Joel’s BMX tricks help him stand out
When Joel McKay worked as a Business and Litigation Consultant in Chicago, he never felt like it was the right fit for him. While he was interested in many things outside of work – like BMX bikes, road cycling, woodworking, snow skiing, and playing drums in a band – he really enjoyed tutoring students on Saturdays. He got into it through a friend and has never looked back, having left the consulting world for a grad school program in school counseling.
In this episode, Joel and I talk about his passions and interests outside of work has always allowed him to build strong connections with others. Instead of clients and colleagues, now he does this with students and their parents. He firmly believes that passions make life richer, adding, “I’m not good at my job if I’m not balanced.”
Joel McKay is a school counselor at Bloomington High School South and an adjunct instructor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. Prior to that, he was a Business and Litigation Consultant.
He received his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees from Indiana University.
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Hi. This is Joel McKay. When I am not road cycling and mountain biking, riding BMX bikes, playing the drums or snow skiing, I am listening to John Garrett on the Green Apple Podcast.
John: Welcome to Episode 134 of the Green Apple Podcast. This is John Garrett and each Wednesday, I interview a professional who just like me is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work making them stand out like a green apple in a red apple world. To put it another way, it’s encouraging people to find their and as in my guest Joel McKay was a consultant and rides BMX bikes and plays in a band. This is so interesting because a client of mine who used to work with Joel many, many years ago remembered all of this about him and suggested I try to get him on the show.
Before we get to Joel, I got a quick favor to ask. If you like the show or listening on iTunes, your favorite Android app, don’t forget to hit subscribe so you don’t miss any of the future episodes because I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week and this week is absolutely no different with my guest Joel McKay. This is a first because he was a business in litigation consultant but left that many years ago to become a school counselor, an adjunct instructor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. Now, I can’t wait to get your story, Joel. But first, thank you so much for taking time to be with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.
Joel: Awesome, man. Happy to be here.
John: Oh, I’m so excited to have you on as a guest after we talked on the phone a couple of weeks ago. This is going to be so fun. I gave everybody in the introduction a little bit of your background but maybe in your own words a little bit of what you’re up to now and kind of how you got there.
Joel: Boy oh boy, okay. Where we start. How much time you got here, John?
John: Right, exactly.
Joel: I guess my professional background, if you trace it back a little bit, I guess more recent years we had kind of similar places we were at for brief parts in our life. I was in the consulting world. Mostly in Chicago like many of those folks working in different cities at different times. At first, I really — I loved it and I always kind of tease myself and say that I snuck in the back door of that place because I felt like everyone there was motivated and smart, great to work with. I still to that day miss tons of those people. Initially there I’d say that I like the work. I knew I was always learning. It was fast pace. It was fun. However, I guess at some point not too deep maybe a couple years into that, I guess I started to realize that it probably wasn’t the best fit for me just personality wise maybe and also kind of professional desires, long ter.
Somebody, one of my friends up in Chicago had kind of asked me to volunteer on a Saturday morning at a school like a near West Side neighborhood and I thought, hey, great man. I’m traveling all week. I got no free time the way it is. Thanks a lot for a Saturday morning. More work, whatever. I did go into this school and I did a little bit of algebra with somebody and then I helped a few kids write some essays and just loved it, loved it, loved it, loved it and I guess that kind of was the start of my transition from that world into the education world where I am now. I didn’t know where I want to go but I knew I wanted to make a change that I spent like the next really I guess almost two years just doing a ton of thinking and research to plot and plan my next move and I found myself.
I looked into teaching, I looked into higher Ed, I looked into school counseling. Ultimately landed on a graduate program in school counseling. You can imagine I guess the surprise and most of my peers, I told them hey, I’m going to be leaving the firm to go to this grad program and they were like, “To do what? Are you nuts?” It was not greeted like with — yeah, I get that. No one got it. I got it. I left that and I pursued a grad program. It’s basically, it’s a master’s in education with a focus on school counseling, did that, and I’ve been gosh, it’s been — this is my 15th school year doing that.
