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.

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.

Invite a Summer Attitude to Work

canoe_crop380wSummer is the time of year when the pace of life feels a bit more relaxed, less stressed, and fun. Why can’t we bring the casual joy of summer into the workplace? All it takes is a little creative thinking.

When I was growing up, I took advantage of every minute of summer. The sun and fun was short lived because school was right around the corner. As adults, it’s healthy to reacquaint ourselves with that child that still lives within us, and recall what made summer (and summer vacation) so great. Here are a few considerations to invite a summer attitude to work:

Simply be. If you are choosing to take a vacation this summer, practice being present in each moment and enjoy the sites, sounds, and experiences. Put away the cell phone, tablet or laptop and simply beVacation allows you to return to work refreshed and renewed, not stressed and frustrated. Remember to breathe and enjoy the moment. When you return to work, know that you can recall any pleasant vacation memories at any time you wish. I have observed people who, in meetings or one-on-one conversations, are distracted, thinking about something else. Be fully present and be more focused.

Embrace the silence. When I was a kid, there were no electric (or gas) powered leaf blowers, trimmer/edgers, power washers or behemoth commercial lawn mowers. At night, you could hear the collective chirp of crickets or the rustling of leaves on a tree as a gentle breeze moved through. To truly embrace the silence today means removing yourself from the constant source of noise, the hustle and bustle of traffic, construction, sirens, or power equipment. Sometimes it’s the noise in your head, the constant thinking, worrying, analyzing, and doubting that distracts you and consumes what could otherwise be valuable quiet time. When you do find a quiet spot, simply enjoy the tranquility and silence of that moment.

Move! One of my Mom’s best friends called me “the cyclone” when I was a child because I was constantly moving. Sitting at a desk all day isn’t healthy. Get up and move! Take several breaks throughout the day. Walk the halls. Take time on your lunch break to go outside and walk, even if it’s just for 10 or 15 minutes. You will feel less sluggish and more alert.

Live a little. I don’t know about you, but when I am on vacation, I do things that I don’t often do when I’m at home. I walk more when I travel. I enjoy the taste of food more, especially regional cuisine. The air seems fresher and the sky looks a bit more blue. In some small way, I am giving myself permission to enjoy myself. What if that dividing line between leisure (or vacation) and work became more blurred? What if you brought more of that vacation “feeling” into your work life? You would certainly be a lot easier to work with…even a joy to work with. Imagine that!

With the right attitude, you can bring summer into your workplace. Before you know it, the day will fly by, and you will bring less stress home with you at the end of each day.

The Value of Daily Affirmations

Al Franken as Stuart Smalley, Saturday Night Live, circa 1990s

Professionals who lead successful lives have a secret weapon at their fingertips: Daily affirmations. These short, meaningful statements support who you are, how you behave, and the goals you pursue. They keep you focused on moving ahead.

Even Stuart Smalley, the adorable character created by Al Franken* for Saturday Night Live  back in the early 1990s, had a great positive affirmation that he said to himself in the mirror every day: “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me!” Just thinking about it makes me smile.

With positive affirmations, you choose messages that perfectly meet your needs. If you want to lead a calming life, that can become one of your daily affirmations. If you want to land a specific job, or earn a certain salary, those can become affirmations as well.

Eugene Burger, an internationally known professional magician and former theology professor, repeats this phrase to himself every morning as he showers: “I give myself permission to be powerful today.” Say that phrase to yourself several times right now. How do you feel? You can create different messages for yourself by inserting a different word in place of powerful. “I give myself permission to be…(generous, caring, respectful, knowledgeable, brilliant, helpful, resourceful)…today.” Before you know it, through positive daily affirmations you will live more of the life that you desire.

Another great affirmation that boots your self-esteem is this: “I am a unique package, filled with plusses and minuses, and the package is good.” This phrase speaks to our humanness because it is true, we all have plusses and minuses, and we have to accept and love ourselves, even the imperfections.

