Rebekah takes food just as seriously as coworker relationships
Rebekah Brown is a foodie. She’s also a football superfan. And very involved in her church community. No matter where she is, whether it’s work or one of these other activities, Rebekah always brings her whole self. She loves talking about restaurants, sharing recipes, and cooking meals with her family and friends. And because everyone needs to eat, she’s always got something to talk about with others.
In this episode, Rebekah and I talk about how important it is to take time to learn about yourself. We also talk about how she has the confidence to bring all of herself to everything she does. She finds that it’s easy for work to get stressful, so talking about your hobbies and passions – even just a little – makes work more fun and allows you to have strong bonds with coworkers to make it through the tough times.
Rebekah Brown is the Manager, Membership Development & Engagement at the Marlyand Association of CPAs, and a Customized Learning Consultant at the Business Learning Institute. Prior to that, she worked for several years as an auditor in public accounting.
She graduated from The Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, specializing in Accounting and Sports Management.
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I’m so excited that Rebekah is with me here today because after working in public accounting for a few years, she’s now an advocate with the Maryland Association of CPAs speaking to everyone, from managing partners looking to improve their firms all the way to elementary school students interested in hearing about what an accountant does. Rebekah, I know you’re super busy so I’ll just jump right in and let you tell everyone how you got into accounting.
Rebekah: Sure, this is kind of funny. I am a huge football fan, I just grew up loving football. The Ravens moved to Baltimore and I went to their like first-ever practice with my babysitter and then kind of from there I just became this lover of football. And I knew being 5’2″, I wasn’t going to play football anytime soon or probably coach football but I always had kind of a knack and interest in business as well and so I decided I’d combine those two things and find a career or something I’m passionate about and enjoy with the skills that I had.
I went to Ohio State because they have an awesome football program in my opinion and I set out to major in Sports Management. The Sports Management program there is actually through their sports and leisure studies kind of department, so I didn’t think that was the best route. So actually, they have a program in their Business School where you can kind of create your major, go through and check out the courses that you would take, and you have to submit it for approval and things like that. But I did some research of other schools that had business programs for sports management and created a sports management major for myself in the Business School. And while I’m doing that at Ohio State I had to take my entry-level accounting courses and things like that and just found that I really enjoyed that, too, and had a knack for that, too, and decided I’d do a double major so that would help me to get to my 150, and so I had double major degrees from Ohio State in Accounting and Sports Management.
That was my original path, I was going to go then into public accounting, get my CPA, get that experience under my belt and then try and go and work for an NFL team. Obviously, my path took some sharp turns along the way and that’s not what I’m doing now and all but that’s how I actually got started in it all, which is interesting.
John: Yeah, but people are asking for autographs from MACPA members so it’s very similar to working for an NFL team.
Rebekah: Very, very similar, yes. The salary cap is huge and all of that, very similar.
John: So did you want to be like the Jerry Maguire then, like an agent, or just working for a team in some capacity?
Rebekah: Yeah, I thought about that, too, and what I experienced in public accounting was the idea of being able to utilize your strength and your values within your career and kind of being a whole person in your career and in your personal life so that work-life integration, I like to call it, the entire team of me whether it’s hobbies or interests or values or strengths show up every day at MACPA offices and the entirety of me shows up in my family and my friends’ lives, too, so that means work sometimes comes into these conversations as well.
So that experience of learning about that in public accounting showed me that public accounting probably wasn’t the best place for me, it’s a great career path, and in doing that I kind of realized probably the sports environment is also not for me and so I decided that that would be something I probably won’t pursue but definitely have an interest and enjoy it as a spectator more than a doer. But you never know what might happen in the future, so I’m open to possibilities.
John: For sure, who knows who’s listening, right? But yeah, I agree, because something that you’re really passionate about or something that you really enjoy, once it becomes your job it’s very different and it’s no longer always fun. You see the behind-the-scenes and some of the ugly dark side of it so yeah, it’s not always a party like you think it’s going to be. So maybe just being a fan of football is just as good as working for it, right now anyway, in your life, so that’s great.
But I love that concept that just bringing all of you to all parts of your life, because I find that sometimes people, if they play in a Rec League or something like that or they’re part of a community group, they’re the accountant girl or the accountant guy. But when they’re in the office it’s very rare that they’re “Oh, that’s the softball girl” or “That’s the football guy”, it’s rare that they show that side, so I think it’s cool that you’re letting it all out everywhere. It’s got to be the easiest way to go because it’s exhausting, compartmentalizing everything else, I don’t know how people always do that.
