Sara writes about being spiritual and grumpy and how she fell into accounting
Sara has always enjoyed writing throughout college. But after graduating and travelling South America, she decided to become an accountant. After a hiatus, she picked up writing as an outlet for her frustrations personally and professionally.
In this episode, Sara talks about her journey from studying law, travelling, and re-establishing her passion for writing.
Sara qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 2011, having gained her experience in the Corporate Tax team of a Top 10 accounting firm. She left the corporate world at the end of 2015 and has been involved in innovative business start-ups since then, including her current tech platform for accountants to connect and network with employers, ProCircle.
• How Sara fell into accounting
• Her experiences with sharing her writing at work
• Why she feels it is standard to keep to yourself in the office
• The personal and professional benefits of sharing your interests with colleagues
• Why Sara feels both the company and its employees should be responsible for promoting a culture of being open
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Welcome to Episode 169 of the Green Apple Podcast. 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. They’re basically shattering what people think of the stereotype. They’re standing out like a green apple in a boring red apple world. To put it another way, it’s encouraging people to find their end. As in my guest, Sarah Sabin, is an accountant and a writer. Most people would think that those two skill sets shouldn’t ever be in the same person. It’s got to be really fun to hear about that.
I’ve got a quick favor to ask, if you like the show and are listening on iTunes or 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.
This week is no different with my guest, Sarah Sabin. She’s the Founder of the ProCircle Network in the UK. This is going to be so much fun, Sarah. I’m so excited to have you be a part of the Green Apple Podcast.
Sara: Thanks for having me, John.
John: Oh yeah. This is going to be great, but before we jump in and talk about writing and test my grammar skills, I hope not, there’s not a semicolon anywhere I’m going to fail that, for sure. But I have my rapid-fire questions I’d like to run you through, just to get to know Sarah on another level here. We’re going to start it out with that. Hope you’re ok with that. Here we go. I’ll start you out with kind of an easy one, I guess. Would you prefer things hot or cold?
Sara: It depends on the weather outside, so I’m going to go with hot.
John: Hot. Yeah. Being in the UK I guess it’s mostly cold out. That’s a fair answer. Yeah, yeah. Do you prefer diamonds or pearls?
John: Diamonds. All right. When it comes to a computer, more of a PC or a Mac?
Sara: I’m a PC girl but in terms of smartphones and anything else, I’d go for Apple.
John: Oh, okay. All right. All right. How about when it comes to your mouse on your PC, right click or left click?
Sara: I don’t actually remember which side is which. I think right click. I usually use a laptop so that’s why I’m saying that.
John: Okay. All right. No, fair enough, fair enough. More Star Wars or Star Trek?
Sara: If I had to choose, Star Wars but not a big fan of either.
John: Okay. All right. No, fair enough, fair enough. Since you’re account, balance sheet or income statement?
Sara: Income statement, definitely.
John: When you’re on an airplane, more window seat or aisle seat?
Sara: Definitely, aisle seat because I get up a lot.
John: There you go. I’m with you on that one for sure. I have to ask; do you have a favorite number?
Sara: I didn’t but actually the number seven popped into my head.
John: Yeah, that’s a very popular answer. How about more chocolate or vanilla?
Sara: Chocolate, definitely.
John: Yeah, yeah. You guys have the good chocolate over there. Oh man, it’s so good. How about oceans or mountains?
Sara: That’s a tough one. Mountains, because I tend to go to more mountains. I think more mountainous areas.
John: All right. All right. Yeah, and it’d be great if the mountain went into the ocean. That’s what everybody wants, right? How about Sudoku or a crossword puzzle?
Sara: I don’t do either. If I had to choose, again, I’d choose crossword.
John: Yeah, yeah, yeah. How about a favorite color?
John: Purple, nice. Okay, how about a least favorite color?
Sara: Beige. Hate beige.
John: Good answer. Even the way you said, it was just the disdain for it. How about what’s a typical breakfast?
Sara: I usually eat porridge for breakfast with nut, milk and some berries.
John: Very healthy.
John: Yeah, yeah. Three more, three more. How about pens or pencils?
John: Pens. Yeah, yeah. Do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Sara: Off the top of my head, I’m going to go with Brad Pitt.
John: Okay, that’s a hard one to pick. The last one, the last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Sara: I actually try and be quite minimalist, but I would definitely say I have an extensive shoe collection which probably not a lot of women could say.
John: Good for you. Yeah. That’s definitely the favorite thing you have right there. You have to wear them every day, so why not, right?
