Episode 69 – Chris Callegari

Chris salsa dances his way to better coworker relationships


Chris Callegari admits he’s the last person he thought would ever try salsa dancing, let alone performing dance of any kind. But shortly after he graduated college, he was looking for a new challenge and signed up after for salsa classes after seeing an ad in a newspaper. Since then, he’s gotten pretty good and he’s got the 1st Place trophy to prove it!

In this episode, we talk about how his salsa dancing showed him how stepping out of his comfort zone could lead to success. Chris even had someone on his team excited to share that she had just started salsa lessons herself! By taking the time to get to know his team over monthly check-in meetings and then also sharing his hobbies and passions with them, he feels like it’s made him a much better manager.

Chris Callegari is an accounting manager for a Fortune 500 company, where he’s worked up the ranks for the last ten years.

He graduated from Auburn University with a BBA in Accounting and later returned for his Master of Accounting, graduating cum laude.

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    Now, it’s time for this week’s guest, Chris Callegari, an accounting manager with a Fortune 500 company. He graduated from Auburn University with a BBA in accounting and later went back there for his master’s in accounting. I’ve known Chris for a long time. I’m super stoked that he’s with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Chris, one thing that I honestly don’t know about you is just how’d you pick accounting?

    Chris: Great question. Okay. It was not what I planned it to be.

    John: That makes two of us. Perfect.

    Chris: Yeah, exactly. Went to college, really struggled in the year or two leading up before college, really thinking what I was going to do, ended up getting a summer job at I think Walgreens in the pharmacy department, and was pretty interested in that after I got to work there for a summer or so. It seemed somewhat interesting.

    I was like, “Great. I’m going to go be a pharmacist.” Went to college, was majoring in pre-pharmacy. Year one grades were fairly poor, much to the chagrin of my parents. That took some thought of “You know what? Forget it.”

    Of course, I have to take something else. It’s funny. I laugh at myself, because it seemed so right at the time. I was like,”Hey, I think I’m going to take a semester off and just think about what I want to do.”

    John: It works in the movies. Come on.

    Chris: Exactly. I’m like, “Other people do it. Why can’t I do it?” Well, you really need to think of something. Business. Business was always kind of in the back of my mind. “You know, that could be interesting.”

    It was really getting down accounting and finance. Honestly, I’m not even sure why I picked accounting. I think I did – obviously, this is going back quite a ways, but – I think I did it because I thought it made more money for whatever reason. I may have read an article or someone told me or something, so I was like “Oh, that sounds great. I’ll pick that.”

    John: Right. Plus, it started with “a”, so it was first in the book. Ah, yeah. That one.

    Chris: This makes perfect sense. Why not?

    John: That’s great, man.

    Chris: Did that, got a job, then here I am for that.

    John: Yeah, man. That’s great. I got a D in physics and just got completely pummeled by engineering and was like “Yeah, probably not for me.” I just remember taking the first semester final exam. It was one of these where there’s only four questions, but there’s 15 parts to each one. I literally out loud just was like “Who cares?” There’s a frog on a disc spinning at this rate in a tree, and it jumps off at this angle. What happens to the rate of the disc? I’m like “I don’t even care.” If I’m walking in a forest and there’s a frog on a disc, I’m in the wrong forest. What’s going on? This is not good.

    At least you have a reason. Mine is just – it just wasn’t clicking. It just wasn’t for me. You’re not alone, man. You’re not alone.

    Chris: I’m glad to hear that.

    John: Now look. You’re an accounting manager and kicking butt and taking names. I think it’s awesome. It’s great, man. More taking names, but either way, it’s all good.

    I think this is so great, too, how on your nights and weekends when you have some free time, what are the hobbies and passions that you love to do? I’m guessing Auburn football has to be one of them for sure.

    Chris: Definitely. Certainly, a huge sports guy. As I get older, I try to relive my youth. I played basketball quite a bit. I played tennis in high school. I try to play some when the weather complies. Also, something that was interesting was a little unique with that – since I graduated college and moved back home, a lot of my friends had scattered all over the country. My roommates from Auburn went back to their respective areas to work.

    Such a loss. Man, I’m getting pretty bored. I need to pick up a hobby. I play some sports. That’s great. That’s fine. I saw an ad I believe in a newspaper for salsa dancing lessons. To give you just some background, I had never done any dance ever in my life. And let’s just say I’m not dancing or any of the sort, like I’ve done nothing. I have zero experience. It’s the epitome of winging it. There is no better definition of just completely – I have zero experience. I’ve never done this before. I’ve never thought about doing it before. But for some reason, it made no sense at all.

