Episode 459 – Jessica Elizabeth McClain

 Jessica is a CFO & Bodybuilder

Jessica Elizabeth McClain talks about how she discovered her passion for bodybuilding, how it has influenced her husband, and helped establish a support system and closer bonds at the workplace!

Episode Highlights

• Getting into bodybuilding
• Influence on her husband and co-workers
• Competing with Ernestine Shepherd
• The one skill she has gained the most from competing
• Getting support from co-workers



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Jessica’s Pictures

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Jessica in a bodybuilding competition

Jessica on a trip to Ahu Dhabi


Jessica’s Links


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    Welcome to Episode 459 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 in another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and”, those things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that actually differentiate you when you’re at work.

    If you like what the show is about, be sure to check out the book on Amazon, Indigo, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, a few other websites. All the links are at whatsyourand.com. The book goes more in depth with the research behind why these outside-of-work passions are so crucial to your corporate culture. If you want me to read it to you, that’s right, this voice reading the book, look for What’s Your “And”? on Audible or wherever you get your audio books. Thank you so much to everyone who’s writing such great reviews on Amazon and more importantly, changing the work cultures where they are because of it.

    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, Jessica E. McClain. She’s the CFO of the Girl Scouts Council of the Nation’s Capital, obviously, in Washington DC, and a recipient of the AICPA Outstanding Young CPA Award, and now she’s with me here today. Jessica, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?

    Jessica: Thank you so much for having me, John. Excited, excited to be here.

    John: Oh, ditto. This is going to be so much fun, so much fun. I have some rapid-fire questions, get to know Jessica out of the gate here. I’ll start you out with maybe an easy one. Favorite color.

    Jessica: Blue. That’s the color of my Tesla, blue.

    John: There you go. Yeah, I’m a huge blue fan. How about least favorite color?

    Jessica: Oh, gosh, I hate brown, just looks dirty.

    John: Right? I feel like brown’s only there to make the color look better. How about heels or flats?

    Jessica: Pre-children, I wore heels all the time. Between post-children and working from home, it’s become flex.

    John: Right. I hear you. That totally makes sense. How about a favorite actor or actress?

    Jessica: Favorite actress is Jennifer Lewis.

    John: Oh, yeah, good answer. Very good. How about chocolate or vanilla?

    Jessica: Oh, gosh. Can I mix it and make cookies and cream a little bit?

    John: Okay. Okay. There you go. I like that answer. There you go. You even took it to the ice cream level. I love it. I love it. That’s so perfect, so perfect. How about a favorite day of the week?

    Jessica: Saturday because least you know the day behind you, the workweek was over, and you still have another day ahead of you for the weekend.

    John: There you go. There you go. It’s a free one. Catch your breath. I like it. How about puzzles, Sudoku, crossword or jigsaw?

    Jessica: Sudoku, absolutely.

    John: Sudoku. Nice. Okay, that’s the accountant in you going strong.

    Jessica: Yes.

    John: That’s awesome. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Jessica: Star Wars.

    John: Star Wars. Yes, me too. Just growing up, that’s all I did. Your computer is more of a PC or a Mac.

    Jessica: PC all the way.

    John: Yeah, exactly. I don’t even know how Macs work. I’m not going to lie.

    Jessica: Same here.

    John: On your mouse, do you right click or left click?

    Jessica: I’m a left clicker.

    John: Left click, making decisions. Just boom, let’s do this. All right. All right. How about a favorite Disney character?

    Jessica: Wow. Oh, man, you’re taking it back. I have to say I love Minnie Mouse. It’s great because my daughter wants to be Minnie Mouse for Halloween this year, so that’s great.

    John: Yeah, just classic. That’s the classic. I love it. How about more talk or text?

    Jessica: More text.

    John: Text.

    Jessica: I’m a texter. Yes, I am. With kids in the background and noise, I can’t always say I’m available to talk.

    John: That’s an interesting point. Oh, this is a fun one, balance sheet or income statement.

    Jessica: I’ve got to say balance sheet. I’ve got to know where we are or how we ended.

