Step Outside Your Comfort Zone: Get Involved in Make A Difference Day

DLPk7ggWAAAjC08.jpg-largeSaturday, October 28, 2017, is Make A Difference Day. Twitter: #MDDay. This event is one of the largest single days of service across the country. Projects range from cleaning up public parks and building homes to serving meals to the needy. The annual event began in 1992, sponsored by TEGNA, Inc. with the support of Arby’s Foundation and Points of Light.

You can either start a project or volunteer for a project that is already organized. Find a project in your community here from the Make A Difference website. When I searched for events in my zip code, I discovered 20 projects that are happening in my area, from park clean-up and reading to underprivileged children to building an inner-city garden hoop house and knitting warm scarves and mittens for the homeless. Also, check your local television stations, radio stations, public libraries, schools, park systems, or nonprofit organizations to find projects right in your community. Or if you are feeling ambitious and want to travel out-of-state, participate in a larger scale project or historic site preservation. You will feel inspired when you read the stories about the 2016 project awards.

Beyond this one national day of service, consider simple things that you can do to be of service to others every day.

At the end of the day today, take a few minutes to pause and reflect on what difference you have made – in the lives of people who you have touched or in your community. When you invest that time in assessing your impact on the world around you, you will value and appreciate your many contributions. You will feel great pride in what you do. You will inspire and motivate others to do more.

First, it begins with you. Take care of yourself and your health so that you can continue your good work. What did you do for yourself today that made you feel good about yourself? Did you start your day with nutritious food? Did you walk a few laps around your neighborhood to improve your stamina?

What did you do for others today that brought you joy? It could be something simple like packing a note in your child’s lunch, or involving a neighborhood in creating a delicious meal together. Did you open the door for a disabled person at the office? Did you help an elderly person carry her food tray to her table? Did you stop and visit a friend or relative who lives alone and enjoys your companionship? Did you give someone a chance to lead others because you believe in that person?

What did you do for your community today that made a difference? Did you bring your talents to a nonprofit organization’s board? Did you help to make an important decision that will have a positive impact on your community? Did you volunteer at a local fundraising event? Did you help build a home for a family in need?

If you want to invest more time in making a difference, then focus on that outcome. When you choose to do more for others, to make someone else’s life more comfortable, or to make your community a better place, the opportunities will come to you. You can also bring your own big ideas into fruition. Anything is possible when you have a strong desire to make positive change a habit.

Find Joy in Serving Others

HelpingHands2One of the greatest pleasures you can get out of life is being completely selfless — thinking of others before you think of yourself. It doesn’t require much effort…just a little.

On a hot summer day more than a decade ago, my husband and I attended a local art festival. Did I mention that it was a hot day? It was about 90 degrees. After an hour of walking in the heat, I needed something to quench my thirst. The iced cold beverages were flying out of the vendors’ coolers and I decided to buy one. As I stood in line, a woman in a wheelchair was ahead of me. She asked the vendor how much the water was. “One dollar,” he replied. “Oh, I don’t have a dollar with me,” said the woman. The man said he was sorry but the water cost one dollar.

That’s when I decided that I would buy this woman a bottle of water. After I made my purchase, I walked over to the woman and handed her the bottle. “Here is some water for you,” I said. She looked at me in disbelief. Surely she was mistaken. Why would a total stranger present her with a bottle of cold water? “What?” she asked. “I overhead you say that you wanted some water. Here’s some water for you,” I said again. She extended her arms up and pulled me down to her to give me a hug. She began to cry. She said, “God bless you! Thank you. I was just released from the hospital this morning and I don’t have any money with me. I’m so hot and thirsty. Thank you so much.” Giving water to that woman was the high point of my day. I have a feeling my act of kindness was the high point of her day.

Think of the people around you — at work or at home — who may be struggling, frustrated, or simply confused. Your word of encouragement, act of kindness, or generosity of time can change their outlook. What can you share with them?

Sometimes you have to trust your intuition and do what your heart, not your mind, wants to do. When you see someone in need, ask yourself how you could help. You, too, could make someone’s day. Wonderful surprises await you. Ask yourself every morning, “Who can I help today?” At the end of each day, ask yourself, “Who did I help today?” It only takes a minute or two. Soon, serving others will become so natural for you, you will do it without thinking.

©Christine Zust

At Penzeys Spices, Kindness Rules

KindPinI have never met Bill, yet, I look forward to receiving and reading his frequent emails. He is one person who is changing the world one email at a time.

You see, Bill is the CEO of Penzeys Spices, a purveyor of herbs, spices and all things gastronomic. Not only is he passionate about cooking; he is passionate about being kind to others.

