Is Your Authenticity Showing?

Women in music rock on through She Is The Music

Women in music rock on through She Is The Music

There was something refreshingly different about the 61st Grammy Awards this year. Comic sketches and clever routines were replaced by transparency and honesty. It began the moment Alicia Keys, the emcee, stepped onto the stage. Her powerful authentic style set the tone – and vibe – for the entire event.

In her first year hosting the Grammy Awards (the first woman to host), there was a palpable positive energy in the room. It was all Alicia Keys. For anyone who has followed Keys’ career, it is clear that the performer today is a much more natural version of her earlier self. She rarely wears makeup, because quite frankly she doesn’t need it. Beyond that radiant smile and soulful eyes, her real beauty and power comes from her inner being. She is real, honest, and pure light.

I have been a fan of Alicia Keys from the first moment I heard her perform on the Grammy stage in 2002. Within her voice lies purity and purpose, clarity and emotion. She is one of those individuals who, once you hear her, you say, “This woman was born to sing!”

Each time she returned to the Grammy stage, Keys elevated the energy in the room. For me, the most defining moment of the entire Grammy Awards was that moment – and for those of you who watched the show know what I’m about to say – when Keys straddled two Steinway pianos to reveal her pure talent. Some times, she played both pianos simultaneously; other times, she shifted from one piano to the other. She demonstrated perfection as a performing artist.

It got me thinking about us as professionals, particularly, what happens when we enter the room, how people respond to us, and how we invite people into our space. Do you welcome conversation? Do you put people at ease when they meet you for the first time? Do you emanate positivity? Do you put your best foot forward? What tone are you setting? Are you representing your most authentic self?

Watching Alicia Keys in action – from standing shoulder to shoulder with former First Lady Michelle Obama to signing off for the night in a most inclusive, personal way – I was reminded that we professionals can certainly do a better job of putting our best selves out there when we boldly step out onto that platform or that stage, or enter that boardroom. When your confidence shines, you shine, and you command attention. When you draw your audience in, they will demand that you return (and of course, we all want Alicia Keys to return as the Grammy host next year!). That platform, stage, or boardroom becomes yours. You were born to be your most authentic self.

Image: She Is The Music

When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears…and Reappears

Photo credit: Fischer Twins for

Photo credit: Fischer Twins for

It was the title of the article that first captured my attention more than 30 years ago as a budding, young professional:

Work Hard; Love People; Be A Professional

Then, the first sentence, in all capital letters, begins: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A PERFECT JOB.

The article, written by Elinor J. Wilson, then Director of the Colgate University Bookstore and sitting President (1985-86) of the National Association of College Stores, appeared in The College Store Journal.

The same article title that caught my attention all those years ago stood out the other day, as I purged old paper files and organized my office. Asking myself the all-important question as I touched each memory, “Does it stay or does it go?,” the answer was an emphatic “Stay!” The fading copy is carefully and meticulously highlighted in yellow, with specific words and phrases then underlined in red.

That first paragraph continues with, “In any position, you will find some duties which, if they are not unpleasant immediately, eventually will be. Success depends not merely on how well you do things you enjoy, but how conscientiously you perform those duties you don’t enjoy.” Reread this last sentence. What refreshing honesty. These words of wisdom could be incorporated easily into new employee orientation or onboarding programs.

Wilson outlines several specific, simple rules to better one’s chance for success:

• Have ambition

• Learn everything you can about your work

• Broaden your horizons

• Set your goals high

• Learn self-discipline and self-reliance

• Communicate effectively; put your ideas into clear language

• Be thorough; cover every side of a question; follow every lead

• Set a definite goal for yourself

She adds, “Before you know it, you may find the ladder of success stretching out below you instead of rising ominously in front of you.” She emphasizes how important it is to Keep (maintain action by care and labor) Doing (deeds of interest and excitement). The true professional is in constant motion, continuously improving, and including others in important decisions.

One of my favorite sections of the article, though, is a discussion about time.

“If you had a bank that credited your account each morning with $86,400, that carried over no balance from day to day, and allowed you to keep no cash in your account, and every evening cancelled whatever part of the amount you had failed to use during the day, what would you do? Draw out every cent, of course!

“Well, you have such a bank, and its name is time. Every morning it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it rules off, as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balance. It allows no overdrafts.

“Each day it opens a new account with you. Each night it burns the records of the day. If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against the tomorrow. You must live in the present, on today’s deposits. Invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness, and success.

“The secret for controlling time is that there is always enough time to do what is really important. The difficulty is knowing what is really important.”

Wilson encourages the reader to focus on professional development, hard work, dedication, and resourcefulness. “Be a giver to life instead of just a receiver,” she adds.

She ends the article with one simple sentence: “The light of leadership shines only because of the spark offered by each individual.”

Wilson’s words of wisdom are as relevant today as they were when she wrote them more than three decades ago. I hope they resonate within you as they continue to do within me. There is so much more that we can do to contribute and create positive change in our workplaces, our communities, and in the world. Keep doing. Work hard. Love people. Be a professional.

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.


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,

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!