    John: Oh, okay. All right. I like balance sheet too, because then you know you’re right or not because it balances. It’s like, something’s off. That’s for sure. Just put in goodwill, whatever, we’re done, which is why I’m not an accountant anymore. There we go. All right, we’ve got four more, four more. How about your first concert?

    Jessica: A boy band called Immature, back in the early ‘90s.

    John: Oh, wow. Okay. All right.

    Jessica: Wow.

    John: I love it. That’s all good. Now I’m going to have to look them up. I hadn’t heard of them. That’s going to be awesome. How about a favorite number?

    Jessica: Number seven, lucky number seven. Born in July, so, number seven.

    John: There you go. That’s the reason. All right, how about books, audio version, e-book or real book?

    Jessica: I need a real book. I want to feel the pages, feel the cover. That’s me. I can’t do the electronic stuff.

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

    Jessica: The favorite thing I have, I still have the dog collar of my childhood pet.

    John: Oh.

    Jessica: Yes. Her name was bear. We got her when I was four. We put her down when I was 20.

    John: Oh, my goodness.

    Jessica: Yes, she lived to be 16. She was completely a part of my family, had been there my entire, from a child to adult.

    John: Yeah, forever.

    Jessica: That was almost 20 years ago, and she is still missed.

    John: Oh, wow, that is awesome. So cool. So cool. Yeah, but let’s talk bodybuilding. How do you get started doing that? That is so cool. How did you get started?

    Jessica: I have to thank my mother for this one.

    John: Okay.

    Jessica: She was a few years from turning 50, and she set this goal on her bucket list of, I want to compete in a bodybuilding competition. I’m like, what in the world? Okay, mom. She went out. She hired a personal trainer, she changed her diet, everything. It took a few years to really get into shape for it. Until I competed, I had no clue how much work it was. She did, in 2010, when she turned 50, she did her first competition.

    John: That’s awesome.

    Jessica: For two years, she tried to convince me to do it, and I would not budge. All I could think about was all the things I would be giving up, my sweets, my junk food, my free time, my wine. For two years, I was actually, no, Ma, nope, nope. This is you. Have fun. Great job. I’ll come to the shows and support you, but I’m not doing it. Then in 2012, she finally somehow convinced me to join the competitive world of bodybuilding. I did my first show about a year and a half later, and was hooked after that.

    John: That is amazing. Was it there in DC?

    Jessica: Yeah, in the DC area. Yes, it was here. Yes, it was.

    John: That’s incredible. I guess, when you sign up, it’s, I mean, you’ve done the training, so it’s it’s just go time. Really the hard work is before you even sign up, I would imagine.

    Jessica: Oh, my goodness. Yes, yes, yes. A lot of hard work.

    John: Right. I’m exhausted just thinking about, I mean, just the diet alone is like, no. Then there’s going to the gym and the training and the weights and all of the stuff that I don’t even know anything about. I’m literally like, this is awesome. No, it’s very impressive, but when you’re out there, like that first competition, what was going through your mind? Is it just that I’ve done the work and let’s do this?

    Jessica: That’s part of it. You get to a point where you say, I did it. I had to become a gym rat. I was going to the gym, five or six days a week, eating the same food every day for two weeks.

    John: Oh, wow.

    Jessica: The same meals every day. When you get to the show, it’s all of the hard work I’ve put in for months, because it takes some months to compete. You don’t go out, work out for a month and then say, let’s go compete. No, no, no. It can take some time to do that, and so when you get there, it’s to know that I made it, and I did it, no matter what the results are. That’s a big enough accomplishment in itself is just being able to enter yourself into a competition with all the training and hard work you put in.

    John: Yeah. No, it’s the same as doing stand-up comedy, which was my “and”. People are like, well, what were you thinking when you were onstage? I was thinking that they’re going to say my name, so I have to go up. I can’t not go up. The scary part was when I put my name on the list.

    Jessica: There you go.

