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

This Summer, Consider Hosting a Reunion

family-reunionSummer is the time of year when you can kick back and relax, go on vacation (or a stay-cation), cookout on the grill, enjoy daylight longer, and reunite with family and friends. Even if you’re in the midst of a demanding project this Summer, you can still take a break to enjoy nature or a short retreat.

A reunion is important. It reconnects you with people who you haven’t seen in a while, or family members you haven’t visited in a long time. If you were to make a short list of “must-see” individuals this Summer, who would make it onto your list? Pick up the phone and call or send a quick email or text.

Why reunite? To reconnect. To remember. To say “Thank you for being there.” To celebrate the good times. To simply be.

I recently co-chaired a reunion event for a women’s civic organization that I led as president more than 25 years ago. The organization sadly closed its doors about a decade ago. My reunion co-chair was the club’s executive director during my term as president. She remains a close, longtime friend. We decided to recognize the club’s founding in 1916 with a 101st anniversary celebration.

Sixty women attended the event, some of whom I hadn’t seen in 20-25 years. The energy level was palpable. Over cocktails, during dinner and dessert, there were lots of laughs and plenty of hugs and kisses to go around. We paid tribute to the years of history we shared together. Many served on the board as I did, chaired committees, or volunteered in the office. The women reminisced about their collaborative community work, fundraisers and programs they had chaired, and lasting friendships they had made through their club membership. Everyone felt valued and connected, celebrating being part of something larger through the club.

When asked to comment on what lessons they learned or a favorite memory, they shared: “Meeting diverse women who I would not have met otherwise.” “Great women.” “Lifetime friendships.” “Best leadership training ever.” We received rave reviews from the women who joined us that evening, some of whom insisted that we reunite every year. It is clear they want to remain connected, so we will make sure that happens.

What about you? What reunion will you be planning this Summer? Who will you be reaching out to for a get-together? Whether it’s a larger group or just a few people, take the time to celebrate who you have shared history with. Rekindle those relationships with people who have influenced or inspired you. The years pass by too quickly. The time to reunite is now!

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

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!

Empathy Is Needed in a Post-9/11 America

Artist Faith Rinngold and New York children, ages 8-10, created the 9/11 Peace Story Quilt, 2006

Artist Faith Rinngold and New York children, ages 8-10, created the 9/11 Peace Story Quilt in 2006

Where were you on September 11, 2001? What were you feeling as the events of that day unfolded?

I remember exactly where I was. I was working on the computer in my home office, getting ready for a morning meeting in downtown Cleveland. The phone rang. It was one of my clients. She quickly said, “Turn on your TV!” When I asked her why, she repeated, “Just go and turn on your TV!!” I ran downstairs, and found national news anchor Peter Jennings reporting live on ABC-TV. He was showing video footage of a jet hitting the World Trade Center in New York City.

My mind was trying to process what was happening. I stood there shocked and dazed. I realized my client was still on the office line upstairs. When I returned to the call, she provided a few more details. I didn’t know until much later that one of the “hostage” airplanes had flown over Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. I live several miles from the airport.

While the day was filled with disturbing images and reports, for me, the evening was surrealistic. Living so close to the airport, I didn’t hear the usual airplanes overhead that night. It was completely silent.

This year, the citizens of our country and the world remembered that tragic event that happened 15 years ago and the thousands of lives that were lost and thousands more who lost a spouse, partner, parent, child, sibling, relative, friend, neighbor, or co-worker.

9/11 changed the way we travel, how we perceive or judge others, how we communicate, how we measure security, and how we mourned as a nation.

The greatest lesson 9/11 taught us is the power – and the necessity – of empathy.

From my perspective, empathy is sorely lacking in society today. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines empathy as “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feelings.” Simply put, it’s trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Sympathy, on the other hand, is defined as “a feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else’s trouble, grief, misfortune, etc.; a sympathetic feeling is a feeling of support for something.” Both require some level of compassion. To me, empathy requires a deeper level of compassion than sympathy. It requires stretching your capacity to genuinely “feel” for another person. Empathy also requires setting aside your ego and your own wants, desires, and needs and focusing on another person’s wants, desires, and needs. It also demands that you listen from your heart rather than your head.