    I go “You know what? Maybe I should step outside my comfort zone and try. What’s the worst-case scenario? I’ll go, and I’ll be horrible, and I won’t go back.” Which is weird, because usually, I just don’t do stuff like that, generally speaking. But for whatever reason, it seemed to make sense. I was like “You know what? I need to just step outside my comfort zone, but I’m going to do it, and we’ll just see what happens.”

    I went. I won’t lie. As I was walking up, I was having second, third, and fourth thoughts. “Is this really such a good idea? Why am I doing this again? I’m going to make a fool out of myself?”

    John: Tall, awkward white dude.

    Chris: All the stereotypes of what you would not want to be.

    John: Right. For salsa dancing.

    Chris: Exactly. I go there, and of course, it’s a room full of people. Long story short, somehow, I made it through the first class, walked out of there. The good part was that there was plenty of people that didn’t know what the heck they were doing, either. I kept going. Little by little, I got a little bit better. Like with most things in life, some people kind of stuck with it, some people dropped out. You see some of the same people, and then some people you never see again.

    One class turned into two. Two turned into five. Five turned into a month. A month turned into three months. Got more confident. I kept getting better. You would see other people get better. It all must be like a mini-competition, like “So-and-so is really good. I need to learn what they’re learning.”

    The guy who ran it was based out of California. He was getting a little bit older. He decided – I would assume, I think he was based out of L.A. – what I would assume is that there was a ton of Latin dance teachers, clubs, classes there, and you come to Tennessee where I’m located, and let’s just say there’s no competition, because there is nothing. There are not much of a choice here. Memphis, Tennessee is not really known as the Latin dance capital of the world.

    John: It’s hard to salsa to blues, right?

    Chris: Yeah, exactly. He came here and he started developing a team. Long story short, all these different areas have teams of dances. They’ll go to these conventions in different cities, and they’ll just do a performance, much like if your kids were in ballet or something. They did a performance or whatever.

    John: Is it like a competition or more of just a performance?

    Chris: It was more of a performance. We would go to these weekend-long conventions. There’d be performances at night at some hotel. They’re the ballroom. They’ll have a live band there. They would have an open dance thing till 3:00 in the morning, and then the next night, they would have the same thing. It’ll just be a whole weekend full of activities.

    He was developing a team here, because he had one in California, to learn routines and go to these conventions when we could and perform there with all the other people that came in from all over the country and even some other countries. It was actually pretty amazing.

    Oddly enough, I get a phone call one day from this guy. He’s like “Can you come over here? We’re doing extra practice, and we need somebody.”

    I was like “That’s kind of weird.”

    John: Yeah. You got called up to the bigs. Look at you, man.

    Chris: Sure. Sort of. Yeah. I didn’t have anything else going on, so I’m like “Yeah. Sure.” Didn’t really know what he was talking about, but yeah. Sure. It ended up being me, him, and one other girl. He ran me through this routine. In the back of my mind, I’m like “What the heck is this guy doing? What are we even doing?” It was so random.

    We got through it. Afterwards, he said “Hey, man. I just wanted to know if you wanted to be a part of the team. He’s like “We need another guy, and I think you’re ready.”

    I was incredulous. What? I’m like “Are you sure you’ve got the right person? Are you kidding me?”

    He was laughing. “No, I’m serious. I think you’re ready. You need to get better, obviously, but I think you’re ready.”

    I was so dumbfounded. I was so caught by surprise. I was like “Sure. Yeah.”

    Oddly enough, I was part of the team. We would have practices twice a week for like two and a half hours. Thursday night and Saturday morning.

    John: Oh, my goodness. That’s pretty intense.

    Chris: Yeah. We would just drill these routines over and over and over and over again. But it was really fun. I had some of the best times. People just cracking jokes. I’ve met a lot of cool people that I normally wouldn’t hang out with. I was on the team, and that’s actually how I met my wife.

    John: Look at that. Wow.

    Chris: Again, that was another huge benefit, obviously.

    John: Right. I think it’s so cool that you stepped out of your comfort zone, like you said, and “Let’s see what happens.” You’re not going to die. What’s the worst thing that can happen? I have to believe that that translates because it turned out to be this unbelievably rewarding, life-changing – you met your wife – experience, and I have to believe that when it comes to other things, this is a good example that you look at to be like “Well, yeah. What’s the worst thing that can happen here? Let’s do it.”

