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Transcript: Interview With Brian Kush, CPA, PCC

July 10, 2020

In our latest episode, Maureen talks with Brian Kush, CPA, PCC, executive leadership coach at Intend2Lead, about self-care and how to be intentional with your habits. Brian shares one habit he practices daily that has helped him during COVID. Listen to the full podcast here.


Maureen: Welcome to Leading Forward the Virginia Society of CPAs podcast, where we focus on innovation leadership and the CPA profession. I'm your host, Maureen Dingus. And I invite thought leaders for short, casual conversations on topics and trends important to the success of the CPA profession. This episode is part of our series on how the VSCPA members are managing and even thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks for listening, and I wish you all could health. Thank you everyone for joining us today. We have Brian Kush. He is a CPA turned leadership coach. He does a lot of work with the VSCPA. He's kind of a long time friend. He's been around a while. So we're lucky to have him with us. So thank you, Brian.

Brian: Thank you, Maureen had very excited to talk to you.

Maureen: Yeah, yeah. So when we thought about having you on the podcast and even just the little bit that we've chat been chatting there's so much we could dive into, you have so many great leadership insights and experiences that we're going to, unfortunately, have to scenario it, but maybe we can have you back another time, but before we go too far into it, I'd love to hear about your leadership journey and how you be, how you went from CPA to leadership coach.

Brian: Right? Yeah. I'm Maureen So, so I grew up in the CPA profession. I was with one of the big four in DC. I was an auditor and I did that for about five years and I really liked being an auditor. Then I found out about this company called audit watch and I was able to still be an auditor, but also be a consultant to CPA firms across the country. And so I did a lot of traveling and helping CPA firms to do more efficient, effective audits. And I loved that as well. And then our company was actually bought out by a bigger company called Thompson Reuters. This is about 2008, 2009 time period. And I had a few years before that I'd hired my own sales coach to help me because I was being more into, I was had more sales responsibilities. And, and so I wanted to improve that.

And someone had recommended this coach to me. And, and what I found out when I, when I got into coaching was wow, how awesome it was and how much I truly benefited not just becoming better at sales, but I became a better brother. I became a better father, husband, friend, son, whatever you want to call it. And it's because coaching allowed me to just really become more intentional and aware of how I want to show up really in the world. And I got to slow down in my life and say, Hey, can I align what I tear up with how I show up in the actions I take and how I influence other people? And so I got really hooked on coaching. And then when our company was bought out, I just decided to go back to school and to learn more about coaching and to become a coach myself.

And it was scary in the beginning because I had no clients and no prospects, but I talked to a lot of accountants, talk to them about coaching and, you know, and they really took to it. And so now I do a lot of work through Intend2Lead where we do a lot of leadership, coaching and consulting. And we work with people one on one, and we also help firms to create more of a coaching culture. So we work with organizations and CPA firms that create more of a coaching culture. And I love that because I've benefited myself on what it means to be a coachee. And I love to coach people.

Maureen: So it sounds like you've been on yeah, you've been on all sides of it, of being the receiver and the giver and then kind of the developers. So that's, that's really cool. I love that how you've taken that little seed and are sharing it with firms and organizations, right? Yeah. So one of the, where we thought we would go today, is taking care of yourself, CPAs, thinking about how they can care for themselves, especially in this very, very stressful time during the pandemic. It's, it's, you know, we know that our CPAs are, are always caring for others. And what can they do to show up? So tell you, and I had a good conversation about this and just kind of get us up to speed on your perspective. Just from a basic level on this.

Brian: Right? Yeah. Maureen, I mean, as you said, I think CPAs are really caring. We're really conscientious people, right. And we really want to support others, especially now we want to support our teams. We want to support our reports, our bosses and, and with, with Kobe, now we have to try to support our families. Right. And it's all getting mixed up and we may even have kids at home and we gotta become the teacher at times. And so, you know, I think CPAs are so giving, they give themselves to others, to, to clients, to their organizations, but yet, sometimes we really truly forget about taking care of ourselves. Right. And so, you know, the good question is how can you be the best for others? How can you be a healthy, awesome leader if you can't first be a healthy human first? So I think it's really important that we take a step back and I want to say, maybe get a little bit selfish and say that, Hey, if I can create routines, if I can be intentional about being a healthy human first, doing things for myself, investing in my own self-care.

