Episode 495 – Aaron Berson

Aaron is a CEO & DIY YouTube Diploma Earner

Aaron Berson talks about how his general curiosity led him towards his passion for taking on DIY projects and earning YouTube diplomas! He also talks about how this passion has benefitted his career! And why it is important to embrace an employee’s skill outside of the office!

Episode Highlights
• Getting into DIY projects
• How his passion for DIY projects applies to his work
• Why it is important for both the leadership and the individual to create a work culture that embraces outside of work skills
• How discovering a co-worker’s ‘And’ can help develop a working relationship
• Offering monthly stipends to employees
• Using the right tool despite the cost

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    Welcome to Episode 495 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett. 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” — 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”, those things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that actually differentiates you when you’re at work.

    If you like what the show is about, be sure to check out the book. It’s on Amazon, Indigo, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, a few other websites. All the links are at whatsyourand.com. If you want me to read it to you, that’s right, this voice is reading the book, look for What’s Your “And”? on Audible or wherever you get your audio books. The book goes more in depth with the research behind why these outside-of-work passions are so crucial to your corporate culture. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s reading it and listening to it and writing such great reviews on Amazon, and more importantly, changing the cultures where they work 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, Aaron Berson. He’s the CEO and founder of Fringe Advisory Co out in New York City, and now he’s with me here today. Aaron, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And?”

    Aaron: Thanks for having me. My pleasure.

    John: This is going to be a blast. This is going to be awesome. I do have some rapid-fire questions to get to know Aaron out of the gate here. Hopefully you’re buckled in and ready for the ride.

    Aaron: Let’s do it.

    John: All right, I like that. I like that. Maybe an easy one. How about your computer, a PC or a Mac?

    Aaron: PC, hands down.

    John: Yeah, me too.

    Aaron: Not even a question. Excel in Mac just doesn’t work. It’s horrible. Excel, if you still use Quickbooks Desktop, Quickbooks Desktop Mac, it is a horrible bane of my existence. I will never have a Mac.

    John: That’s awesome. There you go. How about more Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Aaron: That’s a tough one. That’s a tough one. Original Star Wars, but now I’d say more Star Trek with the newer Star Wars. Not a big fan of the newer ones.

    John: Yeah, yeah. I’ve only seen the original three, I guess four, five and six, whatever, because I haven’t heard great things, and I don’t want to ruin it.

    Aaron: Exactly. Exactly.

    John: That’s why I’m just going to ride it with that.

    Aaron: Although the new remakes of Star Trek are pretty good that they’ve come out with the movie versions, but it’s timeless. It’s timeless.

    John: That’s awesome. How about a Sudoku, crossword or jigsaw puzzles?

    Aaron: Can I say none?

    John: None. None counts. Absolutely. None of them. Yeah, totally.

    Aaron: If I had to choose, I’d say Sudoku, but that’s not really what I enjoy doing, not really my thing.

    John: That’s totally an answer. How about a favorite color?

    Aaron: Red, hands down.

    John: Red. Interesting.

    Aaron: Red and black, that combination, or purple and gold. Those are my two favorite combinations.

    John: How about a least favorite color?

    Aaron: White. It’s just very boring. It’s just not a lot going on.

    John: You can tell you’ve done a lot of primer, your DIY projects because you’re like…

    Aaron: Don’t even get me started on that.

    John: There you go. How about a favorite season, summer, winter, spring or fall?

    Aaron: Hands down, it would be fall.

    John: Fall. Me, too.

    Aaron: Fall followed by winter.

    John: Okay.

    Aaron: Summer is my least favorite. I do not like the heat.

    John: No, it’s gross. Totally. How about a favorite ice cream flavor?

    Aaron: Out of the normal one?

    John: Any of them, man. I love ice cream. That’s why I asked.

    Aaron: I would say Tiramisu. There was this small ice cream place —

    John: Wow.

