Episode 313 – Shehan Chandrasekera

Shehan is an Accountant & Rock Climber

Shehan Chandrasekera talks about how a co-worker introduced him to bouldering, how it helps him take his mind off work, the skills it provides him in the office, and much more!

Episode Highlights

• Getting into bouldering
• How it distracts him from work
• How bouldering improves his problem-solving skills in the office
• The roadblocks of creating an open culture in the accounting industry
• Setting expectations throughout the industry


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    Welcome to Episode 313 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett, and 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”, the things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that actually differentiate you when you’re at work.

    I’m so excited to let everyone know that my book’s being published very soon. It’s available for pre-order right now with some really cool added bonuses like a buy-one-give-one offer, so check out whatsyourand.com for all the details. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s listening to the show and changing the cultures where they work because of it, and this book will really help to spread that message.

    Please don’t forget to hit subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week, and this week is no different with my guest, Shehan Chandrasekera. He’s the Head of Strategy for Tax at CoinTracker in Houston, Texas, and now he’s with me here today. Shehan, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?

    Shehan: Yeah, thanks for having me.

    John: Absolutely, man. This is going to be so much fun. I have my rapid-fire questions though that I like to do right out of that gate, get to know Shehan. Here we go. Favorite color.

    Shehan: I would say white.

    John: White. Okay, all right. That’s not common. That’s good. How about a least favorite color?

    Shehan: Maybe red.

    John: Red. Yeah, I hear you on that. How about, Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Shehan: I would say neither.

    John: Neither. Okay, all right. You’re another trilogy type of —

    Shehan: I didn’t grow up in US, so I missed that whole Star Trek and Star Wars thing. That’s why I said neither.

    John: Fair enough. Fair enough. This one’s easy, pens or pencils.

    Shehan: Pens, for sure.

    John: Pens, yeah, no mistakes.

    Shehan: Actually I would say typing.

    John: Oh, typing. There you go, okay. How about a PC or a Mac, when it comes to your computer?

    Shehan: Oh, PC, for sure.

    John: Yeah, me too. For your mouse, right click or left click.

    Shehan: Left.

    John: Left. Okay, making decisions. There you go. How about puzzles, Sudoku or crossword?

    Shehan: Crossword.

    John: Crossword, all right. When you travel, planes, trains or automobiles?

    Shehan: I’d say planes.

    John: Planes, yeah, I’d get there. How about, balance sheet or income statement?

    Shehan: I guess balance sheet.

    John: Balance sheet. You’re like, whatever. Favorite toppings on a pizza, if you want to load it up.

    Shehan: Obviously cheese, mushrooms, and chicken, tomatoes. Yeah.

    John: Okay, all right. It’s a little bit healthy even. All right, would you say cats or dogs?

    Shehan: Dogs.

    John: Dogs. Yeah, me too. How about a favorite actor or actress?

    Shehan: There’s a lot, starting from the ‘90s, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    John: Yeah.

    Shehan: There’s just a ton, Leo, Matthew McConaughey. There’s a lot of people.

    John: Wow. Very Texas of you to throw in McConaughey like that. That’s good. I like that. How about, jeans or khakis?

    Shehan: Jeans.

    John: Jeans, yeah. Would you say you’re more of an early bird or a night owl?

    Shehan: I would say night owl.

    John: Okay. Three more. Do you have a favorite number?

    Shehan: I would say one, right? You want to be number one.

    John: Nice. I love that. That’s great, man, because, yeah, everyone else is not. There you go. That’s awesome. When it comes to books, mine’s coming out, are you more of a Kindle or real books?

    Shehan: I’m more of — I have learned so much by watching videos like documentaries on YouTube. I know this is such an uncommon thing to say that I learn so much by watching those videos than reading books. So, I would say I’m not a book person. I’m a YouTube person. I’m a documentary person.

    John: Yeah, fair enough. Well, then you’re able to see it as well, see it and hear it.

    Shehan: Yeah.

    John: Yeah, absolutely. The last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own.

    Shehan: Favorite thing I own is a 1982 Ford F-150 classic pickup truck.

    John: That’s fantastic. How long have you had it?

    Shehan: I’ve had it for five years. I’m the second owner. The first owner used it from ‘82 to 2015 or something like that.