Once if I do that, then I can be the best for everybody else. And I think we forget that I've worked with so many people that have been in this, you know, in accounting for years and years and years. And they're just, again, just so giving that they haven't even physically taken care of themselves, maybe the way that they should in terms of being a great leader. We have to look inward first. We have to think about self-care first, for sure. Especially now, right?

Maureen: So if, if maybe this was challenging for some of us before, it might be even more challenging. So, if we're starting to feel that drag and starting to see maybe the drag on our staff and we want to step up and model the way, what are some of the things that we could even start with?

Brian:Right. Well, wow. There's a lot of things that we can start with. But you know, I, we think about self-care. We think about mental well-being, right? And physical well-being and physical wellbeing. Those are some obvious things, right? Making sure that we're getting enough sleep, really thinking about our sleep environment, what can we do to get good, best sleep for the number of hours that we need? You know, how can we exercise in a way, and now everything's been changed with our routines and our habits, but how can I create a way to be able to exercise? And you know what, sometimes it's just about movement during the day, too, right? For physical well-being. It's not always about, Oh, I have this hour to exercise. It might be just, Hey, I need to get up. I'm hunched over. I'm at my house. I'm alone here. I'm, I'm in front of a computer. How can I just spend, you know, a couple of minutes, every couple hours or so, just getting up, moving around now, maybe doing some quick little exercises or whatever, maybe getting outside, but, but being intentional about coming up with little routines during the day, and I know it's hard because our habits have all been put into a major change here, but from a physical wellbeing part, that that's part of it, right?

Brian: It's about, it's about sleeping. It's about eating and eating is important too. Right. Can I eat in ways that helped me to get energized? So, yeah, from physical well-being, it's just those simple little things that we can do every day. And what's interesting is when we model that for other people, when we say, Hey, you know, I've got to make sure I get enough sleep, but even just hear it, if we're on Skype or if we're on zoom, if they just hear you taking care about yourself, it actually has a positive impact on them. You know, they say, Oh, I can, I can take care of myself as well.

Maureen: Yeah. So that's interesting. I hadn't thought about that. It's not just maybe a little mention, it's not, we're going to have a talk about wellbeing. It's like, Oh yeah. Maybe they should get my eight hours in or just those little, those little hints that show that it's a priority.

Brian: Right. And we can be curious with others too, right. When we're connecting, you know, on, on a webcast or, or on zoom or just having a meeting. Yeah. How are you taking care of yourself? You know, just simple questions like that. I think people really appreciate that because we're all struggling with this right now. So yeah, on the mental wellbeing side, you know, I like to ask accountants about the stories that they're telling themselves a lot. So think it, what are the most common stories that you tell yourself even every day? I know for so many years until I actually noticed it, I was telling myself, telling myself stories about how I wasn't good enough, right. About how I wasn't getting enough done. And I think in today's COBIT age, we know we're, we're really stuck into a lot of stories and they can sometimes turn negative if we don't notice them.

Right. So at the end of our days, what are we noticing about the stories we're telling ourselves? You know, sometimes it's about, Hey, I didn't get enough done. Oh, I need more time. Oh, I didn't get that task done. All those stories. And they lead into the bigger story of I am not good enough. So I think it's really important for our own mental wellbeing to just notice what the stories we're telling ourselves. Especially at the end of the day, when I work with accounts, a lot of them will say, the end of my day is about regret, right? It's about, I didn't get enough done. I didn't get this task done. Oh, I've got, you know, whatever number of days left until this deadline ends. And so those are that kind of crush our energy, you know? So it's about noticing. Yeah, go ahead.

