Kate is a Bookkeeper & Children’s Choir Director
Kate Johnson talks about how she went from having little formal experience in singing and teaching to directing her church’s children’s choir group! She also talks about how it helps her get away from her more calculated mindset and gives her a chance to explore her creative side!
• Becoming the church’s choir director
• Exploring her more creative side
• Encouraging a more extroverted side of yourself
• Openly talking about her church choir activities at work
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Welcome to Episode 289 of What’s Your “And”? 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. 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 in the office.
I’m so excited to let everyone know that my book’s being published very soon. It’ll be available on Amazon and a few other websites. Check out whatsyourand.com for all the details. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s listening to the show and then changing the cultures where they work because of it, and the book will really help to spread this message.
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, Kate Johnson. She’s the owner and bookkeeper at Heritage Business Services in Virginia Beach, and now she’s with me here today. Kate, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Kate: I’m so glad to be here.
John: This is awesome. I’m glad we connected on LinkedIn and here we are. Let’s make some magic. As you know, 17 rapid fire questions out of the gate.
Kate: I’m ready.
John: All right, yeah. Here we go. Favorite color.
Kate: Baylor green and gold.
John: There we go. This is going to be an easy one then. Least favorite color.
Kate: Burnt orange.
John: There it is. I knew that was coming. All right, brownie or ice cream.
Kate: Ice cream.
John: Okay. That’s a tough one though. You wanted to put them together, didn’t you?
Kate: I’m more of a savory girl than a sweet girl.
John: Oh, okay. How about favorite actor or actress?
Kate: Tina Faye.
John: Oh, solid answer. Yeah, very good answer. Would you say you’re more of an early bird or a night owl?
Kate: 100% early bird, every day, I’m not sleeping in, every day.
John: Wow. That’s impressive. That’s impressive. You’re doing it for me then. That’s great. How about would you say more puzzles, Sudoku or crossword?
Kate: Crossword. I grew up with an excellent crossword puzzler as a dad. He taught me everything.
John: All right, all right. How about pens or pencils?
Kate: Whatever I can grab from my kids usually, around the house.
John: Just whatever, like crayon, whatever.
John: There it is.
Kate: Exactly, exactly.
John: That’s great. That’s really great. How about your computer, more of a PC or a Mac?
John: PC. Yeah, me too, me too. How about on your mouse, right click or left click?
Kate: I don’t know. I don’t know. Right click.
John: Right click. That’s the one that opens up all the options.
Kate: There you go.
John: That’s where all the cool stuff hides. How about do you have a favorite movie of all time?
Kate: Oh, man. I watched a lot of A League of Their Own when I was a kid.
John: That’s a great movie. It’s hilarious and heartfelt and so many actors and actresses in there.
Kate: So good, so good.
John: Yeah, really good movie, really good movie. More Star Wars or Star Trek?
Kate: Star Wars.
John: Okay. More heels or flats?
Kate: You’ll find me in my Chacos, lots of flats.
John: Okay. All right. There you go. How about as a bookkeeper, balance sheet or income statement?
Kate: I like the balance sheet. I came at bookkeeping from a personal finance side, and balance sheet shows net worth. That’s my approach.
John: There you go. More cats or dogs?
Kate: We’ve got a great dog, so, dogs.
John: There you go. What kind of dog do you have?
Kate: A medium-sized mutt, black and white.
John: That’s the same as ours. They may be brothers.
Kate: He looks like a bird dog, sort of, but we don’t really know.
John: Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Three more, three more. Do you have a favorite number?
Kate: Let’s go with three. I’ve got three kids. My husband’s a tailhook pilot. He likes to catch the three wire. So let’s go with three.
John: There you go. That’s fantastic. How about a least favorite vegetable?
John: Yeah, that’s a solid answer. What the hell are they doing, putting with rice now? They’re sneaking it into stuff.
Kate: Yeah. I stay away from that.
John: Yeah, yeah. Last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own.
Kate: I would say one of the things I probably use the most is probably my Bible, so I would go with that if I had to pick one thing.
John: That’s a solid answer. Of course it’s a solid answer, which dovetails perfectly into your passion outside of work of just directing the church children’s choir, which is so cool and gotta be really fun at the same time.
Kate: I like it. I never was a kid person though I have three.
John: Right. It just happened.
Kate: I didn’t come at it from necessarily loving to work with kids. I’m still learning about all the fun stuff that you can do when you’re leading a group of kids. I have fun. We have some good laughs. I try to be not all business, but it’s something I’m learning.
John: Yeah, but you also have to learn how to sing the song —
John: — because we’re going to be performing it. Right?
Kate: I try not to be all business though.
John: Right. Yeah. We’re just doing one concert a year. That’s it kid. How did you get started with that?
