29: Creating Positive Change w/ Gary Szenderski

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Gary Szenderski is an author, speaker, teacher and branding expert who specializes in helping people and organizations navigate change. His latest book Szen Zone: Reaching a State of Positive Change is a compilation of heartwarming and inspirational short stories that celebrate the power in each of us to create positive change in our lives.

Links: Gary Szenderski

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Welcome to the Lavendaire Lifestyle, the podcast on lifestyle design for millennials. I'm Aileen and I'm here to guide you to become a master artist of life. Every Sunday you'll get new insight and inspiration on how to create your dream life. After the episode, the conversation continues in our Lavendaire Lifestyle Facebook group, so I can't wait to see you there. Life is an art, make it your masterpiece.

Aileen: Hey everyone! This is Aileen. Welcome back to The Lavendaire Lifestyle. Today I'm here with Gary Szenderski. Hi Gary.

Gary: Hello, Aileen! How are you doing?

Aileen: I'm doing well. How are you?

Gary: I'm doing very well too. It’s a little wet here in Southern California, but it's okay.

Aileen: I know. I'm here too. It's a crazy storm going on this weekend.

Gary: Right.

Aileen: So let me give a little introduction about Gary before we go into the interview. Gary Szenderski is an author, speaker, and teacher and branding expert who specializes in helping people and organizations navigate change. His latest book “Szen Zone: Reaching a State of Positive Change” is a compilation of heart-warming and inspirational short stories that celebrate the power in each of us to create positive change in our lives. So thank you so much for being here today.

Gary: Thank you. Thank you, I appreciate it.

Aileen: Yeah, so before we talk about your book, tell me a little bit about your background. First of all: Who are you? What is your ‘why' behind everything that you've done so far?

Gary: Oh wow, you jumped right to a philosophical one.

Aileen: Yeah, yeah, because I like that! There must be some overarching theme around all that you've done in your career, because I know you've done a lot.

Gary: Yeah, there is. And actually, what I'm doing now and the reason for these books kind of comes out of my marketing and branding experience. I'll back up with that and say that my background–I'm one of those really lucky folks that, I got out of college and I started working in marketing and advertising, and I really liked it. And I moved out to California from Toledo, Ohio. If you've ever been there, you know why I moved. And, you know, worked at a lot of ad agencies and things.

Over the years, without giving too much detail about the businesses, I came across a pretty good way to kind of track what a brand is and help organizations and companies go through change. In fact, it's exclusively what I do now, is help organizations go through transition. And I found that, in all of that angst that a company goes through, there's a lot of people things that happen and we don't always get behind change. In fact, most of the time we're against it. And a lot of what I really learned over the years, I kind of apply to what's in the books. To understand how my own personal piece of this is, one of the elements of doing branding is to establish a brand character. So you could surmise, say, Mercedes is a perfectionist, you know? BMW might be an enthusiast. That's how brand personalities work. Well, mine is winning perspective. I always believe that there's a way people can win. So in every endeavor, in every encounter, I try to have a positive impact. And so far, so good.

Aileen: And when you say you help companies make change, do you mean just change in their brand or organizational change? What types of change?

Gary: It's primarily in branding and marketing. However, if you're going to make that kind of change, there's usually good reason to change some sort of organizational pieces as well. In fact, most of the time, I'm dealing with a new brand or line extension or going to a new market or going public, that kind of thing. And you can imagine, when you go through any of that, you've gotta change some of the operation stuff too. I don't specialize in that, but it kind of comes with the territory.

Aileen: Right. I think that's really interesting. I'm sure there are parallels to the challenges dealing with organizational change vs. personal change. I feel like this is the book where you've made that connection with your work, and then going on a personal level.

Gary: Yeah, there is and really it all kind of stems from the same essential question that companies and we all ask ourselves: What do we want to be when we grow up? And a lot of times, people just don't know that. Organizations don't know it, I can tell you that. A lot of times, they don't know where they're going. But individuals, too, are afraid to think about being something or going someplace that is uncomfortable or scary or they don't think they can achieve. That's what–a lot of the book is about that: really thinking that through and understanding what you really want.

Aileen: Yeah. I mean, that's what I'm all about. I love asking that question: What do I want to be? And figuring out how to get there. But I agree; not many people normally think about that. You know, some people just live their life, day to day, and I guess companies do too.

Gary: That's true. And there's a song to quote in this one: “You can't get what you want until you know what you want.”

Aileen: Exactly. So first step would definitely be knowing what you want, asking that question.