The world today is a far different place than it was 15 years ago. Your skill set has expanded to include a greater consideration for cultural differences, diversity, and inclusion. Workplace environments and laws governing the country, states and cities have broadened our perspectives.

9/11 is a time of remembrance. It is also a time to reflect and ask yourself how you’re doing. How do you demonstrate empathy in your workplace? In your personal life? In your community? How open-minded are you when you travel to other countries or when you welcome new citizens to ours? Where can you incorporate peace, love, and unity in your life?

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!

How Outstanding Are You?

runner-728219_960_720Some of the inspiration for my writing comes from my 95-year-old mother, Irene. She recently shared an anecdote with me that provided me with yet another topic.

At her age, as you can imagine, she has a full schedule of appointments with physicians and specialists who monitor her health. One is her podiatrist. She began describing to me one of his greatest natural traits, a full head of healthy, thick, pure white hair. She said to me, “His hair is outstanding!

She went on to describe a recent appointment with him. As she looked at him, she realized that something was different. More important, something was missing. He had dyed his hair brown! “He looked so ordinary,” she said. “That special trait of his was gone. He just looked like every other man. He wasn’t outstanding anymore!” My mom didn’t mince words. She told her doctor exactly how she felt about his new hair color. She didn’t like it. She preferred his beautiful natural color instead. Her podiatrist quickly replied that his wife shared my mom’s thoughts. Of course, my mom will have to wait until her next appointment to see if her podiatrist heeded her advice.

It was the way that my mom said the word outstanding, with such strong emphasis and conviction, that got me thinking about how we may downplay, hide, or even undervalue our own outstanding attributes.

What is it about you that is outstanding? Is it a specific physical characteristic? Is it your personality? Your talents or skills? Your energy? What gives you great pride in saying, “I am outstanding in…”?

Are you hiding some of your greatest attributes? Changing them so people won’t notice?

Here are two quick things you can do:

Internal assessment: Take time to assess your greatest qualities. What words fill in that last blank…”I am outstanding in…”? Once you have completed the assessment, then ask, “How do I show these greatest strengths and qualities to other people?”

External assessment: What qualities of yours do people most often compliment? Pay attention to the words people use to describe you to other people. You may be missing something important. If you are comfortable with it, ask a close friend or confidante what is outstanding about you. That person may be able to open your eyes to positive attributes that you are unable to see.

Often, one outstanding characteristic or trait can draw others in to you. No one else has what you have! Celebrate whatever it is about you that is outstanding because it is unique to you.

 

The Power of Unified Silence

CircleBannerOn Sunday, July 17, 2016, on the eve of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, I witnessed the power of unified silence by participating in Circle the City With Love, a 30-minute silent “stand” to show the world that with peace, love and unity, anything is possible. Standing with me was my husband, Mark, my sister Marianne and my brother-in-law Gene. Circle the City With Love was the idea of Sister Rita Petruziello, executive director of River’s Edge, a sponsored ministry of the Congregation of St. Joseph on Cleveland’s west side.

People from all walks of life, representing diversity in age, race, religion, lifestyle, economic background, and gender, joined hands as a sign of solidarity in bringing the Circle the City With Love message to the community, the nation, and the world. More than 2,000 people spanned the Hope Memorial Bridge, forming two lines across the historic 4,490-foot bridge. A group of about 30 police officers on bicycles received cheers of support and thank you’s from the crowd as they rode across the bridge.

SrRitaPetruziello

Sister Rita Petruziello

When the fog horn blew, indicating that the 30 minutes of silence had begun, people became quiet immediately. I found myself fully present and aware of every environmental sound and sensation, the breeze, the heat of the sun on my shoulders, the din of distant traffic. Within moments, I felt tears welling up in my eyes as I experienced firsthand the power of purposeful silence. I wasn’t distracted by my usual “monkey mind” which is quite active, thinking of things to do. Rather, my mind was relaxed and at peace, joyfully demonstrating solidarity, unity, peace, compassion, love, and hope in action.