    I think that’s great, man. That’s really, really cool. You also said – I thought it was really cool – is no one else knew what they were doing, either, which I think is exactly like when you go to work. You look around, and you’re like “Oh, everyone else must be an expert. They must be perfect salsa dancers.” When you’re at the dance or in the accounting world, it’s like, no. We’re all equally clueless. I think it’s a perfect parallel for work in the office.

    Did you have a really cool, rewarding experience from doing the salsa dances? One of the performances was just really, really awesome?

    Chris: Yes. Right after I was invited on the team, the guy who ran it, he contacted with a local club. Every Friday night, they’d have salsa dancing. Open salsa. People would come and dance or whatever. It was kind of like a competition. Anyone could join. It was just a couple, and you had to come up with your own routine. The winner would get $1,000 or $500. Something like that.

    I was dating my wife at the time. I forget whose idea it was. It was one of us, obviously. We were like “Oh, maybe we could do this.”

    We discussed it. We were like “Okay.” We picked a couple songs, and we just start “Oh, what if we did this? What if we did that?” My wife had majored in ballet. She’s like “Oh, I can kind of incorporate some ballet into this.”

    Of course, I was like “Yes. Whatever. Sounds great.” Came up with a routine, and we performed it, and we actually got first place.

    John: Nice.

    Chris: I am looking right now at the trophies that we got. First place champions salsa competition 2005.

    John: That’s so good. That’s so great, man.

    Chris: Needless to say, I’m keeping those trophies forever, because no one’s ever going to believe me if I tell them. I don’t have any proof.

    John: Right. Little do they know that you can buy trophies now, but don’t talk about it.

    Chris: Yeah. Exactly.

    John: That’s so fantastic, man. You just throw it out there, and let’s see what happens. That’s so good. Now, would you say from doing the salsa dancing that there’s any skills that you’ve developed that translate to work at all?

    Chris: Yeah, in some way. I think putting yourself out there, and don’t be afraid of failure, because again, when I first started, no clue what I was doing. I was so nervous. At the end of the day, it ends up like it really wasn’t a big deal.

    It was like “Oh. All these other people are struggling, too.” When we talk about translating to the work place, it’s like “Okay. I’m over in this area. I’m not a subject matter expert, yet. How am I going to go to this meeting and know everything?”

    Well, guess what? You’re not going to know everything. Guess what? Not everyone else does, either. I think my two cents is as long as you act cool about it, most of the time, it just kind of works out.

    If you go in there and mask it by being all cocky or even the other side of it as kind of being extremely sheepish, people kind of sense that. They see your body language. They translate it to “Oh, blood in the water”, so to speak. But I think somewhat this has definitely taught me that hey, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, and also don’t feel like you have to know everything, because you don’t. Realistically, no one else does, either.

    John: Yeah. I think that’s so perfect. It’s such a perfect example for that. It gives you some confidence going forward, which is really it. If you try hard and you put in time, you’re just trying every day to get better in the exact same way. Before you know it, you’re an accounting manager, and boom. There we go. Trophies everywhere.

    Chris: Having accounting manager trophies – I’m still waiting for that.

    John: Only a matter of time, man. That’d be so great if they had accounting manager competitions.

    Chris: Who books the most journal entries in the least amount of time without making mistakes?

    John: How that’s not on Bloomberg TV, I don’t know. Do you happen to bring up the salsa dancing? Do the people that you work with know about this? That you’ve got this little side hustle going on? You’ve got the fever, if you will?

    Chris: Yeah. They do. It’s funny. It’s always hilarious seeing people’s reactions. At first, they kind of look at you like “Ah, come on, dude. Really?”

    John: Like “You like to eat salsa or…? Did you wrong verb there?”

    Chris: Yeah. They don’t understand what it is. But the kind of interesting thing is that I have one of the people on my team – she’s fairly young, a few years out of college – she actually got interested in salsa dancing because I think one of her friends was going to some lessons. Like I said earlier, there’s only really one show in town, so if you go, you’re going to this guy. There’s really no other choices.

    She knew that I did that. She comes into my office one day, and she’s like “Hey, guess what I did this weekend?”

    I went “I don’t know. What?”

    She told me about it. I was like “Holy cow.”

    Then she starts naming off “Oh, you know so-and-so?”

    I’m like “Yeah. So-and-so and so-and-so.”

    “Yeah. I talked to so-and-so about you, and they said that you used to dance on the team and whatever.” It was funny.

    John: Like your worlds are colliding, in a way?

    Chris: Right, exactly. I think every once in a while, because she met a guy there I think that very day. I don’t know how often they still go.

