Episode 219 – Kristen DiFolco

Kristen is a Consultant & Singer

Kristen also considers herself a ‘recovering CPA’, having spent 10+ years in public accounting. Around the same time she got back into singing, Kristen started Viaggio Partners, a remote staffing company focused specifically on connecting accountants with fulfilling remote career opportunities, while helping CPA firms address their work compression and talent acquisition and retention challenges.

Kristen talks about rediscovering her passion for singing and how her confidence as a person and a professional grew along with her confidence as a singer!

Episode Highlights

Getting into singing
• Gaining confidence in singing and other aspects of her life
• Taking classes in singing and getting back into it
• How singing re-energizes her
• Talking about singing in the office
• John’s go-to karaoke song
• The moment she started labeling herself as a singer
• Her previous passion in wine

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    Welcome to Episode 219 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett. Each Wednesday I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. To put it another way, it’s encouraging people to find their and, like they’re an accountant and a cyclist or a lawyer and a painter or a consultant and a musician, you pick whatever the and is. It’s those things that are above and beyond your technical skills that actually differentiate you at work.

    I’m so excited to let everyone know that my book is being published in just a little bit and will be available on Amazon and a few other websites. So check out whatsyourand.com for all the details. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s listening to the show, sharing it with everyone, and changing the cultures where they work because of it. Please forget to hit Subscribe so you don’t miss any of the future episodes every Wednesday and also with Follow-Up Fridays now because I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week.

    This week is no different with my guest, Kristen DiFolco. She’s the founder and CEO of Viaggio Partners. She started that after spending several years in public accounting, and now she’s with me here today.

    Kristen, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?

    Kristen: Thanks so much for having me, John.

    John: Oh, this is going to be so much fun. You got your espresso ready to go?

    Kristen: Oh, I totally do.

    John: We’re rolling. So this is going to be so fun. But before we get into the really fun stuff, I have my rapid-fire questions right out of the gate. So we’re going to get to know Kristen on a new level here. So here we go. First one, if you had to choose, Harry Potter or Game of Thrones?

    Kristen: Game of Thrones, all the way.

    John: Oh, okay. All right. On your computer, more PC or a Mac?

    Kristen: Mac.

    John: Oh, really? Okay, you’re one of the cool kids. All right. I cannot relate. I don’t know how that works. How about a favorite ice cream flavor?

    Kristen: Ooh, mint chocolate chip.

    John: Oh, yeah, solid answer. Solid answer. Going back to your accounting days, balance sheet or income statement?

    Kristen: Oh, I totally want to steal from Rachel here and say trial balance, but I will go with balance sheet.

    John: There you go. There you go. You can have your trial balance. That’s fine. That’s fine. Yeah, you need all of it. Do you prefer more hot or cold?

    Kristen: Hot.

    John: Hot, okay. Do you have a favorite number?

    Kristen: Nineteen.

    John: Oh, wow, why is that?

    Kristen: I don’t know. It’s just the number that’s kind of always popped up in my life, throughout my life.

    John: It is, look at that.

    Kristen: I didn’t know that until you’ve mentioned it.

    John: You are freaking me out right now, like totally. Holy cow! Heebie Jeebies everywhere. Okay, let’s get back to normal, favorite adult beverage.

    Kristen: Adult beverage, wine, red wine.

    John: Red wine. There you go, all right, espresso would have counted too, but red wine in the espresso.

    Kristen: Exactly. Stuck in wine all the time.

    John: Yeah. How about a favorite band or musician?

    Kristen: Zac Brown.

    John: Oh, nice, okay, okay. This is an important one, toilet paper, roll over or under?

    Kristen: It never made a difference to me until I lived with someone who liked it over, and now I am trained even though I don’t live with that person anymore, to put it over.

    John: That person was right. I’m just kidding. How about puzzles, Sudoku or crossword?

    Kristen: Probably, Sudoku.

    John: Okay. How about pens or pencils?

    Kristen: Pens.

    John: Pens, no mistakes. Nice. Do you have a favorite color?

    Kristen: Purple.

    John: Oh, nice. Okay, how about a least favorite color?

    Kristen: Pink.

    John: Interesting. Very interesting. Cats or dogs?

    Kristen: Dogs.

    John: Favorite actor or actress?

    Kristen: Tom Hanks.

    John: Ah, solid answer. Solid answer. Diamonds or pearls?

    Kristen: Diamonds.

    John: I feel like there was twinkling in your eyes when you said that. And the last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?