Gary: Right. To be fair: it's a very tough question. There's a lot of stories in the book that talk about “How in the world am I supposed to know this?” And one of the things I try to put in there or share is that you might not know–you might have an idea, and you start with asking yourself, “What makes me feel good?” And I'm talking about feelings, not thinking better or being richer, but really feeling better. What's going on in your life when that's happening? And then just create more of that. And you can reverse engineer to say, you know, “What could I create in my life that would create a lot of it so I'd be extremely happy all the time?”

Aileen: It's all about what brings you joy, right?

Gary: True.

Aileen: I can imagine, on a company level, that's much more difficult, because how do you ask a company what makes them happy? How does that even work?

Gary: Yeah, for them and for their shareholders, what makes them happy, typically, is, you know, the bottom line doing real well.

Aileen: Right. What makes them money.

Gary: There’s things in cultures too. There’s company cultures that really feed off success and actually are primarily responsible for the success. We have a…I'm working at a company today, in fact–I'm using one of their offices. We have a couple hundred people and we have internal culture club group. We don't call it that but we have a mission statement that says, “We're here to help each other succeed and to add joy to the journey.”

Aileen: Yeah, I think mission statements are so important like that because yeah, it's much more than just making money sometimes. It's about supporting each individual, right? Working together to create a bigger whole.

Gary: It's true, and in order to do that, you have to socialize and make friends and, of course, the better the bonds are, the more you can accomplish.

Aileen: So let's talk about your book. First of all, can you tell us what does “Szen Zone” mean to you?

Gary: Well, “Szen”–first of all, “Szen” S-Z-E-N is a take-off of my last name which is Szenderski, so I just shortened it. In fact, my consulting company is called “Szen Marketing“. And the first book I wrote was called “The Book of Szen“. And so it's really kind of stealing some, not necessarily zen philosophy. Although, there are certain aspects of zen (Z-E-N) that I really love. Szen Zone is, to me, it's a lift-off point. It's a point when you're really in contact with the direction you want to go, and you have the energy and desire to really get there. And in order to reach a state of positive change, you have to get into that zone first where everything's kind of clicking. You know how they have–rocket ships take off and they have a countdown series and they go through everything, make sure they're in the right stop. Well, Szen Zone is kind of like that but it works on an emotional, on a psychological platform.

Aileen: Okay, so you're saying Szen Zone is the point where you have to get to before you can lift off.

Gary: Yeah, it's a place where you can feel good.

Aileen: So what are the components that go into that?

Gary: Oh, man.

Aileen: Just give a few.

Gary: Lots of things. First thing, I think, is being honest with yourself, you know. Because self awareness is really an important aspect of change, knowing who you really are and what makes you tick. A lot of times, people aren't honest with themselves. So you kinda gotta dig in there and do some soul-searching. And then I think the other thing is, you gotta be able to manage your fear. In fact, fear from change or of change is probably the biggest obstacle we face. And you know what? It's always because we think, “We’re not gonna make it. We're gonna fail.” You might, but you'll surely never know until you try. And so, when you do fail, it's just an outcome. It's just a way to learn. It's just an education.

To be able to get on that journey, there's a lot of components. And on top of that, there are some physical ones. There's family. Maybe your dream and vision takes you away from home. What are they gonna say? There might be financial obstacles that you gotta overcome. There's a zillion other things that come into play, but I really believe that once you know what it is you really want to do and start moving towards it, even if it's little baby steps, whatever that is that you're going towards, it'll actually come to you. You actually draw it to you. It works really well.

Aileen: So I understand your book is a collection of short stories, similar to Chicken Soup for the Soul. I want to know: where did you draw most of your inspiration from? Where did you get these stories? And, you know, how did you compile this?

Gary: You know, that's a good question. If I tell you how I wrote it, then it might give you some insights. I've been doing this now for five or six years. Every Sunday afternoon, virtually every Sunday, I'll sit down about 3:00 and I'll just start thinking about what's going on in my life, what's going on in the world, and I'll come up with something that kind of pulls me and says, “This would be a good topic to write about.” And I write about a page, one page worth of a story and I publish it on my website in a blog. And I do that every week. The first book, after about three or four years, I had enough to really put something together. And so, when you look at “Szen Zone”, or even the first Book of Szen, you'll see that it's not a linear kind of storytelling piece. It's not a three-act play. They come at you really differently. They're kind of grouped by certain types of things like, you know, change or thinking about the future, that kind of stuff. But essentially, they're really little mini-thoughts that are not absolutely connected to any of the other stories. And so the inspiration is really what's going on in the world. I'm an avid reader and I teach school at the University of California, and so I got lots of things to draw from. Sometimes I'll write some fictional pieces. You'll see in this book, a couple of stories that I just flat-out made out to make a point. That's all fun.