When the fog horn sounded to indicate the end of the stand, strangers embraced, hugged, shook hands, chatted a bit, and then went on with the rest of their day. Donning our Circle the City With Love t-shirts allowed us to identify our community anywhere in the city for the rest of the day. We didn’t have to say a word, just simply nod, sending a nonverbal cue that we shared a common purpose.

-8a5c2ebe922493b7Just one day prior, I had listened to Day 6 of Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey’s free 21-day meditation series, Getting Unstuck: Creating a Limitless Life. The message for that day was You Deserve More Than Second-Hand Experiences. A first-hand experience is one that you create for yourself, one that no one else can demand of you, one that reminds you, as Deepak suggests, that “I am the author of my day.”

For me, the Circle the City With Love experience was a powerful, memorable first-hand experience. As a result, I am challenging myself to create more first-hand experiences that expand my perspective and worldview.

When you live a purposeful life, you gain more from it. As Henry David Thoreau said, “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”

How are you rising above and becoming the author of your day?

Images: Joshua Gunter, cleveland.com.

Strategy + Focus = A Winning Combination

Serena Williams, Angelique Kerber, Wimbledon 2016, Credit: PA, The Telegraph

Serena Williams with Angelique Kerber, Wimbledon 2016, Credit: PA, The Telegraph

The goal of winning 22 tennis championship titles in the Open era was finally achieved by American Serena Williams on Saturday, when she defeated Angelique Kerber of Germany at the Wimbledon Ladies Singles Finals, 7-5, 6-3. Williams now ties Steffi Graf’s record 22 championship wins. Watching the match from beginning to end revealed a winning combination of strategy and focus.

Strategic Action. Something was different in this game. Kerber had defeated Williams at both the Australian Open in January and again at the French Open in June. What was different at Wimbledon was strategy in action. For this match, Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams’ coach, had reviewed the data of those two games to find ways to defeat Kerber. What really won this match was the greater frequency of Williams’ ace serve. It was this one move – strategy – that made all the difference in Williams’ win.

Clarity of Focus. Serena Williams is one of those players who remains clearly focused before the game. Doing the “long walk” from dressing room to court, Williams kept her head phones on as long as she could. It’s a tool that she uses to remain focused, ease tension and promote positive reinforcement. The match lasted just 1 hour, 21 minutes. When you are focused, nothing stands in your way. How focused are you?

Strength. Kerber kept in pace with Williams throughout the entire match. For every point Kerber made, Williams pushed through it and remained strong and positive. Athletes who possess the physical strength to win can lose because of weak thinking. How often do you succumb to your own negative thinking? Give up? Say it’s too hard or too difficult? Sometimes the greater opponent isn’t the one facing you; it’s the opponent in your head, you, who is reacting negatively. When you do find the strength within yourself, you come out of it all, intact and victorious. Recall those moments of victory to help you get through those times of adversity.

Adjustments. Wimbledon is known for its unique grass court. The flip side of that is the unpredictability of outcome. Sometimes a ball will bounce in a different direction, or the wind will catch it and put it somewhere else entirely. How often do you adjust your actions to achieve a winning play? Invest the time in knowing your environment before you arrive; once you’re in play, be mindful of any shifts, and make necessary adjustments.

Grace. The tradition at Wimbledon is to present the non-winner trophy first, then the winner’s trophy second. Kerber walked around the Wimbledon court first, before being interviewed. Then Williams walked around the court, before her interview. In her comments, each woman was graceful and grateful to her opponent for playing extremely well. How often does that happen in the workplace? If someone’s idea is genuinely better than yours, tell her. If you got into a heated discussion with a co-worker, thank him for a great debate. If someone else got that promotion instead of you, congratulate her. How would you act in the workplace if you truly possessed grace?

Positive role models can be found in the public arena, in your community, and in your workplace. How can you present yourself like the true winner that you are? What can you do to inspire others to practice clarity of focus and strategic action?