Episode 298 – Ben Westbrook

Ben is an Accountant & Craftsman

Ben Westbrook returns to the podcast from episode #107 to talk about his new hobby, crafting! Ben shares with us some of the crafts he has worked on lately and how these skills apply to his career as an accountant!

Episode Highlights

More symphonies
Getting into crafting
Started a YouTube channel on crafting
How his creative side applies to his career
Talking about crafting in the office
Sharing cooking recipes with other partners


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    Welcome to Episode 298 of What’s Your “And”? Follow-Up Friday edition. This is John Garrett, and each Friday I’m following up with a guest who had been on the show a few years ago, to hear what’s new with their passions outside of work and also 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 in September. It’ll be available on Amazon, Indigo and a few other websites, so check out whatsyourand.com for all the details, or sign up for my exclusive email list, and you’ll be the first to know when it comes out.

    Please don’t forget to hit subscribe so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week, and this Follow-Up Friday is no different with my guest, Ben Westbrook. He’s a Director of Operations at Berdon in New York. City, and now he’s with me here today. Ben, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?

    Ben: Thanks for having me, John.

    John: This is going to be so awesome. I loved having you on, I mean, Episode 107, good Lord, that was a long time ago, so it’s great to have you back. Thanks, Ben.

    Ben: It’s good to be back.

    John: Absolutely. So, I start it out with some rapid fire questions, probably questions I should have asked the first time, but I couldn’t ask 87 of these. So, here we go. If you had to choose, Harry Potter or Game of Thrones.

    Ben: Harry Potter.

    John: Harry Potter, okay. How about a favorite animal, any animal at all?

    Ben: I like cats.

    John: Cats? Okay.

    Ben: House cats.

    John: There we go, and it’s a musical, so it’s a double win.

    Ben: There we go, and a terrible movie.

    John: And a terrible movie. Oh, my gosh, you’re right. How about more suit and tie or jeans and a t-shirt?

    Ben: Jeans and a t-shirt.

    John: Yeah, solid. There you go. How about a favorite Disney character?

    Ben: Ooh, favorite Disney character. I’d have to go with Scar from Lion King.

    John: Oh, wow.

    Ben: Iron voice, he’s got that creepy song. It’s a great character.

    John: There you go. There you go. There’s some depth to that character, that’s for sure, yeah. Were you born like that, or what happened to you? Yeah. How about– oh, this is a good one — New York City hamburger or pizza?

    Ben: Oh, pizza.

    John: Yeah, really good pizza. There you go. Two more. Kindle or real books.

    Ben: I want to say Kindle because it’s cool, and I’m a digital technology professional, but real books. I just — it’s hard.

    John: Exactly. I mean, the smell and the feel of the paper, but for travel and ease of convenience and all that, definitely the Kindle, but, yeah, real books are awesome. The last one, this is super important. Toilet paper roll, over or under.

    Ben: Oh, over.

    John: You’re going to be like, I didn’t even know that was a question. What is this a trick? That’s awesome. Well, Episode 109, I remember when you were on, we talked opera but also how you have your Music degrees hanging in your office there at Berdon, which is so cool to know that there are Music degrees hanging in an accounting firm office. It’s just awesome. So, no doubt, you’re still a fan of of opera and —

    Ben: Definitely. I’ve been doing a lot more symphony too.

    John: Oh, okay.

    Ben: I’m subscribed at the New York Phil and at Carnegie Hall to see the symphonies that come from all over the world, which is one of the great things about New York. I can see the Vienna Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Boston Symphony, if any other city where you can be and see all of those amazing orchestras because they come here. So I’ve been doing a lot more of that, too.

    John: That’s awesome.

    Ben: Yeah. I think, last year, I saw 28 things.

    John: Holy cow.

    Ben: Between art series and things. Yeah, it was awesome.

    John: That’s more than twice — yeah, every other week. That’s fantastic, man. That’s really great. Yeah, and is there something else? Is there a new hobby passion that’s coming to your life?

    Ben: I’ve always been into crafting in different kinds of ways, but I’ve definitely been embracing it more lately, and all kinds of crafts too. I don’t consider myself to be incredibly artistic, but I like making stuff. I think after I stopped really singing, I needed some sort of other outlet. I’ve gone through craft phases. I’ve done a lot of knitting, and then I’ve done bookmaking. I made these scrapbooks where I would make the spines and the binding and everything. I don’t scrapbook, so I have these empty books that I made that I’m just going to give to people and be like, do you scrapbook? Use this.