So what would you say gives you that confidence to just be like that?
Rebekah: I think it comes from I really take in the time to learn about myself which sounds funny, it should be the thing you know the most and well, but you don’t always. I needed a couple different tools and had some mentors and coaches along the way that have encouraged me in that path. I’ve been really intentional about seeking a career and a work environment and a workplace that utilizes my strengths and fits my values and I think that’s what’s able to allow me to do what I do on a regular basis to enjoy it. That doesn’t always mean it’s easy, for sure, if it wasn’t challenging I wouldn’t enjoy it as much, too. It’s hard work but it makes me want to show up each day and put in 100%, whether I am volunteering at my church or working on a proposal for a large firm or I’m speaking to college students, as I’m getting ready to do this afternoon, or I’m speaking to high school students, as I’m getting ready to do tomorrow.
My message to them and what I want people to walk away after talking with me or working with me is that I’m always, like I am passionate about what I’m doing, I’m excited to learn and grow and to share what I learned and to use my strengths and the natural talents that God has given me to make an impact on the world and if that way is through the accounting profession then so be it and I can definitely make a difference in that.
John: Right, I love it, that’s fantastic. And I love how you said, just finding a place that is congruent with your values and where you see you being able to use your skills the best and then it makes you want to go to work, for sure. Now, do you think that it just takes time to find that place? Clearly, that place was a public accounting firm at first, as your life changes certainly some things change, is it a little bit of you fitting yourself in? Or I guess the magic is if you don’t have to change at all then that’s the ideal situation, I guess.
Rebekah: Yeah, I think definitely things change. When I talk to students again, one of the things I talk about is my career path and how I kind of liken it to Lombard Street in San Francisco, so there has been some crazy right turns of “I want to be in sports; okay, now I’m going to be in public accounting; okay, I don’t really fit there so what do I do now?”
So then I’m talking to mentors and they’re saying, “Oh, you really have an interest in the accounting profession, you understand it, you just might not fit inside of it, like is there a trade association you can work in?” “Well, okay, yeah, there is, let me see about that” and kind of working through that path and how you have these right turns, these turns that at the time might be painful, might not really make sense and might really be a struggle but there’s switchback, like on Lombard Street, are really designed to get the car to the bottom of the street safely, so the grade on that street is so steep that you couldn’t go down just straight.
I don’t think I’m at the end of the street yet, I think there’s possibilities of things turning and switching still in the future but Steve Jobs had a quote that you can’t always connect the dots looking forward, sometimes you can connect them looking but you have to trust that somehow they’re going to all fall into place in the future for you. And you meet people along the way, you make connections, you learn a lot and that’s kind of what gets you to where you’re going safely. It’s a fun adventure figuring out what might be next.
John: Yeah, yeah, and there are flowers right there on Lombard Street, so it’s pretty, at least while you’re switching back and forth it’s “Hey, more flowers, hydrangeas.”
Rebekah: Enjoy the ride, right?
John: Exactly, that’s awesome. I’m sorry, I got completely sidetracked but what are some of those hobbies and passions that you do love to do when you’re not advocating for Accounting, I guess. Wow, no pressure, the whole profession is resting on your shoulders.
Rebekah: Oh, gosh, I hope not. We are all in trouble if that is true.
John: That’s so funny. I think it was between you and me; and clearly, you’re the better one to go on this, for sure. Clearly, I imagine, NFL football, college football, that’s got to be something that takes up some of your time when you’re not at work.
Rebekah: Definitely, love football. I am really active in my church, I have a great group of peers there that volunteer with or hang out with, just that community is really important to me. I really like to eat, I consider eating a hobby, actually, I wish that was more socially acceptable sometimes. But just trying new restaurants or cooking new things or learning about food, I just find that fascinating. And then I have my own four-legged child, Raleigh is my rescue dog and spend a lot of time with him, enjoying the outside, things like that.
Yeah, I love to do a lot of different things, I don’t think that there is one thing that I am particularly skilled at. I’m not a musician, I’m not an artist, but I enjoy music. I do a bunch of different things but I think again it is important to me that I am showing up my full self, whether that’s playing with my dog or talking with my family or with my friends at church or at work, what you’re getting from my presence is I think fairly consistent at the office or at home or out at a bar with friends.
John: Yeah, I think that’s fantastic, that’s so great. All those different activities, they keep you moving, they keep you fresh, and they’re all different dimensions to you. What’s some of your favorite things to cook?