One final word about daily affirmations. If you have never recited affirmations, it can feel awkward at first. It can feel foreign or artificial. As you choose affirmations to suit your needs, and you begin reciting them every day, you will notice a gradual lifting of your spirits. Before you know it, you will feel more powerful or brilliant, generous, knowledgeable, caring, helpful, and resourceful.

*Now MN Senator Al Franken

Create A Portable “Zen” Space

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe word “Zen” conjures up images of quiet solitude, peacefulness and mindfulness. When we think of a Zen garden, for instance, we imagine a beautiful garden that evokes that solitude and peacefulness, a place where the mind, body and spirit can rest and replenish. The garden becomes an anchor, a place for focused concentration.

When I traveled to Japan for business more than two decades ago, my business associates and I visited some of the most beautiful Zen gardens and temples in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Whenever my head gets too full, I simply mentally return to one of those gardens for inspiration and clarity.

The beauty of a portable Zen space is that you always have it and can retrieve it as you take one deep breath. If you feel like you are rushing through the day, or your adrenaline is pumping because you are nervous or agitated, do this simple exercise:

With both hands held in front of you, at eye level, palms facing toward you, fingertips touching your thumb, eyes closed, slowly take in a deep belly breath. As you begin to exhale, make an extended sound, “Oh-m-m-m-m,” using up all of your breath while moving your hands down toward your lap to create an invisible curtain in front of you. By the time your hands reach your lap, you will be out of air and sound. It will clear your mind and help you to focus. Inhale and repeat if you need to. If you prefer, you can eliminate the audible “Ohm” sound and simply think the sound as you exhale.

One final question for you: What are the specific benefits that mental clarity could bring to you? List at least a dozen benefits to you.

 

Because I’m Happy

BalloonsIt seems fitting to close out 2014 with recognition of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” the most played song on the radio in 2014. It also claimed the top spot on Billboard Magazine’s Hot 100 songs. You can only feel one thing when you listen to this catchy tune: Happy. How refreshing…Happiness and hope are remembered, not forgotten.

Amidst a chaotic world and turbulent times, it makes me happy to know that there are other people who crave – and encourage – happiness in their lives.

The volumes of research on the topic of happiness include Dr. Michael Fordyce’s happiness increase studies in the 1970s and the creation of the Fordyce Happiness Scale. Dr. Ed Diener of the University of Illinois is one of the most well respected (and cited) psychologists on the topic of subjective well-being. New York Times best selling author Gretchen Rubin has penned several contemporary books on the topic, including The Happiness Project. Today’s research has become more sophisticated. You can even participate in the Track Your Happiness research project that tracks your attitude towards life through your iPhone.

Think of the top ten things that make you happy. How much time do you invest in doing those things that make you happy? It’s time to create your list. It could include simple things. A hug. A conversation. Quiet time. Here’s a peek at my top ten list of the things that make me happy:

  1. My husband, Mark, gives me the freedom to be myself, and that makes me happy.
  2. Cherished conversations with my 94-year old Mom ground me.
  3. A solo walk in the park reminds me that I am part of a larger world.
  4. Quality time with people who I truly care about and who accept me for who I am is time well spent.
  5. Our two rescue cats bring me tremendous joy.
  6. Eating warm, fresh-baked bread (is there anything better?) helps me to stop and savor the flavor.
  7. Challenging, meaningful work keeps me engaged and interested.
  8. Contributing to charitable organizations allows me to help others.
  9. Gardening lets me create a beautiful environment and provides me with much-needed quite time.
  10. Singing out loud to a favorite song when no one else is around, well, that is so freeing.

As 2014 ends and 2015 begins, let me ask you this: What if you could share your happiness with others? What if you could share your support, care, even wealth, with people? You can. Something as simple as a kind word can bring a smile to someone’s face. And seeing that smile will make you feel happy. Speaking of happy…Happy New Year!