    John: There we go. That’s awesome though.

    Ben: Lately I’ve been doing a lot of cross-stitch or needlecraft. All of the crafting, for the most part, is like a mandala thing where it’s more about the process of making it, for me, than it is about making something for me to have afterward. It’s nice to come home and do something that feels creative. It uses my hands that occupies my time in a relaxing way. I don’t have cross-stitch up on my walls, but I’ll give it to people.

    John: Yeah, and it’s got got to feel good that, in the end, I made this. It’s a tangible thing that you have in front of you, as opposed to a theoretical thing that exists in cyberspace, in the cloud or whatever.

    Ben: I can feel proud about spreadsheets, and sometimes I do, but it’s a different kind of pride from making something. The knitting can be practical though. I’ve definitely made myself hats and scarves, and that’s very useful. For the most part, I make things for either other people or just, I’m making it and at the end, I’ll figure out who gets it. I don’t know. It’s not about I’m making something for me to have. It’s more about a creative expression and a process. It’s also good, at home, to keep you from going back to the fridge.

    John: Right.

    Ben: You can’t be snacking when you’re doing something like that.

    John: Exactly, because a lot of those things that you were describing involve both hands. It’s not like you can have a chicken wing in one and be cross-stitching in the other.

    Ben: These days, being home a lot, obviously, it’s something extra to do that’s not just sitting on the couch and watching TV.

    John: Yeah, and it’s feeling productive and keeping your mind going as well.

    Ben: You see progress happening. Oh, I spent time on this, and I can see this much more done. You get a feeling of productivity.

    John: For sure. That’s awesome. Building book — maybe, you feel like making a couple hundred books for me? I got one coming out in September. You can glue — no, I’m just teasing, man.

    Ben: Actually, back in the day when I was still doing the books — I’m moving soon to a new apartment with my boyfriend. We’re moving in together, and I’m working on having a second bedroom. I’m already like, craft room, craft room. So then I could get back to the bookmaking because my apartment right now is not really big enough to have a whole separate area for it.

    So, I’m thinking about getting back into it. When I was doing it a lot, I actually started a YouTube channel. I’ve got 2,000 subscribers. I have a whole series of videos how do you make these books. Ben Creates, if anybody wants to look it up. I haven’t posted anything in years, but I kept them up there because it’s like a step-by-step series of like, how to make these books.

    John: That’s so fantastic, and we’ll have a link at whatsyourand.com as well. That’s so cool. Because I was going to ask, for a lot of these craft — I mean, I would have to watch a YouTube video and be like, oh, okay, that seems to be super helpful these days.

    Ben: That’s the thing. These days, getting into any kind of craft is so easy because if you’re knitting and you come across some weird instruction or stitch you’ve never seen, search it on YouTube and there are 1,000 different videos of people showing you how to do that. The same thing on the bookmaking and the scrapbooking and the cross-stitching and the embroidery or whatever. YouTube is just such an insane reference that you can find anybody, like so many people have done the same thing. I can’t imagine getting into these crafts without YouTube. Trying to do it on my own from instructions in a book would be so incredibly difficult.

    John: Yeah, especially in a book because you don’t actually see it happen. You don’t see the action; and half the time, when I see the YouTube video, it gives me more confidence because I’m like, well, that person did it, I could totally do this. Because it’s like, oh, my goodness, right?

    Ben: And everything too. There was an incredibly humbling moment when one of the pilot lights on my stove had gone out, and I looked on YouTube. The first video that came up, the one that I watched to show me how to turn it back on, the kid was like ten years old showing me how to do this. This was so humbling that this ten-year-old is showing me how to relight a pilot light on my stove.

    John: That’s awesome, and knows enough to even take it to that YouTube video level. It’s not just a kid down the street. No, no, I’m going to make a video for the whole world to know that I’m smarter than you.

    John: Yeah, exactly. That’s so awesome, man. Does that translate to the office at all, that creative side or that artistic side?