    Kristen: My uncle’s record collection.

    John: Ah, very cool. About how many records are in that?

    Kristen: We kind of sifted through the stuff that I didn’t really want anymore, but I probably have a good like 20, 25 from like 30 or so years ago. Actually, those are like back east with my family stored for me. The ones I have with me, my sister actually went on Pinterest and figured out how to melt records down and shape them. So I have these two cool like butterfly cutouts of each of his records in my room.

    John: Oh, wow. That’s awesome.

    Kristen: So those are probably the coolest thing I own. Oh, yeah, really, yes, she did that for me for Christmas one year and they’re really special.

    John: That’s really awesome and so unique as well. Plus, it means something. It’s not just record. Really awesome and actually how did dovetails perfectly into your passion with singing. Is this something that you’ve been doing since you were little?

    Kristen: Not really. What’s really strange is I’ve actually — my sister and I always say, this is totally just coming back to me as I’m telling you this, total free flow, but we thank so much that we literally had a rule at the dinner table, no singing at the table.

    John: That’s funny.

    Kristen: It was ridiculous. I don’t remember ever singing that much that it was a problem, but apparently we weren’t allowed to sing at the dinner table. So yes, I’ve been singing all my life but never really got into it seriously until high school. I played piano, xylophone, drums, clarinet, but I got into singing in high school, did it for four years and loved it. And then it kind of went dormant when I went to college. I always said I wanted to pick it back up when I got out of school and started in public accounting but never had the time and never made time for it, and it really got lost. After 13 years, I finally picked it back up again and went back to just part-time college just taking classes to kind of get comfortable doing it again. It’s just reignited the passion inside me. So it’s really cool to have it back and be part of my life.

    John: That’s really powerful actually, just hearing that. So is there a difference from the Kristen that was just out of school in public accounting and not singing and the Kristen now?

    Kristen: There’s so much. It’s ridiculous. I’ll spare you all of the details. I was also young then, so I was still kind of figuring myself out. I’m totally going to reference what you said on your 200th episode now is I felt that I kind of had to leave parts of myself outside the office because that’s what you’re trying to do. You come into the corporate setting, and they literally teach you professionalism. I remember sitting there and somebody presenting slides on how to dress, what to wear, what was okay, what wasn’t okay. So that piece of self-expression just kind of gets lost. What I found is that I feel like it gets lost in different ways, and it’s not necessarily just in how you self-express through clothing but also through your voice.

    So that’s what I’ve been finding is just as I’ve become more confident with my voice singing, I’ve also become more confident speaking, sharing my opinion. I have my own company now, but it’s clearly super casual. It’s completely remote. I do not even own a business suit anymore. I’m super proud of that.

    John: That’s awesome. But that is interesting how you said how places inadvertently are trying to do the right thing, but they’re creating some really bad culture because of that in the way you said that of just self-expression is lost, and then it’s just a bunch of drones. It’s sad because there’s a lot of talents and a lot of skill there, you being Exhibit A, that people aren’t able to really harness —

    Kristen: Exactly.

    John: — because of that. That’s interesting. So you went back to school to reignite the — because you were like, “Hey, if I’m going to do the singing, it’s not just a karaoke. I’m going to be good, and we’re going to do this.” Is that pretty much what you were thinking?

    Kristen: Honestly, it was so out of it. When I sang in high school, it was always in choir. So this was kind of an exercise to find my own voice and sing solo. So that’s what I did. I took a couple classes. I took my third class this past spring because I was only taking one class a semester. It was totally just for fun. And the first one, I was like, I’m just going take this intro class just to get comfortable singing in front of people and that was it. I was like, I have to take every single class there is. So I just took the performance class this past semester. So it culminated in a performance at the end of the semester which was really cool.

    John: Oh, that’s great.

    Kristen: Yeah, yeah. So I’m getting there. I have a friend that I met in class who weirdly has the same birthday as me, and he plays guitar. So we perform together. We did our song together at the end of the class. So many friends have said, “Oh, you guys should totally do do this on the side.” And we’re like, “No.” We actually decided that — he’s traveling now, but when he gets back, we’re going to do an open mic night somewhere and kind of see where it goes.

    John: That’s fantastic because even if it doesn’t go to multi-platinum records, who cares, right?

    Kristen: Exactly. Yeah. For me, it’s just a way to express myself. Even when I’m having a bad day, I’m big into meditating, but on top of meditating and working out, singing is the one thing that always gives me energy. It just puts me in the right mindset. I don’t think I’ll ever not have it. Now that I found it again, I’ll never ever lose it.

