Abbey is a Marketer & Award-Winning Gardener
Abbey Kanellakis, a Senior Manager at Rea & Associates, talks about how she discovered her passion for gardening, when she realized being herself at work can benefit her career, forming The Committee of Awesomeness, and much more!
• Getting into gardening
• Succession planting
• Growing peanuts
• Being yourself in the office
• The Committee of Awesomeness
• Why it is both on the individual and the organization to promote an open work environment
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Welcome to Episode 405 of What’s Your “And”? 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. And to put it in another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and,” those things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that actually differentiates you when you’re at work.
If you like what the show is about, be sure to check out the book. It’s on Amazon, Indigo, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, a few other websites. All the links are at whatsyourand.com. And if you want me to read it to you, that’s right, this voice reading the book, look for What’s Your “And”? on Audible or wherever you get your audio books. The book goes more in depth with the research behind why these outside-of-work passions are so crucial to your corporate culture. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s reading it and writing such great reviews on Amazon, and more importantly, changing the cultures where they work because of it.
Please don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week. And this week is no different with my guest, Abbey Kanellakis.
Abbey: You nailed it.
John: Yes. She’s the senior manager of Practice Growth at Rea & Associates outside of Columbus, Ohio. And now she’s with me here today. Abbey, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Abbey: Hey, I’m just glad to be here. Sorry for chiming in there. Once I start, I can’t stop.
John: Right. No, I’m excited to have you be a part of this after you won the award at the BDO Alliance Conference for the Rethink competition for people that had outside-of-work passions. I think it’s so cool that the Alliance did that award. I’m like, I wrote a book on that. So it was awesome to be a part of that.
Abbey: Hey, I am thrilled. Thanks to the BDO Alliance, I can now say I’m an award-winning gardener, and I have used that multiple times already. No one has tried the tomato yet, but I’m an award-winning gardener.
John: I love it. That is so awesome. We need to update LinkedIn right now. But that’s so cool. But I have my rapid-fire questions, things that I didn’t ask when we were avatars in the Verbella world of the Alliance. Here we go. How about a favorite color?
Abbey: Glitter unicorn.
Abbey: I do like glitter with everything, so we’ll just say glitter.
John: Just sparkly. Okay.
John: All right. How about a least favorite color?
Abbey: Brown? I have no reason, just it looks like poop.
John: Cats or dogs?
John: Dogs. Yeah, me too. How about a favorite day of the week?
John: Friday. Okay, there you go. How about puzzles, Sudoku, crossword, jigsaw?
John: Crossword? Okay. All right. How about a favorite actor or actress?
Abbey: Oh, so I do kind of like John Lithgow and —
John: Oh, yeah, he’s hilarious.
Abbey: Eva Green.
John: Oh, yeah.
Abbey: So she was great in Penny Dreadful.
John: Very cool. Yeah, good answers. Oh, here’s a fun one. Someone asked me this and I like to turn it around. Socks or shoes?
John: Shoes. Okay. All right.
Abbey: Or maybe socks with flip flops.
John: No! Never! This is the shortest episode of What’s Your “And”? I’m just kidding.
John: All right. We’ll give you one more chance. Star Wars or Star Trek?
Abbey: Star Wars, I suppose.
John: You weren’t super convinced but all right.
Abbey: Super glitter unicorn. I mean…
John: Okay. How about your computer, PC or a Mac?
Abbey: I am a creative person, so that would lead me to Mac, of course. But I work on PCs. They’re ingrained, so I would have to go with PC.
John: Yeah, me too. Same. How about a favorite ice cream flavor?
Abbey: All the ice cream flavors.
John: Nice. That was a trick question and that is the right answer. So you’re back to redeeming yourself. Okay. How about a favorite season, summer, winter, spring, or fall?
Abbey: Definitely not winter but the other three I’m good with. Spring, I am outside planting, so what’s not to love?
John: There you go. All right. How about your first concert?
Abbey: So there was actually the funny story too, the one that I went to with my parents, they took me to see Collective Soul.
John: Oh, yeah.
Abbey: Back in the day. But then my first adult concert was Cradle of Filth.
John: Oh, there you go, which is the opposite of Collective Soul.