    John: Oh, my goodness gracious, that’s amazing. Let’s get into it, a hobby, passion that you enjoy doing outside of work.

    Shehan: Climbing, specifically bouldering. That’s something I’ve been doing for the past few years and really enjoy doing that.

    John: That’s awesome. How did you get into that? Did you just like, hey, there’s a rock, I’ll just go climb it?

    Shehan: I always wanted to try it but when I was in my first public accounting job, there was another coworker who used to do that. I went with him to the climbing gym, one time, really liked it and have been doing that for the past couple of years or so.

    John: That’s really cool. So, it was starting at a climbing gym, or is that what they call them?

    Shehan: Yeah, it’s a climbing gym. There are two types. You can do indoor climbing and outdoor climbing. I’m mostly doing indoor climbing because in Texas, it’s super flat, so they had to — but Colorado, it’s amazing for bouldering.

    John: Oh, yeah. We have them in all our backyard. No. Yeah, you’re right, within an hour’s drive.

    Shehan: Yeah. In Texas, I’m in Houston, if you go to Austin, you can do some outdoor climbing. In Houston, it’s mostly indoor climbing.

    John: That’s easy. I’ve only done it twice, and it’s color-coded, for me anyway. I was like, oh, good, just the blue ones, so it just made it a little bit easier for me. You’re on another level, I’m sure. That’s hard, man. That’s impressive.

    Shehan: Yeah, I’m not an expert, but I’m definitely not an amateur either. You have these difficulties from V-Zero to V-12, V-13. Every team has different colors. I’m around V-4, V-5.

    John: That’s great.

    Shehan: Yeah.

    John: That’s awesome. I would be over in the kiddie area, just with the children’s version. Yeah, they’re amazing at that stuff because they’re just lighter weight, I guess. It’s amazing to watch it, on your fingers and the strength or lack of strength, for me anyway.

    Shehan: It’s fingers, but actually, people who are really good at it, they use most of their lower body, like the legs to lift them up.

    John: Okay.

    Shehan: That’s why kids are good at it because they’re using most of their lower body. For us, as we grow, let’s just say your pen dropped. You bend, but the right way to pick up the pen is by you squatting. If you look at a kid, they don’t bend. They squat, and they pick up.

    John: Yeah, you’re right.

    Shehan: That’s why kids are good at.

    John: Yeah. No wonder, I’ve been doing it all wrong. Oh, my goodness. I need a coach like you, man. That’s really cool, man, and it’s also cool that it was a coworker that brought you. I would imagine that that relationship with that coworker is maybe a little bit different after that because you’re able to talk about things besides work.

    Shehan: Yeah, for sure. I used to live in New Jersey. I met that coworker in New Jersey, in that accounting firm. He was really into it. Sometimes he travels to Houston. Even though we don’t work at the same place, we still have that connection because we share a common thing that we both like.

    John: Yeah, that’s an interesting point too, of even if you change jobs, your passion is still there, for bouldering, but then you’re actually able to maintain that friendship, even though other people that you worked with that you might have been friends with. Well, there’s a little in common now.

    Shehan: Yeah.

    John: You have a different fleece now with a different logo but, no, that’s exactly it. Is this something you do somewhat frequently? For me, it’s like bowling where you do it once or twice and then you’re like, yeah, whatever.

    Shehan: I do it every weekend.

    John: Oh, okay.

    Shehan: Yeah, just once a week. You can go more than once a week, but then you could get injured really bad. You give the right amount of rest for your fingers and everything. So, once a week, it’s good. It’s a good way to take your brain and everything out of work routine because once you’re up there, you’re just trying to survive. You’re trying not to fall.

    John: Right. Yeah. You’re not thinking about anything work-related because you’re like, just don’t fall, just don’t fall, which is ironic because that’s what I thought when I worked in the corporate world, just don’t fall, just don’t — no. Do you feel like — I mean, relationship-building, clearly, it helps with, but do you feel like it gives you a skill that you’re able to bring to work?

    Shehan: I think mainly, it’s problem-solving because in some of those routes, they’re not necessarily about how much strength you have. It’s about how you position your body and how you — the angle of your arms, how you reach out to something and et cetera. It’s not necessarily about powering up through that, whatever the route. It’s finding how much strength you’re going to have and everything, so I like the problem-solving aspect of climbing.

