Jenn is an Accountant & Dancer
Jenn Todling, an Audit Partner at EY, talks about her passion for dancing and how she feels it helps her perform better at her career, how she established an identity at the workplace with her passion, and how she encourages her co-workers to open about their own passions!
• Getting into dancing
• Some of her favorite performances
• How dancing has helped her be better at her job
• Teaching co-workers to dance
• How both the organization and the individual play a role in company culture
• How she encourages co-workers to be open about their passions
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Welcome to Episode 429 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. 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 differentiate you when you’re at work.
If you like what the show is about, be sure to check out the book, also called What’s Your “And”? It’s on Amazon, Indigo, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, a few other websites. All the links are at whatsyourand.com. 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. It 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 hit 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, Jen Todling. She’s an audit partner with EY in their Tysons, Virginia office, and now she’s with me here today. Jen, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Jennifer: John, it’s so great to be here. Thanks for including me.
John: Absolutely. This is going to be so awesome. Before we get into the really cool stuff, we’re going to do some minor cool stuff, get to know Jen on a new level here.
Jennifer: I can’t wait. Let’s go for it.
John: Here we go. I’ll ask you. Favorite day of the week.
Jennifer: Ooh, Saturday.
John: Saturday. There you go. Solid answer. I agree. That’s mine, too. How about puzzles, Sudoku, crossword or jigsaw?
Jennifer: I don’t really like puzzles, but if I have to do one, probably jigsaw.
John: Okay. All right. Fair enough. Fair enough. How about a favorite color?
Jennifer: Purple, absolutely purple.
John: There you go. How about a least favorite color?
John: Oh, brown. Yeah.
John: Right? That’s a pretty popular least favorite color answer. How about cats or dogs?
Jennifer: Definitely dogs, although I don’t have any right now. I used to have four. They were my first fur babies.
John: There you go. Yeah, dogs are awesome, for sure. How about a favorite actor or actress?
Jennifer: I love Hugh Jackman and Matthew McConaughey.
Jennifer: I have to go for J.Lo because my nickname is Jenny from the block. I have to start with J.Lo. J.Lo is my inspiration.
John: There you go. Alright, and she’s a dancer too.
Jennifer: Exactly. Exactly.
John: There you go. That’s awesome. This is one someone asked me, and I like to flip it back now is socks or shoes.
Jennifer: I very rarely wear socks. It’s kind of a running joke in my house. Definitely shoes. I go for the flats that I do not need socks with.
John: That’s hilarious. That’s awesome. That’s so good.
Jennifer: I wear shoes.
John: Yeah, there you go. How about books, audio version, e-book or real book?
Jennifer: Definitely real books. Definitely real books. We run out of bookcases in my house. I just keep buying them, so, 100% all the way old school.
John: That’s awesome. How about a favorite number?
John: Yeah, is there a reason?
Jennifer: Maybe it’s superstitious, but my sister got me into the whole 11-11. It’s like blessings from above. I don’t know. There’s something there. Anytime I see 11 or 11-11, there’s something there that’s magical.
John: No, it’s great. Number one is good, but two number one, why not?
Jennifer: Exactly. Why stop at one?
John: Right? There you go. How about your first concert?
Jennifer: Oh, New Kids on the Block.
Jennifer: Yeah. Awesome. Then I saw them again, I think the year before I turned 40, so, bringing it full circle there. They all aged a little bit, but it was still pretty good.
John: That’s awesome.
Jennifer: Yeah, definitely the biggest New Kids on the Block fan. It was amazing.
John: New Kids, yeah. That’s fantastic.
Jennifer: Product of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
John: Yeah, yeah, totally. Shifting gears, balance sheet or income statement.
Jennifer: Balance sheet.
John: Balance sheet. There it is. Yeah, because then you know if it’s right or not.
Jennifer: Exactly. It’s one period of time, simplify it.
John: Right, right. There you go. How about a TV show you would binge-watch, maybe of all time?