    Aaron: Where I used to live in Pennsylvania, there is a small ice cream place, Jane’s Ice Cream, that they made Tiramisu with actual liquor in it.

    John: Fancy.

    Aaron: It was delicious.

    John: That’s awesome. How about a favorite day of the week?

    Aaron: Friday.

    John: Friday. Solid. There you go. It’s TGIF. It’s not TGI Tuesday.

    Aaron: Specifically, 5pm on Friday is really what it is.

    John: Friday evenings are really what matters. How about, since you have the accounting background, balance sheet or income statement?

    Aaron: Oh, boy. Let’s go with the balance sheet. Sure, why not?

    John: I like that one because then you know you’re done, because it evens out.

    Aaron: The P&L is part of the balance sheet, technically. It sits down in net income or retained earnings, so, the full picture. I like the full picture.

    John: Fair enough. Are you more of an early bird or a night owl?

    Aaron: I’m actually both. I will wake up at 5:00 in the morning and I’ll go to sleep at 2am in the morning.

    John: Oh, my goodness.

    Aaron: Not every day.

    John: You could do both.

    Aaron: I often do, but.

    John: There you go. How about a favorite number?

    Aaron: 13.

    John: Oh, really?

    Aaron: Yes. No one else’s, plus also my birthday is on the 13th, so I go with that one.

    John: Yeah, it has to be. There you go. How about when it comes to books, audio version, e-book or real book?

    Aaron: Actually, real books when it comes to books.

    John: Me, too.

    Aaron: I like the tangible feel of it, even though I have five different e-readers and stuff like that. I have all this stuff, but I still like the real book.

    John: The preference. Yeah. Absolutely. Since you’re in the New York City area, favorite toppings on a pizza. You can load it up.

    Aaron: Just plain pepperoni.

    John: Oh, okay. Just a slice.

    Aaron: Simple.

    John: There it is. Yeah. I like that. How about a favorite actor or an actress?

    Aaron: Don’t really have one.

    John: Fair enough. All of them or none of them.

    Aaron: There’s none that if you said, oh this person is in this movie, I would say, oh I have to go see it. There’s none like that.

    John: Fair enough. Fair enough. How about, this is a fun one, planes, trains or automobiles?

    Aaron: Planes, trains or automobiles. I would probably have to go with automobiles, just being able to drive around and the freedom to go wherever you want to go and just travel and like hop in a car and go someplace.

    John: Just go wherever you want to go.

    Aaron: Yes.

    John: Not where the trains going or where the airplanes… There you go. How about a TV show that you would binge-watch?

    Aaron: There are so many of them, especially now with the pandemic. Come on.

    John: Right.

    Aaron: Big Bang Theory is one that I would binge-watch, The Office. The Office, Big Bang Theory are two big ones. I probably re-watched those four times within the pandemic.

    John: Great shows, great shows. Totally. The last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own.

    Aaron: Oh, Jeez. There are too many things. It’s all my tech toys. My two 3D printers, my drone, my computer, my video equipment, it’s all my tech toys. That’s it.

    John: I love how you’re looking around your room, like, I have no idea.

    Aaron: It’s over there. It’s over there.

    John: Those are awesome things, man. Two 3D printers.

    Aaron: Yeah, of course.

    John: Did you print the other 3D printer from your first 3D printer?

    Aaron: I didn’t, but you can. You can.

    John: That’s amazing. That’s amazing. That’s awesome, man. Very cool. Let’s get into, I guess, YouTube diplomas, which I love that concept, but just basically just DIY-ing everything and figuring out how to DIY it. You’re DIY-ing the DIY which is next level, which is pretty awesome. How did you get started along that path?

    Aaron: It really comes down to just endless curiosity, and just always wanting to understand how things work, not even necessarily the why. Now in my older age, I like to know the why, but it started out just wanting to figure it out. Actually, when I was a kid, watching the plumber, the mechanic or the electrician that came into the house. I was the annoying four-year-old standing next to them watching everything they’re doing. It was more just the curiosity of, how does this thing work that we use every day? Then that dovetailed into just a never-ending desire to keep learning really. YouTube made that very easy because you didn’t have to read a book. You could find an expert somewhere in the world who made a video and piece it together and figure it out.

