underestimate on both accounts. Even more humbling is sharing this information with someone who has no interest in the reasons, only the results. 

Just as a person trainer might suggest I eat less pasta and do more Pilates, tax preparers tend to suggest I spend less on shoes and earn more in royalties.  Admittedly, $33.84 per year is not a substantial second income.

But here is where I will circle back to my original rant about being treated with respect. When I expose my financial faux pas or coup d’états to a tax professional, I do not care to be bludgeoned by them.  As long as I can remember I’ve promised one preparer or another that I will make more and spend less, or on the odd year, make less and spend more, or do any number of things to improve my financial fitness according to the accountant.

I’m sure tax people can sum up a person by their financials as easily as I might sum up a student’s success rate by looking at their ACT or Compass scores.  It’s easier to process large numbers of people and paperwork by labeling or categorizing them.  But one thing I’ve learned from working with students is these scores only tell part of their story.  The only chance I have to hear the rest of it is to treat them respectfully enough to allow it to emerge.

What happened in the tax preparer’s office this week was not pretty.  I wanted to find someone local in hopes of forging an ongoing relationship with a trusted advisor.  What I didn’t expect was to be badgered, belittled, and bullied by this person. 
At a certain point I sensed the conversation – okay the lecture – was not going in the direction I had imagined.   I knew I had the option of asking for my paperwork back and finding someone else to prepare my taxes.  It was then that my good girl training kicked in and assured me that while it may have assuaged the insult to my ego, it wouldn’t get me any closer to filing my taxes.  Time was of the essence and I didn’t want my behavior to have any residual fallout on the friend who referred me.  
My best option seemed to be to bite the bullet and make a different choice next year. 

So I did what I always do when I need perspective.  I surrounded myself with my canine companions and asked them what might really be contributing to my tax time meltdown.  They suggested the following:

#1)  It’s not just the taxes.  It’s the trivial pursuit of dealing with every taxing thing on a daily basis.

#2)  You expect people to be as nice to you when they do their jobs as you are to them when you do yours.

#3)  #2 is an unrealistic expectation.  People, unlike dogs, do not love unconditionally or act rationally.

#4)  The pen is mightier than the sword.  Blog about it.  Maybe other people feel the same way,  have similar issues, or can offer helpful suggestions?

#5)  Tell your story and then, by all means, let it go and take us for a walk.  Don’t forget the treats.

So, there you have it.  From the jaws of canines, the truth emerges. 

Actually my biggest take away from this taxing experience was a reminder of why I strive to offer excellent customer service, especially when it is difficult and I’m being a negative Nelly.  I never want a student to walk out of my office feeling the way I felt when I walked out of the accountant’s office. 

I can’t change the way he does business, but I can remember how I do business.

What about you?  What do you practice even when it’s absurdly difficult because it’s incredibly important?

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