Bill is not your average CEO. He is way above average, a CEO who understands what it means to pay it forward. I wish more company leaders provided an environment of love, support, and kindness. Imagine the level of true prosperity that we could experience as a society.

Being a fan of Penzeys Spices, I – like many smart gourmandes – signed up for the email list for free spices, offers, recipes, and other goodies. What I received in return was a newly-acquired taste for goodness. I’m not talking about just gourmet goodness…I’m talking about simple human goodness.

Bill is a good guy. The goodness he shares comes from his world view, his spirit, and his written word which appears in Penzeys Spices emails.

The one email that got my attention was Bill’s offer to send a free Kind pin (pictured within this article) to anyone who marched in The Women’s March on Saturday, January 21, 2017. As you recall, this national spirited March attracted unprecedented numbers of women, men, and children in Washington, D.C. who had a strong desire to share their voices with the world. And this March happened not just in cities across the United States; it happened globally, in cities around the world. The voices of the masses shared positive messages of hope, compassion, joy, love, understanding, peace, acceptance, and kindness.

In return for the free Kind pin, Bill requested that marchers share their personal stories of why they marched, and any kindness that they experienced or witnessed that day. In an email, Bill said, “I believe history will show just how important The Women’s March was, and just how great of a debt we owe those who Marched. Their humanity, kindness, and strength were just the reminder we needed of what really makes America great, at the very moment we so desperately needed to be reminded.” In total, Penzeys Spices shipped 174,139 free Kind pins to people who participated in The Women’s March.

What Bill – and Penzeys Spices – did through his generosity and act of kindness was to remind us that true change begins with one simple idea that is put into action. Thank you, Bill, for being a positive role model and inspiring others.

What type of change do you want to initiate? Get started today!

Photo credit: Christine Zust

Without Art, There Is No Humanity

Pictured: Cleveland Public Theatre’s Brick City Theatre. Photo by Steve Wagner.

Art is an essential part of my life. It enhances my well-being. You may be the kind of person who values access to community programs that offer music, dance or theatre performances, literary readings, or lectures on philosophy or history. Without art, there is no humanity. Without humanity, hope is compromised.

I was introduced to the arts at a very early age. My mother, a gifted singer, played piano and sang to me in our living room to keep me occupied before I was old enough to go to school. She also acted in our local community theater for many years. I have fond memories of sitting in the back of that community theater, watching my mom in rehearsals. I continued that love of artistic expression into adulthood, and served on the board of directors for several small arts organizations. Today, I remain a dedicated arts patron.

Every nonprofit arts organization relies on some form of public funding to bring its creative and brilliantly produced programs to the community. Currently, several important cultural institutions are being threatened: The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). As independent agencies of the U. S. Federal government, the NEA and NEH were established through the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965, which was enacted by Congress.

The NEA supports arts programming in the areas of accessibility, dance, international arts, media arts, musical theater and theater, visual arts, design, literature, museums, opera, arts education, folk and traditional arts, and music.

“What are the humanities?” you may ask. The National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965, as amended, explains:

“The term ‘humanities’ includes, but is not limited to, the study and interpretation of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life.”

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a nonprofit corporation created by Congress in the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 is also under scrutiny. CPB provides funding assistance to more than 1,500 public radio and television stations across the country. Programs provide rich educational, historical, and entertainment content.

Funding for these three essential organizations is less than $750 Million. To put things into perspective, proposed U.S. military spending is expected to increase by 10%, equivalent to a $54 Billion hike. That’s with a B, and that’s just the increase.

Where would our American society be without the arts and humanities? The value that these three organizations provide to citizens is unparalleled. Millions of underprivileged children have benefited from after-school arts programs. Senior citizens on fixed incomes have tuned into interviews with thought leaders and listened to great performances. Families have enjoyed free community performances.

Consider how your life (and the lives of your family, your children), has been enriched by programming in the arts and humanities. Now think about how the lives of future generations will be affected if these vital organizations disappear. Take a moment to join the fight to retain the NEA, the NEH and the CPB. It only takes a moment.

#NEHMatters

#NEAMatters

#CPBMatters

#SavetheNEH

#SavetheNEA

#SavetheCPB

@NEHgov

@CPBMedia

@ClevelandPublicTheatre

Women’s Voices Are Significant to the World

iwd-logomain2Today marks International Women’s Day, one day each year that celebrates the “social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.” This year’s theme is Be Bold For Change. Take a moment to honor and recognize the women who have served as positive role models in your life, who have inspired and motivated you, and who have bravely charted new territory as pathfinders.

