Confessions Of An Accidental Businesswoman

By Sarah Kirby
The Norman Transcript, Okla.

When I enrolled at Cameron University, I had no aspirations of becoming an entrepreneur or studying the stock market.

As much as I wanted to please all the teachers I met as a wide-eyed freshman at a college preview event, I did not take a brochure from the “Business majors” table.

It happened 10 years ago and I still remember shaking my head and saying “I am NOT businesswoman material” to the gentleman whose name escapes me now. It’s a very distinct memory that I have.

But that was that. I hastened around the corner and struck up a conversation with Dr. Margery Kingsley, who was then the chair of the English and Foreign Language society, and who would teach several of my classes.

There were monthly poetry readings, she said. You could be a part of the Shakespeare Society, she said.

I was in. I declared English as my chosen field of study.

During my senior year, I signed up for a class called Literary Theory, which focused on the different ways we view language and how language has affected cultures across the world, including our own. My classmates and I were required to read essays from a ponderous textbook that cost more than $100 (used). That’s a Norton Anthology for you.

Most of my friends and fellow English majors loathed this class and were not certain we were learning anything we would value later in our lives. Each assignment was challenging in complexity and required a great deal of critical thought.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t love the class. It was like reading the story of how our stories came into fruition — how the most rudimentary manuscripts came to be and how the gatekeepers of the written word protected their longevity.

What comes next? Will future generations still communicate via texting and social media messages? Will they commend or question the succinct-but-sweet economy of our 140-character limits for a Tweet? What is a Tweet, and why was it ever a thing? Only time will tell.

If they feel the way I do about the critiques I read in class, then maybe the answers will lie in between appreciation and embarrassment.

When I think of the history of language, I think of the French theorist Roland Barthes. In “The Death of the Author,” Barthes described the entire corpus of written work as “a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centers of culture.” I carry this phrase with me in my current position as journalist and as a writer, examining my own work for expressions that have lingered with me long after a book has been read or a conversation has ended. I’ve picked up a lot through language.

My continued experience as a reporter for The Norman Transcript has been no exception. In fact, it has necessitated the frequent use of another vocabulary, one I once wanted to avoid and had hoped would remain foreign.

Yes, you guessed it: it’s the vernacular of business professionals.

Isn’t it ironic? In the year since Executive Editor Andy Rieger gave me my first shot as a business reporter, I have gone from knowing nothing at all about finances to throwing phrases around like “fiduciary and fee-only services” around with confidence.

Like Barthes said, every language and its infinite threads can be traced back and back — business included. Everything we say is part of a dazzling tapestry.

It’s high time I was awarded that honorary degree in business. I’m joking, of course, but in my year since working here as a reporter I’ve learned enough to survive while stranded at a networking event. When at the Chamber of Commerce, I suppose you do as the board does and just get to know the people sitting at your table.

But here are a few pointers, just in case:

–Etiquette in e-mails and polite conversation is a must. Use exclamation points only when the recipient does. Avoid using Comic Sans as a font at all times.

–Keep a cocktail dress in your closet for social functions. Business people still like to party and professional appearance is a form of courtesy.

–Remember that even if you are holding your audio recorder in the air, proceed with caution if you decide to quote the Chamber President and CEO as saying he “milked” a member of his staff. I’m sorry, John.

Here’s to getting to know more people and telling their stories.

Kindest regards,
Your business reporter,
Sarah Kirby

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