Maureen: I'm sorry. But you know, if you are finding, you have some of those stories and maybe we're not in the place right now where we can have a coach to help us walk through those, what are some things that you can do with those stories? How do you turn those around?

Brian: Yeah. That's a great question. So yeah. How do you turn those stories around? So I think you first have to just notice them and I'll tell you a practice that can be really awesome. That I've become addicted to it just journalizing right. So just at the end of the day, just writing down a few thoughts that you have, because that becomes really powerful because you write down what's going on inside your mind, but then you get to observe them. And what you've done is you've actually separated yourself a little bit from the stories. So instead of it being about me being about being caught in my stories, I get to observe them. And I get to ask myself, is that story, you know, is that serving me the best way? And one thing that's been really helpful for me because over my career, I've, I've struggled a little bit with anxiety and overwhelmed.

You know, how many times does it count? Do we use that word overwhelm? We use it a lot. So what I found is just, can I change my story and simple little things like being more thankful in our lives can change the story. You know, one of the best tips I ever found from someone was just having a gratitude journal, and every single day at the end of my day, instead of focusing so much on what I didn't get done, I can focus on what I'm thankful for. Right? Like what's in my life right now and that I can hold gratitude for. And when I can write those things down in a journal, it becomes powerful. I've expressed it. Even if it's just in writing there, I've expressed it. And maybe I've changed my story a little bit.

Maureen: Yeah. I think one of the maybe beauties, one of the many beauties that I've seen coming out of this COVID situation is people may be that they're doing the best they can, you know, when you have the kids at home that are being homeschooled to get to your desired level in your work and the exercise, I think, I feel, I know that I have said to some of my colleagues and friends, you know, you're doing the best you can. And it's, it's almost like we hopefully been given permission to each other to say that more, more readily. So I hope that you know, more and more people can start saying that to themselves, not wait for someone, you just have to say it to someone else, but maybe you can start saying that to yourself.

Brian: Yeah. And isn't that a story in itself, right. I am doing the best I can. How powerful can that be? That's a choice. You've decided to write that story and Hey, I am doing the best that I can. Maybe I can have a little self-compassion, right. And be a little easy on myself. I'm doing the best that I can. And that's why I really love having people have a little bit of reflection time, whether it's in the morning or at the end of your day, where you just kind of inventory what's going on inside you, you know, and can you provide yourself a little bit of self-compassion that way and look to like what's going right. Or how you can be nice to yourself. Yeah. Yeah. And sometimes it's just a shift in, Hey, you know what, instead of me focusing as I said, I spent so many years focusing on what I wasn't getting done on my lack of progress.

If we can sometimes just focus on, Hey, what was something I did get done today? Right. What, what is something I can look to and be a little bit of proud of that is actually a shift, right? That's a shift in how we're choosing to view our day. And, and I like to say, Hey, we aren't stuck in the story. We're not a character. We're actually the author. So we can actually write the story that's going to best serve us. So that's why I love journalizing because even if you're just, journalizing some negative thoughts you have, at least you're getting them out there. Right. And you get to decide and be a little bit more observant. Are they serving me? I love the idea. I'm doing the best that I can like that's a great story, but we have to almost shift our mindset in order to be able to get there and say, Hey, I can, I can be a little bit more self-compassion. I can be a little bit more grateful. I can choose to be a little more positive if I want to. I can choose to like, acknowledge that maybe I struggled with something that they maybe that's. Okay.

Maureen: So I, I imagine Brian, that one of the stories that met or many of our members tell themselves is that if I get, just get through April 15th, everything will be okay by just sir, just survive this one other month-end or this one, other whatever it is. And that's kind of been shaken up shaken to the core. What do you w what, what can folks do? How do they start dealing with this marathon? That's just been turned into a and endurance.