    Ben: Well, I think it does. I like things that look nice. I’m a big believer in, even in spreadsheets and writing an email with a lot of information, nobody’s going to read it if it doesn’t look nice. So, I’m all about like formatting and using design features. I want things to look nice. I want the eye to be drawn to the right place. I try to think about that a lot.

    So I do think that’s one of those areas where the crafting carries over because I’m very diligent about that. I’ve just gotten the habit, and I think crafting is one of the reasons — in any kind of craft, when you’re making something like that, you can’t just be like, oh, I totally messed that up, whatever, I’ll let it go. No, you go back and figure out how to fix it.

    John: Right.

    Ben: Or you learn how to be diligent about keeping it looking good. I’ll never send an Excel to anybody, internally even, unless I’ve gone back and like, okay, I’m formatting this. I’m going to bold this column. This is what I want people to look at.

    John: Yeah, that would be an awesome SNL sketch of a YouTube channel, of a crafter that just messes something up, and he’s like, yeah, whatever, and then that’s the end of the video.

    Ben: Yeah, like, oh, well. I mean, sometimes knitting and I realize it was so far back that you’re like, I’m not going to undo everything to do this. You have to evaluate like, how big is this? Because sometimes the mistakes make it homemade.

    John: Oh, yeah, yeah.

    Ben: Generally, yeah, but you’re making a book, and you make the front cover too big; you have to go back and fix that.

    John: Right. Or there’s a typo in my first sentence, or my name is misspelled on the cover. Oh, man.

    Ben: General keeping an eye for the detail, in accounting it’s important to be detail-oriented, in general, so, the crafting definitely, the detail-orientation goes both ways in those.

    John: Yeah, and especially from an operations perspective, you have an “army” of people that are in motion, and you have to keep that in motion and running fluid, as smoothly as possible. That’s definitely, attention to detail comes in handy, for sure.

    Ben: Right. When you’re looking at numbers, you have to understand where they come from, what is this really expressing. It’s easy to run a report and run with the wrong set of data. When you’re talking about an operations report, what statuses are included in this, what aren’t, what are you comparing it to, is it really an apples-to-apples thing or is it — you just have to be really careful about that.

    I do think that’s a similar thing in crafting. When you’re knitting, for example, you do one stitch slightly the wrong way, it’s just going to look wrong. You have to stay even. You have to keep really on top, doing the same thing over and over again. Or your attention, just a little bit, it’s going to look wonky. You have to like —

    John: Right. Wonky is such a great word. I love that word. I really do. It’s exactly right. It’s just off, just out of balance. It’s just something’s not right, and that’s for sure in. Is this something that you share with coworkers?

    Ben: I think I sent a picture in one of our big group chats of like, look what I just finished.

    John: Oh, that’s so great.

    Ben: So, yeah. We’re pretty good — we started using Microsoft Teams a lot, internally. Obviously, we’ve created teams for work stuff, like engagement teams or internal project teams, but we’ve also created some teams, I think one of them is called Berdon Cooks.

    John: Oh, wow.

    Ben: You just exchange recipes. It’s actually become really popular. Partners are coming in like, oh, I made this last night. It’s from this cookbook. I put smoked paprika instead of regular paprika, and it tasted great. Teams has been a — I think one of the unintended benefits is just it’s become a way for us to be social a little better too. I’ve found some great recipes from it.

    John: It’s so unique that friends that you have outside of work, you would naturally share great recipes with, but for some reason, in work, it’s a novel concept to do that. Then you do and it’s like, wow, that’s awesome. I didn’t realize this person was such a great cook.

    Ben: Yeah, one of our partners, he’s a super gourmet, and he’s sharing all these things. I’m like, I had no idea this guy is not just a cook, but really freaking good.

    John: Yeah. Right? That’s cool, man. That’s super cool. That’s really awesome, really awesome. Before we wrap this up, do you have any encouragement for others that are listening that maybe have a hobby or a passion that they feel like has absolutely nothing to do with their job?

    Ben: Just share it. This is a good example. When I was on the call the other day, somebody brought up a Van Gogh painting, the Starry Night, and I pulled up. I’m like, look, I’m actually cross-stitching that right now. Then after the session, one of our tax seniors, she’s like, “Oh, I do needlepoint.” I was like, “Oh, I’d love to start doing needlepoint,” and she’s like, “Oh, buy this book. Here’s where you can buy the supplies.” We’re going to Zoom, and she’s going to show me how.