    John: I’ve done that so many times myself, man, so many times. It’s just, oh, okay, all right. Here’s how you do this. All right, perfect.

    Aaron: You watch 25 hours of videos and then, hey, you’re cutting down a 65-foot tree with a chainsaw for the first time.

    John: Exactly. What could go wrong? What could go wrong?

    Aaron: Nothing. Nothing at all.

    John: I have the diploma.

    Aaron: Exactly.

    John: That’s awesome, man. Do you have any favorite projects that you’ve done? Besides cutting down 65-foot tree, which that has to be on the list, but are there others?

    Aaron: That was just fun to see it explode when it landed, but.

    John: Right?

    Aaron: There are so many of them, whether it’s remodeling the bathroom when I moved into this apartment or taking apart the whole engine of my car and rebuilding it because, hey, it wasn’t working. It was an old car. Either I’d get rid of it, pay someone else, or try to figure it out myself. That or just from my work life, which I tend to actually enjoy, exploring how software works and fitting it together and understanding the under-the-hood aspect of all that. Also, my 3D printers because I’ve got two of them. Those are always fun learnings.

    John: Right? That’s awesome. We just remodeled the bathroom. You went down to the studs almost.

    Aaron: I went down to nothing. It was an empty box.

    John: The plywood.

    Aaron: Well, it was even worse because it’s in a building in New York City, so it’s down to the concrete. It’s just nothing but a concrete box and then starting from scratch. The worst part was getting down to the concrete box, removing all the tile and everything else in it.

    John: All the decades of who knows, paint and tile, and people just putting stuff on top of other stuff.

    Aaron: Yep.

    John: You’re like, really? Another layer? Oh, my gosh.

    Aaron: Also, the fun part about it, no one puts videos up about remodeling anything in a 1950s apartment building in New York City. Translating someone in a house who’s like, oh yeah, you just take down the sheet rock, you put up new sheet rock, and you’re ready to go, clean and simple; to, okay, I have all this concrete I needed somehow figured out and sliding out.

    John: You just drive to Home Depot and get your stuff and drive to your garage and park.

    Aaron: There was a Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning trip to Home Depot for like a month and a half, every day.

    John: You could just get rid of a bathtub in New York. We’ve got to drop it off at a corner at 3am when no one’s looking.

    Aaron: It’s funny you should say that. If my dad’s listening and he wondered where that tub came from, in front of his house, randomly, now he knows where it came from.

    John: There you go. There you go. That’s awesome, man. That’s so good. I love that you also alluded to how this really dovetails with the work. This DIY, this mindset and this skill set and what you’re exercising outside of work, you’re bringing to work. Even if you want to or not, it’s coming with you.

    Aaron: For me, I’m fortunate. It’s bringing my passion into work. Then my work becomes fun and not work. More than that, like I said, it’s the always learning aspect and saying, how can I do this better? Is there a way to do this faster, better, quicker, with less time or whatever it is, which dovetails into everything with the DIY stuff of, how do I do this? How can I figure this out? Can I do this, XYZ, and working through it all.

    John: Yeah. It’s just so interesting, since I started the show several years ago, just how much our “and” weaves into our work because you can’t cut off part of you and go into the office. It’s like, no, no, all of Aaron is coming to work. Whether you like it or not, here he is, type of thing. I think that’s awesome. It’s definitely a skill set that you’re exercising that you’re better at work because of that. Is it something that you’ve talked about throughout your career? I know now, with Fringe Advisory Co, it’s a little bit more on your own, but when you were at bigger firms, did people know about outside-of-work-Aaron?

