Episode 300 – Tony Nitti

Tony is an Accountant & Skier & Lifeguard Coach

Tony Nitti returns from episode #100 to talk about his shift in hobbies from professional mountain bike racing to lifeguard coaching, how the pandemic has affected the industry, and why its so important to have interests outside of work, especially when working remotely!

Episode Highlights

Why he stopped mountain bike racing professionally
Coaching lifeguards
How having outside interests can help your career
Battling burnout
How the extended tax season affected him

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    Welcome to Episode 300 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, Bookshop and a few other websites, so check out whatsyourand.com for all the details, or sign up for my exclusive 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, Tony Nitti. He’s a partner with RubinBrown, and now he’s with me here today. Tony, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?

    Tony: John, good to be back. I think it was all the way back at Episode 100 when we last got together.

    John: Exactly, man, yeah, and then we’ll have you back for 500. You’re the hundreds. You’re the aughts, I guess.

    Tony: Keep the round numbers going for me.

    John: Yeah, it’s just easy to remember. It’s easy to remember, but now I do the rapid-fire questions upfront. So, I’ve got seven, probably questions I should’ve asked you the first time but didn’t. First one, if you had to choose, Harry Potter or Game of Thrones.

    Tony: Game of Thrones. I’ve never seen a moment of Harry Potter yet, so this is almost by default.

    John: Okay, okay. This is a tricky one, oceans or mountains.

    Tony: Well, we’ll get into this, but I got to put my answer right down the middle. I love them both, equally.

    John: Okay, fair enough, fair enough. How about a favorite cereal even when you were a kid?

    Tony: I’m a Captain Crunch guy, through and through, as what Americans should be.

    John: Right, right. I think the red blood is at the roof of your mouth when you eat Captain Crunch. That’s the… Okay, this is a tricky one too, suit and tie or jeans and a t-shirt.

    Tony: You know, I’ve gone back and forth in my career through this, but I’ve been gravitating to a suit and tie lately, so I’m going to pick that.

    John: Yeah, because when we hung out in Denver at the conference last year, you were looking dapper, man.

    Tony: I did.

    John: Nice suit. All right, this is a good one, East Coast guy, a good hamburger or a good pizza.

    Tony: Good pizza.

    John: Yeah. Two more, favorite Disney character.

    Tony: You know, that’s interesting. I don’t know if anyone’s given you this response before, and I’ll probably take some heat for this, but I’ve always been a fan of Aladdin. When I say Aladdin, I mean, actual Aladdin and not the genie from Aladdin.

    John: Chris Ekimoff just gave me Aladdin, actually, just a couple weeks ago, because he was wearing — he likes the vest, and he was wearing a fleece vest at the time. It was just — yeah, but Aladdin, that’s a solid answer, man. It’s a great story and good music. Yeah. That’s a great character. All right, the last one, this one may be the most important one. Toilet paper roll, over or under.

    Tony: Well, with my two kids, I would just be happy with either. As soon as I’ve trained them to start using toilet paper then we’re heading in the right direction. For me, it’s overhand or it’s nothing.

    John: Right, right. There you go. There you go. Well, yeah, like you said, Episode 100, God bless you for being on that early. We talked mountain biking. We talked — I mean, that skiing where you hike up and you’re the only one that’s ever been down this trail of skiing. Is that still stuff that you’re actively doing?

    Tony: It is. I stopped racing professionally, cross-country mountain biking, in 2018, and probably for reasons that will come full circle in our conversation today. I really burned myself out. I was 43 years old, racing against 23-year-olds, and it took a real toll on me, physically, for obvious reasons.

    I had worked so hard towards a goal, and this is something I’m sure your listeners can connect with on a variety of levels, but I’ve worked so hard towards a goal that eventually, someday, you look up and say, I’m not sure this even makes me happy anymore. My body’s taking a beating, but I enjoyed it. I liked being good at something but, at some point, you got to move onto the next thing.