Rebekah: I like to try really new things. We’ve been getting this — it’s kind of like they have a bunch of different brands of this but we’ve been doing this one called Green Chef and it’s all organic and they have a gluten-free option which I need for my family. So getting that has been really fun because they’re super simple but I’ve been eating food that I would never make myself or even maybe try somewhere, like just different things.
And so that’s one, I’ve had fun making that, it’s like once a week I get this box of all these ingredients and they come in the cutest little packages, it just makes me so happy. They give me like everything, if you need like a pat of butter, they’ll have wrapped up in this little package this one pat of butter. Normal things in small containers I think is hilarious and fun, I don’t know why it is but it makes normal things tiny, it just makes everything better. I have fun doing that, I have fun baking, and just trying new restaurants, YouTube, watching Food Network, anything like that I just find interesting and fascinating. I love at a restaurant especially if they have like a chef’s table where you can eat in the kitchen or watch them cook, that’s just the best.
John: Yeah, totally, it makes you appreciate it a lot more. So do you find that from all of these hobbies and different passions that you have that any of them have given you skills that you bring to the office?
Rebekah: I think so. I think there’s one that my skills at the office have gone into my passions outside the office, too. Yeah, I think I have an example. The office that is where I have had the opportunity to do a lot of public speaking within my career part of my life and that has helped me. I remember the first time I’m on a leadership team for a new church plan. It’s pretty small. It’s growing. The first time I got an email from the pastor was like, “Hey, can you read the Scripture next week in service,” I was like, “Ooh, I don’t really like to get in front of everybody” and I found that the more I’ve spoken about accounting in different ways, different contexts, the easier it is for me on a Sunday morning to get up and be able to speak to the congregation. So that’s an example of the flipside.
And the community of people that I’m around I think make me better as a whole and I get to bring that into the workplace. Whether it’s in a Bible study, I’m in a really great girls’ group that is just so encouraging and being able to walk into the office having that encouragement and feeling that that process I think makes me a better worker, makes me a better colleague and friend. I don’t know if there’s a specific skill necessarily that I’ve learned that then I’ve brought in, but I definitely think that all of those things kind of all wrapped up in just who I am and that kind of carries through into all aspects.
John: Absolutely. And I think with you everything is so interwoven that it’s hard to unwind that and make them straight lines, so I think that’s awesome, that’s really, really cool. Do you find that connections in the office then are stronger based on some of these hobbies and passions depending on clearly on who you’re talking with?
Rebekah: Yes. We have a really unique culture at MACPA and BLI, it’s something that I adore and part of the reason that I love what I do so much is we have really wonderful people that have a very familial aspect to it. It actually is familial for me because my mom actually works there as well, so that makes it easier definitely and you can see how all of my life really is really, really integrated because of that. My mom has actually worked for MACPA and BLI for I think it’s going to be like 37 years coming up this summer. And I’m 29, so do Math, I literally have grown up around this organization and it was never my intention to work there, it’s part of the reason why I understood the accounting profession and familiar with it and knew lots of CPAs and knew the career path and opportunities so that’s part of the reason I went in that path.
But there is just a culture and a friendship in that organization that is like none other. Sometimes it’s more of like the dysfunctional family and sometimes it’s not but I know that those people have my back and I have theirs and we want to do great things for the accounting profession, I think we are doing great things for the accounting profession. Those people are like family to me so I think that kind of changes the whole dynamic and probably give you insight a little bit more into how I’m able to and why I’m able to bring my whole self everywhere.
John: Perfect, that’s exactly how it should be. Shifting gear just a little bit, going back to when you came straight out of school, worked for the public accounting firm, in all the accounting firms that you speak to across the country, I guess one thing that I struggle with myself is just when people get hired they have a lot of activities, a lot of extracurricular things, that’s a lot of the reasons why they’re hired by firms. But then for some reason in that first five-year timeframe, I don’t know what happens but it seems like a lot of that kind of goes away for people and they sort of fall into line of what they think the stereotype should be. What do you think causes that or makes people not be as well-rounded as maybe someone like yourself?
Rebekah: I think there is definitely the right word isn’t “problem” but that’s the word that’s coming to me with public accounting culture right now. I think a lot of steps are being made to improve it. I think though part of that is how the business is run and the generations that are coming in to it are like, “Ah, no, this isn’t for me” or “I don’t fit this mold” or “I don’t want to fit this mold.” It is very hierarchal, it is a lot of work, it’s long hours, and so if you are getting consumed by all of that you kind of separate those two lives. If you’re so stressed out at work you don’t want to think about or talk about work when you go home and likewise then nothing you do at home kind of then relates back to what you’re doing at work. You separate those two things so that you can enjoy your home life almost more. I think some of that has to do with how the firm might be structured, the billing, how people do that instead of value-billing they’re doing it based on time, things like that.