    John: After that, we’re on the slide. We’ve got to go down. Here we go. No matter what, you had the guts to do it. You were successful, and it was awesome. I love it. It’s so cool and such a neat story. Also, how much it inspired your husband and people around you as well is also kind of cool, if you want to share a little bit of that.

    Jessica: Sure, sure. When my husband met me, I was in the middle of competing, and it forced him, basically, to change his health habits, working out, eating better. He lost a lot of weight. It’s something that we’re talking about doing together in a couple of years, once I get past having my children, get back into the gym, full time. We’re definitely talking about competing and doing a show together in the future. It’s great because some of the biggest benefits are your health, and it’s one of the big reasons my mother wanted to do it. She was just afraid of getting older. She said, “I have to live a long life to see my grandchildren.” You’re so much better for it, with the dieting and the exercise that comes along with the training.

    John: No, that’s awesome. If I were you, I would have told my mom, I’ll wait ‘till I’m 50. I’ll see you later.

    Jessica: I might have told her that in the beginning.

    John: Right. Just in case she’s listening and wants to hunt me down, I’m just joking. I’m just joking. She’s going to get me into this now. Was there like a cooler moment or experience or one of the competitions that you’ve done that were just the most memorable?

    Jessica: Yes, yes, yes. I had the opportunity to compete in a show with Ernestine Shepherd. She was declared by the Guinness Book of World Records to be the oldest competitive female bodybuilder in 2010.

    John: Oh, wow.

    Jessica: It was so amazing to meet her, to see someone at the time who was already in her 70s, competing. I’m like, wow, if she could do it, there’s no reason why I can’t do it. Even now in her mid-80s, she still continues to teach exercise classes in Baltimore where she lives.

    John: That’s so cool. Yeah, what a story. That’s impressive. I feel super lazy right now.

    Jessica: I know.

    John: It’s all good. Does anything translate from bodybuilding, to, is there a skill that you feel like you bring to the office at all?

    Jessica: What I gained the most from competing was patience. It takes a lot of patience to work out five or six days a week, to eat the same food every day, to do all of that and wait to see the progress, physically. Because that’s what you’re looking for is, my abs are tighter, my arms look stronger. I had to be really patient with myself because I’ve worked very hard in everything that I do, and I always expect to see results. At times, you could hit a plateau, and you aren’t seeing those results. It’s like, okay, Jessica, no need to change up my workout routine, don’t need to change my diet. That was hard times for me to go in, day in and day out, and look in the mirror a couple of weeks on in and not see a change. It definitely taught me patience. I would say, the second thing after that, I think my children have taught me patience as well. I think that was preempting me.

    John: Preparing you for motherhood.

    Jessica: Yes, it was. It was.

    John: Also, just probably, just don’t be so hard on yourself.

    Jessica: Yes.

    John: It’s hard to remember rather how far you’ve come, as opposed to, well, I need this last 10%. It’s like, yeah, but 90% the way there, let’s not forget that part. You still strive for that extra 10, but don’t bring the hammer on yourself so hard. It’s impressive. I remember when I went to college, and you’re living around the football players and athletes. I didn’t know that triceps were literally three muscles. It makes sense because it’s the name, but I never saw it. Then you’re waiting for the shower next to a defensive end, and you’re like, holy crap, there are three individual muscles right there. That’s amazing. It was hilarious. That was Melvin Dansby, great guy.

    Jessica: I learned a lot about body physiology, a lot of that, more than I ever thought.

    John: Yeah, yeah. It’s impressive. Yeah, you want to see all that, and you want to see all the gains. Every day, it’s hard to see that sometimes. I imagine, probably, just if you could just take a snapshot and remember where you came from.

    Jessica: Absolutely.

    John: That’s impressive. I love that. Patience, for sure. Is this something that you talked about at work at all? Or did it come up?

    Jessica: I actually did talk about it at work because I needed all the support I could get.

    John: Right. Right. We’re not going out for pizza.