    John: That’s huge. I didn’t even think of that. Because I’m sure, at no point in your education, did someone say, hey, go climb some rocks. It’ll make you a better accountant or business person. At no point, no one says that.

    Shehan: Yeah. Education, we can talk about it. It’s a different subject, but I don’t believe in education anymore. I don’t think schools prepare you to be successful. I’m criticizing schools despite having a 4.0 GPA and graduating as valedictorian of my class. I think schools are becoming like scams. Why would anybody pay 50 grand a semester or a year to get some credits? I don’t see any ROI. The only reason why I think you should go to school right now is if you want to get into one of these licensed professionals, like CPA, lawyer, doctor. If you don’t want to be one of those, don’t go to school. There are so many resources outside. Invest that 100 grand or 200 grand in a business. Start a business when you’re 20, and your ROI is going to be better.

    John: Yeah. Ken Robinson, Sir Ken Robinson actually, has a great TED Talk about a lot of just the education system and stuff. No, that’s very true because if we had more accountants out bouldering, then maybe it would be better. No, no, I’m just kidding. That is an interesting take, but it’s cool just to hear that skill set that you’re able to bring to work, and that mentality that you have because of this muscle that you’re exercising outside of work, if you will, that then when it’s time to go, then I do this all the time. I guess it also translates to, even if you’re the smartest, memorized all of the technical skills or whatever, there’s still more to it than just that. Even if you’re the strongest person in the gym, that doesn’t make you the best climber.

    Shehan: Yeah, yeah, for sure. Once you get to a certain level, you realize how irrelevant your fitness is. It’s about the body positioning. It’s not about how much strength you have in your fingers or joints. That’s what fascinates me. Because I see a lot of these very bulky guys who go to the gym every other day, they struggle in climbing because climbing is not about having muscles or being super fit. It’s about thinking and using whatever strength you have in a very effective way.

    John: That’s also why — it involves thinking. That’s why I was terrible at it. That’s my problem. No, but you’re exactly right. That’s really cool to hear. So, with this co-worker that got you started with it, is there ever a part of your brain that makes you go, well, no one’s going to care about my outside-of-work interests, or I shouldn’t share this because they’re going to think I’m not very dedicated to my career?

    Shehan: In my mind, no. In all of my career, I would say I was doing better than average, so, me sharing what I was doing outside work, didn’t affect how people saw me in my career. At the same time, if you’re an okay employee, I can see how it could affect those people, negatively, sharing whatever they are doing outside. I think the work and person lives are two different things. I don’t see anything wrong with sharing your personal stuff, as long as they don’t affect your work.

    John: Oh, yeah, absolutely, for sure. Or if by sharing, it interferes with other people’s ability to do their job too. If you love to play the electric guitar at maximum volume, well, you can’t do that in the office, sort of a thing. I agree totally. Because if you and I met on a Saturday, hanging out with friends, we would talk about bouldering and no one would blink an eye; but if you and I meet at a networking work event, all of a sudden, people start to doubt themselves of, well, what am I supposed to share? Am I allowed to talk about this? You might not even tell me once that you’re an accountant, but then at the networking thing, that’s what we lead with. It’s like, oh, there’s very little conversation that happen after that. So, how much do you feel it’s on an organization to create that culture with the tone at the top, or how much is it on an individual to make that in a small circle?

    Shehan: I think the tone has to come from the top, but the problem with public accounting is that it’s really hard to create that environment because we are dealing with a lot of deliverables, a lot of deadlines and billable, non-billable times and et cetera. I’m not saying every accounting firm is bad. There are accounting firms that are actually trying to have that environment, but the reality is that there’s no such thing called work-life balance in public accounting. I think accounting firms should stop advertising that because there’s no such thing, and it’s okay. You just have to be upfront with your employees.

    John: Yeah, or if you’re going to say it then really do it, type of a thing, or just don’t say it, like what you were saying.

    Shehan: Yeah. I think that’s the reason why public accounting isn’t for everybody. There are people who fit that career, and there are people who leave that and become successful. I think firms are doing — they’re thinking about their employees and et cetera. Again, it varies because there’s a lot of these legacy firms who are still on their servers, who still use papers. Those firms, they don’t — thinking about the employees, what they do outside of work. That’s not top 10 or 20 or 50 priorities. Big Four and other regional firms, I think they’re doing a good job, but it’s really hard to find very happy people in public accounting. I guess there’s always a difference between expectation of when those employees join the firm versus while they’re working. That’s something I think we need to fix, industry-wide.