    John: That’s awesome. That’s so great.

    Ben: Had I not shared that, I would never have known that she was into it, and now I’m going to learn something new from somebody that I enjoy working with already. It’s definitely going to strengthen our working relationship, too. There’s so many benefits to sharing that because everybody does stuff like that. Everybody has the “And”.

    John: I agree wholeheartedly. That’s just such a great example that just happened, but there are hundreds of those all over. I love that. That’s so awesome, man. That’s so cool. Yeah, too, now you have something to talk about that’s not work. When you’re back in the office, you’re able to chat about, hey, how’s that project going that you’re working on? Here’s mine. Or, I got this little hiccup. How can you help me with that? or whatever and vice versa.

    Ben: She’s somebody that I really hadn’t talked to that much, but now we’re a lot closer.

    John: Yea, and it had nothing to do with the work, which is interesting, so that’s cool, man. That’s so cool.

    So, it’s only fair that since I rapid fire questioned you at the very beginning, we will make this the Ben Westbrook show. You’re now the host, and you can rapid fire question me. Whatever you want to ask, fire away.

    Ben: Rapid I’m going to be.

    John: Okay. It’s all good, man, question away.

    Ben: You asked me what my favorite movie was, and I was thinking I would like to know what your favorite movie is.

    John: Well, Rudy’s going to be high on the list, just as a nerd. I will also cry if I just hear the music, so it’s that level of emotion. So, Rudy is definitely high on the list. Also, too, just a Dumb and Dumber or something bad where you can just jump in literally at any point in the movie and within a minute, you’re going to laugh. It’s one of those where people don’t really appreciate the level of, again, like an attention to detail, to be that funny throughout is not easy.

    Ben: Do you have a movie that most people would be like, that’s a terrible movie, but you just randomly —

    John: Yeah, Cable Guy, another Jim Carrey movie.

    Ben: Oh, really. Okay.

    John: That movie is hysterical and dark and deep and… Yeah, that movie is, a lot of people, that movie’s terrible.

    Ben: I think I saw it in the theater when it came out.

    John: I think it’s hilarious, but it’s a dark comedy. Ben Stiller, I believe, directed it. That’s a movie that just immediately comes to mind where it’s like, I will fight you on that one.

    Ben: Baby Mama with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey.

    John: Oh, right.

    Ben: I think it’s incredibly hilarious.

    John: Right? Typically, if the movie reviews are terrible, I’m 100% going to like it. It’s inverse of, this is such an artistically great — I’m like, this movie sucked. I fell asleep.

    Ben: Anything with Melissa McCarthy. I love the movie The Heat with her and Sandra Bullock.

    John: Right.

    Ben: They got terrible reviews, but I think it’s incredible. I can watch that one.

    John: That’s so funny, man, so funny.

    Ben: Do you have any crafts?

    John: Do I have any crafts? You know what? I don’t. I guess my creative is music video parodies and things like that, as opposed to handcrafting. When I was a kid, I did do many crafts that, able to build things, stuff like that. I guess my yard. I don’t know if that counts as a craft. It’s a lot of work. I lived in New York for almost ten years, so I never had a yard since when I was in high school. My parents —

    Ben: What’s that?

    John: Right?

    John: It’s crazy, man. Weeds just come out from everywhere. It’s got to be like a group effort. If your neighbor doesn’t, then it’s — yeah, I’m learning all that. So, I don’t know if that counts as a straight up craft but… Well, I guess I did this painting. I did a giant painting but, yeah, I don’t do it on the regular. I should probably be a little more — yeah, my creative seems to be in different outlets than like tangible crafts. Now that I know you have a YouTube channel to make books, I might get started on mine. That’d be the selling point. I don’t know if the inside is good, but I made it, so just buy my book.

    Ben: It’s a cool process. It’s not that hard. It’s not like the real old school bookmaking where you’re stitching stuff together. This is an easier way where you can use glue, chipboard and paper, and that’s it.

    John: That’s so great. Well, thanks, Ben for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”? again. This was really, really fun.

    Ben: Yeah, thanks for having me.

    John: Absolutely, and everybody listening, if you want to see some pictures of Ben in action or some of his crafts or get a link to that YouTube channel and maybe connect with him on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. All the links are there, and 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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