Kate: Yeah. My oldest is eight, so I’m still on the young side of our family. About three years ago, I realized that I wanted my kids to learn to sing a lot of the songs that I loved and that I have fond memories of, growing up, singing. I was in this little, small church children’s choir too, when I was little, and those kids can memorize anything. Okay, do I want my kids memorizing the theme song to Paw Patrol, or do I want them memorizing great theological truths and hymns that will carry them through life when they need it most? Because that’s how the church music works in my life, it plays in my head often. But our church didn’t have a little program and so lots of times, especially with churches, if you’ve got a good idea then the pastor says, “All right, well you get to lead it.”
John: Right. Exactly.
Kate: It’s a really small thing. I just have the kids for 15 minutes every Sunday during the Sunday School time block and then they break up into their Sunday School classes based on their age group. I get them all for 15 minutes a week, so we’re able to pull off a few songs a year. I try to aim for about four, singing in public, four times a year. Yeah, it got started because I wanted my kids to do this, and this was the best way to make sure that I kept singing, kept introducing them to music. I wanted them to appreciate music.
I teach rhythms and notes and stuff too. It’s not just memorizing word. I think I like it. It allows me to be creative. I have full liberty to do what I want. I basically just tell the Sunday School directors, “This is what I’m thinking about for this quarter,” and they say, “Sure.”
John: Yeah, yeah. It’s like, if somebody says that’s a bad idea then now you’re in charge.
Kate: Yeah. Exactly.
John: So just go along with it. That’s so fantastic though and something where you just started out from scratch and not just teaching them to memorize words, but it sounds like it’s more than that. It’s learning music, more than that, notes and rhythm and things like that which is really fantastic.
Kate: For me, I wanted my kids to get that backbone of standing up in front of a crowd and people looking back at you. I want my kids to be bold and I think that this is a way to help flex that muscle or develop that muscle a little bit. That way when they’re 20 and 30 and 40, and they’re maybe being asked to do more for their churches, they’ll be ready. It won’t be as intimidating. There’s a little bit of that as well, just the being able to be confident. All those were my reasons.
John: Yeah, yeah. Is that something that you find translates to sometimes work settings as well or other places in life where you have to speak or you have to be in front of people or you have to carry a small audience or whatever, you can pull on that experience that you had?
Kate: Yes, exactly. I was doing stuff like this from the age of, I don’t know, six or seven or eight as well. I had very vivid memories of programs that we did or things that were uncomfortable or struggling with my — not fighting really, but disagreeing with my mom about how much I have to practice and trying to learn my lines because I used to do — we would do bigger musicals when I was younger too.
Just all of that compounds into the best accountants are, if you can not be nerding all the time and introverted all the time, it’s good for your business. So I do, I’ve given presentations at my coworking space. There’s a gal I met at my gym that asked me to be a guest speaker at something that she runs. Yeah, for sure it helped starting from a young age, and that’s what I hope for, for my kids as well.
John: Yeah. That’s super awesome. Is there one of the shows that you’ve put together with your children’s choir that comes to mind that’s one of your more favorite or most memorable?
Kate: One year for Christmas, what I did is I just taught a bunch of old Christmas carols and we went and sang at a local nursing home. That was really cool. I did some pretty big build-up to it to where I was not just teaching the songs but teaching why we’re going out into the community.
We actually did a couple of Sundays before where we did some crafts together because I wanted them to be able to approach the residents of the home. I know with little kids they can be kind of shy but if they had something they could hand to them that that would break the ice. So we made little ornaments and stuff like that.
Throughout each week, I’m saying, “Why are we doing this? You might be a little scared, so let’s talk about this, what it’s going to be like. They might look a little different than you’re used to, or they might be older than you’re used to seeing, but they’re excited that you’re there. We can love them well by doing this and bring joy to them at this Christmastime.” That’s one really, really cool thing that I’m proud of and that the kids did — they did such a good job. It was like the total light to these people.
I actually wrote a little short Christmas play for our Christmas program two years ago. Because, again, I don’t have the kids for very long, so I didn’t know of anything that was appropriate for about a 15, 20-minute length of time. So I wrote a short one that basically just involved traditional Christmas carols and a lot of scripture because the Bible — the Christmas story is told pretty clearly in the Bible so a lot of the words that I needed were there and, yeah, kids memorized lines. It was really, really good, so I was proud of them.
John: That’s impressive because that’s a production value as well of you’re not just taking music and, here, sing Jingle Bells. It’s, no, no, we’re going to do this and we’re going to do this and then there’s this line. Yeah, there’s a lot of moving pieces. That’s impressive. Yeah. You’re going to be on Broadway soon enough. Somebody is going to find out.