    John: This salsa dancing is potent, man. That’s all I’m getting out of this.

    Chris: Dude, honestly. We know so many people from when I first went that ended up getting married. Multiple couples. I’m not even joking. Multiple couples. It is kind of funny when you take a step back and look at it.

    John: It sounds like by sharing something that’s clearly not something that an accountant would be known for, especially you, that it sounds like stronger co-worker relationships are there with people. You have someone come into your office just out of nowhere to talk about something like that. I have to believe that pays dividends long-term.

    Chris: Oh, definitely. I think something that I’ve learned in my short time period at that, you get a lot more buy-in when you have those personal relationships, when you know – it’s not just “Oh, did you do this work yet?” or whatever. It goes deeper than that.

    Whether it’s “Oh, hey. I’ve done salsa dancing, too”, or “Hey, my kids are in the basketball tournament or they play football” or “My son’s the starting quarterback” or whatever, hey, at the end of the day, that gets boring after a while. You’re there five days a week. To me, it’s like you can’t just talk about that constantly. You’ve got to do something else.

    John: Yeah. Absolutely. I think that’s great how you just take an approach to get to know each individual on a personal basis, how you said that. It’s really key and something I just wanted to reiterate that I think that’s great. Sometimes, people will pick and choose their favorites, and then everyone else is left to fend for themselves or what have you.

    How often do you speak with people, then? Or is it just more of a as you’re walking through the office type of thing?

    Chris: Yeah. I wouldn’t say there’s a set schedule, but if me and an employee talk for half an hour or an hour, it’s mostly 50/50. At most it’s like 50% word, 50% personal stuff. A lot of times, it’s probably 70/30 personal versus work. Just more of the personal relationship. It’s more of a “Hey, how can I know you better?” I think that just cultivates a better work life relationship and balance.

    John: Right. That’s a great point.

    Chris: Again, to me, in my opinion, if I feel comfortable, I’m not afraid to tell you “Hey, this might be a problem.” If I don’t feel comfortable, I’m just going to hide this and hope it goes away if there is a problem at work. Then of course, at some point, it might bubble up and become a bigger thing.

    I’ll come by and say “Look, if there’s a problem, let me know. We’ll get through it together.” Cultivate other relationships, making them feel comfortable – I think that just helps all the way around.

    John: Yeah. I think that’s great. You pointed out it’s a two-way street. Not only are you getting to know them better, but they’re getting to know you. That’s great, because a lot of times, we forget that it’s only me needing to know them. It’s like, well, not totally. That’s a great point.

    Chris: Exactly. I tell my employees all the time. Not necessarily like “Let’s sit down in my office for an hour and just talk about whatever.” I really think it helps just because out of those conversations, like I said before, they’re at least 50/50 or maybe even 70/30 talking more personal versus work. Again, that’s led to me knowing more personal stuff about them, of what they’ve shared and vice versa. They feel more comfortable. Not that they wouldn’t do it anyway, but it becomes easier. It doesn’t become a strain like “Oh, my gosh. We have to do this again.”

    John: Right. Because they know where it comes from. Because they get to know you, and they know it comes from a good place. I think it’s also great too because then, the more you do that and the more familiar you are, then titles kind of disappear, and you become Chris and not “accounting manager in the corner”. I think that’s also huge when you’re on a first-name basis. There’s respect there, clearly, but it’s not a fear that’s attached to that, which is great, man. It sounds like you’re doing it right. That’s cool, man.

    Chris: Right. No. I think you said it perfectly. Way better than I could have said it. That’s exactly right. You talked more about people who, like you said, are kind of scared to either talk to their manager or bring up anything bad. It’s like “Oh, my God.” Super awkward. That’s one thing I really strive to not have. I just don’t want it to ever be like that, because then it becomes difficult for everybody. Again, not saying I’m the world’s best, because I’m not, but –

    John: It sounds like you’re steps ahead, man. That’s good.

    Chris: Well, hopefully so.

    John: That’s great, man. I guess that’s cool how you guys are part of this pilot program. How much do you feel like it’s on the organization to create this culture where people are free to share what their hobbies or passions are or their outside life versus it’s on the individual to not be so sheepish like you said earlier and actually speak up?

    Chris: Yes. You really need both. I will say the company I work for overall has a very good culture. They’re known for having a good culture.

    John: That’s great, man. To wrap it up is just – what are maybe some words of encouragement to people that maybe they do salsa dancing, and they’re like “You know what? No one cares in my office” type of thing. Do you have any words of encouragement to get people over the hump?