Abbey: Totally opposite. They’re hanging on hooks.
John: Holy moly! Okay. I did not see that coming. How about a favorite number?
Abbey: Thirteen. That was my jersey number when I played softball in high school.
John: There you go. All right. How about books, audio version, e-book, real book?
Abbey: Totally the real book. I have a background in journalism, so I love the look and feel and smell of all things print. Not that I wouldn’t enjoy the sultry sounds of your voice as you read the book.
John: They were like, “So do you want to read it?” I was like, “I guess? I don’t know.” And then recording it is hilarious because in my book, as you’ve read, there’s 41 quotes from different people that have been on the podcast. They tried to get me to do characters.
Abbey: I was going to say, did you introduce some new characters in there?
John: I know these people, like imagine if I quoted you and then I try and do your voice, like you would get on a plane, fly to Denver and punch me in the face and then just go right back to the airport. Like I would do that.
Abbey: I really want to hear your impression of me right now.
John: So the spoiler is there’s a softer, slower John Garrett voice. That’s the quotes. There’s me and then there’s my quote voice. It’s pretty agnostic. It doesn’t have a gender.
Abbey: It sounds pretty lame, honestly.
John: Yeah, I wanted to use the recordings from the thing but they were like, “Eh, it’s not high enough quality,” or whatever. I don’t know.
Abbey: Next book, definitely do some impressions. We have to make that happen.
John: Right. Okay, let’s write the next one first, Abbey. Let’s slow down here.
Abbey: Coming soon.
John: Getting out of the — so we got three more. How about favorite toppings on a pizza?
Abbey: Cheese, cheese and more cheese.
John: Okay, there you go. That’s solid. How about a favorite Disney character?
Abbey: Tinker Bell.
John: Tinker Bell. Wow, that’s a good one, out of nowhere.
Abbey: Tinker Bell, Cradle of Filth.
John: Right, right.
Abbey: I’m a wildcard. You got whiplashed.
John: I think if you start to Cradle Filth album, when you start Peter Pan, no, no, no, never mind. Dark Side of the Moon. Never mind. Different things. Different album.
Abbey: I love that so much.
John: Last one, last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own?
Abbey: So recently, it was my great-grandfather’s gardening book.
John: Oh, nice.
Abbey: And he got it from, it was like a garden club back in the ’60s or whatever, but he swore by it. And then after he passed away, my other grandpa went over and took it, and then my grandma gave it to me late last year. She’s like, “I’m imparting all this wisdom to you.” It’s been the best thing I’ve ever read.
John: That’s so cool. That’s absolutely hysterical too that your other grandpa swiped it.
Abbey: Oh, yeah.
John: It’s that good.
Abbey: I’m not going for the heirlooms. I’m going for the book.
John: Right. How’s he grow all that stuff? Which leads in perfectly with your and. How did you get started gardening? Was it getting that book, or was it something that you had been failing miserably at until then? No, I’m just kidding.
Abbey: I don’t think I’ve ever failed miserably per se at gardening, but I had never stretched myself to this extent. So I would try like a tomato plant here and there. But then I lived in some apartments for a while and couldn’t really do anything with that. Before we went on lockdown, my husband and I had just bought a house on half an acre land. I’m like, I’m going to get this gardening happening. Well, of course, COVID and everything. I remember seeing on the news that the state of Michigan was starting to ban all seed sales and whatever. Before that comes to Ohio, I am going to buy all the seeds. I literally went to Walmart and all under the car.
John: It’s that and toilet paper, like that’s what I’m going nuts on. But the seeds, that’s hilarious. That’s so awesome.
Abbey: And then, of course, I take them all home and I’m like, “How am I going to plant all of these?”
John: Now you got to plant them.
Abbey: What did I do to myself? There was a lot of work that went into getting the ground tilled. It was a beast. Of course, we moved in late so I got my gardening late. It was probably mid-June, which is really late for a lot of these. But I was out there every day. Fortunately, working from home. I would go out to lunch breaks and I would be out there pulling weeds. I’d come back in. I was out there probably more than I was sitting at my desk working. So I realized I really liked this. I had so many beans, the amount of tomatoes like I was impressing myself. I’m like, “Look what I did.”