Jennifer: I’m a pretty big reality TV fan. I like them all. I don’t discriminate, but I do like some good reality TV.
John: My wife got us on the Married at First Sight. That’s the only reality show I watch.
Jennifer: Oh, yeah. 90 Day Fiance, it’s every Sunday night. I’m bringing it down to my house. I do like reality television, just helps me zone out a little bit.
John: Yeah, and any of those marriage ones makes me seem so much better than what I am. Look how good I am.
Jennifer: You really do appreciate your life when you walk away from that.
Jennifer: And then you can never go wrong with Friends or Sex in the City. Those are a couple of my favorites too, if I’m going to just binge-watch.
John: Yeah. Okay, solid answers, solid answers. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?
Jennifer: Star Wars.
John: Star Wars. Yeah, me too.
John: All right, I’ve got four more. PC or Mac for your computer.
Jennifer: I’m a PC girl.
John: Yeah, I am, too. I don’t even think I’m cool enough.
Jennifer: I don’t know how to do the Mac. I want to do it. I think they’re pretty cool, but I don’t know how to do it.
John: I think that’s just like a marketing ploy. I’m not sure. Or at least that’s what I tell myself because I’m not cool enough.
Jennifer: Yeah, I haven’t figured it out yet.
John: How about diamonds or pearls?
Jennifer: Diamonds. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. Right?
John: Right, right. It’s right there.
Jennifer: It’s right there. It’s obvious.
John: There you go. Two more. Favorite ice cream flavor.
Jennifer: Rocky road.
John: There you go, a classic.
Jennifer: Or anything with chocolate. Yeah.
John: Right. Yeah, that’s a classic. The last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own.
Jennifer: My passport.
John: Your passport. Oh, solid answer.
Jennifer: Although it hasn’t gotten a lot of use in the last year and a half, but that’s okay. Better times are ahead.
John: Exactly. That just means that there’s space so you don’t have to get a second one.
Jennifer: There is.
John: There you go. That’s a good answer. Let’s talk dance. How did you get started? Did J.Lo teach you herself? No, I’m just kidding.
Jennifer: I know. I’m waiting for that moment, that Masterclass to come out.
John: Yeah, yeah.
Jennifer: It’s interesting. If I look back when I was just a young girl even, just sort of preteen, I always love to dance. I don’t know if you remember Star Search, but I was addicted to Star Search.
John: Ed McMahon.
Jennifer: Yeah, Ed McMahon, and I was watching it whenever it was on. I would take the routines and memorize them. I started teaching my whole neighborhood kids and my younger sister, these routines. I was a coach and a choreographer. I think I had a little bit of formal training when I was five and then I didn’t have any formal training. I just was self-taught, super passionate about it, had the flyers for the neighborhood talent show. When I was 14, which is a really late start to start dancing, I started professionally training as a ballerina and jazz dancer. I was part of a company, and I worked really hard, 15 hours a week, training ballet, jazz, all the disciplines, and was in the pre-professional dance company, doing The Nutcracker and Swan Lake and all the things. It always was such a core part of who I am and what I’m passionate about, and I think it’s just been a balance of that technical or the intellect side and the creative side. It really was a good outlet for me, creatively. So, my whole teen years, I was dancing, and that was really just who I was and what I lived for really.
John: No, that’s awesome. I would imagine that it’s a little bit harder when you come in, at that age, because everyone else has been, all the basic moves and all that. You’re like, I didn’t see this on Star Search. That was not… Right?
Jennifer: I know. It’s funny. I danced on pointe. I didn’t have the feet that were perfectly arched and all of the technique, but I just worked really, really hard. I didn’t have a lot of money, growing up. I got scholarships. I did work-study to teach, so I could support my training. Looking back, it’s pretty incredible, just really a five-year period, dancing at a pre-professional level with not a ton of experience and training. It was just the heart and the passion. I loved it. I had really wonderful teachers and really good…
John: Yeah. It’s awesome. Giving you props, that’s not easy at all, especially on the pre-professional level. This isn’t a rec league, go into the whatever, the rec center in town and whatever. No, this is legit. Do you have any cooler memories of shows that you did or things that were some of your favorite experiences?