    Chris: You go tell somebody “Oh, hey, I do this or I do that.” They look at you like you’re some kind of nut job, it’s only a problem – I heard this quote from somebody, and I can’t remember who it was, but it’s so good – it’s only a problem if you think it’s a problem.

    You can take two different people and make them say the same exact thing and get the same exact reaction, whether it’s a bad reaction, and one person can just be devastated by it like “Oh, my gosh. My whole day is ruined. So-and-so laughed at me because I said I danced salsa.” The other person would be like “Eh, who cares? Whatever. I’m just going to move on and tell the next person.”

    When people hear “Oh, wow, my co-workers” – it sounds probably crazy, but – “They kind of live vicariously through you a little bit.” Tell me about this. Tell me about when you went to the club on Friday. What happened?

    John: Clearly, you did this, and only good happened. That’s what I think it the hardest part is I think it’s all in our own head, like you said. We’re our own worst enemies on that. When you say it or you share it with people or whatever, people think it’s cool. You’re like “Oh, I should have told people a long time ago.”

    Chris: Right. Exactly.

    John: It’s just a breath of fresh air. There’s actually some brain science to it with oxytocin or epinephrine and stuff like that that I’ve read up on that actually – it’s kind of, as you said, interested people are interesting. Such great words of wisdom for people to take from this.

    Until I come down there and try my hand at some salsa dancing which will be even more hilarious than your first time, I have my 17 rapid-fire questions that I like to run you through just to see if we should really hand out, even though we have many times.

    Let me fire this up here. Here we go. I’ll start you out easy. More jeans or khakis?

    Chris: Jeans.

    John: Jeans. All right. Sudoku or crossword puzzle?

    Chris: Sudoku.

    John: Sudoku. All right. Do you have a favorite band?

    Chris: Dave Matthews.

    John: Dave Matthews. Okay. All right. How about a movie that makes you cry?

    Chris: Man, I literally have no idea.

    John: Okay. That’s cool. I have like 50. Pretty much any sports movie. I don’t even need to watch Rudy. I just hear the music, and it’s over. Get me some tissues. How about do you have a favorite movie of all time?

    Chris: Great question. Favorite movie. I do like A Christmas Story.

    John: Okay. Yeah. Are you more of a PC or a Mac guy?

    Chris: Mac.

    John: Mac. All right. Nice. Do you have favorite toppings on a pizza?

    Chris: Pepperoni. Old reliable.

    John: Oh, yeah. There you go. You can’t go wrong there. More Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Chris: Star Wars.

    John: Star Wars. All right. Do you have a favorite color?

    Chris: Green.

    John: Green. Nice. How about a least favorite color?

    Chris: Pink.

    John: Pink. All right. I was going to go crimson, but you know, we’ll take pink. That works. More pens or pencils?

    Chris: Pens.

    John: Pens. Nice. No mistakes. I’m doing this. When it comes to financials, balance sheet or income statement?

    Chris: Income statement.

    John: There you go. Do you have a favorite food?

    Chris: Lasagna.

    John: Lasagna. Solid. That’s a yes. How about a favorite number?

    Chris: Really don’t have one, but if I had to pick one on the spot, I’d just say ten.

    John: Ten. Why’s that?

    Chris: Honestly, I’m not even sure why. It just makes sense.

    John: That sounds good. That’s a good number. Are you more into cats or dogs?

    Chris: Neither.

    John: Neither. All right. That’s cool. Do you have a favorite animal?

    Chris: I’m not really an animal guy. If I had to pick one, probably a fish, since it’s hard to be allergic to a fish.

    John: A fish. That’s so good. You don’t even really have to take care of it very well. That’s funny. That’s hilarious. That’s such a good answer. Do you have a favorite comedian?

    Chris: I like Chris Rock.

    John: Okay. Yeah. Really funny. Absolutely. Really good. Two more. Are you more early bird or night owl?

    Chris: Night owl.

    John: Night owl. All right. The last one – the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?

    Chris: Let’s see. I drive a Dodge Charger. It’s ten years old, but I’ve kept it in pretty good shape. I’ll go with that.

    John: Great answer, man. Great answer. This was so fun, Chris. Thank you so much for being with me on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Chris: Hey, man, I’ve really enjoyed it. I appreciate you’ve taken the time to talk with me.

    John: That was so fun. I loved how Chris said it’s only a problem if you think it’s a problem. As a manager, he approaches it with the mentality of as long as you’re getting your work done, he’s excited to talk about your hobbies and passions outside of work. Not only is he able to get to know the staff better, but then they also get to know him, which makes him a better manager.

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