Sara: Well, I wear about three pairs out of my extensive collection.
John: Okay. Well, at least you’re able to admit that. That’s fantastic. Very cool. Very cool. Well, now, that we got to know you on another level like that, that was really fun, but I’ve just got to ask with the writing. How did you get into that?
Sara: Well, the question is more actually how I got into accounting.
John: Okay. There we go.
Sara: I flipped that around because I got into accounting by accident, I think. Because I never really intended to be one. I actually studied law at University, but I didn’t want to go into it a law firm, so I ended up getting travelling for five months in South America. Then it was at that point I decided to train as a Chartered Accountant. I’m actually between University up till about 10, 11 years later. I wasn’t writing at all. I used to really enjoy it when I was in school. I really loved English literature and drama but then I just stopped writing for pleasure until I picked it up 11 years later.
John: Yeah. What is it that made you stop there in the middle?
Sara: I honestly don’t know. I think I got into University and into a very serious and dry topic which was law. Then going into an accounting firm, writing wasn’t necessarily something that anyone did. It was really only something I picked up much later. That was actually because I was going through a difficult time both professionally and on a personal level. I started writing because of that again.
John: Yeah. That’s great that you found it again. It’s unfortunate that it was not at a good time but it’s good that you had that there to turn to. That was as a blog, right?
Sara: Yeah. Basically, the reason why I started this blog was because I started doing spiritual meditation. I was just getting really annoyed with everyone being happy, clappy and seeming to be enlightened all the time. I started this blog called The Grumpy Spiritualist.
John: That’s so great.
Sara: Basically, just to give an alternative view, so a more personal journey and also to kind of tell everyone that it’s okay to be grumpy. You can still be spiritual, as well.
John: All right. That’s so fantastic. Then did people at work know about this?
Sara: Yeah. I was comfortable enough at that time to tell my colleagues at work. Some of them went over their head but a quite a few of them were actually really fascinated by the fact that I was doing this blog. We’re really interested in reading and ended up following my blog. Quite often people at work would come to me ask me, “When are you writing your next blog? I really want to know what happens next.”
John: Right. Right. That’s fantastic, actually. You have people hanging on the cliffhangers at the end of the last entry. That’s awesome. Were you reluctant to share at all or was it just part of your nature to be like, “Yeah, I’ve got this blog and that’s what I do?”
Sara: I think because I’d already been at that company for two years, I transcended the stage where I was hiding my personality a lot. In the first six months of me being there, I just kept my head down and I worked. I didn’t socialize too much. I was really just looking a lot of spreadsheets and numbers and whatever. But it just wasn’t my personality. So, I started more being myself. I started socializing with my colleagues more. Actually, it was really well received. I was fortunate enough to make some close friends while I was there and that would never have been able to happen if I hadn’t opened up. That’s why two years down the line of being there, I was happy to share the fact that I was doing this blog because I knew that people that weren’t interested in that wouldn’t read it anyway.
John: Yeah, and because you had opened up and had developed those friendships that then it’s just the natural step you would tell your friends, you would tell your friends outside of work as well, I’ve got this blog. It’s not like work friends are different than other friends, they’re your friends. That’s great. That’s really fantastic. Why do you think it is that for most of us, myself included and you and your first six months that our default mode is to kind of just lock down on the work?
Sara: I think that’s because people are really hesitant to open up in case they’re not taken seriously, or they’re not seen as professional and therefore it affects their career prospects which actually, I think is quite counterproductive. Because at the end of the day people like to work with people, they like whether that’s your colleagues, whether that’s your clients. Obviously, if you’ve got a certain level of skill, if you put two people next to each other, our Client is going to rather choose the person that he or she likes rather than the person they don’t like. So, sharing actually is really good business sense. You’re not a robot. You’re part of a company but you are a distinctive element within a company. I think it’s just really important that people share appropriately. I use the term appropriately because, of course you can go overboard.
Sara: Well, as often has happened when I’ve worked in offices, there’s always one or two people at office Christmas parties that go a bit nuts.
John: Right. Career limiting move.
Sara: Yes. The one where everyone talks about a year later. I’m not advocating doing that, but appropriate sharing just makes people more comfortable with you.
John: For sure. I think the balance is, is it drama or is it causing a distraction for others? Then that’s when it’s not good. But up until that point, totally cool. Because we’re still able to get our work done. I love how you mentioned too that people are going to want to work with people that they like. Once we have that basic level of skill which pretty much, we all do within the office or within the profession, then we’re not reinventing something crazy or launching people to the moon or brain science here, it’s taxes or audit. It’s not like you’re the only person that has this skill set in the whole world. There are a couple hundred thousand of them or more just within a stone’s throw. That’s the real differentiator of each of us is our personality.