Kate: Here’s the problem. I’m not that good of a singer, and I don’t really play musical instruments. It’s been fun because I’m coming at this not from the place of being an excellent musician. I was in band through high school, so I can read music. I play the trumpet. I’m not leading children’s choir from my trumpet.
Kate: I have a small little keyboard that I bring out every Sunday. I can play the top hand of the piano, but I can’t even play both hands. I didn’t want that to stop me. I wasn’t going to let that be an excuse. That’s really all you need to be able to just teach some basics, and the kids are the ones that are singing, not me really, so no one ever hears me but the kids.
John: No, but that’s so fantastic. My kudos to you for putting aside the ego or the judgement of yourself or maybe, what are people going to think of me because I’m only playing the treble clef of the piano. They don’t even know. They’re like, wow, you’re amazing. That’s kudos to you because it’s so easy for us to judge ourselves in everything that we do. Yeah. I think that’s really awesome.
Do you feel like any of these skills, from dealing with children to music to putting up a show together, performing or helping them on the performance side, do you feel any of that gives you a skill that you bring to work?
Kate: The background of my business is I have an MBA. I worked for a while and then we had children. I’m also married to a man in the Navy. So my career didn’t go the exact way I had initially thought. Turns out everything has worked out well.
After a period of getting my kids — they’re all three, really close in age — through the baby stage and into a school setting, I realized that I was ready to try to do something else. That’s how I started my bookkeeping business, but I had never done bookkeeping ever. I have had a few accounting classes, but I had to do something completely out of my comfort zone.
Being an entrepreneur is hard in ways that I never would have — they don’t teach you in business school. I think that’s just how it relates. I knew that I wanted to use my brain, use my skills, use my education and be a good steward of my time, so I said, well, I’ve got to figure something out. For me, it wasn’t going to be just going and getting a full-time job, which I could’ve done but that wasn’t going to be the best solution for my family.
That’s just how I would compare it. It was, I had a need in my life. Necessity is the mother of invention, like they say. I had to invent this role for myself that 4, 5, 6 years ago, I never would’ve thought this was where I was going to be. 4, 5, 6 years ago, I never would’ve thought I would have been leading a children’s choir. Never. Because I’m not into kids and I’m not a musician.
John: Right, right right. Or a singer or any of that.
Kate: Yeah, but here I am.
John: Yeah. You created something out of nothing because it’s what you wanted or needed, and here we are, in the same way that you did with the choir, which is super resourceful and also a little bit of stubbornness there which is good. I speak from experience. Because to be an entrepreneur, you really, really got to want to do it. You can’t just be like, well I guess I’ll try this. No. It’s really, really, really hard. That’s really fantastic. Is the choir something that you share with some clients at all? Does it every come up in conversation?
Kate: I think so. I’m very vocal about my kids in general, so that’s a way that — I work from home, and I have pictures of my kids on my business website. It’s very much a part of who I am. I think, in that way, it does. It’s probably going to come out that, oh, we’re singing in church this Sunday or something like that. I also try to — just in general, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for my clients to know about my faith, so in that way, as well, it would come out. I whistle a lot. They’ll probably hear me whistle.
John: Right. Is that Amazing Grace? What are you doing?
Kate: Like, oh, yeah.
Kate: In my coworking space, I’m probably one of the louder ones.
John: Yeah. Is that something that you’ve done all your career, even in your post-MBA days and more corporate days? Were you more open to sharing hobbies and interests or something more you do now?
Kate: Gosh, I think so. I’m a very extroverted person. In general, I have no problem just talking a lot, so I would say I’m really open to talking about most everything. Everyone, for sure, knows I’m a Baylor Bear very soon after they know me. They know that I’m a Christian. They probably know that I enjoy music. Yeah, I’m definitely on the over-sharer side of things, which I think is good. Life’s too short to try to not be myself, I’d realized, especially the older I get.
John: Yeah. I love that. So many people that I’ve interviewed for this, it’s, who have I told? Who haven’t I told? It’s just exhausting pretending to be a shell of who you really are. It’s not bringing drama and things that are really outside the realm of what we should be talking about at work. It’s something illegal or whatever. It’s like, no, this is what I love to do. It’s also impossible to say Baylor Bears without smiling.
John: You can’t. Baylor Bears. You smile. You just have to smile at the end. It’s just how it is. It’s also, I think, impossible to say one without the other. I’m not sure, but it seems like it’s almost one word. It should be hyphenated.
John: Yeah. That’s super awesome. How much do you think, I guess going back to maybe more of your bigger corporate days, how much is it on an organization to create that environment where, yeah, we have real people here that have other interests besides work, 100% of the time; and how much is it on the individual to maybe create that little circle amongst themselves or be a part of that?