    Jessica: Bodybuilding, the training and everything is 80% mental and 20% physical, so I needed all the support. My coworkers were a part of my accountability team. They would make sure I was drinking that gallon of water I needed to drink every day. They would make sure I wasn’t sneaking and trying to eat food I shouldn’t be eating. Or when I went out to lunch and had to order the healthy food or eat salmon and broccoli heated up in the microwave. They knew and understood why I was doing it. I definitely needed them, and I really appreciate all the help that they gave me during that time.

    John: That’s hilarious, the salmon and broccoli in the microwave. It’s like those are two of the worst.

    Jessica: They understood Jessica’s competing soon.

    John: Yeah, go to a different floor and go microwave up there. Don’t use our kitchen. No, but that’s so great. Did it ever cross your mind, like, I don’t know, are they going to judge me, or are they going to whatever? Or were you like, no, this is me, take it or leave it?

    Jessica: It was actually just me. I just opened up one day. I think people started to notice things differently. They’re like, well, why are you eating this? Or why haven’t you gone out for happy hour with us? When I told them, they were like, wow, that is so cool. That is awesome. I want to know how it’s going. It just came out when they just started to notice some of the changes in my habits. It was great. It was so great.

    John: Well, it’s so cool to hear that there are follow-up questions, and they want to know more. They want to be a part of the journey. I feel like so many times in our own heads, we create these stories of, I don’t know, it has nothing to do with my job. It doesn’t matter for accounting. It really creates those connections and makes people care about each other.

    Jessica: Yes, absolutely.

    John: Which it is so cool to hear that you got to experience that. That’s so awesome. Did you ever get any of your coworkers into the exercising more or anything? Or were they more like, yeah, live vicariously through Jessica, we’re good?

    Jessica: I would say a bit of both. I did meet others that I had no clue who were into physical fitness just like me and so, in sharing, I had better, I would say deeper connections with some of my coworkers and colleagues, and built stronger bonds with them because I had no clue they were into rowing or marathons or triathlons. Wow, there are other athletes out here and understood what it meant when, again, I couldn’t do the happy hours, or I couldn’t drink the soda that I love to drink so much. They understood. It definitely strengthened bond and had better relationships with my coworkers at the time.

    John: That’s awesome. That’s so cool to hear that it’s like make-believe in my little bubble world. It’s like, no, no, for real, this stuff works, and it’s really not even hard. It’s literally, somebody asked you, why are you eating this weird food? You’re like, because I’m a bodybuilder and I’ve got this competition coming up. All of sudden, magic happens.

    Jessica: Yes.

    John: There are all these interesting people around you all of a sudden. That’s so cool, so cool. How much do you feel like it’s on an organization to maybe create that space and encourage people to share their “ands”, versus maybe just as an individual amongst their little circle?

    Jessica: I will say, before this, as an African American woman in a white male-dominated profession, I didn’t feel as though I could bring that part of me to work. I kept work at work and home at home, but as I mentioned before, by opening up and sharing, I did build those stronger bonds with my colleagues. I would encourage anyone that has that mindset that I used to have, that they should open up. I would also say that COVID and working from home has definitely allowed people to see more of each other, beyond just them as another coworker. We’ve met people’s partners, their kids, their pets, their extended families. We’ve learned people’s favorite happy hour beverages, their favorite dish and hobbies. We’ve definitely become more of a caring society when it came to that. That’s one of the, I will say, the silver linings of COVID, but just having that open, inclusive environment is great for everyone.

    John: Yeah, we’ve been in each other’s homes.

    Jessica: Yes.

    John: You see the picture or the painting on the wall or the something. As we move towards whatever the future of work is for whatever firm or company people are at, the toothpaste is out of the tube. Keep asking about that, about their cat that kept walking across the camera or whatever. Just, what’s up with that? How’s he doing, or how’s she doing, all that stuff. I love that. It really does humanize work. That’s where connections happen, is over the human side of things, not the technical skills side so much. It’s cool to hear that you got to experience that. That’s awesome. Those words of encouragement were also great for people, of just, hey, if you feel like you don’t have anything in common with people, share more dimensions to you because then that increases the odds that you have something in common.

    Jessica: Absolutely. Exactly.