Now imagine your life without them. Oh, wait a minute. You wouldn’t be here if not for a woman! This message is being reinforced by leaders of the January 21, 2017 Women’s March. They are encouraging women to participate in A Day Without A Woman on this International Women’s Day by not spending any money (or alternatively supporting women- and minority-owned businesses)  and by not engaging in any work.

Think about all of the women who have encouraged and inspired you. Mothers. Grandmothers. Aunts. Sisters. Daughters. Granddaughters. Great-granddaughters. Sisters-in-law. Mothers-in-law. Teachers. Bosses. Co-workers. Neighbors. Religious leaders. Shop owners. Community leaders. Political leaders. Friends.

I for one would not be the person I am today were it not for the courageous, intelligent, fearless women who came before me.

On this day, I honor my maternal grandmother who emigrated from Poland to begin a new life in America. She spoke no English when she arrived at Ellis Island. As a wife and mother, she ran a large household (with seven children) on a small stipend. Her values of hard work, discipline, and sacrifice were passed on to her children.

My 96-year-old mother continues to inspire me every day. I have enjoyed many lengthy conversations with her over the years, listening to her life story, and understanding her remarkable life as a first generation American. It took her ten years to work her way through college to receive her first degree – at the age of 47. At the age of 80, she received her second college degree. Although she could have audited classes for free as a senior citizen, she preferred to pay for every class so she could earn a degree.

Many women have inspired me from afar. The list is too long to include all of them here, yet, a few stand out…women of all ages and backgrounds:

“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” Gloria Steinem

 

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” Maya Angelou

 

“Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.”

Tina Fey

 

“Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” Malala Yousafzai

 

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Mother Teresa

 

“Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done.” Amelia Earhart

 

“One may walk over the highest mountain one step at a time.” Barbara Walters

Now more than ever, women’s voices must be heard. We are economic decision makers, leaders in education, innovators in science and technology, entrepreneurs, and nurturers of the human family. Our inclusive and collaborative style leads to positive change. A quick review of Forbes Magazine’s “The World’s 100 Most Influential Women” will remind you of the capabilities and accomplishments of women.

At some point today, pause for a moment, and silently thank the women who have encouraged, supported, and inspired you. Or better yet, pick up the phone and call them!

Follow more activity on:

#InternationalWomensDay

#BeBoldForChange

#ADayWithoutAWoman

Step Away From the Circus

not-my-circusYou may think that drama plays out only on the movie screen or theatre stage. Not so. Look around you, in your work environment or personal life, and it’s there, disguised yet still visible to the keen eye. People “performing” as stellar showstoppers, pulling everyone in their path into their dramatic vortex. If you’re not careful, you may disappear into the darkness never to be seen again.

I came across a graphic phrase that – to me – puts things into great perspective. The sentiment is spot on.

Not my circus. Not my monkeys. Brilliant! Little did I know that this is a Polish phrase (I am a Polish American). I have shared this saying with colleagues and friends who are overwhelmed by the emotional clutter in their lives. Here are a few tips on controlling your involvement in someone else’s drama:

Listen without judgment. Simply hear what the other person is saying. Ask questions for clarification if you need to.

Separate the drama from the content. What is the person’s emotional connection to the content? Anger? Frustration? Pain? Hurt? Anguish? What is the primary message being shared?

Determine your role. What is it exactly that the other person wants from you? Is it simply to hear her voice/opinion? Is there an expectation that you will guide, offer advice or suggest a solution?

Remain objective. Drama divas love to get you worked up to their same emotional level. Remain clear-headed and objective, asking, What does this person want from me? What is the point? How (if at all) can I help?

It’s not your circus. You are not the ringmaster. You are simply an observer. If you find yourself being sucked into the circus, consider the price of admission. There are no free circuses.

If it’s gossip, step away. Nothing breaks down fruitful relationships faster than gossip. Especially in the workplace, do not get pulled into the drama of gossip. It serves no purpose and is a waste of your valuable time.

Make a referral. If you are not the person to offer guidance or assistance, refer the person to a better qualified professional. On-staff psychologist or counselor? Human resource professional who knows company policies? A religious leader to offer spiritual guidance?

Be proactive and create parameters if you’re stuck in the circus. I know what you’re thinking. What if it’s my boss’s circus? How can I escape? Be proactive and create parameters so that you can remain sane in your work environment. Develop a system of handling the drama that works for you. The other option, of course, is exiting the tent.

Imagine putting on your invisible armor every morning, a T-shirt with the words “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.” With laser sharp focus and determination, walk into every situation “mentally” wearing your T-shirt. Let it protect you from the drama divas. Remain objective and nonjudgmental as you enjoy your day that is fabulous, trouble-free and drama-less.