    Aaron: Yes, to a degree. Working at a large global firm, you talk about that “and” stuff only to a degree. What did you do this weekend? Oh, great. Okay, pleasantries done, moving on. There’s a little bit of that, but it was also something that I weaved into work even then where my bosses at the time knew that I love technology and things like this, so they put me on those types of accounts. That dovetailed into me building the group there that I built there to do outsource controller and CFO work because they knew I liked it and the tech and all that stuff. Somebody knew about it, and it dovetailed into opportunities and stuff along those lines. It wasn’t like a direct conversation, if you will. It was more over time.

    John: Right, but it is cool that they at least recognized that and that skill set and let you thrive because then you’re, man, this is the greatest. It’s not even like going to work. You’re just doing cool stuff, and I’m getting paid for this. I would do this for free.

    Aaron: Exactly. Exactly.

    John: That’s neat. How much does it matter for leadership to create that space for people to be able to share those outside-of-work interests? Or how much is it on the individual to just maybe just grab the bull by the horns and maybe start in a small circle?

    Aaron: I think it really is on both sides of the coin for the responsibility, but if management is trying to be intentional about bringing that into the culture, then it’s more on management. That’s something that even at my past firm and now at Fringe that I’ve always been very conscious about wanting to build that culture of we’re working with friends versus colleagues. That means a lot of things to a lot of different people, but more so you’re working with humans. These are people that have good days, bad days. They’re going to need your help. You’re going to need their help. They’re people that you want to be around and want to talk about all this extra stuff versus just those pleasantries.

    We built a group there and the same thing here. Our constant touch base is, being virtual and everything, there’s a lot of — you plan an hour call to do a touch base. You know that there’s going to be 20 minutes of just talking about nothing to do with the work and just talking about what’s going on in each of your lives and chatting and having that more water cooler talk, if you will. I think it’s intentional. As a firm owner now, I plan my touch base meetings to be extra-long so that there’s time like that to talk about that and encourage it, more so than anything else.

    John: I love that so much. Because especially with the remote working, we don’t pass each other in the hallways. We don’t duck into each other’s offices. We don’t accidentally bump into each other, go to lunch or whatever. You really have to be intentional with, hey, what’s up? Let’s just talk. Because so many times, you jump on the video chat, you talk about work and then the screen goes black. It’s like, what the hell, was that good? I don’t even know. What’s going on? I love how you’ve padded it and really are intentional with and almost starting with the, hey, how’s life, type of thing. Because you can’t really talk work then at the end go, oh, yeah, by the way, how’s life? It’s like, no, no, let’s lead with this, type of thing.

    Aaron: Exactly. That is literally what we lead with every call, just like, what’s going on with you? What did you do this morning? What did you do yesterday? Whatever it is. We’re even implementing and starting to use Discord to have more free-flowing chat and video conversations that can be on — in essence, I’ve been contemplating having just a Discord channel that’s always on and open that, hey, if you’re sitting around, you could jump in and just chat with each other and talk; versus, oh, let me schedule a time on your calendar to do this that and the other thing.

    John: I love that idea, man. That’s awesome.

    Aaron: Essentially bringing that open door policy that managers always talk about in bigger companies. Oh, my door’s always open, feel free to just stop in and say hi. When you’re working virtually, you don’t have that, or you can’t do that. You have to schedule a call. If you’re on an open Discord group, then they can just literally jump in and ask you a question, all the same. I’ve been starting to do that also, which has been fun.

    John: That’s cool. Or even if there’s a time. Okay, for this hour or two hours, whatever, it’s on. Hang out and chat and whatever. As long as people are getting their work done then this should be happening because the human-to-human connection is how work happens, at the end of the day. I love that idea, man. That’s such a great idea that everyone listening can easily implement this afternoon, type of thing. It’s that easy.

    Aaron: Exactly.

    John: How much does finding out about someone’s “ands” create a different relationship than other people that are around you that are just good at their job?

    Aaron: It’s night and day. With some of my team members, talking to them and then finding out how into video games they are or into cooking and things like that, it allows you to make such a different connection with them. I also like video games, or I used to, more so when I had time to play them, but I grew up playing video games and everything.