    John: Yeah. I think it applies to companies as well, and engineers and lawyers. It’s much bigger than just a public accounting thing. It’s just professionalism, in general, has brainwashed us to think this certain way is the only way to be successful. It’s not. It’s not at all. I think it is possible, but you just have to care. If you care, you’ll make it happen. If you don’t care, well, then it won’t happen. At least don’t tell people one thing and then do a switcheroo after they start. It’s really not hard to take five minutes a day just to have a genuine conversation with someone. You don’t even need a charge code. Or maybe there should be a charge code for it because then people will do it. How great would that be. There’s a minimum socializing code that you have to hit a minimum number of hours, socializing, or else you have to talk.

    Shehan: That could happen but at the same time, they would increase your billable time.

    John: Right. You’re still doing the 60 hours a week. Yeah, that’s true. Do you have any words of encouragement to anyone listening that has a hobby or a passion outside of work that thinks that it has nothing to do with their job?

    Shehan: Yeah, just know that your career is important, but it’s just only a part of your life. Yeah, there are people who do accounting until they die, but if you really love it, there’s nothing wrong with it. If you want to pursue something, just take the risk and do it. It’s hard for an accountant to take the risk because from school, from our education, we are wired to be conservative. Don’t take any risk. Because the education system itself, they punish you when you fail, so you’re afraid to fail. Once you get out of that hurdle, the fact that you’re not afraid to fail, because failure is good because they’re your best teacher. So, it’s okay to fail. It’s okay to be unsuccessful, as long as you learn from it and don’t repeat the same mistakes, so, go for your passions.

    John: Even then, sharing what you like to do with others, that’s not failing. Even if somebody reprimands you for that, well, now you know who you work with. You may or may not want to stay there, depending on your situation, but I think 99% of the time, if not more, the people around you are like, wow, that’s cool. Tell me more. In your head, you’re saying, people are going to judge me or whatever. I’m only a V-4, and someone else is a V-8 or whatever. No, that’s freaking cool, man. It doesn’t matter. People aren’t judging anymore. If they are, then they’re not your people anyway. Most people aren’t. Those are such great words of advice, though.

    Before we wrap this up, it’s only fair that I make it The Shehan Show. Now I’m in the hot seat. You’re the host. Since I rapid-fire questioned you at the beginning, you can now question me with whatever you’d like. If you had a couple of questions, you can fire away.

    Shehan: Okay. Who is the most interesting person you had in your 313 episodes?

    John: Oh, the most interesting person on the podcast. That’s such a hard question because it’s going to start with you. So, Shehan is number one and then — no, but they’re, all legit, all interesting because you can hear it in people’s voice and how much they light up about what they love to do. It’s been everything from — there was a woman on who loves to make kombucha at home to drink for herself. It was actually fascinating to hear about, and pretty cool. She’s super excited about different flavoring, all this. Then other people that — there’s a guy who makes — he has a custom men’s suit line. He’ll measure you and then get custom suits made and design them all, just on the side. And everything in between, athletes and volunteers. I don’t know. It’s hard for me to say one person, it really is, because as soon as I think of that person, I think of five more. So, that’s kind of a lame answer, but I’m being honest, actually.

    Shehan: Okay. The other question, who’s your next guest after me?

    John: Oh, the next guest after you is actually my book launch week, so I’m pretty excited about that, but it’s going to be Georgia Green, who is also from Texas, ironically enough. Yeah, she is the next guest. She’s a consultant out of Dallas. I’m excited to have her on. She does outdoor stuff too. All you outdoor people. I’ve got to find some movie watchers just so I can feel not lazy. Yeah, but it’s just cool having everybody on, and anybody listening, if they want to be on the show and talk about a hobby or a passion they have outside of work, definitely reach out. It’s just cool sharing people’s hobbies and passions. Well, thank you so much, Shehan, for taking time to be a part of What’s Your “And”? This was super fun.

    Shehan: Yeah, thanks for having me.

    John: Absolutely, and everybody listening, if you want to see some pictures of Shehan in action or maybe 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, and also check out my book.

    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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