    I still ride all the time when I’m in Colorado, which is most of the year, but it’s still not quite a bit. Once or twice a year, I’ll pop into a race just to get the blood flowing again. I still backcountry ski quite a bit, although my forever favorite backcountry ski partner, my yellow Lab, Macy, is now 13, so she can’t be my partner anymore. That definitely drains some of my enthusiasm for the sport.

    Yeah, so I am still just as passionate about those things, but going back to your your rapid-fire question, oceans or mountains. Just through a twist of fate in my life at this point, the way things are going for me is I spend the school years in Aspen and then I spend the summers with my wife and kids on the Jersey Shore. I’m sitting there, right now, about a block and a half from the ocean. I am just as passionate about playing in the ocean as I am in the mountains.

    I do some selfish things. I surf quite a bit. I swim in the ocean. We’ll get into this, but I have a long connection with the ocean lifeguards in this township, a little town called Surf City. I lifeguarded for a long time. There’s been a Nitti on the Surf City Beach Patrol for, I think, since the mid ‘80s, from my brothers, to me, to my niece, so, yeah, we’ve got a long history down here.

    What I do now that, honestly, I think brings me more joy than probably any of the outdoor pursuits I’ve had is, every morning, I get up early, and I go out and coach the next generation of ocean lifeguards. We have what’s called a Lifeguard-In-Training Program here in Surf City, and we’ve got 30 10-to-15-year-old kids that, every morning, go out there. We put them through the ropes and learn how to make rescue, do CPR and read riptides and use a paddle board, and it’s so freaking fun.

    John: That’s awesome.

    Tony: It certainly keeps you fit, but just the kids, the energy of being around kids and how stoked they get when they figure something out or something clicks for them, it’s just the greatest feeling in the world. It doesn’t hurt that my 11-year-old boy, Ryan, is in the program, right? It’s more time I get to spend with him.

    There are a few things, John, that’ll keep you feeling balanced and young and waking up in the morning, throwing some zinc oxide on your nose and being an idiot and going out, playing in the ocean for a couple hours and teaching the kids how to ride waves on their knees on paddle boards and stuff like that. It’s just so incredibly fun.

    I don’t know how I got to this point. It took me a long time to figure it out, but I am in a great place where, whether I’m at 8,000 feet in Aspen or at sea level here in New Jersey, I’ve got a lot of things around me that keeps me super balanced and fulfilled and really happy again.

    John: And can bring you energy. The ocean itself, and the mountains, nature is so powerful to just be around and just be grateful for being alive and what you have, type of thing. That’s cool.

    Tony: It is, man. It sounds a little hokey, but like this morning’s round, I’m out there on my surfboard by myself in the morning and a pod of dolphins will swing by. You’re like, this is pretty damn cool.

    John: Right, totally.

    Tony: Today, I was out there, and seven pelicans dive-bombed and started swooping up some bunkers that were swimming near by me. It’s just like, yeah, that type of being immersed in nature is what I love. It’s what I love about the ocean, and I’m just super grateful to have both.

    John: That’s awesome, man. Yeah, at any point, do you go, “Hasselhoff has nothing on me”? At any point, were you —

    Tony: Yeah, for a couple hours down, full Hasselhoff right now. My son is mortified, but part of coaching the program is to keep it light and make the kids happy, so, yeah. Like I said, I’m the one with the zinc on the nose and under the eye. I’m the one teaching the kids in a moment of levity that, look, nobody’s going to remember the rescue, but they’re going to remember is how good your hair looked when you exited the water.

    Always make sure you keep it tight. My son spends half the time, mortified by it, but I’ve got a long time, making rescues on the beach. Like I said, I know what’s really important, and what’s important is how the sun glistens off your shaved chest as you run down the beach to save them.

    John: Right. Different angle, I got to go back, hold on.

    Tony: Hold on a minute, let’s do that again.

    John: Are you really drowning or just kind of? Because I got to go — hold on. That’s awesome, man. That’s really cool, really cool. Especially now, with everything that’s happening in your world, the tax world, there’s extended tax deadlines, people working from home or kind of, whatever, trying to hold it together. How important do you think it is these hobbies and passions are to sanity?