And there’s a lot of pressure on the accounting profession right now, there’s major, major changes I think coming as a result of technology being one of the huge ones. There’s a lot of pressure on the community and so sometimes the easiest thing or what feels like the right thing to do is like to hunker down. Get as many clients as you can and just try and outpace this wave of change that are coming and so that kind of trickles down into all your stuff if you’re in this tense kind of finding mode instead of embracing and being like open to change. I think once you’re open to change and embracing some of the new technology and cultural kind of things that are going on with the new generations coming in the workplace I think it opens up to being a more friendly environment. I don’t know if that’s the right word either but–
John: User-friendly, yeah, absolutely, I agree.
Rebekah: Yeah, employee-friendly environment and kind of a workhorse as a staff you get real people. I think we’re making great strides at getting there and I think I’m excited about where public accounting is going and where it can go and I think there are tons of examples of firms that are doing it right and really succeeding and showing them the profit in doing that. It’s not that they are becoming employee-focused so they’re giving up their profit margins, they’re actually becoming more profitable because they’re investing and really engaging their people. I think we’re making great strides and we’ll continue to and part of engaging your people is engaging their full self which includes their life outside of work.
John: Right, I love it, that’s so great, and something that you mentioned is just yeah, they’re trying to outpace by working harder and longer and it’s futile, you’re going to lose. You’re going to lose and you’re going to lose bad and that’s what I’ve seen all across the country myself also is people that are just trying to, “Well, the solution is just put more hours.” It’s like no, you’re not working smarter, you’re just working harder and longer and you’re going to burn yourself out and you’re going to burn everyone else around you out and then you’re done. It’s amazing how that mindset, you’re exactly right on that. It’s amazing how that mindset, but you’re exactly right on that.
So then how much do you think it’s on the organization to create this new culture or how much is it on the individual to kind of just make a difference in a small little circle and maybe let that ripple out?
Rebekah: I think it’s on both. If the individual employees demand something it will happen.
John: Mutiny, right, hurrah!
Rebekah: Yeah, it’s bound to happen. You don’t want to create that hostility between the admin and staff but it’s true. If you are accepting an offer somewhere you don’t ask the right questions. If it’s not all about money for you which I think people sometimes think it is for them and then they get in there and they’re like, “Wait, actually, I’ll take a pay cut if you let me be able to leave at 4:00 on Tuesdays to see my daughter’s soccer game.”
There are a lot of different aspects like that and I think it’s both on management and the individual employee to improve culture. So management to be able to create an environment where people can feel like they can speak up and they can impact culture, it’s not something that’s just shoved down their throat and for the employee to be willing to step out and be willing to speak their mind and say what they think would improve it, to want to improve it not to just hunker down and grind out until, “Okay, I can’t do this anymore, I’m just going to leave the company,” like be there to improve it for the people that are coming under you. I worry sometimes that some of the people, maybe the partners or the management might just be kind of waiting it out, thinking “Okay, I know these changes are coming, technology is going to disrupt what I’m doing; Millennials are coming, now Gen Z is coming and they’re even more different than me. I’m just going to hunker down until I retire because I think I can retire just in time to not have to worry about implementing any of this stuff.”
And that concerns me because we should all be wanting to make our mark and leave in a way that makes it better for the person coming after us and I think sometimes there’s still that mentality of “I walked in the snow uphill both ways to school. I worked 80 hours and I didn’t get to leave to go see my son’s soccer game so why should I allow you?” instead of really embracing like, “Wow, we have the opportunity to make this better for everybody, let’s do it.” I think everybody should want to improve upon what the circumstances that they were given but it’s hard to convince people to work hard at that if it’s not something that they’re going to directly benefit from.
John: Yeah, yeah, because they think in the terms of short-term gain versus the long-term gain and if they’re not working then they’re not bringing me money today. And it’s like yeah, but if they quit that’s very, very expensive tomorrow.
John: It’s way more expensive for them to quit than it is for them to not work for two hours on a Thursday. Just slow your role there, partner, tone down.