John: Right, right.
Abbey: I just wanted to keep that going, and it kind of got out of hand because it was really big last year. This year, I’ve tripled the size of it.
Abbey: Yeah. That’s pretty good. I started seeds indoor, so I got grow lights and kind of the whole setup.
John: Yeah. So now, I mean, you’re way ahead. You could probably do two rounds, I would imagine. By the time June comes around, you’ll already have a crop.
Abbey: At this point, yes. I started all my tomatoes, and I’m planning on doing a succession planting. So I have late crops as well, so like a broccoli in July. I mean, I feel like I’m nerding out on all this.
John: No, no, you really thought it through and you don’t want to give out all the secrets of the book. I mean, I just love how you just embrace it. And I mean, you won an award. So like, I mean, you’ve got the hardware to back it up.
Abbey: That’s great.
John: Are you growing anything that you would consider unique?
Abbey: So yeah. And again, I learned this from that book that you can grow peanuts as far north as Ontario, Canada.
Abbey: I had no clue. I’m like, you can only grow peanuts in the south. What are you talking about?
John: Right, specifically Georgia.
Abbey: Right, right. Well, until I got peanuts and they’re Virginia peanuts, really big. I think that’s what they used to make like peanut butter.
Abbey: It’s like there are certain varieties for different things. And if they all come up this year, I’m going to try peanuts. I’m going to have enough, probably about 3,200 peanuts produced.
John: So the next year, you’ll be back talking about your circus. So we have elephants now to eat all our peanuts.
Abbey: Right. Apparently, I don’t do things half-ass. I’m in like, oh, I’m going to go try peanuts, so I’m going to do a field of peanuts.
John: No, that’s cool, though. I’ll be interested to hear how that goes. Can you just plant the peanuts that you would get in a store, or do you have to buy?
Abbey: Yeah, you kind of have to buy the seed, so the seed peanut. You don’t want them roasted already. That’s probably going to kill all that in there.
John: That’d be amazing if they grew salted and roasted. It’s like, oh, my gosh.
Abbey: It’s like, where does chocolate milk come from?
John: Right. Exactly. You’re going to start growing chocolate milk?
Abbey: It’s going to happen. Well, so my husband is Greek, and that’s one of the things that we love about gardening so much is we plant the vegetables we need for the horiatiki, which is your Greek salad, your traditional Greek salad. So of course, we have our tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, onions. We actually bought an olive tree, so now we’re going to be planting olives along with all of this. It’s like the only thing that we need now is feta. I’m like, give me a goat. You’re going to make it happen.
Abbey: Man, you don’t even know who I am anymore.
John: You’re going to have a full-on farm there. You’re going to have to move again.
Abbey: I’m not going to lie, I saved a baby rabbit a couple of weeks ago. The bunny family got ran over across the street. My daughter was like, “No!” So we had a rabbit up until this week. We finally let it go. But the country looks good on me, I guess.
John: Right. Look at you. This is awesome. Who knew?
Abbey: Who knew?
John: It’s just unleashed. Yeah, that’s so cool. And so do you feel like gardening at all translates to work, or you’re using some of the skills in your gardening or vice versa?
Abbey: Well, I can certainly bribe people with vegetables now.
John: Right, which in Columbus is better than money.
Abbey: It really is.
John: How many zucchinis do you have? What?
Abbey: I’ll give you some peppers for a tax return.
John: It’s funny.
Abbey: At work, I’m kind of known for now being the weird gardener, but in general at work I’m just the weird person, off the wall, unfiltered all the time. You know, it’s kind of interesting to see how that Abbey has translated into garden Abbey because, I mean, I give my plants voices and they say some really inappropriate things. You’re supposed to talk to your plants, but I think I took it to a whole new level.
John: They’re not supposed to talk back.
John: My plants have some attitude.
Abbey: Right. You need to go in the corner with the Brussel sprouts.
John: Right. Exactly. But what is that like? I mean, well, first of all, just being known. I mean, which I think in the professional world is not something that’s easy for people to say. Is that something you’ve been like since day one?