Joel: It’s been a blast and kind of — it’s weird. When I was at the firm in Chicago, my firm was called Tucker Alan. I did some campus recruiting as part of that at Notre Dame and Michigan and Indiana. The last I guess seven or eight years, I’ve been teaching some career classes on an adjunct basis here at Indiana University. Well, I mean and part of that I think had to do with I — I came across some old folks that I had worked with in employer relations at IU. Here I am now kind of in this town in a different role. So that’s been a great, it’s been a ton of fun and kind of a great kind of professional thing on the side I’ve been doing for the last eight or nine years.
John: That’s awesome, man.
Joel: it was kind of a weird metamorphosis from consulting to education and then a tiny bit of higher Ed as far as it goes. It’s been a blast. I still think back like the day that I told my best buddies at the firm when I was doing, they looked at me like I was an alien. It was hilarious.
Joel: But you know, it’s been a great transition professionally and personally as well. So it’s been awesome.
John: That’s cool, man. I imagine it’s a weird day when you do the math of the number of years that you’ve been doing the education side and it’s more than with the years you did the consulting side.
Joel: I know.
John: I remember when the teeter-totter tip for me where it was like oh, I’ve been doing comedy more than I’ve done accounting. Okay, I guess this is my job now. I guess this is what I do.
Joel: In a way, I still sometimes think to myself or I see myself as oh, yeah, I did consulting for a long time. I’ve been doing this for way longer.
John: Right, exactly. One question I love to ask everybody just to go back, way back in the days just what made you want to get into consulting?
Joel: You know, if I were being honest, I would tell you that I think as a as a college kid or any kind of maybe young recent grad, I think their work looks appealing because you think the money is going to be better and then you think I get to travel for free. And how quickly that — oh, my gosh, that mirage is proven to not be the case. In reality, I think that’s what I thought. I thought well, I’ve heard that you had to be highly intelligent to be successful. So A, I want to see if I got what it takes. B, I get free plane tickets or whatever, I don’t know, something dumb like that and then — see, that was the initial draw and I think that I also recognized at some point, in one of those job interviews that I had that I thought to myself, man, I could probably learn a lot at a young age here. I should jump on this.
John: Totally. Yeah, definitely and I started with PricewaterhouseCoopers myself and Big Four. You learn a lot quickly because you’re around some big time stuff which is kind of cool.
Joel: Yeah, I can recall giving probably in retrospect, kind of simplistic but I could give him presentations to people that I probably should have access to it at age 24.
John: Right, totally. Absolutely, man. I remember they were privately owned companies but there was a merger going down that was — I mean some big, big money. I’m down in Tuscaloosa Alabama. This company is buying this company up in Minneapolis and so then we flew in his private jet from Tuscaloosa up to Minneapolis and we’re there for like a couple days and a guy bought me a t-shirt. It was like land at 10,000 lakes and one Navy SEAL. Because what’s his name? It was the governor at the time.
Joel: Of course, yeah.
John: Jesse Ventura.
Joel: Jesse “The Body,” yeah.
John: And then the guy asked me, you’ve been around this company a couple days, who do you think is worth keeping? I’m like, what? I’m 23. I don’t know all of them. These people have families. What are you kidding me? How am I supposed to decide that? It was crazy, man.
Joel: Yeah. I think aside from all, some of the fluff that college kids go after, it probably is for many people a great place to start. I think obviously it’s a journey to figure out if people, if it’s a great place to stay. I recall the day I talked to the chairman of our company. He was a founder of our company and even when one prior — he was a great, great guy, worked his butt off, was sharp as a tack. But when I told him I was going to leave, he goes, you know, this work you seem to be good at it but it’s not for everybody. He said, he goes we expect that we give you a lot of vacation and we try to pay you well because we expect most of your waking hours and your life here. If you are behind that, I understand why you want to go. I thought you know what, this guy truly gets it.
He may not get me exactly, but he gets hit. You have to be cut out for that or really thrive in that if you will. And I feel like I have talked to obviously high school students and college students over the years. I always tell him, do you ever take a job for the money which many of us have done at different points in our lives? There’s a shelf-life to that. You’re going to be good at it for a while and then one day, your lack of passion for it is going to catch up with you and you’re going to be probably asked to leave or maybe if that’s in a best case scenario or — hey, man. Find what you’re really excited about and do that before you’re told to get out of here. When I told my chairman I was going to be leaving, his response was just like I guess it kind of illustrated what a class act and what a smart guy that he was to see that in me and that wasn’t my thing.