Aileen: That's cool! So essentially, you wrote mini…a blog post each Sunday and then you compiled them into a book, organized them by theme.

Gary: Yes, yes exactly.

Aileen: That's very interesting. Do you have a favorite story from your book that you can share a little bit about?

Gary: Oh, man. Maybe…this won't answer your question but it made me think of it: I often will go to my own book and just open a page. You can open it anywhere and start to read. And I'm amazed at what I wrote.

Aileen: Really?

Gary: Because I don't remember writing it.

Aileen: Wow.

Gary: It's incredible. So to answer your question: there's a story in the first chapter. I think it's about a character named Buddy who lives on the street. He's homeless. Or you think he's homeless until you get to the end of the story. And what–he's not. He's actually got some money. He helps these folks on the street to survive, even after he passes away. It's kind of a sad story, but it portrays an image of not really trying to jump to a conclusion. Just because someone is living on the street doesn't mean they don't have feelings, they don't have wherewithal. That was a surprise ending, kind of. That's one of my favorites.

Most of the other ones are anecdotal. Sometimes I talk about things that actually happened in my life. I have family stories about my father and other stuff. Yeah, it's whatever comes to me, and I wish I could be more specific. I don't even know what I'm going to write about this Sunday. I won't know until it gets here.

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Aileen: That's so interesting. So do you only write when you feel inspired? It seems like you only do so when you have something to talk about. You don't kind of sit down and make yourself write. Because I think a lot of creatives have an issue with writer’s block or you know. Did you have any of that? Or did you just write when you felt like it?

Gary: I occasionally do, but I force myself to put something down. I block out the time, I sit down, I think about it. And I'll start with a title, and in the book, you’ll see that each of the stories has a little snippet at the end that kind of summarizes the whole story, you know, like one sentence, I'll sometimes write that. Then I'll just start. And I also use a little crutch piece that I found really useful over the years. And that is: I write an opening story of sixty words. No more, no less. Sixty words. I kind of draw principles of the story from there and write it in the rest of the blog.

Aileen: Wait, so do you mean you write the beginning of the story in sixty words and stop there, and finish it later? Or you mean you write the whole story in sixty words?

Gary: I write a complete story in sixty words. And then, in that story is a principle hidden or something that might make us think about our future. And then I draw from that story and I write about it.

Aileen: This is very interesting, because I think everyone has a different process, I'm sure. I mean, I'm trying to write a book this year, so I'm interested in how you actually get it done, so that's why I have to ask. Because it's hard to–I guess you have to really schedule yourself and make yourself sit down and just do anything.

Gary: Yeah, you do. See, I approach it as it actually makes me feel great. It's my own personal therapy to write, and so I deserve at least a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon to feel great.

Aileen: Oh I love that. It's your thing. It's what makes you happy.

Gary: Yes, whenever I get stressed and–it doesn't happen too often, fortunately. But whenever I do, I'll start to write something and then it'll immediately draw me into another world and I feel better.

Aileen: That's really nice, because I'm a journaler. And I guess when I want that kind of release, I journal. But you made it into a book, which is really cool.

Gary: Yeah, and the difference between journaling (which I think is really important as well) and writing the way I do, is that I'm expecting to have an impact on somebody that's going to read it. I have a couple of thousand people that follow me on Twitter and stuff, and I send these things out. And the most common response I get from people is: You must have been thinking about me today because this really touched a chord. So that's the fun part of writing that makes my whole day.

Aileen: Yeah, I feel that too. I experience that whenever I post a video or podcast when, most of the time, I'm just sharing what I've learned or what I want to learn myself, things that I need to work on. And then people are like, “I'm going through the exact same thing,” and I don't know. It's just funny how the universe works. It kind of brings you to the exact people that you need.

Gary: Oh absolutely. I got a lot of stories on how the universe conspires to kind of help you get to where you want to go. It's just serendipity. You know, a couple of Christmases ago, I was here in a mall in southern California. I was going to meet a friend and do some shopping on a Friday afternoon, kind of took off work early. And he couldn't make it or something, so I decided to go into the local restaurant there and I was just going to have a holiday beer and then go do some holiday shopping. And some guy at the end of the bar was waving furiously at me. And I recognize him. I haven't seen him in about five years or so, and I'd worked with him for a while. And I walked over and he said, “You know–” I hadn't talked to this guy or seen him. He said, “Today, I wrote your name down and I put on a yellow post-it on my computer, to get in touch with you because I have something exactly that you can do.”