    Tony: It’s really cool that you asked that because when you and I talked a couple years ago now, we were focused on really, in an industry where I am, public accounting, tax law, and an industry where, sometimes, having balance or being well-rounded is almost viewed as a detriment to career growth. We were talking about how, no, no, no, we shouldn’t be looking at it that way. Having balance, having outside interest, they should help you in your job. They should help you at your firm. They should help you attract clients and maintain clients because people see you’re a real human being.

    None of those things have stopped being important. They’re all important, but right now, I think you nailed it. I think, right now, we need to have balance. We need to find things we’re passionate about because if we don’t, we’re going to crack. I just mean mentally forget what it does for your firm, forget what it does for your clients, what it does for you because what I’m seeing right now around the industry is a historic and apocalyptic level of burnout. It’s completely justified, John, when you think about it.

    Let’s think about the last few months. We started busy season in the end of January, thinking it’s just going to be like any other busy season. We’re going to crank out returns for three months, but then it’s going to be over, and we’ll get a nice long break. Then March comes around, and tax season gets delayed ‘til July 15th where, hey, maybe an outsider looks at that and says, okay, well, the tax industry got to shut down from March until July. That’s the exact opposite of what happened.

    The reason tax season got delayed, obviously, is because of a global pandemic. That global pandemic caused a lot of legislation to be passed here in the US, and a lot of that legislation is driven by the tax law. So, yeah, our tax returns that we had to file weren’t due right around the corner, but all of a sudden, we had to grasp 800-page pieces of legislation —

    John: Right.

    Tony: — sometimes in a matter of days to make sense of it before clients started knocking down the door to say, “What does this mean to me?” So, I will tell you that I went through a one month stretch from the middle of March to the middle of April where, quite honestly, I worked more hours than I had any point since I was a 22-year-old kid working for Arthur Andersen, right?

    John: Yeah.

    Tony: It was insane. Then when that kind of, sort of lessens up about a month ago, you go, wait a minute. Now that July 15th deadline has come home to roost. So, pour back into that and then as soon as July 15th is done, the extended deadline is only 60 days away, so it’s not like we get any reprieve.

    We have been, as an industry, in this extended mode of fight or flight. We’re busy, we’re busy, we’ve got to figure this out, we’ve got to get this done, we’ve got to figure — there has been zero downtime for most tax professionals since the end of January, and it’s really hard to maintain that kind of pace.

    John: Totally. It’s like layers on top of layers because not only is there that work part, but then there’s just a hectic, helter-skelter — everyone has to work from home now, but you’re not working from home alone because your spouse is working from home. Your kids are home-schooled. It’s just layer upon layer of just added difficulty, I guess, and so hard.

    Tony: Let’s think about that. I would argue that the extended tax season, the workload that I just explained, yeah, that’s tough, don’t get me wrong, but, as you said, it’s a perfect storm where we have that sense of obligation and constant pressure, coupled with this new reality of working from home. Okay, working from home, I’ve been working remotely since 2006. I’m no stranger to working remotely, but as soon as the whole industry went remote in March, I was on a podcast, Damien Martin, Simply Tax.

    John: He’s been on the show. He’s amazing jazz pianist.

    Tony: I know.

    John: Amazing jazz pianist.

    Tony: I think he’s a Music major undergrad.

    John: Yeah.

    Tony: We were talking about what to expect and I — listen, my long and glorious history as a sports bettor will prove that I have no skills at prognostication. This particular one, I got right, John. I nailed it. I said, “Damien, people got to be careful what they wish for.” Everyone likes the idea of working remotely, but here’s what happens.

    When you work remotely and everyone at your firm worked remotely, trust me, it doesn’t take long. What happens is there ceases to be any delineation between when your workday starts, when it ends; or even when your workweek starts and when it ends, because what happens is everybody’s going to choose the periods of work that’s best for them.

    Maybe for you, it’s 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Okay, great. You work diligently during that time, but your coworkers and your team, their best time is from 1:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. They’re going to work that time. So, you shut down your day, so to speak, but now you start getting pinged with emails, left and right. If you ignore those emails, you wake up the next morning to start your day, and you feel behind before the day even starts. You’re overwhelmed with emails.