John: Right, yeah. Definitely, yeah or it’s have those hobbies and passions or whatever it is that recharges your batteries and have that — let people do that. And I guess that’s one thing that’s always curious to me is a lot of these bigger firms and consulting and accounting and law firms is they hire these people because at the bottom of the resume, they have extracurricular activities and all these things they love to do. And then you never give them time to go do that.
Joel: Yeah, it’s a great irony, isn’t it? It’s a great irony.
John: Just slowly suffocating them.
Joel: I think I remember — I don’t know if — I guess this is probably the age old practice that’s terrible idea but I don’t know about you but I feel like, when you first start at a firm like that, you tend to look at like if you’re a staff level, you look up at somebody who’s a senior and you try in some way to kind of emulate what they’re doing if they happen to be on a successful partner track or whatever it might be. I know I did the same thing. Almost like, I’m not afraid to be yourself like hey, this person is just working nonstop. They’ve got not a lot of hobbies or whatever. And if I want to hit that next promotion, I should probably do what they’re doing like not what I’m inclined to do. It’s worth the way. Some people, you kind of just follow blindly I guess that example.
John: No, absolutely. Because you become less of yourself and more of them. And then you find out that they’re just being a shell of themselves. They’re being more of whoever is in front of them. At some point in the front of all this parade is some idiot that we’re all following.
Joel: I know.
John: It’s like, why? It’s just so frustrating to me how we’re all feeling this pressure and we’re scared to just be ourselves because we don’t think that it’s encouraged or accepted.
Joel: My mom always will tease me and she’ll say that I’ve always been — I’ve been pretty good at fitting in and playing the part up into a certain point and then I let my true colors show later. Maybe is at a survival — I can then recall one time and Chicago and I know by far I’m far from normal. I’m cool with that but like I’ve been a bike rider my entire life. I love to ride. I do road cycling, I do mountain biking, I ride BMX bikes, I love bikes of all shapes and sizes and there was one — I decided that I think I was like 26 or 27, that I wanted to buy a new BMX bike which is way crazy first somebody who was a consultant for God’s sake. You don’t like BMX bikes.
John: What are you, sixth grade?
Joel: I know. I had bought one and I found a guy in Chicago and my little brother and we’re going to ride in one night. I told one of my buddies the firm. I went out last night from like 9:00 to 11:00 and went riding all across the city. It was a freaking blast. And then he looked at me just speechless like, dude, who are you? And I’m like, dude, it is a lot of fun. Have you tried that? Are you crazy? Who are you? I get so many stories like that where I was like, man, am I that different? Because I don’t know.
John: Yeah. That’s something that I was going to get into next which is perfect is what hobbies and passions do you love to do when you do have some free time. So obviously, the mountain biking and road cycling.
Joel: Oh, yeah. I’m probably guilty of probably trying to have too many hobbies honestly. I have to balance that with life. I love cycling. I love to do woodworking and building cabinetry for fun on the side. Obviously, I’m also a huge — I love the snow ski where I live as that’s not a — you know, it’s how you can do it very often. I had to travel to do that. My most of my daily hobby is pretty much it kind of involves around some kind of cycling or exercise but I love the ride like — if I go mountain biking, if given a choice, I’ll go out for three or four hours. It’s hard to do. If I ride the road, I tend to like the longer rides. Every summer, I’ll ride to my hometown every summer, 120, 130 miles, something like that.
Joel: I love kind of the long Endurathon type of things. Anyway, you have to have some balance with any life and I have kids too. Obviously, there’s a — you can pick and choose the times to do that. I love — in fact, in few years ago, I was totally — actually, one of my kids brought this out to me. I had a son who was — I guess he was about seven and he wanted to learn to play the drums. And I was like oh yeah that’s great idea. My wife was not, she wasn’t down.
John: No. Of course, she wasn’t.