Brian: And Ironman competition almost. Right? So, so those are interesting words that you use. Right? And I think a lot of the CPAs do think about a busy season or big deadlines that way. Right. They think of it as, Oh, April 15th. And so what they do is they put their head down, they focus on everybody, everything they have to get done. And they take, sometimes a lot of times they take things out of their lights and they don't do those things. And maybe that's okay. But the idea of that being a marathon, that's really tough. Right. There's some light at the end of the tunnel that maybe is weeks away or, or months away. And yeah, when, when this year, when, when it changed from April 15th to June 15th, or whenever it's now going to be it's like, wow, now the marathon, like you said, just became an ultra marathon.

Brian: So, so one way we can shift the way we think about like a busy season is instead of it being like a marathon Navy, it's a series of sprints, right? Maybe it's a shorter period where I can think about it as within a shorter sprint, whether that's one day or one week, what can I truly do to make sure I'm intentionally renewing my energy so that I don't have to feel like, wow, I just have to expand, expand, expand energy all the way until April 15th until I'm almost crushed physically and mentally, and then I can recover, but instead say, Hey, what are the routines that I can put into place? So that maybe every day or every week, I can do certain things that not just expand my inner, expend my energy, but also help me to renew it. Right. And, and, you know, when some of those things can be really simple, Hey, who are the people in my life that provide me energy.

Right? And so do I need to talk with them on a, on a set, on a steady diet of having conversations with them once a week or whatever, and what are the physical things that I can do to renew my energy on a week or on a daily basis, knowing that might be simple things like taking breaks, right. And, and you know, and renewing ourselves that way and maybe doing something I enjoy for a short period of time every day you know, allowing myself to do that. So yeah, I, I think we need to think of it more as like sprint versus a marathon, because a marathon is just, how long can you keep running for, it's not sustainable.

Maureen: I don't, I don't know how many folks out there have done marathons, but I've done one. And it was the most miserable experience of my life. So I know a lot of people enjoy that and they can't wait for the next one. They hate it. And then as soon as they cross the finish line, they're signing up for, for, for the next one. So maybe that's more of our CPAs are out there, then they survived. It, it was horrible. Can't wait for the next door. It's got to add up the body breaks down.

Brian: Right. The body does break down. Right. We can't keep running forever. Right. We can't just do that. We can't just expend that energy. So yeah. What can I create in my daily routine? You know, and I've worked with accounts where it's just something simple, right? Hey, I'm going to just take a break, get outside, spend 10 minutes, maybe a couple times a day. And that allows me to just feel worried. I'm not going to think of how to counting. I'm going to do something different and I'm going to make that be a part of my normal day. And that yeah. That in itself can help you to get through the day at a better place. You know, like, like I talked about before, you know, just expressing gratitude actually can increase our energy. Right. Instead of thinking about everything that I didn't get done or whatever, how can I express gratitude on a, on a, on a ritual type basis in a way that can help me to have more energy? How can I take care of myself physically? You know, in terms of the amount of sleep that I'm getting and making sure that happens so that I can, you know, attack every single day, you know? And instead of thinking, Oh, I've got to get four or five or a small amount of sleep for the next couple of weeks or months. That that is so hard and unsustainable.

Maureen: So if folks are looking at trying to make these routines, you know, how long, how long do you think, how long does it take for these to catch on? You know, you hear people say, Oh, you've got to do an X many times. What, what have you been seeing in reality?

Brian: Yeah, there was a lot out there on some of the books on habits and stuff that talk about, Oh, it takes 30 days or 60 days to create a habit. But what we found is that there's actually no scientifically proven number. It's more about when does it become automatic for you? And for some people that can be, you know, you do it five, 10 times in a row for others, it might take a month or more. Yeah. But what we like is to think about being really intentional about it saying, Hey, you know, I will take a break at 12 o'clock, you know, and actually writing that down. I will take a break for five minutes at 12 o'clock, or I will take a break at the end of my day for 10 minutes, whatever it is, you're actually creating a habit intention that helps you to start it.

