Reading John Dos Passos’ novel Three Soldiers, I came across two quotes that, at first, seem unrelated (in both concept and the context of the book). However, given the right twist, they speak to different aspects of the profession of internal audit and of pursuing the role of professional internal auditor. (Actually, they have relevance to anyone who is trying to achieve something, but let’s stick with the internal audit spin, shall we?) Here are the quotes:
“There’s only one real evil in the world: being somewhere without being able to get away.”
“What is the use of being fond of music if you aren’t willing to mangle it for the sake of producing it?”
Let me start by putting some context around the quotes. Three Soldiers was written shortly after the end of the First World War and, since it was an anti-war novel, was not favorably received, partially because of how well it shows the impact of war on the individuals who wage it. The first quote comes from one of the soldiers shortly after the armistice, but before the soldiers are allowed to return home. All they want is to leave the drudgery of army life in a foreign land where they have been involved in a soul-crushing war. And they want away from their memories. Hence, the only real evil in the world is to have no escape. The second quote is from one of the soldiers, still in the same limbo, but starting to connect with his old life of writing and playing music.
Here’s what the two quotes have to do with internal audit. First, do not let yourself be trapped in a loveless job. Second, be willing to take that job you love and attack it with ferocity.
To the first quote: I have met far too many auditors (one would be too many) who, while perhaps not expressing it out loud, are far too obvious about their dislike for their chosen profession. They bear the weight of that profession like Atlas trying to shrug off the weight of the world. That is, they just ain’t happy with their lot in life. And yet, they seem to feel they are trapped – as if they have always been internal auditors and there is no hope they will ever be anything but internal auditors. And the worst part - they see that as a death sentence.
On the other hand, there are many of us who genuinely like this profession and, when offered a chance “out”, run the other way. There are a number of us who chose or were chosen or were called or accidently fell into internal audit who couldn’t be happier with the various happenstances that allowed our lives to take this turn.
And so, lesson/speech/admonition the first. If you are in the first group, if you feel you are “somewhere without being able to get away”, then get out. Do it for yourself…and do it for the profession. There is no greater crime than to be trapped doing something you do not like to do. I am not going to spend this time trying to convince you that internal audit is more than an honorable profession; I am not going to spend this time trying to convince you that internal audit is an important and (done right) fun profession. Such proselytizing, when the proselytizee is in no mindset for listening, seldom works. So instead, here is my sermon to you. For your peace of mind (and for the success of the profession), find something you like to do and go do it.
To the second quote: For those of us who actually like what we are doing; for those of us who believe internal audit is a hell of a lot of fun, for those of us who thank whoever or whatever we feel is the appropriate object of our thanks every night before we climb under our official IIA bed/worksheets, it is time to “mangle” the profession.
The first lesson from this is that, if you are to truly learn an art you love (and, no matter what you may be told, internal audit is as much art as it is science) then you must jump in without fear – without fear of failure, without fear of what others will say, and without fear of mangling the thing you love (for it will survive your mangling).
And the second lesson is for those of us who think we already know it all. That lesson is to take everything we think we know – everything we think makes us the “experts” – and mangle it. I have said it before, I will say it again – internal audit’s biggest struggle is to keep from succumbing to the status quo. And part of its successful future lies with our ability to “mangle”. Whether we are new or seasoned, whether we know what we are doing or not, whether we’ve got a clue or not, we have to be willing to go in and tramp all over some of our conventions so we can learn what the new conventions of success will be.
Two quotes that are different, and yet speak to the same thing. Love what you do. If you do not love what you do, then find something you love. And, if you really love what you do, be willing to attack it with vigor to make it (and you) something greater.