Rebekah: Yeah, and maybe they are going to work these two hours, it just might be 11:00 that night. Maybe they just work differently and because you can’t see them physically in the office you think they’re not working but they’re actually getting more done more effectively and efficiently from home when they work from home one day a week, or whatever. I think it’s going to get rid of the valuing somebody by the hour they put in and the face time and really valuing the output of what they actually were able to accomplish rather than it looking like maybe you would accomplish. The how is less important as the outcome.
John: Right, and even to that point a little bit further is valuing them as a whole person, because it’s the work that they’re providing but it’s actually you care about them and I think that’s all people want is just show that you care about me. You don’t have to baby me but it’s just hey, that’s why you hired me is because I’m me, you didn’t hire me because of specifically the work or the hours that I’m going to put in.
And that’s so frustrating to me, too, is it’s just off-topic but like when I worked the person that was there early and stayed late would always get praised and I was always like maybe they’re really bad at their job, why are they here so long, they’re so inefficient yet their billable is like over 100% or chargeability rate and I’m like I got the job done in four hours, why the hell is this person still here ten hours and yet I’m the one that’s getting lectured to about my chargeability and I don’t know what to tell you, are you telling me to be inefficient, I’m supposed to slow down now? Okay, I’ll get a four-hour job done in eight, is that what you want?
It’s like it’s such a dumb mentality that’s so frustrating, it hurts my brain, it really does sometimes. You just get like cross-eyed and do you even understand what you’re telling me right now? But I agree totally.
This has been so fun but before I come to hang out and maybe we cook something together, probably better for you to just cook and me watch honestly, unless you have a couple of smoke alarms. But I do have my 17 rapid fire questions, the get to know Rebekah edition, so let me fire this thing up here and here we go. First one, are you more PC or a Mac?
Rebekah: Definitely Mac.
John: All right, look at you, you’re one of the cool kids. That’s awesome. Do you have a favorite color?
John: How about a least favorite color?
Rebekah: Brown maybe, which is funny because that’s my last name.
John: Sure. How about do you prefer diamonds or pearls?
Rebekah: Let’s go with pearls.
John: Or do you want every other one, diamond, pearl, diamond, pearl. How about pens or pencils?
Rebekah: Pens, definitely.
John: Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
Rebekah: I’m going to go with crossword.
John: Sure, no worries. Do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Rebekah: I do not.
John: Fair enough. Do you have a favorite comedian?
Rebekah: I don’t either. I enjoy a lot of different ones.
John: Fair enough. How about are you more of an early bird or a night owl?
Rebekah: Definitely a night owl.
John: Okay, look out. Star Wars or Star Trek?
Rebekah: Neither. Is that an option?
John: Yeah, absolutely, it’s definitely an option. How about do you have a favorite TV show of all time?
Rebekah: I’ll go with Friends.
John: That’s a solid answer. Are you more heels or flats?
Rebekah: Probably flats.
John: When it comes to financials, more balance sheet or income statement?
Rebekah: Balance sheet.
John: All right. What’s a typical breakfast for you?
Rebekah: I eat almost every day which is really boring but I eat gluten-free raisin toast with peanut butter on it almost every day.
John: There you go, then you don’t have to think about it, that’s all good. Do you have a favorite number?
Rebekah: No, I don’t have a favorite number.
John: Wow, and you call yourself an accountant, get right out of here. How about when it comes to a pizza, favorite toppings loaded up?
Rebekah: Pineapple which I know is highly controversial.
John: All right, two more. Do you have a favorite animal, any animal?
Rebekah: I really love dogs which is why I have one but I really love turtles, like my dream is to swim with sea turtles. I just find turtles to be adorable and interesting and so if I animal that’s not something I would own, probably a sea turtle.
John: Okay, that’s a solid answer, that’s really, really good. And the last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Rebekah: My dog is probably the favorite thing I own, everything else is just kind of stuff but to me he’s part of my family.
John: Yeah, absolutely that counts. Yeah, something you have, absolutely, that’s awesome. Really, really great. Well, thank you so much, Rebekah, this was so awesome. I really appreciate you being on the Green Apple Podcast.
Rebekah: Thanks so much, I had a lot of fun.
John: Seriously, how good was that? I particularly loved how Rebekah said that everyone at your firm or company should be there to improve it for those coming after you. The reason “Because that’s how it’s always been around here” isn’t going to cut it anymore. If you’d like to see some pictures of Rebekah in her element including a really, really funny picture with her dog, go to greenapplepodcast.com and while you’re there please click that big green button and do the anonymous research survey. Thank you so much for sharing us with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, which is to go out and be a green apple.