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Mind of Jacka: Quotes and the Stories They Tell

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Sep 14, 2022

For those of you who follow me on LinkedIn, you may have noticed a recent poll. It was not the typical internal audit poll regarding things like new risks, uses of RPA, how to get through the ethics part of the CPA exam, or the top tips for ensuring you make it to retirement. No, four quotes were listed, and I asked everyone to pick their favorite.

I'll share the results in a bit. But first, some background.

One of the few good things that resulted from the pandemic (and there are not a lot of them) has been reconnecting with friends. This happened with a group of us who worked together over the years but are now scattered across the U.S. We started getting together for Zoom calls and have continued the meetings, now calling ourselves the Risky Audit Group and our meetings RAGtime. (Yes, we think we're hilarious.)

Prior to our most recent meeting, we assigned ourselves homework. Each of us was to show up with three quotes — favorites, ones that were top-of-mind, any three quotes we wanted to share. We presented our quotes and had rather robust discussions about each. We then selected the quote we liked best, from each person. The final four were then posted as a poll on LinkedIn and voting ensued. For those of you who participated, thank you for your votes and your comments. The results were pretty interesting. So, following are the quotes, from least to most popular, and some additional comments.

"When I was growing up, I wanted to be someone. Now, I realize I should have been more specific." – Lily Tomlin

I am quite depressed that this came in last with only 11% of the votes. Depressed because it is a good quote, depressed because it is a funny quote, depressed because it is a quote from the great comedian Lily Tomlin, and depressed because it was mine.

Getting past that depression, let's talk about what this quote might say to internal auditors. Show of hands, how many of you went to college to become internal auditors? Okay, I see a few hands out there, but almost all of us (I'll make up a number: over 90%) fell into the profession from another career.

We all took different paths in getting to this profession. And, once we found it, we realized the profession was important; we realized we wanted to be a part of it. In other words, we aren't stuck in this profession because we invested time/money/college tuition/etc. getting here. We stick with it because we like it, we feel fulfilled by the work, and we think it is important. (If these are not the reasons you are here, please check with the guidance counselors at the door.) Which brings up another point. Why is it so few of us even knew such a career existed? Yes, there are universities that have internal audit courses, and there are universities that offer internal audit specialization. But not many. Also, why is internal audit buried under schools of accounting? Why isn't internal audit a separate discipline within the college of business? This may exist in some places, but I've never heard of it. And, until we can pull ourselves out from under the stereotypes engendered by such structures, we will continue to be a profession that people don't know is the something they want to be when they grow up.

There was a tie for second place, both at 18%. The quote that was in third place until a final surge of votes was:

"Don't make fun of your wife's choices, 'cause you're one of 'em" – Anonymous

Another funny line. And one that fits in with the previous quote. Once again, it reminds us to reflect on how we wound up in this profession, specifically, making the choice to join and stay in the profession. If we are not happy with the profession, it is not the profession's fault. It is ours for making the choice. (Again, the counselors are at the doors.)

But here's another thought, this time regarding the various bosses from hell we've all experienced. Remember, when you are disparaging your boss, you are often disparaging the person who thought you were the right one for the job. You're one of your boss's choices.

The person who hired me into Farmers Insurance Accounting had a lot of problems. I quickly realized I was not working for the swiftest ripple in the current. However, I also knew the main reason I was hired. I was not hired for my genius, my eloquence, or my superiority. No, I was hired because the accounting supervisor wanted an accountant who was as tall as the internal auditors. I was hired for my height. That is a humbling realization. And, while I later worked for excellent people who chose me because of my skills, I had no illusions about my abilities when I became that lowly accountant.

The other quote that tied for second place:

"You're only one choice away from a totally different life." – Unknown

Kind of interesting that the tie was between a funny quote and an insightful one. Not sure what that means. But, just like the beginning of any audit, you gather information and look for the "interesting" stuff. Also, there is a parallel between these two, and maybe that is why they wound up tied. They are both about choice. In this instance, the impact of choices on each person's future. And the impact small, seemingly innocent choices can have.