Brian: And we don't want to, to be too hard. A lot of times the habits work really well. There's something that's easy, right? Just for example, if you want to start working out while you're at home, you know, when you say, Oh, I gotta, I gotta go to the gym. I can't do it well, then it makes it really hard. But if you say, Hey, I'm going to get up. And maybe for two minutes, you know, I'm just going to do a plank or a pushup or something like that. That's easy to start and that can happen and you can make that happen. So we want the habit to be intentional, make a plan for it. When are you going to do it? Are you going to do it at a certain time? Are you going to do it based on another habit you already have in your life?

Brian: And number two, make it really easy, make it easy to start, make it easy something to do, you know, to say, if I haven't, I haven't been working on it at all during COVID-19 and all of a sudden tomorrow, I want to work out for an hour. That might be really hard. Your body's going to fight that. But if you say, Hey, can I get up tomorrow and just do some, you know, some running in place for, for 60 seconds. I bet you can do that. And then maybe do it the next day. And then, yeah. You'll know once it becomes a habit, because you'll know that you just automatically do it. So yeah, unfortunately, there's not a lot like a 30 or 60-day rule, but it just becomes a habit once you don't have to think about it very much.

Maureen: I guess that's, what's true with all of this stuff. Is there, isn't a formula there, there is. There's no magic combination it's but it's, it is that starting and kind of what I hear you saying is getting it out of your head. You know, if you write it down, maybe that's one less thing you need to remember I was one of the habits that I've been trying to do is a yoga class that my yoga instructor is now doing online. And I can't tell you how many days it's just zipped. I have nothing to do, but it's zipped right past me. So I actually set an alarm, you know, five or 10 minutes before to say, okay, I don't want to miss it today. I have to, I have to do it. And it wasn't that I didn't, it's just, the world is so different and so confusing and mixed up it's the days are long and short at the same time. So that was one thing that helped me at least a couple of times.

Brian: Right? So that trigger basically what I heard you say, you know, habits need to have a trigger, right? What helps us to get it started right. Is an alarm or whatever else. So make that trigger something very obvious until something becomes a habit. Right? Yeah. Make that trailer be an alarm. It'd be the first thing you wake up, you know, after something you're already doing, but yeah. Make that trigger very obvious for sure. Right. And what I like about your yoga ideas, if that's something you've done where you said, Hey, I'm going to invest in myself, right? I'm going to say yoga is important to me. It's something for my own self-care, and I'm going to go and do that. And I really want people to think about that. What is the investment in your own self-care? That's going to make a difference for you.

It doesn't have to be, you know, spending four hours a day doing something. It could be something really, really simple. It can be writing in a journal, can be taking a break. It can be making sure you're talking to someone who has a positive impact in your life, whatever it might be about how can you invest in yourself in a way that you have a positive impact? Because when you do that, you show up as a better version of the kind of who you already are, you know, because you've said, Hey, I'm going to put myself first here. Now I'm going to take my self-care and I'm going to make that really important. And when I do that, then I can be the leader for others.

Maureen: Yeah. So, so Brian, you've given me a lot to think about, I knew some habits that maybe I need to either get back to you or start in the first place, but I have two questions. Two more questions for you before we sign off in the first one is have you, alright, have you had any lessons that you've learned since we've all gone on lockdown? And any, anything, any light bulbs for you personally?

Brian: I mean, what I would say is, is I think you, you said it earlier, you, when you said I'm doing the best, I can, I think the expression of grace for ourselves and for others, like to me, I've had some days that have been really, really top where it's almost like I'm in a really, really bad mood and I'm not necessarily sure why. And I think it's because of COVID I guess, and everything in our world has been turned upside down. Right. So sometimes we might've been in a bad mood or we might be struggling. We're not even sure why like we can't even actually pinpoint it. And it took me a while and it ended up being someone else using that word, grace, you know, we need to have grace with others right now, knowing that we're not all going to show up in our best way all the time, but we also need to have grace with ourselves.

Maybe when I yelled at my son one day, because he wasn't doing what I thought it was. And I probably raised my boys probably a higher than I needed to, you know, and my, my normal reaction would be to beat myself up a lot for that. Right. And, and maybe that's good cause maybe I wouldn't next time change a little, but I also need to just have a little bit of grace with myself and I think we all need to do that. And I think we need to help each other with that you know, help each other to be a little bit forgiving about how we're showing up now. Cause it's, this is hard on everybody and so many different ways, you know, and some of us are sometimes in a good mood and others are in a really bad mood and we don't know how we're showing up with each other. So I think that we're grace, it's just you.