Abbey: No, not since day one. When I started the firm, this is — I have a background in journalism, so I didn’t even come from the accounting profession. And then I joined Rea & Associates and like, okay, this is a big girl job now. So now I got to dress all professionally and makeup all the time and fit in by being a carbon copy of everyone else. And I found it so hard and I really struggled with that because I was like, I got to shine.
John: Yeah, right. Don’t put baby in the corner.
Abbey: Right, don’t do it. And it was about three years into work and finally I just said, screw it. I have to be me. I am going to let my freak flag fly, so to speak. I’m just going to say what’s on my mind. What’s the worst that can happen?
Abbey: Although I’m sure that there’s a lot of really bad things that they use my imagination, but I’m taking a gamble and it’s either going to work, or it’s not going to work. And it did. From that point on, I had really good relationships with a lot of principals in the firm, upper management. I got the younger crowd. I have them kind of looking up to me now. I’m kind of a champion for the brand because that’s the other thing, we want to be different. And I’m doing my part.
John: Yeah, very much so, very much so. I love it. I mean, because there are so many professionals and then the collective of the firms or organizations that they’re a part of, they don’t always think about being different. They almost want to try really, really hard to be the same. I mean, similar to how you said, in the beginning, when you started there, for some reason, our default mode is be the same as everyone else because we’re not in sixth grade, and they’re going to make fun of us and all that stuff type of thing. So it’s cool to hear that your experience of standing out actually was a huge, huge positive.
Abbey: Well, and I’ve had some great opportunities as a result of that because I am not afraid, I’m not going to be the shy person. And I feel like so many people that I work with or the accountants, in general, are more hesitant to speak up or to maybe scared to hear their own voices, , in a way. Like you’re in a board meeting, and I don’t want to be the first one with an idea. That never stops me. I’m always the first one with an idea. Even if it’s wrong, I will say something. As a result, I’ve been welcomed on several committees, strategic communications committee for the association for marketing, working with the BDO Alliance on their marketing roundtables. I’ve done really cool opportunities, and people appreciate it when you actually speak up, and it’s been great.
John: Yeah, because, I mean, even if it’s not the exact answer, it’s close. If you don’t say anything at all, then you’re going to be completely forgotten. You’re not even heard. You’re seen. So it’s cool that, I would imagine, it just feels good to be like, wow, people know me. They get me.
Abbey: It feels good.
John: Yeah, yeah, because, I mean, it’s not something that everyone can say, unfortunately, and I wish that was the case. And it’s really so simple. It’s just sharing your and. I mean, it’s that simple. It doesn’t have to be full-on like, you know, whatever. It’s just a little bit.
Abbey: No. And what’s really amazing is when you put a little bit of yourself out there, then it empowers others to put a little bit of themselves out there, and it builds upon each other. And all of a sudden, you have this really great relationship at a whole different level, and it just makes everybody stronger as a result.
John: Yeah, I mean, all of a sudden, you’re surrounded by actually cool people I want to be around for eight to 10 hours a day, five days a week. It’s like, oh, wow. I mean, I remember when I was working in corporate and you go to a happy hour or whatever and you’re talking to somebody, you’re like, “Wow, can you bring this person to work next week? This is like a cool version. I would like to hang out with your more.”
Abbey: Right. We can totally hang. This is exactly what I want.
John: Exactly. It doesn’t have to be only after hours outside the office. It could be a little bit inside.
Abbey: And that’s one of the things that we noticed with the pandemic as well. You know, I went to our regional president’s office and he’s like, “Yeah, I’d like to have a barbecue because we’re no longer seeing each other’s faces, and this is a problem. So do you have any ideas on how we can bring everyone together?” And of course, I’m like, “I have all the ideas, but I know what this is going to mean. It means I got to lead something.”
John: Right. Right. It’s your idea, so you’re in charge.
Abbey: And that’s exactly what happened. I’m like, so I’m typing up the ideas, and I send it off and he goes, “Great! When are you going to start implementing it?” Crap! So I recruited a few people, and I formed the Committee of Awesomeness.
John: Nice. Yes. That’s an awesome name. I love that. That’s so cool.
Abbey: It’s still in there, you know.
John: Yes. It’s right there.