    John: That’s really huge. And it’s so great that you remembered it and that you went back to it. Just to hear the energy that you’re getting from doing it and the happiness and the contentment and the confidence, that’s huge. That’s so huge.

    Kristen: Thank you.

    John: Oh, you’re welcome. Absolutely. Was that show your coolest, most rewarding type of story from your singing besides not being allowed to at the dinner table growing up?

    Kristen: One step further, I guess, that we took with it and it didn’t go anywhere, not that I expected it too, but it was pretty cool. The song that we did was a really obscure song. I mentioned Zac Brown was my favorite songwriter. It’s actually a duet that he did with another woman. Really only diehard Zac fans know about the song. So nobody in our class knew it. My performance partner didn’t know it. I just said to him, I was like, “Hey, do you want to try this?” But the music isn’t really available and it’s on piano, so he had to figure out the chords for it on guitar.

    I happen to have friends that know the guitarist in the band. So I was like, “Hey, do you know if we might be able to figure out how to get the music?” So they asked him for it. He wasn’t able to get it, but days before the performance, they were coming to see me saying — and days before the performance, my friend Dave was like, “Hey, is anybody recording it?” And I was like, “Well, no, it’s not being recorded, but anybody that’s there can record. And I would love for you to record it because my parents couldn’t be there.” He’s like, “Okay, sounds good and I was like, “I’m sorry, what?” So I didn’t really go anywhere from that, but apparently seeing the performance which is pretty cool.

    John: That’s really great. No one’s asking you to videotape anything accounting and, hey, like they want to see you look at this trial balance. Nobody wanted to see that video. That’s really neat. That’s really neat. So do you feel like this is something that you talk about now more?

    Kristen: Oh, so much more. I think because I was so like self-conscious of it and I hadn’t done it in so long, I would sing every now and then at karaoke or something and people would be like, “Oh, my God!” I was like, “Yeah, I can sing.” I literally used to downplay all the time and say, “Oh, yeah, I can hold a note.” That’s all I would say because I would never want to be put on the spot. And now, I’m so much more comfortable. So I’m able to own that and talk about it and not be like freaking out that somebody is going to judge me, or it’s just this weird — I don’t know why I was just not confident in myself, but I think that was also something like a function of my age also and then as I grew, I got more comfortable of who I was and then get back into the music. Now that I’m used to singing and doing it every week, it makes a total difference.

    But it absolutely leads into my professional life now. I am more willing to talk about it. I think that other form of I harp on self-expression probably this whole time, but because if you’re allowed to fully express yourself in any area of your life, it’s going to encourage you to do it in the other areas that you haven’t done it yet. So yeah, I absolutely dovetailed into further growth for me which was really cool.

    John: Yeah, that’s really, really cool. One thing that I’ve noticed in talking to people is that people are sometimes reluctant to give themselves a label like “singer” like you did. You used to downplay it. You’re like, “I don’t know, I’m okay.” My go-to karaoke song is Milli Vanilli or something silly, so no one has to know that I can’t sing because I’m terrible where you’re like an amazing singer. At what point did you cross that hump to where it’s like, “No, no, I am a singer”?

    Kristen: I remember the moment. I have a friend who actually did the branding for me for my company. I met him through another contact that I had, and he’s a songwriter. He’s actually in town this weekend writing some music with a friend of his. I remember having this conversation with him last September where he said, he was like, “It’s really weird like I’m writing these songs, but I’ve never considered myself a songwriter.” I was like, “Oh, my gosh! I feel the same way. I’ve never actually said that I’m singer.” He was like, “Yeah, I’m finally getting used to saying it.” At that moment, I was like, I totally need to do the same thing because that’s where I’m going. That’s where I want to be. It doesn’t mean I’m ever going to do it professionally. It was like this weird role to step into and be like, “Yeah, I sing.”

    It’s kind of weird because I think as a kid too, you see performers, celebrities, sports players, whatever it is, it’s kind of like the half percent of people that get to do something like that. So it’s kind of weird to put that label on yourself. It also helps living in LA where there are so many people who are actors and singers and all sorts of performers where you’re like, “Yeah, I could totally moonlight at night just like you do.” So that helps.