Jennifer: I wasn’t in competition. I realized that, even later as an adult, I really actually do not like to compete. I am not a very competitive person, but I love to perform. We had a lot of performances. I think one of the ones I really loved is my local town had a carnival, and we were the entertainment for the carnival, in that stage, doing parades, different kinds of ways to showcase. I love doing The Nutcracker every year. I was the mechanical doll, and having that solo was just really fun. Just being a part of the local community and being able to perform and express myself. I also used that as a way to give back. I was a part of an organization that helped support teenagers in crisis. It was a youth-based organization. Part of the fundraising efforts is, I became the artistic director for this organization, and we put on an entire production of A Christmas Carol in a musical form. I choreographed, recruited non-dancers, men and women, and created that for the community to support this organization. That was a really cool way for me to create my own thing as an 18-year-old.
John: That’s really cool. It just feels good to see these people that you know have gone through some stuff, to be able to shine and perform and share the joy that you get out of being onstage as well.
John: That’s amazing. The mechanical doll, that’s a full-on solo. It’s just you, and everyone’s looking at you. That’s really cool.
Jennifer: Yeah, I still whip it out periodically. I still know that routine. She just stares at me. I still break out the pointe shoes periodically too, because my feet hurt very badly when I do that, but you’ve still got to show that you can keep up with it.
John: Show yourself, even, at the very least.
John: Yeah. That’s awesome. Do you feel like any of this translates to work? Clearly, it was a passion. You were driven. It was who you are, as a person, even still today. Sometimes there’s an accidental byproduct that, oh, wow, there’s actually a skill here that translates to my corporate life. Do you feel like any of that crosses over?
Jennifer: Yeah, I do. It’s interesting. I didn’t fully appreciate that until maybe six months ago in the middle of the pandemic, where I stopped dancing just because everything shut down, and I found an outlet to pick it up again in January, because studios started transitioning to go virtual. I started taking classes again, with my favorite teachers in New York, hip hop. I started to realize that as I was engaging in that part of myself again and using a different part of my brain, it actually was making me better at my job because it was turning off that default task-oriented piece. It was opening up the creative insight moments where you get those a-ha moments. I was like, oh, my gosh, I’ve been missing this. I didn’t fully appreciate that it was helping me integrate more of my brain, and it was challenging me to learn choreography again, and have to just work differently. It made me appreciate that, in a work setting, you can’t just be focused only on completing tasks because you miss half of the power of insight and perspective, and that’s so crucial in what I do. So, absolutely, there’s a ploy in there.
John: Yeah, that’s huge. That’s a huge insight to have. That’s awesome. Like you said, when you just have your head down, you’re in the trenches, just get your work done; and it’s like, no, no, no, there’s all this stuff that’s happening that’s actually richer and cooler. Even as an auditor, you need to sense those things, but even just a relationship with your colleagues or coworkers, yeah, you miss out on that. That’s cool to hear that you recognize that.
John: It’s amazing how easy it is to just slide down that slippery slope and just get stuck in the, well, it’s work. It’s like, yeah, but it doesn’t have to be.
Jennifer: Yeah, and this one because it’s so active, and there’s an exercise component. I think, for me, my path as a partner, it took me a while, and I’m still on the journey to figure out my own vitality and what I need to be at my peak performance. Obviously, exercise is a key component of that. So, it helps me also just to have my mind in the right space to be able to manage the stress and manage the pressure productively because you just need that outlet. Absolutely, there’s a benefit to being able to integrate that in some way.
John: Yeah. Is this something that you talk about at work, or that people know about, the dancing side of you?