    John: It’s so cool to hear how that worked for you. If you feel like an outsider, you’re probably not, at the end of the day, because we have so much more in common than we don’t.

    Jessica: Yeah, it brings that sense of belonging which is, a lot of us minorities want to feel.

    John: Yeah.

    Jessica: Definitely, to this day, so glad that I shared that. Sometimes when I bump into people that I’ve known from years ago, doing that, they’d ask me, are you still competing? I say, when I’m done having kids, I definitely plan to get back.

    John: That’s so great that people bring that up.

    Jessica: Yes.

    John: It’s not, oh, are you still a controller, or are you still doing accounting? Nobody asks that question because that’s who you really are, is the bodybuilder, and that’s so much more of who you are. Because if I told you, you could never do bodybuilding again, you’d be like, that sucks. If I were like, you could never do accounting again; you’d be like, well, I’m sure I’ll figure it out. It’ll be all right.

    Jessica: Exactly.

    John: That gives me more time to do bodybuilding. Awesome.

    Jessica: I bought this new, so I need to start really using it now.

    John: Right. Right. No, but that’s so cool to hear. So cool to hear. I feel like it’s just such an encouraging story and just how it’s manifested itself to bring you closer to coworkers and to friends and everything, so keep it up. Congratulations on everything. It’s super cool.

    Jessica: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    John: Super cool. I feel like it’s only fair that, since I started out the episode, rudely peppering you with questions, that I get to turn the tables, and we’ll have the first episode of the Jessica E. McClain podcast. Thanks for having me as a guest. Whatever questions you want to ask, I’m all yours.

    Jessica: All right, I’ve got a couple for you. What is the favorite place you’ve traveled to?

    John: Favorite place I’ve traveled. My wife and I went to the Maldives. They’re like sandbars in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I’m pretty sure that, I don’t know, if the wind blew hard, they would just all go underwater, but the Maldives was pretty awesome. Then we stopped in Abu Dhabi and Dubai on the way there. That was pretty cool.

    Jessica: You are speaking my language.

    John: Right.

    Jessica: My husband and I are going to the Maldives next year.

    John: Oh, nice.

    Jessica: We’ve been in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, back in 2015, so, fellow traveler. I love it.

    John: Yeah. No, totally. Just different cultures, different aspects, it’s neat to see, but it also makes you appreciate what you have at home, at the same time. Very cool. That was definitely a pretty awesome trip.

    Jessica: All right, I’ve got two more left. Your favorite sport.

    John: Favorite sport, easily, well, college football to watch, for sure, and go-to and all of the things. Although, playing, I was more of a soccer player because I’m not a large individual, or fast. I’m a backup punter, basically, is what I am, on the football team, but in soccer, I’m pretty good. I guess those two sports probably.

    Jessica: Okay. Okay. The last question I have to ask, again, being the CFO for the Girl Scouts Council of the Nation’s Capital, your favorite Girl Scout cookie.

    John: Oh, Thin Mints all day.

    Jessica: You know what, John?

    John: All day.

    Jessica: I knew you were my buddy.

    John: Right. Right.

    Jessica: I’ve got a box in my refrigerator right now that I shouldn’t eat, but Lord knows I want to eat.

    John: Well, in case you need anyone to eat them for you, I’m here for you as part of your support team, Jessica. I will take one for the team and eat all of your Thin Mints. You put them in the freezer? Oh, so good, so good.

    Jessica: I just had them in the freezer. I put them in the refrigerator, and I’m trying to tell myself not to eat them.

    John: People that put them in their pantry, it’s like, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t you know?

    Jessica: Do you know the flavor that comes from it when it has that chill to it?

    John: The cold, oh, yeah. Oh, totally, totally. Oh, man, now I’m starving. I’m going to go get some right now. This has been so much fun, Jessica. Thank you so much for being a part of What’s Your “And”?

    Jessica: Thank you for having me. Thank you, thank you, thank you, John.

    John: Everyone listening, if you want to see some pictures of Jessica from her competitions or connect with her 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, and don’t forget to read the 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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