Joel: We waited about a year. The next Christmas, he says, “Hey, can I get a drum set this year?” And I was like, “Hey, the poor boy has asked twice. Can we at least –” In the back of my mind, I was thinking, this could be a lot of fun. We ended up getting him — we got him some drums. We took him to some lessons and he didn’t stay with it more in about four or five months like many kids kind of get bored with the lessons part of that. But I loved it. So I kind of started to play the drums. I think I was 40 that year and then I think six or eight months later, I found myself starting a band and I still play in a band at this day around my town here.
John: That’s awesome. That’s so cool.
Joel: I guess music and play in the drums and then even doing the occasional rap song even though I can’t sing. Yeah, I’ve got tons of hobbies. I guess I feel very grateful and I’m thankful that I have a profession that allows that and that — because I know not all professions do. I know God knows when I was a consultant I would not be riding bikes the way that I do. There wasn’t time for that. In a way, it’s like had I been doing all of that? I would have been viewed as like hey, McKay is not pulling his weight here. He’s not billing enough hours or he’s not — Yeah, I guess I feel grateful for that. In a way I wish that still existed because I never disliked consulting work. In fact, I enjoy the work. What I did not enjoy was the lack of balance I guess.
Come back from a Friday afternoon to O’Hare Airport at six and pull off in a red carpet club and work for two more hours. In a way, as much as I absolutely love what I do now, I’m not so sure I would have ever felt compelled to leave if I would have had I guess the room to breathe and have these passions that — I guess I’m one of those guys and maybe there are lots of us out there that don’t — I don’t live to work. I work to live and I have to have balance in there. I’m not good at my job when I’m not balanced. I can bill 60 hours a week but give you 40 hours’ worth of quality work or whatever the number is. It has to be a balance there, you know.
John: Yeah, absolutely. I agree totally because there’s science behind it, there’s been plenty of research now to go with that. When you’re only working and you’re putting in extra hours and long hours, 50 hour weeks, you just burn out. You’re not very productive.
Joel: Yeah. I find like that I don’t know. I know I’m a big Generation X guy age wise and maybe you are too. But I feel like all this said, I love to work. I’m a Type A guy. I love to work. I love to be productive. I feel like I’m a little bit grumpy when I’m working. When you go hire, when employers go to hire from campuses or whatever, they’ll tell you all the time this is about fit. We’ve seen your GPA, we’ve seen your activities. This hire is going to be based on fit. So your peer to peer interactions mean everything. If I’m grumpy all the time, I’m going to be a terrible peer. Qualifications are aside. I can work 60 hours a week but just go to work and to have good peer relationship with — I mean even your peer, your clients or whatever, if you don’t have any kind of exposure to a hobby or a passion, you’re not going to be very effective and fun to be around. I don’t know.
John: Right, no. That’s exactly it. If all these people won the lottery, they’d be gone in a heartbeat to go do those things. The reason why they’re working is because that’s what pays the bills. One of those bills happens to be hobbies and passions and things you love to do. Buying bikes and getting the wood for your woodworking and flying to go ski or getting a new drum set or symbol or something like that. All that stuff is because you make money. That’s the only reason we’re all working is so that we can go do things that we really, really love. For a handful of us, that happens to dovetail where the work is the passion. But for most of us, 99% of us, that’s not the case. And so it’s a shame that a lot of people — and it’s also interesting too because some of this older generation that’s retiring or close to retiring, that’s all they’ve done is no, no you have to act like you love your work. And it’s like, well, not really. Now, the problem is they’re getting ready to retire and they don’t really know what they’re going to go do because they’ve put all their eggs in one basket and now you’re going to not have that basket.
Joel: I tell you, when I decided to leave to make that transition, I remember I bought a house in the city where I was going to do my graduate program. My father in law, he’s a great guy and he worked for one company for his is entire career and that was a great fit for him. I can recall talking to him. We were looking at the house, getting ready to buy it I think and we were in the backyard and he goes, “Look here. You just quit your job. My daughter is getting ready to quit her job and you’re buying this house and you’re walking away from a pretty lucrative profession,” and he was like, “What the hell are you thinking?” I respect the heck out of the guy and I tried to tell him as nicely as I could, “This just isn’t for me.” I think he had a hard time wrapping his brain around you have a good job and you ride that thing out. I said, with all due respect, I’m not a slacker.