Maureen: Yeah. Practice each other and with ourselves. Right. So, so Brian, what are you doing to take care of yourself?

Brian: Yeah, so one thing I used to do, and really during COVID has really come into play for me is I just keep a self-care journal. So every single night I have a journal where I look at the habits that are really, really important to me. And so for me, I'm actually, I've actually over the last year or two, I've had a pretty bad back. So stretching my legs has been really important. That sounds so simple. But to do that for five or 10 minutes a day has been awesome. And so in that journal, I just give myself credit for doing that. Oh, another thing that's important to me is I just love reading. I want to read more, you know, and I wasn't always consistent at it. So I just had a simple little goal. Could I read 25 pages a day? That seems so doable.

And I would say 80 to 90% of the days I do it. And so to have that journal and just give me again, credit for that sleep is really important to me too. I've had some sleep problems in the past and for me to be intentional about, you know, making sure my lights go down at the right time and just getting good sleep. And when I write in my journal, how good my sleep was, I think it challenges me to be better the next night. So having that journal where I get to just look at certain little things that I've said are important to me on self-care, you know, lights, sleep like stretching and in little things like that, to be able at the end of each night, to be able to write down if I did it well, or if I didn't, I think that reinforces that behavior in a lot of ways and helps me to not only make it happen but also feel good about making it happen.

Maureen: So any, any books that you've enjoyed that you could recommend or not?

Brian: Yeah, a lot. Lots of books. So there's a, there's a couple of really good books on habits, you know, since we, I feel like a lot of the conversation has been around that. So there's a book called atomic habits. That's really good. That talks about how to make simple habits easier in your life.

Maureen: What about the books that you've been reading since you've been quarantined your 25 books? You're 25 pages a day.

Brian: Yeah. So I've noticed myself wanting to get away a little bit from leadership books. I've read so many of them. I probably read two or three a week. And one of the books that I've read recently is called desert solitaire. It was just something that was recommended to someone. The guy's name is Edward Abbey and it's an old book, 1971. He spent three years in a, in Utah, in the desert there kind of on his own secluded for three years. I thought it was interesting to hear from someone cause I know we all feel secluded right now and just stories about being in the desert. And that just seems so different and weird kind of book for me that I love listening to it. So I listen to that one on audible and, and he had a story about trying to adopt a pet snake just so that that snake would scare off all the rattlesnakes. So they wouldn't come to where his place of where she was living was. So to me that's so weird and different. So yeah, that was a book it's called desert solitaire. It's I think it's a classic. I'm not sure.

Maureen: Yeah. Probably just get you out of your head. Right.

Brian: It does. It gets yeah, exactly. Right. Like, yeah. I, I'm still a CPA in a lot of ways and yeah, I can be very left-brained and that got me out of my head and, and I didn't have to like highlight anything or anything like that. It was just about listening to something different.

Maureen: Yeah. I've also found that the audiobooks are great right now because I've, I've honestly had a hard time getting focused on it on sometimes sitting down and reading. So putting in the audiobook while maybe I'm doing some chores around the house is really, it really helped. Well, like I just said, get me out of my head a bit, listen to something totally different.

Brian: Yeah, yeah. Something maybe you want to listen to. Right? Yeah, exactly. Instead of something made you maybe felt like you had to listen to a read. So yeah. I think that's, that's a great way to think about it, especially now, right? Yeah.

Maureen:Yeah. Thank you for spending some time with us today. You've been such a, such a good light for us to look towards and something that I think we'll all just really go back to some basics sleep, stretching, writing down. Good thoughts. It's it's so basic, but it's, it's really just, it's really lovely. So I appreciate it.

Brian: Thank you, Maureen. I've really enjoyed it.