 © Christine Zust 

This article first appeared in my monthly newsletter, Q Tips. If you would like to subscribe to this free e-newsletter, click here.

Out With the Old Goals, In With the New

2017-1It’s that time of year again…time to review the year that is ending and plan for the new year that is about to begin. The last week of December is an excellent time to take stock of professional goals and achievements. The review begins with a few simple questions:

For 2016: Goals/Achievements

What were your top professional goals this year?

What were your greatest achievements? (list as many achievements as you like)

Which achievement are you most proud of? Why?

What was the greatest lesson you learned? In what way are you applying that learning to your career?

For 2016: Unachieved Goals

What goals did not get completed? Why?

Will any of these unachieved goals move into 2017? Where do they fit in your priorities?

For 2017: Goals

What are you most looking forward to in the new year?

What are your top goals?

What skill(s) do you want to improve or add? In what way will that skill help to advance your career?

How will you reward yourself when you achieve your goals?

Paying It Forward

In what way will you help others achieve their goals? (Will you serve as a mentor or coach? Will you help to develop an initiative for young leaders within your company?)

How will you recognize or reward others for exceptional work?

In what way will you help to create an open, supportive environment at work?

Taking the time to answer these simple questions is time well invested. By reflecting on your achievements for 2016 and focusing on goals for 2017, you will enter the new year with a fresh perspective on the work that lies ahead. If you like the process, ask these questions at the end of each quarter as you prepare for the next. By the end of 2017, you will be so used to the process, you will be ready for another new year. Who knows? In a year, you may be even further ahead in your career than you anticipated!

Workplace Leaders Must “Be the Change”

seedling-growthFollowing the most unprecedented, unpredictable Presidential election in U.S. history, the online community has been saturated with posts, tweets, and articles ranging from how people need to handle the emotional aftermath of division and grief to acceptance and “moving on.” There is no doubt that political analysts, news organizations, and universities will be using this election as a case study for a multitude of topics in the years to come: Communication, political strategy, public relations, cross-cultural relations, and change, to name a few. In the workplace, however, political commentary and division can show up in side comments and retorts among co-workers. As a leader, be prepared to handle opposing viewpoints of team members when they are manifested as non-productive behavior.

How will you bring together co-workers who are still divided? How will you encourage moving forward when some people’s minds are still stuck on past events? Let the words of Gandhi guide and inspire you: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

In order to be the change, you must be empowered and responsible for your own actions. Serve as a positive role model for your team. The messages and the energy that you convey will set an example. The same is true for your team members. Arguing, shouting, screaming, demanding, bullying, and blaming others with negative rhetoric will accomplish nothing. Conversely, using a civil tone, listening, collaborating, accepting responsibility, and treating others with dignity and respect will lead to more positive results. Which outcome is preferred? Choose open conversation over open hostility. Choose to rise above rather than fall victim to. Choose to stop the negative rhetoric and instead search for positive outcomes. Choose to find common ground and common purpose.

Lead by example. When you hear opposing viewpoints of a co-worker, don’t belittle that person. Listen. Use positive language that keeps the conversation open rather than shutting it down. Invite greater understanding through listening and using neutral language.

Whether you are engaged in a one-on-one conversation or a group discussion, here are some examples of comments or questions that lead to open dialogue:

Beginning a conversation, use language like this: “Help me to understand your viewpoint.” “Thank you for sharing your perspective.” “I appreciate hearing your point of view.” “I now have a better understanding of why you feel this way.”

As you share your perspective, consider using comments like these: “I would like to share my perspective with you as well. All I ask is that you listen to me.” “There may be times when our viewpoints are opposite. That’s okay. The important thing is that we share, without any judgment or preconceived notions. Let’s really listen to each other.”

As you go deeper into the conversation, to try to find a comfortable half-way meeting point, you may use language like this: “Now that we have shared our thoughts, opinions, and perspectives, let’s look at common threads that we share.” “What would it take for us to come together so we each felt like we got something we wanted?” “How can we ‘agree to disagree’ and still be productive in our work?” “How can we move ahead together?”

You may not be able to resolve every issue. What you will be able to do is begin an open dialogue.

The workplace would be different if one common goal was shared: Open communication. How would your workplace change if employees at all levels of the company shared their voices in an open forum? How are you creating a safe environment for open, honest conversation? What opportunities are you providing to your team to engage in sharing their feelings in a respectful, nonjudgmental way?

“Being the change” is not easy. It’s difficult. Shifting from potentially destructive behavior to productive behavior is a giant leap. It begins with one step. Initiate a positive conversation that matters. You are worth it. Your team is worth it. Your workplace is worth it.