Abbey: So we had done everything from bringing in food trucks and baseball in the parking lot to drive-in movie nights, random Zoom happy hours. We do a lot of happy hours. We’ve had mix your own drink. So we’ve shipped drink mixes over to everyone and do it all together. We decorated ornaments together. It really did bring us together so much. And now we have more people than ever in our Columbus area office getting involved in the Committee of Awesomeness. And in our North East region, they created the fun committees. So it’s spreading. It’s spreading, John.
John: Yeah, I love it. That’s so cool because, I mean, it’s those little things that are not more work and things that maybe not everyone’s good at decorating an ornament, but some people are really, really creative and artistic and it’s like, what? I did not see that coming. That’s very awesome.
Abbey: I had some surprises. And even if they’re not like maybe the best at drawing, they’ll put their own spin. Someone burned the wood, like it was wooden ornament. Like, wow, look at you.
John: Right. Hey, Pyro, how are you doing? I guess you shouldn’t sit by the fire exits. But that’s awesome because it’s something that’s different. It’s “outside the box.” Even just a little bit creative, it just goes such a long way. That’s super cool to hear. So how much do you feel people are sharing their and maybe more now with the pandemic because we’ve all been in each other’s homes?
John: Right. Well, I mean, on the Zooms, not like hanging out in the front yard, like maybe —
Abbey: Floating in the window, breathing heavy.
John: Well, in Columbus, we actually just go break in. So when you come home, it’s like, “Hey, we’re here!”
Abbey: “I’ve already opened the bottle of wine.”
John: Right. Exactly.
Abbey: No, but that’s true because we were saying some of the really interesting things about being remote. And I kind of was that creepy person. I’m like, I really like seeing what everyone’s bedrooms look like because a lot of them are in their rooms. But then I, of course, realized how creepy that sounded, and I didn’t want to be that person any longer.
John: Yeah, but you can just say rooms or houses or, I mean, because there’s art on their wall or a picture or books. Like if they have it there, it brings them joy. So talking about it would naturally light them up, which on the virtual calls is kind of hard sometimes.
Abbey: It is. But on the other hand, I will say too because I am moving to full-time remote, and that means I’m, you know, we serve 13 offices across the state of Ohio, our Practice Growth team. So this has actually made it easier for me to have those connections. We’re implementing Microsoft Teams. We’re still using Zoom here and there. I feel closer to the people in Cleveland and Marietta and Medina than I have ever because I was in Dublin, and they started monopolizing the time. I love my Dublin peeps but they’re like, “We’re here. We need you.”
John: And even psychologically, the other offices just look at you differently than because, oh, well, you’re theirs and ours. And even though we’re the same firm and we’re all one group, there’s still —
Abbey: This thing.
John: That thing. Yeah, totally. I can totally hear that, for sure. But yeah, because now then you can relate to them, because you’re kind of on an island on your own. And it’s like, well, I’m all of yours.
Abbey: Right. Exactly. And they all want a piece of me, let me tell you.
John: Right. Here’s what some of those peanuts and vegetables. That’s all they want.
Abbey: I know. I was telling them, I’m like, for Christmas, I’m going to make little baggies of fresh roasted Abbey — I’m going to make a label for it. It’s going to have my face on it. It’s going to be great.
John: That’s the market review. It’s just you can’t get away from it. There we go. That’s so cool to hear. So how much do you feel it’s on an organization to create that space for people to share their ands, or how much is it on the individual or to be like, you know, they didn’t really tell me I could, but in my small little group, I’ll just get it started?
Abbey: I think it’s kind of 50/50. One, the person has to be willing to share, but they also have to feel like they’re in a safe environment to share. Going back to when I was in my first couple years of firm, I didn’t necessarily feel like it was a safe environment, not because it, you know, people were very welcoming and it was great, but it was like everybody were — they were wearing suits and they were certainly rule bound in many ways. No one else was speaking up or being crazy. So it would be weird if I did it. So someone has to take that initiative, and then the firm has to be accepting of that, I think. And once that happens, then it gets the ball rolling. And I can tell you, at least in our Dublin office, with the Committee of Awesomeness so many people are just — they’re bonkers over there, but they work so hard and they have so much fun in the meantime, and they’re not afraid to go and visit each other like in their cubicles, right?