    John: Sure.

    Aaron: Then you have someone who’s in their early 20s working for you that also loves it, and that’s what they do in their spare time and everything. I give all my team members a stipend essentially, every month, whether they want to use it on lunch or breakfast or anything. On the corporate card, they can use X dollars a month, but I encourage them to use it on anything. Essentially, this could be food every day, or you want to go to the movies. I don’t care. It’s for extra stuff. The first month that I did it, this guy goes, and he buys a new fancy keyboard. The next month, he buys a little projector so that he could play his games on the wall. He bought a Bluetooth speaker. Every month he just saved the stipend for that and just retrofitted his whole gaming outfit on the company, which I’m fine with. Knowing that he does that and knowing that he enjoys that, makes a whole different connection with him as my team member. Versus, hey, great you show up nine to five, and you do your work and okay, great, you’re good at your job, you’re not good at your job, and move on. That dovetails into the beginning of every one of those conversations. Hey, what game were you playing this weekend? Did you hear about this new thing that came out? You’re able to connect a lot more.

    John: I love how you remember and then you’re asking about it, which shows that individual, wow, Aaron cares about me as a person because he hired all of me and not just the technical skills part. He cares about all of me, and he wants to know about all of me, sort of a thing. It’s such a simple, but not easy thing, apparently, of just care. Just care.

    Aaron: Care for the whole person, not just the work person. I also think that’s, to the point of your whole podcast about what’s the “and”, I think it dovetails into that because, for example, my boss knew enough that they knew I liked tech, so they put me on tech clients. That dovetailed into a whole career in the startup field and dealing with and loving it and being passionate about that and then doing what I do today. Had they not done that, I may or may not have been put on that client, may or may not have been given the liberty to do X, Y and Z down the road. Even they weren’t actively asking about it, but they remembered enough to give me those opportunities. I look at it the same way. If I can know that this person likes to do these types of things, hey, maybe if I’m building out this type of automation and they really like to tinker or play with stuff like that, this might be really fun for them. Giving them a bunch of time to say, hey, go figure this out and challenge yourself, and we’ll work through it; is a lot more rewarding to them than, hey, go reconcile this or go make this forecast. A little bit different.

    John: Totally. Then the person that likes a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzles, you go do the forecast. You go analyze this thing that’s all nitty-gritty and whatever.

    Aaron: Exactly. It ends up impacting what they do. I had another employee who really like to do things like that with visual dashboards and things looking pretty and everything. I told him, “I’m thrilled that you love to do this. I have no problem with you spending time doing this.” A week later, this was for a brand-new client, the old accounting firm had been using some Excel basic tabular formulas of stuff; he comes back the next week for our weekly touch base with this client with this entire visual graphic dashboard Excel file, drill-downs and everything. The client’s jaw dropped to the floor. I loved it. I was like, this is fantastic. Then had him do it on five more clients, and he’s having the time of his life. He’s energized by it. He’s looking up how to do things better and more efficient in Excel and how to interface with these things. He’s now having fun doing what he’s doing versus it just being work. He’s still getting his stuff done. That’s the minimum. You’ve got to get your work done. If you get your work done, then play on whatever you want to play on. At that point, I don’t care what you do.

    John: I think we’re all doing the minimum. We’re all trying. Sure, there are some people mailing it in or whatever, but 99% of us are trying, and we’re getting our work done. There’s so much more. The joy that these people have now at work, like you said, it’s more than just work. Now it’s a joyful experience. Why shouldn’t there be some emotion and some positive things like that happening at work? You harness that energy and that enthusiasm and that passion for their “and” or these other skills that they have, and let’s ride it. Ride that wave. I love it, man. That’s awesome.

    Aaron: 1000%. Also, in today’s world where we’re virtual, and I have an opinion a lot of companies do virtual wrong. They just replicate the in-work experience, just you’re sitting at home. It’s more isolation.