Media Fasting Keeps Overactive, Multitasking Minds Healthy

A mare greets the morning sun at Assateague Island State Park, MD

A mare greets the morning sun at Assateague Island State Park, MD

The sound of ocean waves lulls me to sleep as I nap on the beach of Assateague Island, Maryland. That’s how much of my vacation was spent last week. Assateague is a magical place, with miles of walkable beaches, stunning sunrises, and wild horses.

Wouldn’t it be nice to experience that soothing sound rather than listening to the chatter in my head? Always brimming with ideas, thinking of tasks to get done, staying connected, and if I’m lucky, planning to go more places.

Last week, I didn’t post my usual weekly blog because I was on vacation. I didn’t take a computer with me. I didn’t read any emails. I didn’t return any calls. All of my clients knew I was on vacation, as did my friends and family. For the frequent robo-calls I usually receive, I didn’t miss hearing their impersonal, electronic voices.

It felt so freeing, to wake up every morning without a To Do List staring at me, without having to check to see if I received any texts. Honestly, I felt like I was living back in the Twentieth Century. It was such a liberating feeling!

My media fast lasted exactly one week – Sunday through Saturday. Gone was my daily routine of turning on my computer, checking email and social media posts. Guess what? I didn’t miss any of it. Instead, my new daily routine consisted of waking up earlier, watching the sunrise, walking the beach and collecting sea shells. Then came the coffee and breakfast. And later, seafood, of course. The day simply unfolded. No checklists. No stress.

My priorities completely shifted. Usually my leisure time takes a back seat to work priorities. It was a nice change of pace to do exactly the opposite. My leisure time needs came first.

My husband and I returned from our vacation relaxed and refreshed. I doubt that we would have had the same result if we had remained completely plugged in throughout the week.

If you’re not sure if a media fast could work for you, think about its potential positive effects on your health. One study suggests that reducing the amount of light emitted from electronic devices before bedtime could result in a better night’s sleep. That means don’t view your computer, your mobile device or television right before retiring. Try this and see how you sleep.

Even when you’re not vacationing, you can still enjoy a mini media fast. Consider starting on a weekend with, say, an hour at first, then expand to two or three hours, and perhaps a full day without media. You could also choose to fast from just one source of connection, like Facebook or your favorite online news source, like MSNBC. Notice how you feel after fasting. You may experience feeling more connected…to yourself and the people around you.

What We Can Learn From the Olympic Spirit

Team USA Swimmer Ryan Murphy Wins Gold. Image: Reuters.com

Team USA Swimmer Ryan Murphy proudly displays his gold medal. Image: Reuters.com

With the 2016 Summer Olympics underway in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I am watching my favorite events, and learning a lot in the process. I particularly enjoy NBC-TV‘s coverage of the events, especially sharing the athletes’ personal life stories about their journey to the Olympics.

On August 8, one story was so inspirational, I had to share it. It began with an eight-year-old boy’s interest in swimming, which became a dream and a goal.

That young boy, now 21-year-old Ryan Murphy from Team USA, claimed a gold medal in the men’s 100 meter backstroke swimming competition on Monday, with his parents witnessing his completion of that goal stated more than a decade ago.

RyanMurphy

Image: NBC.com

When he was a child, Ryan wrote a letter to his parents  expressing his love of swimming. The letter contained drawings showing him swimming in blue water, with his mom standing next to the pool. The end of the letter simply stated his desire to continue swimming and his intentions to compete in the Olympics, break world records and be “the best swimmer in the world.”

On Monday, Ryan’s goals were fulfilled.

Ryan Murphy’s Olympic win demonstrates what it takes to achieve a goal:

State a powerful intention, a dream, a vision, a goal.

Learn from the best. Work with a coach or a mentor who can help you achieve your goal.

Show physical, mental, and emotional strength. There will be times when you think you can’t make it. Keep strong.

Be persistent. Keep at it. Keep your focus on that end goal.

Practice! To improve in anything, you need to practice every day. I learned that lesson from my piano teacher.

Post a visual reminder of your goal. Even at eight years old, Ryan Murphy put his intentions on paper. At that young age, he knew what he wanted. A visual image helps you see what accomplishing your goal will look and feel like.

Enhance your talent or skill. You have to be good at it. To make it to the Olympic medal platform, of course, you have to be exceptionally good.

Give it your all. Push yourself beyond where you “think” you can go.

If you find yourself struggling to achieve goals, let Ryan Murphy’s example inspire you. Reflect on what it takes to get there…all of the above!