Once again, I’ll work 80 hours a week. I love the work but not this way. I know maybe that’s a first world problem but I want to find my work as much as I can and try to choose work that’s meaningful that fits me as well. Trust me, people that want to work will work. It was unique kind of explaining that to us, somebody from a different generation and having that makes sense. I also think, part of that I think is generational. I think some of it’s like society, how we view success maybe. In America, I don’t know, it’s like —
Joel: I feel like success as many people would define it is a bit of an empty suit because I’m sure by many people’s measurements that they would look at certain folks and say well, this person isn’t as successful as this person or whatever. Every day, I think I’m the luckiest guy in the world because I feel that I’ve been successful in what I set out to do and that’s to find meaningful work that I can be passionate about the work and then also have passions outside of work.
John: Right, yeah. That’s winning. Some people can do it within the bigger firms and things like that. It’s not for everybody like you said. One thing that I’m always curious about is just, do you feel like any of these passions that you have outside of work made you better at your job whether it was when you were at Tucker Alan or now in the counselor role in the education side?
Joel: Yeah. I guess I feel like when I was at Tucker Alan, I did a decent job of the work. But the part that I love was relationships with not just my peers but the clients that I worked with. At the time I was doing — for a few years I did the big, whatever the big triathlon in Chicago was, the full distance triathlon up there. I can recall trying to find time in my days to get to the lake to swim or then to ride and talking to clients about that or else seeing clients on bike rides. I felt like that in my very limited exposure to that in Chicago. The more conversations I had with my clients outside of just the work, it drew us closer together all the time. There were folks at my firm who were probably smarter than I but I feel like had I stuck with that, my forte would have probably been bringing in business because I love the relationship piece to that work.
Whenever you have any kind of a passion or an interest like that, you’re always going to develop a friendship or a network or whatever based on that passion. I think when it was up there, it was it was kind of growing. The world that I’m in now, I feel like I think because of my interests or my hobbies, passions, whatever you want to call them, I think it helps me with not just my students, but also the parents of my students helps me with my peers at Indiana University in my adjunct role, I think I wouldn’t want to do the work that I do and not have these passions because the way it connects me to these people through the passions.
John: Yeah. That’s an excellent phrasing there is the connections through the passions.
Joel: Oh, my gosh. Once again I know that I am a lucky guy to get to have these passions. But I’ve got connections in pure sense I guess through music now, through the drumming community in town, the music community in town through — and what’s funny is even though this all bikes, you can imagine the difference between road cyclists, mountain bike riders.
John: Oh, yeah. Right.
Joel: And then the BMX crowd, oh, my golly. They’re way different.
John: Right. You’re right in the middle of all of it. You’re the hub of all those spokes.
Joel: Yeah. I taught music with high school students every day. I taught cycling with high school students every day. It’s a total bridge builder I think for me. Selfishly, I love them. I would have the hobbies regardless but professionally they’re all bridge builders.
John: Yeah. That’s the thing. When you’re in grad school or you’re an undergrad and you’re learning how to be a professional if you will and nowhere does it say go learn how to bike or go learn how to play the drums because that’s how people relate to you and you’ll be better at your job. It’s cool that you’re able to see that and like you said you’re going to do it either way but it’s cool when it helps.
Joel: Yeah, it does. I’ve got two kids. I’ve got a 13-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son. Part of me thinks, of course I tell them like every parent does. You tell him, you try to talk to him about various things. Ultimately, I want them to look at me or at least think about me when they’re 25 and they’re young professionals and to think how do I want to live my life. They’re going to forget all the things I tell him but I guess I want them to — I hope that they look at me and think well, dad had this job and he was seemingly good at it. Dad had all these passions and made his life richer and made him better. I guess I want to model for them too, you know.
John: Yeah, no. Absolutely. That’s perfect, man. That’s so perfect. All right. Joel, before we wrap this up. Do you have any words of encouragement to maybe people listening or even better leadership affirms and people like that that might be listening to the podcast.