    Over time, you’ve got to remember, obviously, we didn’t suddenly go to remote working because the industry of public accounting had an epiphany and thought it was the way to go. We did it because there’s a global pandemic, and nobody left their house for three months. Well, when nobody leaves their house, what happens? Again, everybody chooses the workday, the workweek that’s best for them, and they have an expectation that, hey, I’m housebound, so you must be housebound.

    This really happened to me. Someone will ping me on a Sunday night at 7:00 and say, “Can we jump on a call?” Now, that would never happen in the normal tax season, right? Normal tax season is terrible, don’t get me wrong, but when you walk out the door at 8:00 at night, 9:00 at night, you can pretty much well trust that you’ll be left alone. Sundays, you can more or less trust that you’ll be left alone.

    Reality is everybody kind of accepted pretty quickly in the pandemic that days don’t matter anymore. How is Sunday afternoon any different than Tuesday morning? So, all of a sudden, I’m doing conference calls on Sunday nights and at 7 am and whatever it may be. I made this kind of joke with Damien, and it totally came to fruition where everyone goes remotely. What will happen to the Accounting industry is that basically we’ll be like 7-11. We won’t always be doing business, individually, but you’ll always be open. You’ll always feel like, I can never shut down. I can never know that my workday is over. I can never know that, oh, I’ve got some time to myself.

    That, when you take that, when you talk about a heightened fight-or-flight instinct, like I said, when you don’t know when your workweek starts or your workweek ends or your day starts or your day ends, you are constantly in a state of just, anxiety, expectation. What is going to be asked of me next? When do I get to sneak away? It’s too much, man. It’s too much to handle.

    I referenced earlier in our conversation here that I eventually worked so hard at trying to be a mountain bike racer that I lost the joy for it and burned out. I just think that as an industry, right now, with what we’re dealing with, the combination, the perfect storm of a seven-month extended tax season, coupled with this new reality of working from home and never knowing when it’s okay to relax and shut it down because your next email is always right around the corner or your next Zoom meeting is right around the corner; I think around the industry, we are going to see, as I said, historic levels of burnout if people can’t take the one real positive of working remotely.

    Why did people long to work remotely? So they could embrace what they’re passionate about. They could have flexibility. So, people have to, I mean, have to make it a priority to say, “I understand that there’s no delineation anymore, but I’m going to carve out the time that I need in my day to do whatever it is that makes my soul flourish.” Because if you don’t, if you don’t, like I said, people are going to just wane out of this industry because you can only answer so many PPP loan questions —

    John: Right.

    Tony: — peruse the SBA website and try to keep up with new guidance from the IRS. It’s too much to ask.

    John: You’re totally right. Actually, a study that I have in my book, from Duke University, talks about how people that have more dimensions to their life are less prone to anxiety and depression because it’s not all one thing. So, if you have these other things then — and I think leaders of companies and firms need to allow their people to have time or even explicitly say, “You have to take time to do this,” because, yeah, mentally, you’re going to burnout.

    Tony: Well, I’ll make a confession. I am someone who’s very prone to anxiety and that self-imposed pressure that I think a lot of people in the industry feel. When you take someone that’s predisposed to those things and put them in the environment, like we’ve had for the last four or five months, it’s a dangerous cocktail because, again, for me, I feel the weight of expectation at all times. Oh, my God, did something get announced today by the SBA or the IRS that I should be writing about or that I should be communicating to my firm or I should be preparing to teach about? It weighs on you because, again, you feel like you’re in a 24-hour cycle of work, and that’s too much for anybody to reasonably sustain for a period of time.

    So, I really needed what I was handed recently which is, again, to switch gears, leave the mountains, come to the ocean and hit the reset button and just put something back into my life that was as far removed from PPP loans as you can get. Quite frankly, teaching 12-year-olds how to body surf is probably about as far as you can get from that stuff. It’s a small part of my day, but it allows me to approach the rest of my day with the type of motivation that I would like to. Whereas, I was heading down a dangerous path in March, April, May, of, again, the weight of expectation and pressure just becoming too much.

