Episode 252 – Jason Kalies

Jason is an Accountant & Photographer

Jason Kalies, Director of Accounting Policy for United Health Group, returns from episode 9 to talk about his new passion for photography and how it challenges him to think differently and look at things in a different perspective!

Episode Highlights

Why he got away from gardening
Getting into photography
How photography challenges him to think differently
Avoid comparing your work to others
Do something outside of your comfort zone
How photography has given him a different perspective

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Jason’s Pictures

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Camera tag!

Kayaking, with camera in hand, on a Twin Cities lake

Catching a sunrise in Estes Park, Colorado

Jason’s links


  • Read Full TranscriptOpen or Close

    Welcome to Episode 252 of What’s Your “And”? Follow-up Friday edition. This is John Garrett. Each Friday, I’m following up with a guest who had been on the show a few years ago to hear maybe what’s new with their passions outside of work and also to hear how this message might have impacted them since we last talked.

    I’m so excited to let everyone know that my book’s being published very soon. It’ll be available on Amazon and a few other websites. So check out whatsyourand.com for all the details or sign up for my exclusive list. You’ll be the first to know when it’s coming out. And please don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every Wednesday and Follow-up Fridays. And this Follow-up Friday is going to be no different with my guest and friend, Jason Kalies. He’s a Director of Accounting in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Now, he’s with me here today. Jason, thank you so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?

    Jason: Hey, John, thanks for having me back.

    John: Absolutely. Episode Nine, are you joking? Single digits? That’s incredible. Oh man, it was so long ago.

    Jason: I remember talking with you when you were planning this whole podcast series and coming up with ideas. I went back and listened to our recording. It was funny. But yeah, it’s been several years. I’m glad to see you having success with it.

    John: No. I appreciate it, man. Absolutely. And we worked together back in the PwC days in Milwaukee. Man, it’s just crazy.

    Jason: Yeah. We’re starting to count the years and decades now.

    John: Right. It’s embarrassing, right? I mean gosh. But now, I do the rapid-fire questions up front. So these are things that I didn’t ask the first time and just see if we can have some fun and find out more about Jason below the surface level. So if you had to choose, Harry Potter or Game of Thrones?

    Jason: I would say Harry Potter because I pride myself in never watching Game of Thrones.

    John: Okay. I’ve never seen it either because that involves HBO and HBO costs money.

    Jason: Exactly.

    John: There you go. More cats or dogs?

    Jason: Cats.

    John: Okay. How about a favorite place you’ve been on vacation?

    Jason: Estes Park, Colorado.

    John: Oh, nice. How about — this is a tough one — hamburger or pizza?

    Jason: Hamburger.

    John: Okay. All right. How about a favorite color?

    Jason: Probably green.

    John: Green. Nice. Okay. More suit and tie or jeans and a t-shirt?

    Jason: Jeans and a t-shirt.

    John: Yeah. The last one, maybe the most important one of all time, toilet paper roll, over or under?

    Jason: That’s got to be over. And I would hope some of these survey questions are in your upcoming book. I’m looking forward to it.

    John: Right. The whole book is just statistics based on the survey questions and answers. But that’d be hilarious. Yeah. But when we talked on Episode Nine, which is insane, we talked about your gardening and baking and whiskey. Are these still passions of yours?

    Jason: They are. What I’ve done is I’ve consolidated so now I only bake with whiskey.

    John: Oh, nice.

    Jason: I’m just joking there. They are still passions. I was thinking back when we did the podcast. I mean since then, my wife and I have moved. We live in a townhouse now. We don’t have a yard, so I don’t do as much gardening. But I still do a lot of baking, cooking. I still have a pretty crazy whiskey collection. I still love doing that.

    And thinking back, the things we talked about, about sharing your ideas and your passions with coworkers or friends or neighbors, when I was getting ready for this podcast, I was reflecting back on a previous job I had. One of the projects was to develop a podcast series. And the podcast series was about accounting topics, so it’s not as exciting as your series. But when we were planning that with my coworkers, I raised my hand. I said, “Well, actually, I’ve been on a podcast before.” They all asked me questions. They say, “Oh, can we listen to it?” I sent the link to my team. They listened to it. Then they came back and said, “We had no idea that you like to bake and things like that.” It turned into a situation where they wanted me to bring some of my homemade jam and things like that. It was just one of those things, like you talking about the past. Mentioning or opening yourself up to sharing what your interests are just leads to discussion, leads to team event. They brought in bagels. I brought some homemade jams. It was one of those things that connect dots.

    Yeah. Certainly, I’m still doing that. But one of my new passions recently that, really, I’ve had a passion for for a while but I’ve explored a little more is photography. I’ve always loved taking pictures and stuff, but it was always one of those situations where I’d have handheld cannons, snapshot or PowerShot I think they were called. My pictures were limited. And a couple years ago, my wife surprised me for my birthday and got me a pretty nice camera and a real nice lens and some good equipment, a very nice present. So that reignited my interest in photography. That’s really what I’ve been doing as a hobby these last couple years.