Joel: The one thing I think I would add if — I see all these talented people coming out of undergrad now and I hate to think of not just the consulting profession but various industries, either not just lose people but kind of like maybe just not get people at their fullest potential. So I guess I hope that the work that you’re doing will help influence not just consulting and other areas but to keep in mind that when you get somebody who’s twenty three or however old they are, if they don’t have I think the time or the chance to have a passion, you aren’t getting the best person which is a shame.
John: Right. This has been really, really fantastic, Joel. Really awesome. But before I fly to Bloomington and then we go on a little bike ride and play some drums after or I’ll just bring my trombone and then we can just do up a ska band style.
Joel: We’ll do a funk band. Yes.
John: Yeah. But I have my 17 rapid fire questions that I like to run you through because that’s a lot of time together so I got to make sure that we’d be simpatico. Let me fire this thing up here and see what happens. All right, here we go. I’ll start you out easy. Favorite color.
Joel: Favorite color would be green.
John: Green. All right. How about a least favorite color?
John: Orange, interesting. When it comes to computers, are you more of a PC or a Mac?
Joel: I’m kind of a boring guy. I’m a PC guy.
John: Yeah, I’m a PC guy too. How about when it comes to a mouse though. Are you more right click or left click?
Joel: I’m definitely right click.
John: That’s what I figured. How about do you have a favorite cereal?
Joel: Oh, my gosh. Favorite cereal probably would have to be Cinnamon Life.
John: Oh, okay. There we go. Are you more cats or dogs?
Joel: No question, dogs.
John: Dogs, all right. Do you have one?
Joel: Yes, I do.
John: What kind?
Joel: Half Australian shepherd, half basset hound.
John: Okay. Are you more Star Wars or Star Trek?
Joel: Am I allowed to say neither?
John: Yeah, you could say neither. How about are you more pens or pencils?
Joel: I am definitely pens.
John: Pens, all right. How about Sudoku or crossword puzzles?
Joel: I would have to go crossword on that one.
John: All right. How about toilet paper roll, under or over?
John: Under, wow. Look at you in this mill small percentage. Okay. I might have to rethink this. How about do you have a favorite number?
Joel: Favorite number? I never thought about it I guess. I guess none.
John: Interesting. How about a favorite place you’ve been on vacation?
Joel: Oh, boy. Favorite place I’ve been on vacation has got to be one of the islands in Hawaii probably.
John: Nice. How about do you have a favorite ice cream flavor?
Joel: Favorite ice cream flavor would have to be moose tracks.
John: Moose tracks, there we go. Solid answers. How about a favorite TV show of all time?
Joel: Favorite television show of all time, man oh man. I am one of those type A personalities. I often can’t sit down and watch TV to be honest very often.
John: Do you have a favorite sports team?
Joel: Favorite sports team, being a diehard cyclist. I hate to pull out some geeky bike team.
John: That works. Man, that’ll work.
Joel: I grew up loving the bears.
John: How about do you have a favorite comedian?
Joel: I want to say, gosh, favorite comedian was probably Eddie Murphy.
John: Eddie Murphy, yeah, there you go. All right.
Joel: Yeah, Eddie Murphy.
John: All right. Two more. Are you more of an early bird or a night owl?
Joel: I’m going to say both. I don’t get enough sleep.
John: Oh, man. God bless you. The last one, the favorite the owner of the favorite thing you have?
Joel: Oh, gosh, favorite thing I own. I’ll tell you, if I had to pick one, it would be my road bike, loving riding it, yeah.
John: That’s awesome, man. That’s so cool, very cool. Well, thanks Joel for taking time to be with me today on the Green Apple Podcast. This was fantastic.
Joel: Thanks. It’s been great.
John: That’s a wrap. I loved how Joel said I’m not good at my job if I’m not balanced. This is something that a lot of firm leaders forget about because they’re too concerned with the billable hours. If someone is balanced though, their productivity goes up and their output is so much better than their burned out peers who are supposedly putting in more hours. If you’d like to see some pictures of Joel on the slopes or playing the drums at a concert or riding his BMX bike and also connect with them on social media, please go to greenapplepodcast.com. While you’re on the page, please click the big green button there and do the anonymous research survey about firm culture. Thank you so much for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread which is to go out and be a green apple.