Jennifer: Yeah. It’s funny because when I, so I grew up in Colorado. I moved, my sophomore year of college, to California. I finished school in California, and that’s where I started my career. I didn’t dance for a decade. I did not dance in my 20s. I think there were just personal situations. My life just didn’t really accommodate it, and I kind of lost that. When I got an opportunity to move to New York and do a rotation on our national office, I was in New York City, this is the artistic capital of the world. I expanded myself to learn ballroom, and I became addicted. I was at the dance studio every single night, four, five hours, doing the classes, the parties. I would walk to the studio near the Empire State Building. Our office was Time Square, ten-minute walk. Pretty quickly, people started, in my second chapter at EY, started to recognize me in that realm because that’s clearly what I was spending my nights and weekends doing. Also, I did a rotation at the SEC, and I got known for that as well, and even found opportunities to teach some of my colleagues, dance.
John: The SEC ballroom dancing. This is incredible.
Jennifer: Yeah, so if I think of my most proud moment in my career, it probably was teaching, at that time, the chief accountant and some of the commissioners, how to do the salsa. My husband came with me. We were the entertainment for the Chinese New Year celebration. We did a little instruction. That, to me, was so cool to be able to integrate it. That’s how I got this Jenny from the block, or JFTV brand because like, I’m sorry, I’ve got to go to dance class. That chapter here that I’ve been on the East Coast, I’ve definitely grown back into redefining myself and realizing this is who I am, and I need to embrace it.
John: No, it’s so true. It’s also pretty interesting to hear, from all of your career, all of the things that you’ve done, it’s teaching others how to dance is the thing that stands out the most. That’s really deep, when you think about it. Yet, there isn’t a charge code for that. It’s not on any annual review, but that’s the stuff that we’re going to remember. It’s the stuff that they’re going to remember about you too, for sure. That’s awesome.
Jennifer: Yeah. I remember when we had my goodbye party, when I was going to the SEC, and I was leaving New York. One of the stories that was told, because we did a roast and the other partners shared their experiences, what they remember of me was we had this big deadline. We’re trying to get something out the door. I’m in the office, and I’m like, hey, I’ll be right back. I need to just go do a Paso Doble really quick at the EY’s Got Talent Show across the street at the American Airline theater. I just got to go do my Paso Doble and then be back online in a couple hours. That was such a cool experience. I got the experience to dance on Broadway, literally, and grateful for EY for recognizing, giving people an opportunity to share their talents. That’s what I did. I did my makeup. I walked across the street, put on my costume, did my performance. They had popcorn, all the things, and then came back and worked till whatever, midnight, whatever to get the thing out. That was a really memorable experience of, again, integrating that and then just going for it too, because that was just such an enriching period of my life, personally and professionally. I really appreciated that opportunity.
John: Yeah. It’s so cool to hear. Just curious, to compare and contrast, that’s ten years where you weren’t dancing, compared to then or even now, what is the difference? It seems palpable. It seems like it’s very clear, black and white, but a lot of people get stuck in that I’ve got work to do, work, work, work, work, work or work, more work.
Jennifer: Yeah. It’s 100%, night and day. Part of that was I had some challenging circumstances in my life, so that was sort of a dark chapter for me, in general.
Jennifer: I will say, the more I’ve been able to just expand and indulge in those areas that I’m passionate about, I’m definitely more fulfilled. I’m definitely happier. There’s more purpose. It’s busy. There’s a lot going on. I think I’m better at my job because it’s not all that I have. There’s more to it.
John: There it is. That’s the magic right there. My ultimate dream is that organizations track their people’s passion hours. There’s actually a charge code for your dancing. If you don’t have these many hours in the year dancing, then you’re not as good at your job as what you could be. Whatever your passion is, if you’re tracking everything else, why not track the important stuff?
Jennifer: I remember reading that in your book, and I highlighted, underlined, I 100% agree, because it also just shows that there’s value in that. This isn’t something you’re just fitting in because you have something, and it also encourages other people to have something. There’s more to life than just working. Everyone has special talents or skills or interest, and it’s important to nurture those. I love that concept.
John: Yeah. How much do you feel like it is on the organization to create that atmosphere where sharing and shining a light on these “ands” is the thing, or how much is it on the individual to either plug into that or start their own little circle?