    John: It’s a different animal.

    Aaron: It’s not the same.

    John: Yes, exactly.

    Aaron: In the true form of virtual, in my opinion, of making work just integrate into part of your daily life and not being, I block out these hours to do work. It’s more of this ebb and flow throughout the day. I think in that type of virtual environment, it becomes so much more important where, if someone’s sitting there for an hour playing with a software because they enjoy that or something like that, that doesn’t feel like work. It’s not draining them. Yet if they then go off on their own and they’re doing something around town because, in the middle of the day, they need to go do something because work is not asynchronous; it gets to the point where then they’re thinking about that because they’re enjoying it. Even though they’re doing other stuff and whatever, their brains don’t stop working on your work problems. You actually get more productivity.

    At least for me, personally, when I’m stuck on a problem, if I go and do something totally different and my brain’s still working on it; all of a sudden, randomly, the solution pops in my head. Great, I just figured it out. Versus, had I been in front of my desk trying to figure that out for two hours, I probably would not have figured it out. I would have been so frustrated, so drained, would have gotten nothing else done for the day. I think in that context where we’re going in and out of work constantly, throughout the day, it makes it so much easier to meld all that together if you’re actively including what people enjoy doing.

    John: I love that, man. That’s so spot on. You’re right. That “and” is a break, and it’s always awesome. When you’re talking about your “and” or you’re doing your “and”, it’s always great. Even when you’re remodeling a bathroom, it’s hard and you’re cussing and you’re throwing whatever, it’s still awesome. Work, sometimes it’s awesome, sure, but sometimes it’s not.

    Aaron: Sometimes it sucks.

    John: If we’re being honest. Sometimes it sucks. If you can have something that you can go to as just a reprieve, like you said, subconsciously, you’re thinking about it anyway; then you come back refreshed. You come back with new ideas. You come back with a solution. Everybody wins.

    Aaron: Exactly. I think also the “and” and what we do outside of work, sometimes teaches us very simple lessons that we forget about when we’re in work. You bring up cursing while doing projects. I just have this vivid thought back to when I was tearing apart the engine of my car and doing everything with that, watching the video, something not quite the same, trying to figure out how it applies to what I’m doing. Just working on something for two to three hours, not being able to take a nut off or a bolt off because it’s rusted on or whatever, I’m not using quite the right tool, but just trying to figure it out, three hours in, about to break down. I can’t figure this out. The emotion of that is so strong even now, and this is four years later. Just finally giving in and saying, I have to go get the right tool. They said this tool. It costs money. I didn’t want to spend the money on it. Okay, I’ll go get the right tool. I go out to the store, get the right tool, come back, put the tool on; literally, 30 seconds later, it comes off. No problems. No nothing. I had just been sitting there for three hours pulling my hair out wanting to jump off a cliff with how frustrated I was.

    John: Trying to save 20 bucks.

    Aaron: Exactly. Exactly. That’s really what it was. It was a $25 tool, but I was like, I’m never going to use this other than this one thing. Realistically, am I ever going to do this one thing again? Maybe once in four years. That lesson of using the right tool even if it costs a little bit more money is so now ingrained in me because I had this visceral reaction to it, that when one of my team members comes to me and they’re doing something manual, they’re like, oh, this is going to take a lot of time. Oh, but I heard about this tool or whatever. I’m like, buy it, get it. I don’t care. It’s going to make your life better. It’s going to make you less drained.

    This happened literally two weeks ago. It’s funny because I think QuickBooks notifies you when people connect other apps to it and stuff like that. All of a sudden, I saw these three apps connected that my team was doing trial versions on. I was just like, what’s going on? What are you trying to solve for? They’re like, oh, we have to do this where we import all this stuff and edit this and blah-blah. I’m like, we have a tool that does that. I have this tool that can interface with it. I have to pay per user whatever. They’re like, oh, no, I don’t want you to pay extra for me. It’s not that important. I could do it manually. I’m like, no, no, no. This is the right tool for the right job. That small cost is so minimal versus you actually feeling good about what you’re doing as my employee.