    It’s crazy. When you’re in the accounting world or the accounting world, finance world, you’re used to using your brain in a certain way. When I work on photography or I think about taking pictures, it’s using your brain in a different way. You’re thinking about things artistically. And I’m not very good at that. I mean that’s not my expertise. That’s why I went into gardening. I’m very, “Debits on the left, credits on the right,” very black and white. So it really challenges me to think differently and look at things differently from an artistic standpoint. Then when you get into just how to operate a camera — I don’t know how many times I’ve been somewhere. I’m taking a picture of a sunset or something or at an event and somebody says to me, “That looks like a really fancy camera. You must take really good pictures.” And I say, “I don’t know what I’m doing,” right? Because it’s the concept. You can take Picasso’s paint brushes, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to produce a Picasso painting, right?

    John: Right. Yeah. That’s awesome.

    Jason: Yeah. There’s so much to learn. It humbles you, at least what I found. You see people that take these gorgeous pictures. Then you try and replicate that and you just failed miserably, right? Because there’s always somebody that knows or can do something much better than you. But you have to take a step back and realize that there’s people that can’t do what you can do, right? You’re somewhere in the middle. So I found that it’s really humbling and challenging at the same time.

    John: That’s awesome, man. I mean, really, if you’re honest with yourself, we’re all in the middle. The outliers that are the extremes, you never saw them in the creative process struggle in their learning process. You only see their finished results, the Ansel Adams or the whatever. You only see the finished. You don’t see when he was new and trying to learn how to work a camera or do whatever. So I think that’s great, man. You don’t have to be this expert that’s creating these masterpieces. It’s something that you love to do. I think that’s fantastic. Like you said, you’re using your brain in a different way, which is huge. Because when you look at things, even an accounting situation or something corporate, you still have a different lens that you’re looking at it through than the others. And that comes in handy.

    Jason: Exactly. And you hit it on the head. One of the things that I got feedback on from my wife was with Facebook and Instagram and everything, you can follow a lot of people, right? You see those individual’s postings. And I followed one person. He’s a social influencer. I don’t know how many thousands of followers this person has, but he’s a great photographer. He’s like 23 years old. His career, he gets flown out to places to take pictures of a resort or a hotel.

    John: It sounds like a real jerk. No, I’m just a kidding.

    Jason: Like a hotel property, right?

    John: Right.

    Jason: And the hotel haven’t posted post that. He’s got so many followers, right? He’ll post a picture every once in a while. It’ll be like, “A bald eagle sitting in a tree, on the ocean with the sunset, behind the eagle with the harvest full moon in the background.” Well, first of all, it’s like, “Is that really all there with Photoshop and things like that?” But my wife made a good point. She said, “That is one picture that that person took probably out of thousands and thousands. You can’t judge yourself or judge your product, your picture, whatever it is, your abilities against what somebody posts online.” That’s helpful to keep it in perspective. There’s always somebody that knows more about something than you do. But there’s probably plenty of people that don’t know as much as you.

    John: Right. And do you feel like that translates into work?

    Jason: I think so. Where I would compare it is if you have a new role or you’re working in a new company and you’re sitting in a room with people you haven’t met before, you have to try and figure out what they know or what they don’t know. You can’t make assumptions like, “This person has been here ten years. They’re in such and such role, so they should know this.” Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. So you have to quickly adjust and deliver your message to a broad audience. Then once you get some feedback, you narrow it in and fine tune your messaging. It’s that spectrum concept and then fine tuning it as you have the dialogue, have the interaction. Get to know somebody. Work your way through a meeting, for example.

    John: It translates, too, to less pressure on yourself to have to know everything and be this accounting wizard that has everything memorized. In the photography, there’s someone else like you said that’s going to be better, going to know more. But there’s things that you know more and different than they do and a different skillset and a different expertise that you’re bringing to the table. So I think it helps take a little bit of pressure off to be like, “Hey, I took some terrible pictures. I’m still alive. I still love photography. Everything’s fine.” Just like in accounting, it’s like, “I did that journal entry backwards. Crap. I’ll fix it. No big deal.” You just go in and flip it. It’s just something like that where I think we put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect. And that just sets us up for bigger failure, I think.

    Jason: Yeah. I agree. The word when I was thinking about my growth, if you will, in the photography spectrum and how I’m learning things, it’s really humbling. The word that came to mind was humbling because like I said, you can set a camera setting to automatic and take good pictures. But once you fine tune things and you want to take a specific picture with a certain lighting, a certain way, from a different perspective, it’s really humbling to understand all that information. And you have a better appreciation for people that have that skill, that have those abilities.

    I find myself walking. Even just in the office here today, I was waiting for the elevator. And outside the elevator doors, there’s three pictures, kind of office pictures. But you look at these pictures and I look at them differently now because I know how difficult it is to take that picture than I ever did before. So it’s that humbling aspect. And I would translate that to your point before about when you’re in a meeting with people, unless you’re the expert, you probably don’t want to come across as you know everything about a topic. You need to have some humbleness. And that, I think, opens up avenues for discussion and dialogue and questions and really engaging with people and partnering on projects and things like that.