Jennifer: Yeah, I think it’s probably something both parties need to be mindful of. For me, the way I look at it is, I want to feel comfortable being myself at work, in all aspects. I want to feel comfortable sharing the things that are important to me. I want to work for an organization that values that and has a culture that supports and wants to know who I am as a person, not just what tasks I can complete in my job.
For me, it’s part of that creating that culture of belonging and inclusion where everyone feels welcome. I think organizations can do that. They have a role in supporting and encouraging that and celebrating it. EY’s Got Talent Show. We did one, in person, before the pandemic. We just did one through the pandemic, and everyone submitted their videos. My husband and I did one. So, looking for opportunities to celebrate that, it’s fun. Everybody wants to have fun. We all want to see different things. Even if we’re not participating, it’s cool to see that.
As an individual, it’s been a journey for me. I’m still evolving as a person, but getting more comfortable, just being authentic in who I am and saying, I’m not just single dimension, I’m multidimensional. That what’s your “and” has really resonated with me. It’s not either-or, it’s and. I’m a partner, and I’m a dancer, and I’m a mentor, and I’m a coach, all the things that are important to me. That shifts with time, but I think it’s on both parties to recognize it and to make the time for it. It’s your life, and it’s your happiness. It’s important to prioritize that.
John: No, that’s so cool to hear. Yeah, you’re right, almost both sides hold each other accountable, type of thing. If the organization isn’t doing it, then it’s up to the people to be like, yo, yo. If the people aren’t doing it, then it’s up to the organization to say, hey, what’s going on? Do we need to make time for this? Why are you not making time for this? It’s just cool to hear your journey and how enriching it is, to have these other dimensions to you, and how much it just makes you better at work and better in life, really, at the end of the day.
Jennifer: Yeah, and I think it’s made me a better team leader too. I try and ask questions to understand what makes people tick, and what do they care about, and to pay attention to that, and ask, are you honoring that? Are you making time for that? It could be personal. It could be professional. Some of my team members love to teach. I’m like, hey, did you get on the roster to teach this year? Or how’s your basketball game going? What does that look like? Because part of it is we don’t work for big companies, we work for people. Having those connections in the relationships are so critical, so you have to know your people. This is one element to get to know someone. Even my new team members that I haven’t met in person yet, I ask, hey, what do you like to do outside of work? What does that look like? That just helps me understand what’s important to them better.
John: Yeah. Read more FASBs? No.
Jennifer: No. But you know what? Some people do really like to read them. They do, and that’s fine.
John: Yeah, exactly.
Jennifer: You’re right, everyone is a little bit different.
John: Keep going. There’s something else. That’s so cool to hear that that’s what you do. It’s such a simple example for people that are listening right now. They’re like, well, I don’t know how to do this. You just take five minutes and ask and have a conversation and be genuinely interested.
Jennifer: Exactly. None of this is rocket science. That’s what I always say when we talk about how do we help support culture, because that can feel really intimidating and scary. It’s simple. It’s just like asking a question. You don’t have to have an answer. You’re just listening, genuinely listening. It’s just a simple things that can make a big difference. Like peloton, peloton craze has been insane with the pandemic. I’ve seen people start their own, even some of the working mom groups I’m a part of, let’s start our own peloton group. Just simple things you can get on the bandwagon and just create something that’s a little bit different.
John: Yeah, and connections that are beyond just the work connection type of thing, which I find, then critical feedback isn’t so critical. The working relationship is better and stronger and smoother. Just so many good things come from just such a simple concept. It’s cool to hear that it’s in the real world too, type of thing, and not just my head. That’s awesome. Before we wrap this up, because this has been so awesome, do you have any words of encouragement to anyone listening that maybe feels like they have a hobby that has nothing to do with their job, and no one’s going to care about it type of thing?