The Return of Excited Anticipation

ChristyWithSanta1957:8 copyIt’s Christmas morning. My older sister Marianne stands at the foot of my bed and whispers with great excitement, “Christy, it’s Christmas morning!”I reluctantly open one eye and stir a bit. The impact of her message fails to reach me. She moves closer. “C’mon, Christy. Get up! It’s Christmas morning!” Her words finally sink into my brain. Now both eyes are open and my feet hit the ground.

In the earlier days of my childhood, my parents made a brilliant move. They put up the Christmas tree in our basement. In our two-story home, having to travel two sets of stairs to reach our presents increased the anticipation.

Marianne runs ahead of me down the first set of stairs. We are excited to reach the living room floor. The anticipation builds. We dash through the living room, dining room and kitchen. We reach for the light switch to the basement. Now we have another set of stairs to descend and turn left to reach the tree. Before us stands the small tree, adorned with blown glass ornaments in all colors. Gracing the tree top is a molded plastic angel. Our eyes immediately go to the gifts under the tree. We crouch down and begin to find our gifts. We’re very talented at shaking them and guessing what’s inside. A doll? A game? A new outfit? To the left of the tree is an artificial fireplace constructed of red and white “brick” corrugated cardboard and a hearth that my Dad will plug in so the embers glow. I think it’s the coolest thing.

My parents have one rule for Christmas morning: We are not permitted to open our gifts until they come downstairs. My other two older sisters will come with them then. That’s when our neatly decorated basement turns into a chaotic scene, with gift wrap everywhere. We each receive a few gifts. At least one of them is something from my Christmas list. All is right with the world.

What would it take to have that same excited anticipation that we had as children? That sense of wonder and contentment? It is within our reach every day. Go out and seek it!

Data Lost and Found

big-dataIn August, I said farewell to my beloved data…the more than 1,900 photos along with a handful of video and audio recordings I had captured since purchasing my iPhone four years ago. In a flash, they vanished from my phone. It was not easy to say goodbye to these visual and auditory recordings of my life for the past four years. I found myself expressing a full range of emotions: First, confusion and perplexity (How could this happen in the Digital Age?), then anger and frustration (Who can I punch?) then, surprisingly, graceful acceptance (There is nothing more to do, so get over it and move on).

Here’s how it happened. I had asked my husband, Mark, to load some music onto my cell phone so I could enjoy it when I travel. When he connected my phone (older technology) with his computer (newer technology), my phone locked. He and our IT guy tried every way to retrieve my data. Finally, they delivered the bad news: “We’re going to have to restore your phone, which means all of your data will be lost. There’s nothing more we can do. Your data wasn’t backed up. You’re just going to have to accept it.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. How was this possible? Surely something could be done, right? Still, I remained hopeful throughout the whole ordeal. “Maybe my data is hidden in the phone somewhere.” “Maybe it got locked in some secret area.” I kept hoping and praying that it would show up somewhere. I remained hopeful.

Then something amazing happened. I realized that those photos meant something to me and weren’t necessarily of interest or importance to anyone other than me. They were part of my lived experience. I still had the memory of the places I had visited, the friends and family I had seen. They were still there in my mind’s eye. I could call them up anytime I wanted to. Out of this realization came acceptance. I finally said to myself, “Well, I learned my lesson. Always back up my photos.”

This experience took me back to one I had in my early 20s. I had borrowed my Dad’s Ford Mustang as my car was being fixed. When a friend and I returned from being out all day, we pulled into the parking lot of my apartment building and realized my Dad’s car was gone. It had been stolen. When I called my parents, in tears, to share the bad news, my Dad said, “It’s just a car. We’re glad that you’re okay and nothing happened to you.” From that moment on, I looked at material possessions very differently.

After experiencing the loss of the data on my phone, my husband suggested I replace my old iPhone with a newer iPhone. I was skeptical at first. In the back of my mind, I became curious: I wonder what will happen to my photos. Will they stay locked in my phone forever?

Mark handed me my new iPhone with a smile. “Check this out,” he said. I immediately saw the vast number of photos in my photo gallery – more than 1,900 – and quickly began scanning the remnants of my life for the past four years. “How did you find these?” My husband said, “You’re welcome.” He was able to transfer all of my photos to my new phone. As it turned out, they had not been lost, simply misplaced.