    So really, it’s cool. As far as suggestions, I would encourage people to do something outside of their comfort zone, to do something that they’re not used to doing or haven’t done before. And photography, I think it’s a great example because I do it in my spare time. I get in phases where I bring my camera places. I primarily like landscape and nature, animals and things like that. I do not like taking pictures of people. That’s a whole another level of uncomfortableness.

    John: Because the animals don’t ask to see the picture that you took of them, to be like, “Oh, no, I have three chins now. How did that happen?”

    Jason: Yeah. They don’t care. Yeah. They just flap their wings. I find myself taking my camera and getting lost, if you will, and looking at things, not paying attention to sometimes the people I’m with.

    The other thing that fascinates me, it never really occurred to me — and maybe some of this is I’m aging and we’re getting up there in age a little bit — but you have a better appreciation for things around you, your environment. And if you’re taking a picture of a bird or a coyote or something, that bird or that animal will never be in that same spot with that same lighting that same environment around it ever again. And when you’re taking a picture, you’re capturing that. Because some people say, “There’s pictures for everything. You can just Google whatever and you get an image.” But what you’re experiencing and witnessing when you’re taking a picture, nobody’s ever experienced or witnessed that in that moment like that before. And thinking about what I do, my day job, it’s just so different from that.

    John: Yeah. Because almost in accounting, it’s an experience you have every month.

    Jason: Right. And every quarter and every year round. Right.

    John: Right. Exactly.

    Jason: You just have different perspective on things.

    John: Yeah, man. I love that.

    Jason: Yeah. I would encourage people to branch out and try different things and get outside of your comfort zone a little bit. That’s what I tell people when they ask me what do I like about photography or what do I like taking pictures of. I go through that train of thought. Sometimes, I get blank stares back at me. So you’re really focused on that one moment in time and you’ll never be in that same exact time continuum again. Yeah, I guess when you put it that way.

    John: That’s hilarious. They just got sucked into some matrix vortex where they’re like, “Holy crap, I don’t even know if I’m a real person right now. Is this even real?” that’s awesome, man.

    Jason: They jump to reminding them, “Okay. Your debits are on the left. Your credits are on the right.”

    John: Exactly. And here’s a really good whiskey to follow that up. That’s such great advice for everyone listening though. That’s really awesome. That’s so cool. Yeah. Wow. I guess before I wrap this up, it’s only fair that I allow you to rapid-fire question me. Although after hearing that, I’m a little bit nervous because these are going to be hard. So here we go.

    Jason: All right. Just a couple easy ones here. What is your favorite place to visit for work?

    John: I thought you said easy. No, I’m kidding. That’s a tricky question to answer because every city is cool for one or two nights. Everywhere I visited, there’s neat things that are there that you’re not going to see everywhere else or a local restaurant or a local ice cream blaze if you know what I’m saying. But I’m trying to think of fun places that I’ve been for work. Well, I mean Bermuda wasn’t a bad one. That was a pretty fun one.

    Jason: Nice.

    John: Yeah, a speaking event there. Yeah. The ones with direct flights are especially good.

    Jason: That is a legitimate answer.

    John: That’s probably direct flights I’m a big fan of. So really, in all of those.

    Jason: All right. Well, let’s flip it a little bit. What’s your favorite place to visit for pleasure?

    John: Oh, yeah. Well, my wife and I went to Costa Rica earlier this year. And wow, that was fantastic. Yeah. I definitely want to go back there for sure. But also Cape Town, South Africa is probably the coolest city I’ve ever been to. It’s a long flight, but it’s worth it when you get there.

    Jason: Nice. Okay, last question. What is your biggest pet peeve when you travel?

    John: Oh, yeah, easily, easily, easily. People that have their phones and just watch a video on max volume or FaceTime with somebody on max volume in the airport or wherever. Like I don’t want to listen to this anymore. Yeah. I’ve started collecting the earphones that they hand out. Then I give somebody an early birthday present because no one else wants to listen to that crap. So cut it out. Oh, I have so many. Or the people that are in pre-check but they think that they have to take everything out of their bag and just hold up a line. I will go in front of you because I’m not waiting. I mean I know how things work because I was just here last week. It’s, yeah, those two things for sure.

    Jason: I figure that could be the topic of your second book. It’s My Pet Peeves While Traveling. I will co-author that book.

    John: Oh, man. Yeah. That’ll be the longest book ever written. It’ll be War and Peace or John and Jason’s Pet Peeves While Traveling. Yeah.

    Jason: That’s my plan.

    John: I love it. Well, this was so much fun catching up, Jason. Thanks for being a part of What’s Your “And”?

    Jason: Thanks for having me, John.

    John: Absolutely. Everyone listening, if you want to see some pictures of Jason in action or some of the pictures Jason has taken or maybe connect with him on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. While you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. 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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