Sara: I think there had been studies that say, I can’t think of any specific ones off the top of my head, but ones that say that those who make an effort strategically socialize and network within a company actually end up progressing quicker than those that just keep their head down and work and work and work.
John: For sure. Because you have that relationship with the people outside of your immediate department. Then they actually know who you are as a person. Everyone got to know that you are just super grumpy. No, I’m just kidding. I’m teasing. I’m totally teasing. No, but I love the name of that, The Grumpy Spiritualist. It’s the juxtaposition between the two is just so perfect. It’s absolutely hilarious. Do you feel like the writing gives you a unique skill set that made you better at your job?
Sara: Well, yeah. I think The Grumpy Spiritualist was the beginning. I don’t actually write that blog anymore although I might take it up again one day. But at the time, working the creative side my brain to give me contrast from the job that I was doing at the time is really important and having a conversation starter with people so whether that’s people you’re networking with, Clients, colleagues, everyone seems to be fascinated with blogging, writing a novel and all of that. It’s another way of communicating with people and getting their interest. I think it helps to craft your own story. If you are telling the story and you want to tell a compelling business story that makes people sit up and take notice of you, how can you really tell that story if your story consists of “I go to work?” And that’s it.
John: Yeah. No, that’s an excellent point. It taps into the creative side of you that allows you to paint that picture for the reader or for the listener in a much better way than just it’s black and white and I go to work and I play with the spreadsheet and then I go home. It’s like, well, no one wants to hear. There’s never a follow-up question to that. No one’s hanging on the cliffhanger for that one. It’s like “When are you going to write the next one? I want to know how these ends?” No one’s asking that. Don’t tell that story ever again please, Sara. But sadly, in the business world that’s how a lot of conversations are. This is three minutes of my life I’m not getting back. So, there you go.
Sara: I think if it was coaxed out of everyone, even the people that you think are quiet and look at their spreadsheets, I’m sure they have something about them. But actually, if they shared that, people would think, “Oh, that’s interesting. I want to know more about.”
John: Right. Then you would actually care about that person more than just on the work level. Maybe they need some help, so you’ll stay late. Maybe they need some assistance on something and, “Yeah, of course, I’m more inclined to help you because we’re friends now.” That definitely pays dividends even in work. I guess, how much do you feel like it’s on an organization to create a culture where sharing is encouraged versus how much is it on the individual to step in and make it happen?
Sara: I think it’s both sides, really. If you’re a company and you have a culture where no one talked to each other, then no matter who the individual is they’re probably not going to be that comfortable sharing and talking and socializing with each other. If an individual did come in and do that, then it might go one of two ways. Either they would be a breath of fresh air for everyone else or they just get sick and tired of the culture and leave. It’s important for companies to encourage this interaction. On the other hand, though, the individual has to be willing to do it as well. They have to be willing to share and show people their personality and to put in the effort as well. It can’t just be one sided, really.
John: Yeah. Because it’s just we’re always reluctant to do that for fear of being vulnerable or whatever it is, or like you said earlier, not looking as professional. That confuses me so much because no matter what you’re wearing, if you wear jeans and sneakers to work, well, does that make you less of an accountant than the person that’s wearing a suit? No, they’re the same skillset. But certain clients in certain atmospheres, sure you play the part to fit in with who you’re serving, I think, but it’s who you are and it’s your personality that comes out. It’s just cool to see. Like you mentioned, those people that are around you that are really quiet, there are some amazing things out there. All the people I’ve had on the podcast so far, it’s crazy. It’s like wow. This is really cool. Imagine if we all worked for the same accounting firm, that would be the greatest place ever. Right? It would be fantastic. Have you seen anywhere in your career where there are organizations that do a really good job of having that culture in encouraging people to share those passions and show their personality?
Sara: I couldn’t say that really about anywhere I worked. I do know of companies and usually actually they tend to be smaller companies or startup companies that really, really make a huge effort to say, “Yeah, we have a relaxed company culture. We like spending time together. We always have drinks on a Friday afternoon together to wrap up the week and planning things like away days as well so that people can sort of hang out together for a longer period of time outside work.” All of those things I think contribute towards a more positive company culture.