Sometimes we have to have that breakthrough moment – of acceptance – before we can move forward in our lives. What do you need to accept in your life so you can move on? Little did I know that once I accepted the loss of my data, it would reappear. And yes, of course, those photos are now backed up!

Respect Nature

water-drop-pearls-on-green-leaves-thumbAs you celebrate Earth Week this week, take a moment to pause and respect nature. Let it inspire you. Nature provides abundant experiences. A wide, expansive sky. Varying cloud formations. A spectacular sunrise. A glowing sunset. Majestic mountains. Roaring oceans. Tranquil lakes. Rushing rivers. Tall trees. Fragrant flowers. Take the time to see, hear, feel, smell, taste and experience what is around you. Nature plays an important role in helping you lead a balanced life.

How do you respect nature? Perhaps it’s the biodegradable packaging made of corn that you buy for the office. Or the eco-friendly detergents you use. Or the simple act of using compost to enrich your garden soil. Or using repurposed wood in a new project. Or reducing the number of plastic garbage bags you fill each week. To me, one of the most important ways to respect nature is to leave as much of the natural environment undisturbed and in tact. Ask yourself, “How do I, or can I, respect nature?”

A colleague of mine recently commented, “I need to take the time to stop and smell the roses.” He was well aware that he needed a break from his busy work schedule. I smiled and reminded him that the roses will be in bloom in June.

Here are a few questions to get you thinking about nature:

What is your relationship with nature? How often do you take the time to enjoy it?

How can you incorporate more of nature into your life?

What are your favorite outdoor activities? Do you prefer to hike alone or take a walk in the park with a friend?

When you are working inside, how often do you stop to look outside a window, or take a five-minute break to walk outside, just to clear your mind?

Happy Earth Week. Now get out there!

 

Be an Experience Creator

BlondeGirlExcitedOf the many roles that you play in your life, did you know that you can also play the role of Experience Creator? What is an Experience Creator, you ask? Let me create two scenarios for you. Imagine this:

Scenario One: You arrive at the office with your espresso latte in one hand and briefcase in the other. You want to get to your desk quickly so you can check to see if the meeting time you requested with the Regional Vice President is a go. You have worked really hard on this project and are eager to share your thoughts with the RVP. All you can think about is your ideas. You are focused on those ideas, almost obsessed about them. You can’t get them out of your head. As you breeze into the office, so focused, and so determined to get to your desk, you don’t hear it, you don’t see it and you don’t experience it: The cheerful “Good morning!” from your department assistant. In fact, every morning you are so focused on what you are thinking that you miss her hellos. That simple “Good morning” that she shares with you every day is her way of being an Experience Creator. An Experience Creator creates a positive, even memorable, experience for other people.

What is the result of your not acknowledging the assistant’s greeting every morning? She thinks you don’t like her. In fact, she shares with one of your co-workers that she thinks you don’t like her. “She adores you,” your co-worker replies. Your co-worker decides to share this important piece of information with you because she thinks it’s something you need to know. She’s right. You are so appreciative that she shared this information with you that you vow to make a change the next day.

Scenario Two: You arrive at the office with your usual espresso latte in one hand and briefcase in the other. You pause before you enter the building. You take a deep breath and consciously feel the air entering your body. As you walk, you are aware of everything around you. As you enter your department, you make it a point to stop at your department administrative assistant’s desk, smile and say, “Good morning, Haley!” Now you are the Experience Creator.

Think about the many people who you come in contact with on a daily basis. Customers. Co-workers. Friends. What kind of experience you are creating for them? Is it positive or negative? Are you friendly or guarded? When you remind yourself that you are an Experience Creator, it will completely change how you see others and ultimately how you see yourself. When you create a positive experience for others, it positions you as a professional who cares.

Practice saying this new mantra each day: “I am an Experience Creator!”