    John: Yeah, even if it’s not you’re making a living at it or even if you’ve never even been paid, if it’s what you’re doing and you’re working towards it and you’re perfecting that craft, then what’s the difference? type of a thing. So good for you for getting over that. It’s hard. When you were in public accounting, did you feel — I know that the self-expression maybe wasn’t there, but was there something else that you bonded over or talked about other than work?

    Kristen: Wine was my passion.

    John: Wine. There you go. Okay.

    Kristen: Wine, yep. First firm that I worked at was they’re very into it. We had like a wine cellar, literally, in the parking garage. So I got into it because of that firm. I was drinking white wine at the time, but then I got into red when I was there. I had this one bottle of — I don’t know, if you’re into wine, but The Prisoner. It was like a 2007 bottle before they sold out. I had that bottle, and I was just blown away by it and ignited my passion for wine. So I was kind of like the go-to person for wine, like everybody would come to me with suggestions for pairings and stuff like that.

    Sonoma State has an online wine business management course that qualifies you for their wine business management, MBA. And I took that course so I could potentially apply to take the MBA courses there, but I decided at that point that I just wanted to be — that was kind of like a huge transition in my life where I didn’t know what I was doing. So I decided against that. I decided on LA instead of Sonoma. I don’t really drink a ton anymore either, but yeah, wine was probably my passion.

    John: I imagine that the people that liked wine, you had a different relationship with them than you did maybe just everyone else.

    Kristen: Absolutely.

    John: Even though everyone’s doing accounting and everyone’s doing the same thing because that was okay to self-express, but the singing was different.

    Kristen: Exactly, right.

    John: That’s a little too far. That’s a little too far. Yeah. And I wonder how much of that is sometimes in our own head that we put up those barriers.

    Kristen: I completely agree. Well, it’s like you have this perception of yourself compared to the perception of the other people around you even though that may not align with their perception of you. So it’s kind of like this ever-evolving understanding of — well, now I’m getting super deep into spirituality here, but just learning yourself and also acknowledging that having that bias conversation of what assumptions are you making about the people around you? They may actually be super into something that you are. And if you don’t actually say it out loud, you’ll never know.

    John: Absolutely, because there are times where I’m speaking in front of an audience, whether it’s for a firm or a company or maybe it’s a conference, and it goes from a room full of 250 or 400 people that are all accountants or lawyers or whatever. By the end, it’s a room full of people that I actually want to hang out with because you find out what that other side of them is and you just ask. It’s not hard. It’s just that it’s not encouraged. There isn’t a charge code for it. I’ve heard every answer under the sun.

    Kristen: Exactly. Oh, my God! Yeah.

    John: And it’s just putting a little bit out there. How did you go about, like with the singing I think is a little bit different this time of your life and with your own company and stuff like that, but with the wine, how did that get out, I guess, if you will? Or how did that come up in conversation?

    Kristen: I think at the time I was just — I don’t even know how it came up in conversation. I think that’s a great question. You’ve stumped me and I apologize.

    John: Probably like smaller circles. No, no, it’s fine. I just think I’d ask.

    Kristen: Yeah, and that’s probably what it was.

    John: You struggled with that of “Well, I don’t know how to bring it up”?

    Kristen: Well, also in accounting, you’re going out to team dinners and stuff like that. So once people knew that I was really into it, I remember one time the partner literally handing me the menu and be like, “You pick the wine.” It was my favorite too. I love that. And to this day, I’ll still sit down at a restaurant with a friend, and they’ll order a cocktail and I would be like, “I need to decide what I’m eating first. I’m so sorry.” I’m just wired that way or it’s just like I need to know what I’m eating first so I can enjoy my wine with it.

    John: Yeah, it’s such a great example of that partner might not have even known your name had it not been for the wine. It’s like, oh, another CPA that’s really good at auditor tax or whatever, right? We got a bunch of those. Instead, it’s “Hey, I know Kristen. Here’s the wine menu. I trust you to pick the wine for the table.” Like, what? That’s crazy.

    Kristen: Exactly. It’s so true. I remember the first trip that I took to wine country was in 2009, and I went back in 2012 up to Napa. One of those partners, like I had a couple of friends from work, a couple family friends, and one of those partners who were like, “Yeah, if you find any good bottles, let me know. Buy a case and I’ll buy in with you.” So we ended up literally shipping probably like nine cases home from Napa to split with friends and coworkers and all because they knew that that’s what I was doing.

    John: Yeah, that’s such a great example for everyone to hear as well, which is really awesome, really encouraging to hear. So do you have any words to share with people that maybe think that their hobby or passion has absolutely nothing to do with their job?