John: Yeah, yeah. The key there I think is the getting away from the office because for some reason, in people’s minds when they’re in that place, they have to behave a certain way and act a certain way. When you get them away from that, then they’re able to be a little more natural.
Sara: Yeah. I think that’s true. I think that’s the one as well to come back to the point I made before that people can go completely the opposite way.
John: Right. That’s true too.
Sara: And completely and appropriately. Again, as long as they realize this is still a work environment, so I can’t go nuts then sharing and that kind of more friendly company culture is a really good thing.
John: For sure. I guess, one thing that I’d like to ask is just do you have any words of encouragement for people that maybe think that well my passion or interest has nothing to do with my job so no one’s going to care and why should I share it? Do you have any words of encouragement for those people to help them get over the hump?
Sara: I think of, well, quite popped into my head, feel the fear and do it anyway. Basically, feeling that, “Why would anyone care about what I’m doing or what my hobby is, actually, a fear of people not accepting you almost, so share anyway. The worst that will happen is they won’t be interested. The best that could happen is, you actually find a point in common with the person or persons that you are sharing this with. If you do, that can open up a whole new range of opportunities.
John: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. Because I think the fear is mostly in our own heads.
Sara: Because I think a lot of people do think, “Oh, I’m not that interesting. Why would people be interested me?” My question is, “Why wouldn’t people be interested in you?” Even if your hobby was knitting, for example. I tried knitting once and I hated it and would never do it again. But if someone told me they were into knitting, I’d still think, “Oh, that’s interesting. I wonder what they knit? Can they knit jumpers, hats or whatever?”
John: Right. That’s your next blog, The Grumpy Knitter.
Sara: Well, actually, funnily enough I do have an accounting friend who does knit a lot.
John: Nice. But that’s the thing that you remember about her, is the knitting. That’s the thing that’s really sticky in our relationships with people is you’re letting people find out who you really are and what your real passions are. That’s really cool and it’s really authentic. Those connections are with you forever.
Sara: I can’t even remember where she worked or what she does now, but I remember that.
John: Right. That’s exactly it. If she never shared with you that she knits, first of all, you’d never have the gloves, most importantly. But secondly, you wouldn’t remember her. She would be almost completely forgettable which is really sad because she’s probably a very nice person. I’m sure she does very good work. But it’s easy for us to just lump them all in together because you don’t really stand out. It’s just another accountant or another lawyer or another consultant or engineer or whatever people’s profession is. It’s nutty like that. So cool. Well, this has been really fun, like really fantastic and really good insights. But I feel terrible because I opened it up rapid-fire questioning you and I feel like it’s only right if I offered to turn the tables and let you be able to rapid-fire question me.
Sara: Okay, now, I’m going to have to have some thoughts.
John: Oh boy. Oh no, let me get the seat belts, hold on.
Sara: Okay, if you could wish for one thing, what would that thing be?
John: What? What kind of question is this? If I could wish for one thing, one thing, I would wish that professionals wouldn’t think that they all had to be whatever they think the stereotype is. That would be fantastic. But then I guess I wouldn’t have a podcast anymore. But no, I just wish that people could just see and believe probably, including myself, more of what people see in them and the potential there and how cool it is what they’re doing even though they don’t think it is or that they’re anything special.
Sara: Well, that’s nice.
John: Yeah, yeah, like whatever.
Sara: It’s a more detailed version of world peace.
John: Yeah, but not world peace because, come on, like that’s dumb.
Sara: Moving on, are you an early bird or night owl?
John: I am probably more of an early bird, more effective in the morning but after lunch, my squirrel mind starts going nuts. I’m just not very productive.
Sara: Okay. If you pick a place you’d most like to travel to, where would it be?
John: Oh wow. Well, I would probably say I’ve already been once, but I’d be great to go back again was Cape Town, South Africa. That was a really cool place. A place that I haven’t been to, I guess, Fiji or one of those islands where the ocean looks like it’s a painting. That would be pretty cool too, I think. One of those huts that are out in the middle of the water or whatever like I don’t even know if that’s a real thing, but I’ve seen it in the pictures. I think that’d be pretty cool.
All right. All right. Well, I made it. All right. Well, thank you so much, Sara, for taking the time to be a part of the Green Apple Podcast.
Sara: You’re very welcome, John. Thanks for having me.
John: There you go. If you’d like to see some pictures of Sara’s travels or connect with her on social media, be sure to go to greenapplepodcast.com. While you’re on the page, please click that big, green button and do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. Thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends, so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, which is to go out and be a green apple.