    John: No, that’s awesome to hear. That’s awesome to hear. Plus, you grew up in that area, so that’s just a cool thing. That’s a really cool thing. Well, this has been really powerful, Tony. I hope that people listening understand, before, yeah, hobbies, passions, whatever, it’s really, really crucial. It’s not a joke. It’s not a joke.

    Tony: Now, more than ever. I know we said that, but I just want to stress it one more time. We’re working remotely. It may be the new normal for a while. I know that working remotely can feel, like I said, like it’s a 24-hour cycle and you can never just escape, but it is the one positive of remote working is that given a 24-hour day, there’s no reason you can’t find an hour two to go do what you need to do to unplug and just, again, disconnect from what we do all day and find something the polar opposite that just makes you feel alive and revitalized and go do it. Because if you don’t, it’s not sustainable. You’re not going to last.

    I’m living proof of that, John. We’ve joked about this in the past. I haven’t burned out in the industry yet. I’ve come dangerously close a couple times. I’ve taken on athletic pursuits and things like that in my life where I have started out loving them and then got so singularly focused and obsessed with them that I grew to hate them and burned out and quit. I just see people right now all around the industry, and I’m one of them, being forced to be so singularly focused and so, again, so constant in fight-or-flight mode about the job and the performance and what’s expected of them that the same possibility exists that they just grow to hate what they do every day. Nobody wants that.

    John: Nobody wants that. Engagement goes down, people start to become completely not even attached to the job and just leave, leave the profession, which is terrible. I think this applies to so many other professions as well, lawyers and engineers. Maybe the tax season is an added bonus, but all of them are — I mean, it’s a lot on a human being to have to handle.

    This is great, Tony. It’s only fair that I allow you to rapid-fire question me, if you would like, since I so rudely started peppering you in the beginning. So, if you have two or three questions you want to ask, it’s now the Tony Nitti Show, here we go.

    Tony: Okay, I’m going to give you a couple of yes-or-no questions, and I’m genuinely interested. Ready? Come fall, will there be NFL football?

    John: Maybe. This is my prognostication, my Nostradamus moment.

    Tony: Yeah.

    John: Yeah, I think there will be.

    Tony: Will there be Division One — well, they don’t call it Division One anymore — FBS, college football?

    John: College football, there better be, yes. Because if not, that’s where I start to lose my mind. That’s mine. The bad thing about that is if college football doesn’t happen, there’s not money for all the other sports the rest of the year.

    Tony: Those are the two questions — I know you’re a big Notre Dame fan — those questions that my brother and I kick around every single day because we just can’t imagine the reality of fall without football. That’s a very real prospect right now. It’s just hard to envision a scenario where 90,000 people are packed into the University of Michigan State.

    John: Well, first of all, that’s a terrible example. No, I’m just teasing just as a Notre Dame fan. I think that there will be reduced attendance at the stadium, like maybe a quarter capacity. I do think that as long as the games are happening, then at least there’s some semblance of normalcy.

    Tony: Do you think there’s any scenario where fall football is pushed to spring?

    John: I did read that. Yeah, I think there is a scenario where that could be. Yeah, I don’t know. That’ll be weird just because now there are two football seasons, six months apart. Then the draft, with the combine, is right after the season. Kids get injured then they just lost tens of millions of dollars, and maybe they just don’t play then. It’s weird. It’s a weird thing. Or maybe they find a treatment, and we can all just go back.

    Tony: That would be lovely, definitely. Trust me, I want more than anything for football to be back. One thing I do find really fascinating is if this season, college season didn’t happen at all, what that would do to the NFL draft next year. These teams would be forced to draft on two years old information. That’s confrontation for another day, Mr. Garrett.

    John: That’s awesome. Well, thanks so much, Tony, for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”? It’s so much fun.

    Tony: All right. Thanks, John. I’ll see you on Episode 500.

    John: Awesome, and everybody listening, if you want to see some pictures of Tony in action or connect with him 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.

    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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