    Kristen: Yes, you never know, I’m like, yes, I would like to share this because it’s so important.

    John: Would you like to share those?

    Kristen: Even for my business now, like what I love to do with the people that I’m working with, helping find positions is understand who they are, because it’s so much more than just finding some work to do. I want to help you find meaningful work. I also want to learn who you are as a person. I have one person I’m trying to place right now. She’s in Texas, and she only wants to work 10 hours a week because she runs a ranch on the side with her husband. And so that’s her passion, and that’s what she wants to do. That leads into how I help you find that position.

    So to me, on a larger scale, it’s like the human experience. It’s getting to know other people and understanding who they are. You never know if you mentioned something that’s super obscure, you may not find anybody in the room that likes what you do, but they might know somebody who does and they’re like, “Oh, my God! My husband enjoys that.” It’s still a connection point, and you don’t know it when speak up. I think that’s one of the things that I’ve just learned over the years is something I’m still working on. It’s probably my life’s biggest work is using your voice. It’s so important. It’s the only way to build the connection. It’s not the only way, but it’s the primary way to build connection.

    John: Yeah, I love it. I absolutely love it. Yeah, or the deepest connection. That’s for sure. And that’s really awesome. And when I speak, I always ask, what if the bottom of your resume is the most important part? Because I find a lot of people who are recruiters and are telling people to leave those personal things off and I’m like, “No, no, like, put them at the top. Why are they at the bottom? Put it up there, like I run a ranch.” Wow, you’re cool. I have so many questions for you right now.

    Kristen: You can ask those questions. It allow them to understand who you are, but it also the second you drop into that place where you’re talking about something that you’re passionate about, they can feel that energy, and that’s so important.

    John: Absolutely. This has been really awesome, Kristen. Thank you so much. It’s only fair, though, before we wrap this up for me to let you rapid-fire question me. So I got my seatbelt on. I’m ready to go.

    Kristen: So my first question is, if you could have any superpower, what would it be?

    John: Oh, my goodness gracious! Oh, this is so hard. This is so hard because I already have all of the superpowers, so it’s hard to have another one. I guess I would like to be able to sing. I don’t even know if that’s a superpower, but I would just like to be able to sing and dunk a basketball.

    Kristen: Oh, that would be cool.

    John: Maybe at the same time.

    Kristen: That would be even better.

    John: That would be great. Those seem like superpowers to me. That’s where I’m at in my life.

    Kristen: Oh, my God ! I love it. And then this is actually the friend that I mentioned who’s the songwriter. He calls them TPQ, thought-provoking questions. I totally stole it from him. If you could tour with any performer or band, who would it be, past or present, and what would your job be?

    John: Oh, well, I would probably say The Killers. I’ve seen them twice. They put on the most amazing shuttle ever in the history of ever. I want to close out keynotes now with a giant confetti cannon that just litters the whole audience. Just their shows are off the charts. The music is great, but the performance side of it is through the roof. And they just seem like fun, genuinely nice guys to hang out with. I guess my job would be I would write jokes for them to say on stage.

    Kristen: Amazing.

    John: I guess that would probably something I’m actually qualified for. That’s the only thing I’m qualified for.

    Kristen: What if you’re qualified for anything? It doesn’t have to be that you’re qualified.

    John: I think that would still be good because then people be like, “Man, The Killers, they’re hilarious.” People stop talking about their music, and they start talking about how funny they are.

    Kristen: I love it.

    John: That would be the goal.

    Kristen: That’s awesome. All right, then I have one more question because I love The Killers too. What’s your favorite Killers song?

    John: Oh, wow, yeah. I think the “Are we human” song.

    Kristen: Nice.

    John: “Or are we dancers?” which is pretty deep, because it’s do we have feelings, and are we real people or are we just robots in this whole thing, marionettes? Yeah, I love that song, for sure. So I don’t know. Hopefully, I passed and we can hang out one day.

    Kristen: Totally passed.

    John: Okay, good. I was worried. Pressure was on. Pressure was one. This has been so much fun, Kristen. Thanks so much for taking time to be on What’s your “And”?

    Kristen: Same here. Thanks so much for having me.

    John: Oh, no, you’re awesome. Everyone listening, if you want to see some pictures of Kristen outside of work and maybe on stage or connect with her on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. All the links are there. While you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture that I have going.

    Thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, that who you are is so much more than what you do.


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