Kate: That’s a good question. I want the answer to be that it’s largely on the individual because I don’t want myself to end up in an environment where, if it’s not — organization isn’t promoting it, that I’m somehow going to be stifled. No matter where I am, I want to be the kind of person who, within that environment, I can operate and still be myself and still share.
I think there will always be someone that you can connect with. Even if maybe you’re feeling like the organization you’re in is a little stodgy, just be the one to open it up because, again, life is too short.
John: I agree. I was with PWC back in the day and people would be like, “Oh, what did you do this weekend?” It’s like, oh, I drove to Springfield, Illinois and did a comedy show. They’re like, “Wait, what?” I didn’t know I was supposed to say nothing. I didn’t do anything. I just hung out. You asked, so I told you. 12 years later, I’m speaking at a conference and a guy remembers me who I’ve never worked with and never met. He’s like, “Oh, that’s the guy who did comedy at night.” It’s like, wait, what? All because you just let a little bit out. If you’re like, what? This company doesn’t have a choir? We do now. Everybody get around.
Kate: Yeah, exactly. Time for the sing-along.
John: Right. Exactly. I agree, totally. Certainly the tone at the top helps, but I think even if your company as a whole isn’t great for that, your department can be amazing. That manager that touches more people is the person that affects you more than — maybe the CEO’s a grumpy pants, but my manager is awesome. This department rocks sort of a thing. Yeah, and it’s too easy to play victim to, well, I can’t help. No, you can be. Maybe it’s not the place for you. Maybe that’s another part of it. I’ve never met anyone that’s like, yeah, I shared that I like to sing and then got fired. It’s like, wait, what?
Kate: Exactly. Exactly.
John: I’m a terrible singer, and I’ve never been fired for that. Yeah. I guess before I wrap this up, do you have any words of encouragement to anyone listening that thinks that they have a hobby or a passion that has nothing to do with their job?
Kate: My words of encouragement will be just related to the hobby that I created for myself. Even if you have something that’s just been stewing in the back of your mind, man, that always seemed interesting but I’d never had the chance to learn it; don’t think you’re too old to learn something new because I, again, had no experience doing this and I did it. I have no doubt that — I pray that I have a lot longer left in living and that I’ll be, ten years from now I’ll have two or three other completely random things that I’m not even doing yet that I’ll be doing ten years from now.
John: Right. That’s fantastic. Yeah, absolutely. At any point, do you worry, like, people knowing that I have a hobby on the side or another interest besides bookkeeping that’s going to make them think that I’m not very good at my job or not dedicated to this?
Kate: Well, I wouldn’t want to work with them. I don’t care.
John: There you go.
Kate: If they’re concerned that I’m not serious enough about bookkeeping then they sound like a pretty awful person. That’s my take.
John: I agree because it’s like you can’t talk about it all the time. I do good work. Because I have another interest outside of work, doesn’t mean that I’m not good when I am doing my work. They’re completely unrelated.
Actually, in all the research that I’ve done, shows that if you have the outside things, that actually makes you better. The people that are 100% all work all the time are not as good at their jobs.
John: That’s awesome. Well before I wrap this up, it’s only fair, since I so rudely started out the episode firing away at you, you are now the host and you can question me. I’m ready.
Kate: Okay, okay. Sing in the shower or sing in the car.
John: Oh, that’s a good one. I’ll go singing in the car just because the radio is there.
John: That way then I can turn it up and then I don’t hear myself singing type of thing.
Kate: All right, there you go. I’m from South Texas so this is important. Mexican salsa or Asian Sriracha sauce.
John: Oh, okay. I’ll go Mexican salsa I think.
Kate: So you like your spiciness, yeah? Okay.
John: Here’s the funny thing is I’m super mild. I’m not spicy. Actually we have some friends of ours, and she’s Mexican. She calls me white belly because she makes her own little side child’s portion for me. The medium salsa, that’s good. That’s enough. I like to feel my mouth and not have it on fire.
Kate: I like to be sweating by the end of my meal.
John: That does not seem enjoyable at all. I wouldn’t be able to taste the ice cream that I’m going to eat later.
Kate: There you go.
John: Yeah. I’m disappointing to everyone in Texas for sure.
Kate: One more. This is being recorded during the Corona quarantine, so, quarantine exercise. Walk around your block or ride your bike.
John: Walk around the block. We have a dog.
John: So I walk the dog. Yeah. Then we go to the schoolyard and then I run with him on the leash, trying to catch up with him. I mean keep him on leash. It’s super fun to walk him for that. There you go. Awesome. Those are great questions. Thanks so much, Kate, for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Kate: Yes, I’m so glad. This has been so fun.
John: Everyone, if you want to see some pictures of Kate in action or connect with her on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. All the links are there, and while you’re on the page, please click that big button, 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, that who you are is so much more than what you do.