    That comes from this visceral reaction to being frustrated with doing something on my car and being covered in oil and just frustrated to, now, anytime someone has a need like that, my gut reaction is, is it the right tool? Does it solve the need? Great. It costs more money? Doesn’t matter. It’s going to get this done in five seconds. You’re going to be happier. It’s a one-time thing, it’s a recurring thing, whatever it is, just using the right tools. That’s a very simple thing. We all know there’s the adage, the right tool for the right project, whatever, all that stuff. You forget about these things when you’re in the moment, especially when there’s cost associated with it. A lot of people’s gut reactions are, oh, I don’t want to spend more money on that. That eats into my profits or this, that or the other thing. It’s like…

    John: Exactly. Three hours of sitting there trying to do it, for 25 bucks, you could have saved three hours and the mental anguish. Even now, four years later, bringing it up, being like, oh. Then you’re saving your people. That’s how so much of these outside-of-work things spill over into work, subconsciously. Whether we want them to or not, they’re just going to. I think that’s such a great example for people to realize. These things matter. Find out what they are and harness them and lean into them. Do you have any words of encouragement to anyone listening that maybe has a hobby or passion outside of work that they feel like no one’s going to care about because it has nothing to do with my job?

    Aaron: One, you as a person are more than your job, so don’t be afraid to be you. I’m a functional nerd, I call it all the time. 90% of people can’t relate to that, but then randomly, you’ll have someone that relates to it and then you build a connection that’s so strong that you never would have built otherwise. For someone who’s scared to show their “and” because they think it’s so strange and weird and whatever, just start trickling it into conversations because you never know if someone else is just as weird as you. Really, that’s usually what ends up happening. That example of my employee who’s a gamer, he was so hesitant to talk about it at first. Once he did and I brought it up, he lights up on conversations now, when he gets to talk about the new game he played or whatever it is. He gets loud and vocal and energized. Then we talk about accounting after, but he has that moment where he just has so much fun.

    John: He’s alive.

    Aaron: Exactly. He would never bring it up on his own. Just trickling it in, you never know who’s going to take an interest. You never know who’s going to give you that freedom to be alive and to be yourself. Also, for me, personally, I was always a techie and a nerd about all of it. I would disappear for two hours to go learn how a new software works to use this one cool unique feature that saves you ten minutes per tax return that no one else figured out how to use. People would wonder why I just disappeared into that flow state for two hours. I was probably viewed a little bit weird because they didn’t know what I was doing. When they learned what I was doing and then thought it was cool and everything, it opened up different doors and actually changed the perception of certain things. Words of encouragement, just be you. Have the courage to just say what you enjoy and what you like because you never know what’s going to come of it and what positive things — look, there might be negative things too. I’m not going to say it’s always all positive.

    John: Yeah, as long as it’s not illegal, and it’s not taboo, then we’re good. If it’s a place that doesn’t want to know or care, then maybe you’re not at the right place.

    Aaron: Being somewhere that you’re respected and appreciated and valued and that you enjoy, that also expedites that conversation of, hey, should I look elsewhere, from that standpoint.

    John: That’s awesome, man. I love it, just hearing how you can actually see people come alive. I have the original Nintendo downstairs.

    Aaron: So do I.

    John: From when I was a kid, the OG, original one. It’s awesome. It’s cool now how the cartridges, there’s so much more data can be stored on a chip now. I have one cartridge with 100 Nintendo games on it. I don’t even need extra cartridges. It’s just the one. It’s just like, this is great. It’s just cool to talk to people about that, if that’s what they’re into. It’s like, all right, this is great.

    I feel before we wrap this up, since I so rudely peppered you with questions at the beginning, that we turn the tables. We make this the first episode of the Aaron Berson podcast. Thanks for having me on as your first guest. I’m all yours, man, whatever you want to ask.