Aileen: Wow.

Gary: I know. His wife was with him. She goes, “Good thing he found you.” I mean, the odds of that are slim, very slim.

Aileen: I know! To meet someone on the street that wanted to meet with you. That's crazy. Oh, man.

Gary: Yeah. If you think that way, that there's somebody out there that really needs what you've got to share–this was talked about in The Celestine Prophecy which is a pretty popular book a few years ago. And I really subscribe to that, that if you run into somebody after a couple of times, you better stop them and say, “Excuse me, what in the world do we have in common that we’ve been bumping into each other?” Because there sure enough will be a reason.

Aileen: I've never thought about it that way. But it's true. There are a lot of people that you notice, that you just bump into so many times. And it's like, “Why?”

Gary: They're probably thinking the same thing.

Aileen: Yeah!

Gary: And you don't know–and what's the worst that could happen?…that you find out that there's nothing. But you maybe make a friend.

Aileen: That's so cool. I love that. Yeah, I'm going to think about that from now on, because I have people in my mind already, people that always appear in your life. And you're like, “I'm not close to you, but I don't know what I always see you everywhere.”

Gary: I know.

Aileen: That's cool. So one last thing. I do want you to share: what is one action that you think our listeners out there can take immediately after this episode to help them reach their Szen Zone, as you call it?

Gary: Here's–this is something, it's a simple exercise and I call it “The Perfect Day”. What you do is: you sit down, get some quiet time, and you write down what a perfect day for you might be. And include things like, where are you? Are you in a foreign country? The south of France? What do you see out the window? What do you smell in the kitchen? Is coffee brewing? Is there someone sleeping there next to you? Whatever that might be, are you looking out at lavender? Are you looking out at the ocean? Are you looking out at the mountains? What would just make you feel like this is the perfect place to be? And then construct your day. What's making you feel good? Interactions with people? Are they coming by to say hi? Just kind of build out that whole scenario.

And put it aside for a second, then go back and read it and think, “Okay, if this is my perfect day and it's not happening now, how can I create my perfect day?” And then start with that. So it's a goal. All of a sudden, you've got a vision and you can start to work towards it. And if those pieces are written well enough, there's a corresponding reality to each of them. So it's not like you're making up a dream thing, like you're going to be living in a cloud somewhere. This is a reality and if you want to work towards it, you can. And oftentimes, all we need is the motivation to start our journey.

Aileen: I love that. And I want to add, to anyone who wants to try this exercise, to be as specific as possible. If you can be specific, then you know exactly how to create that perfect day scenario, which is really cool.

Gary: Right, and I'll just add on top of that: and don't worry. Don't think that you have to be the one to create it all. You can only create what you can create. But the universe will send help and other people to join you to get there. It's not my law, it's just some kind of law that's out there.

Aileen: This is really fun. After this interview, I'm definitely going to craft my perfect day. I want to do this.

Gary: Good. I'd love to hear what it is.

Aileen: Lastly, can you let our audience know where they can find you online and where they can find your book, Szen Zone?

Gary: Well, if you go to SzenZone [dot] com, that's S-Z-E-N-Z-O-N-E [dot] com, you'll see a little bit about me. You'll see a couple of books I wrote, some reviews that have been written, and you'd be happy to peruse and you'll see my email address which is Gary [at] BookofSzen [dot] com. Feel free to drop me a line anytime. And if you'd like, you can subscribe to my weekly blog or however you want to. If you want to–if you're interested in business, it's just Szen [dot] US. S-Z-E-N [dot] U-S. So those are easy ways to get me. I'll be happy to take any email or any note you want to leave.

Aileen: Alright, thank you so much, Gary. It's been such a pleasure to talk to you and learn more about what you have to offer, so I really appreciate it.

Gary: Thank you. It's been my pleasure.

Alright, that's it for today's episode. Thank you so much for listening to The Lavendaire Lifestyle. If you like the podcast, please show your support by leaving a review on iTunes. It helps me so much. It also helps other people find the show. You can also catch me on YouTube and Instagram at @lavendaire, where I have even more content for the Artist of Life.

Alright, love you all. Bye!

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