Jennifer: Yeah. I guess my advice is invest in it, prioritize it, spend time. It might be hard to do that, but do it anyway. It’s still vulnerable for me to come out of my shell. I’m going to teach a dance class this week for my coworkers. I’m going to record a video to kick off the summer. I’m nervous, I’m vulnerable, but I’m doing it anyway. I would say, do it anyway. You can let fear, you can let all of that get in the way, but that’s not fun. So, get out of your comfort zone, go for it, just have fun. You’re not going to regret it.
John: That’s awesome to see because you on that video is going to be the most lit up that you could possibly be. For other people to see that, that translates through even video, to see, wow, Jen is on fire right now. This is what really lights her up. It’s infectious. People want to hear more about that or see that.
Jennifer: I love that you just said that because I think that’s so true. Every time I get feedback of, wow, that was so cool to watch, or, wow, you just seemed so authentic; that’s reaffirming to me that I’m on the right path. You’re absolutely right, there’s an energy there, when we’re just living our authentic lives, we’re going for it, we’re just out there, that is contagious. It’s really fun. I’m on my own journey of embracing the energy, embracing the vulnerability and just going for it. That would be my advice. Think less, do more.
John: Yeah, I love that. That’s so great, so great. Provided you get your work done. There’s that part but, of course.
Jennifer: Yeah, you still have to get your work done. You still have to get your work done.
John: Yeah. I just want to make sure, for people listening that haven’t read the book or haven’t, yeah, this assumes that you’re all good at your jobs. You’re getting your work done. You’re not interrupting other people getting their work done. This is all assuming all the basics.
John: Yeah. That’s so great. I feel like, before I wrap this up, though, I so rudely peppered you with questions at the beginning, that I feel it’s only fair that we turn the tables, the first episode of the Jen Todling podcast. Thanks for having me on. I’m all yours. What have you got?
Jennifer: All right, John, sweet or salty snack.
John: Oh, sweet, all day. Yeah.
Jennifer: Favorite vacation spot.
John: Oh, wow. Costa Rica is pretty awesome, but the flight’s a little long. I’m lazy, so, a Cancun or a Cabo. Because in Denver, on the West Coast, I’ve never lived West before, until several years ago when I moved here. It’s such a short flight that it’s like, oh, man, yeah. You’re there in like three hours, at the resort. Okay, I can do this. Yeah, that’s always a nice little getaway, and it seems exotic because it’s another country.
Jennifer: Cancun is one of my favorite places. I have flown there from Denver, so I completely relate to that.
John: Yeah, yeah.
Jennifer: All right, one more for you.
Jennifer: What’s the best advice you ever received?
John: Oh, wow. The best advice I’ve ever received, is, pretty much, don’t take the advice if you don’t want to do it. It’s almost like, if you didn’t ask for it, and it’s not someone that you respect, and it’s not helping you, then don’t take it. Don’t listen to it. Do your thing. When you ask for advice from people that you respect and admire, then take it to heart. If it’s random people, when I did comedy, you’re just out, after the show, in the lobby, saying bye to people. People will say things to you that I’m not sure if they practiced in their head, what was going to come out. You get a pretty thick skin, and you’re just like, you know what, I really don’t care. I’m doing what I do, and there’s plenty of people that do like it. If you’re a train wreck of a person, clearly, listen to some advice, but do you and then find your place where you fit. So, don’t listen to all the advice is my advice, including me saying that advice, don’t listen too, in a weird Matrix kind of a thing.
Jennifer: I think that’s true, though, and like you just said, you do you. I think that’s really important.
John: Yeah, I’m a fan of that. Jen, thank you so much for being a part of What’s Your “And”? This is so awesome to have you be a part of this. Thank you.
Jennifer: Thanks, John, for having me and for writing the book and encouraging me. It’s great to have cheerleaders out there for everyone, so, really appreciate the opportunity to be here today.
John: Totally. That means so much, for you to say. Everyone listening, if you want to see some pictures of Jen in action onstage or maybe connect with her on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. Everything’s there. While you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture, and don’t forget to read the book.
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.