    Aaron: I love it. I love it. Let’s steal something from you. What’s your “and”? I think I know what it is, but let’s go with that real quick.

    John: I’m way into college football, super college football. Music, I love going to concerts and play the piano. Travel, and ice cream, for sure, is definitely one of my “ands”.

    Aaron: So you have a few.

    John: Yeah. Comedy, when I was working in the accounting world, doing comedy on the side was certainly an “and” then. That’s what really got it all started, I guess.

    Aaron: Gotcha. What’s your funniest joke?

    John: Oh, my funniest joke. A joke, joke, like a street joke?

    Aaron: I don’t know. You’re the comedian, not me. You tell me.

    John: It’s only funny to you, man, because you’re the only audience right now. There’s one that seems to have some traction, and it plays on Sirius and Pandora that I see it sometimes when the McRib is back in McDonald’s. I think that the McRib is like the deadbeat dad of the fast-food sandwiches because it’s gone for six months and then it comes back for only like a week or two, and we’re all supposed to be excited about it. Where’s the McRib been? Locked up with the Hamburglar? Fillet-o-fish has been here all along, and Fillet-o-fish is gross. It’s just like a square hockey puck. What is this?

    Aaron: I hear you. Nice.

    John: That’s a good one that people seem to enjoy. Then the next time you see a McRib, you’re going to be like, ah dammit, John, get it.

    Aaron: Next time I see someone from England trying the American McRib sandwich they have over there, that’s not what I’m going to think about.

    John: There you go. There you go.

    Aaron: Great. Last question for you. You’ve been doing this a while, hearing everyone’s “ands”. What is the most interesting or unique one that you’ve run across? I’m curious. You’ve got so many podcast episodes. It’s hard to watch through or listen through all of them.

    John: There are so many, man. Everything from a guy who designs custom suits and has them made for you. He measures you, full-on tailor experience, custom suits, has them made, brings them, all that. He’s a forensics accountant and then does this on the side just because he really likes fashion. Or somebody that was an engineer and a print model. She’s a chemical engineer in Australia and is a model. You’re just like, this is awesome. Going out, doing all the chemical engineering stuff and then photography and modeling on the side, just for fun. Then there’s also somebody that makes kombucha at home. I don’t even know what that’s all about, but let’s talk about it. Like you said, to some people it’s weird, but we’re all weird in our own way. That’s maybe what the show should be, is let’s get weird.

    Aaron: What’s you weird?

    John: Yeah, what makes you unique and different and what lights you up, and it’s all good. Like I said, if it’s not illegal and it’s not taboo, then the gloves are off. Fair game. Even if it’s not something that I do, it’s still interesting to me. It’s really cool to see people light up, like you’ve witnessed. To see that animation and to see that is just such an awesome thing. If we could do that at work every day, every other day, how great work would be.

    Aaron: Oh, yeah. Really, we should strive to do that in every aspect of our lives, not just work.

    John: Very true. Very true.

    Aaron: I see people even do that with friends. They’re not their true selves with “friends” because they’re worried about being judged and everything. That’s something I’ve learned. Just to be yourself. I’m weird as all hell. I own it. I know it. I love it. If you want to come be weird with me, great. Let’s go geek out about something because my weird thing is learning about whatever else is going on in the world. You want to teach me how to make kombucha, I’m going to be there and try to figure it out with you.

    John: Right. Exactly. Or even how to spell it. I’m not even positive. I know there’s a K.

    Aaron: I will not drink it, but I’ll learn about it with you.

    John: I’ll make it. There you go, man. That’s awesome. I really appreciate you taking time to be a part of What’s Your “And”?, man. This has been really fun.

    Aaron: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

    John: Totally. Everybody listening, if you want to see some pictures of Aaron outside of work or maybe some of his projects 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, and don’t forget to check out the book.

    Thanks again for subscribing on Apple podcast 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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