If I hadn't walked up to the bar at the Rusty Nail Steakhouse between my band's sets, I wouldn't have struck up a conversation with the cute young lady with whom I have been married to for almost 40 years. If I hadn't applied for the internal audit job at Farmers Insurance when I was working in accounting, I might now be a retired, green-eyeshader. And if I hadn't submitted a (rejected) article to Internal Auditor magazine in the '90s, I might not be writing this blog. (You can make your own decision if that is a good or bad thing.) It reminds me of another quote: "No coincidence; no story."

But the real resonance for me with this quote is the work I did in fraud investigations. So many small choices people made that eventually destroyed their careers. When you do fraud work, you can find yourself going one of two directions. You can either start feeling superior to the wretches who are apparently too stupid to be honest, or you can recognize that, "There but for the grace of God, go I." I have seen auditors fall into the trap of believing they are better than those they are investigating. And it negatively impacts the work, the person, and the profession. It is the humanity and humility of the second approach that leads to becoming a good fraud investigator, a good internal auditor, and a better human being. It is the ability to understand that we are all just one decision from a different life.

And finally, our winner, with a whopping 54% of the votes:

"Life is too short to wake up in the morning with regrets. So, love the people who treat you right. Forgive the ones that don't. And believe everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance — take it. If it changes your life let it. Nobody said it would be easy. They just promised it would be worth it." – Dr. Seuss

If I may have the hubris to shorten the incredible words of Mr. Dr. Seuss, "No regrets; it's all worth it."

One of the things I constantly preach is that internal auditors must be creative and innovative — the need for internal auditors to step forward and experiment, to try things without fear, to lead rather than follow. And that means moving forward with no regrets. Mistakes happen; accept them and grow. "If you get a chance — take it." And I'll add, make your chances. (Refer again to the quotes about choices.) Opportunities and chance may change your life. They may not. But if you approach them with belief and knowledge, they will seldom cause destruction. Change is not easy; innovation is not easy. But the jump into something new is worth it.

So, there you have it. The quotes, the votes, and some random thoughts that, with a little effort, show how each quote relates to internal audit. Because that is the final message in all this.

People seem to enjoy quotes. And the very best quotes are those that express, in very few words, new insights. The four quotes under discussion do just that. And, as I hope I've shown, they also speak to how we do our work in internal audit.

When the four of us involved in this project presented our quotes, we had some interesting discussions about what they meant to our personal and professional lives. We learned about ourselves, and we learned about each other. Accordingly, I suggest getting a few people together and trying this yourself. Gather some friends, co-workers, etc. and have a little "What are some of your favorite quotes?" contest. I think you'll find that, while you'll learn some good quotes, the discussions will help you learn a little more about yourself and your friends.

And now, a bit of lagniappe that will make this far-too-long post even longer. I mentioned that each of us involved in this little experiment presented three quotes. Following are the ones that didn't make the cut. Are they any good? We thought so; I hope you can see why we had trouble culling it down to four. What do they have to do with internal audit? Well, I'll leave that one up to you. Because that is part of the game here. Find the quotes, use the quotes to better understand ourselves, and then adapt them to our lives and our profession — to change us for the better in all aspects of our lives.

"Nothing is absolute, everything changes, everything moves, everything evolves, everything flies and goes away." – Frida Kahlo

"I always take life with a grain of salt, plus a slice of lime and a shot of tequila." – Anonymous

"There is no such thing as belief without doubt or struggle." – Unknown

"Egg salad is still chicken salad when you think about it." – Unknown

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" – Keynes

"Bad processes kill good people." – Unknown

"Work for a cause, not for applause." – Anonymous

"'I had no choice' means I only had one path that was easy at the moment." – Seth Godin

Have fun.

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

Co-founder and Chief Creative Pilot, Flying Pig Audit, Consulting, and Training Services (FPACTS), based in Phoenix.


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