Abbey: But I feel like we are closer now because we have that ability to kind of be a little weird. And it’s great. It’s great.
John: I love that so much. Yeah, it’s almost like the — I refer to it as kind of like the world isn’t flat moment where somebody had to go over the edge. And then you come back and you’re like, “Hey, it’s fine. Actually, it’s better over there, you guys, like everybody, let’s go.”
Abbey: “Come on over.”
John: Right, exactly. And it’s one of those where it’s almost 99.9% in our own heads of, well, no one else is doing it and permission-based sort of behavior of, well, they didn’t say I could and they also didn’t say you couldn’t.
Abbey: Yeah, going back to like high school or something, you’re like, I just don’t want them to make fun of me or think different of me if they knew this, but it really goes the other way. They want to know a little bit more about you so that they can look at you differently because, again, we’re not in high school anymore.
John: Right. I mean, so much of that formative years was just hammered into us, and it’s really hard to shower it off. It’s like, yeah, it’s stuck. You know, it really is. But it’s such great words of encouragement to everybody right there. It’s just let it go and —
Abbey: Let your freak flag fly.
John: Yeah, exactly. And that’s not the first time on this show that we’ve heard that. So that might be the title of the second book right there that I’ll have to then voice. It’s quite the tongue twister, so maybe I’ll rethink that.
Abbey: Or practice, John.
John: I’m so lazy for that. I’ve got peanuts growing out back now, so I don’t have time to — the practice is talking to the plants. There you go.
Abbey: Right. Exactly. And just record yourself while you’re talking to the plants. And then the plants will start talking back and half the book is written.
John: Right. There it is. It’s actually only an audio book.
John: Right. Well, this has been awesome. But I feel like at the beginning of the episode, I so rudely peppered you with questions. So I feel like it’s time that we turn the tables and make this the first episode of the Abbey podcast. So thanks for having me on as a guest, I guess. I put myself. So I’m all yours. If you have any questions, fire away.
Abbey: I see you’re smiling, but you’re really crying on the inside.
John: I’m very nervous.
Abbey: All right. You have a few questions just gardening based, fruits or vegetables?
John: Oh, so I think gardening wise, as far as growing them, I would probably say vegetables just because fruits sounds harder, because that’s like a tree and like — so I think vegetables just seem easier or more common, I guess. So I’ll go with that.
Abbey: So you just want to be common, just run of the mill John.
John: Well, it just sounds hard. I got to grow trees and then have the trees grow the fruit. It’s like, I don’t have the kind of time. You can just go get apple seeds from the garden center and then plant them and then have apples that year. Like I might not even live in this house by the time the apples come out.
Abbey: Fair enough. Fair enough. It is a long-term commitment. I understand.
John: Yes. So maybe that’s more of what it is.
Abbey: He’s afraid of commitment, guys.
John: I need an ROI in six months. Like I don’t have this kind of time.
Abbey: Here’s a compromise for you. You go with the strawberries. You get the fruit.
John: Oh, yeah, I guess it is a fruit. All right.
Abbey: Speaking of fruits, tomatoes or peppers.
John: Tomatoes, tomatoes.
John: Yeah, cherry tomatoes, especially. Those are super fun, because they barely make it in the house because I eat them just right off. It’s like, oh, I was supposed to bring them in. Okay.
John: Right, right.
Abbey: All right, sunshine or thunderstorms?
John: Oh, sunshine. I hate the rain so much. It ruins everything. It should rain at night when I’m inside, water everything. That’s why I love Denver because it’s sunny almost every day. It’s like 300 plus days.
Abbey: It’s amazing.
John: Well, hopefully, we can be friends and hang out sometime.
Abbey: I’ll think about it.
John: Right. Well, regardless, it’s been so much fun to have you be part of What’s Your “And”? Honestly, Abbey, thank you so much for just being awesome.
Abbey: Thank you very much for having me.
John: Everybody listening, if you want to see some pictures of Abbey or her garden or connect with her on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. Everything’s there. And while you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. And don’t forget to check out the book.
So 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, that who you are is so much more than what you do.