Engagement Musings

Worried Much These Days?

Unlike MAD Magazine’s “devil-may-care” poster boy, Alfred E. Neuman – described as “someone who can maintain a sense of humor while the world is collapsing around him” – many people I know are worried. They’re worried about COVID’s resurgence, especially as flu season approaches, in addition to feeling stressed over continuing political and environmental issues.

I’m worried about my friends and family members who feel this way. And although the music video is entertaining, suggesting to people that they “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” is insulting.

What helps me cope is to try to maintain a sense of perspective about worrying itself.

“Worry is a by-product of feeling powerless. We fear the unknown and are frustrated that we can’t do anything about it. We also want to influence daily events, but some things are beyond our control. The key is to face that reality and go with the flow. Most things that we worry about never come to pass … In fact, in most cases, worrying is a lot worse than the actual outcome.” – Frank Sonnenberg

Please know it’s not my intention to make light of or dismiss the seriousness of dealing with anxiety issues. I’m just sharing what helps me cope, and here are some of my favorite quotes on the subject:

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality. – Seneca

“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.” – Swedish Proverb

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” ― Corrie Ten Boom

“If the problem can be solved why worry? If the problem cannot be solved worrying will do you no good.” ― Shantideva

“If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today.” – E. Joseph Cossman

A sense of humor (ala Alfred E. Neuman) is also helpful.

“[One fellow] worried so much that he decided to hire someone to do his worrying for him. He found a man who agreed to be his hired worrier for a salary of $200,000 per year. After the man accepted the job, his first question to his boss was, “Where are you going to get $200,000 per year?” To which the man responded, “That’s your worry.” ― Max Lucado

Besides a sense of perspective and humor, check out this helpful article on coping tips this season.

[Image: Alfred E. Neuman, created by Norman Mingo for MAD Magazine]

What I’ll Miss Post-Pandemic

I’m feeling a bit unsettled as we ease out of pandemic-related restrictions. All of a sudden it seems my work and social calendar are filling up with in-person meetings and meals with friends, colleagues, and clients. With more people fully vaccinated (including me), I’m cautiously excited about having a busier schedule with more than just Zoom meetings.

Who could have imagined the many mundane things we took for granted before the pandemic? Activities like being together to share birthdays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, and memorial services … attending concerts, plays, sporting events, museums, and conferences … planned and impromptu get-togethers for coffee or lunch or dinner … handshakes and hugs (especially hugs!).

“A crisis can be very clarifying. When you have emerged from a crisis you learn to cherish what really matters.” Scott Cochrane

While we’re fortunate in the U.S. to say “Good riddance!” to the worst of the pandemic, I find there are some aspects of the past 15 months that I’ll actually miss. Here are a few of them (in no particular order):

  • a renewed sense of respect for front line and essential workers like grocery/convenience store/drugstore clerks; healthcare professionals; delivery and truck drivers; etc.
  • a greater appreciation for nature’s restorative benefits
  • people proactively reaching out to connect with others near and far to check on their wellbeing
  • self-acceptance that it’s ok to say you’re not ok
  • increased awareness of the importance of mental health —  the impact of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues that emerged and/or deepened during the pandemic, along with the need to de-stigmatize them.

I sincerely hope these will not disappear during and after our recovery.

What about you? What part of pandemic life will you miss?

[Image credit: photo by Thomas Kinto on Unsplash]
Engagement Marketing Musings

Special Mother’s Day Tribute from My Favorite Geek

[Note: I’m happy and humbled to re-post the following written many years ago by Jason Stershic, digital marketing professional, blogger, podcast producer, host of The Palmer Files Podcast, and (best of all!) my son. Thanks, kid!]

Sybil Stershic is my mother and, for most of my conscious life, she’s been the proprietor of Quality Service Marketing. When she founded the business, I was 5, and it has had a profound impact upon both my personal and professional life.

Personally, she was around more than most, as she worked from home. I was the audience for her as she practiced her material to a room of one, and she was there to take breaks and be a mom.

As I grew up in a world of advancing technology, I became her “Chief Technology Officer,” a title I still hold today. I came to set up computers, fax machines, modems, tablets, smartphones and introduce her to the world of social media – and I now jokingly take all credit for her social media success.

Professionally, I have to give her credit for my views on internal marketing. I assume I came to most of them by osmosis, due to the fact that I was her audience in the beginning and I don’t recall having great conversations about them until well after I established my own views. I’m fortunate – for several reasons – that they coincided with hers.

Those views have allowed me to be successful. I know to treat internal marketing and communication with the same importance as external. This was completely evident as I worked in retail for a company that had a good idea of internal marketing but horrible follow through.

Almost five years ago, I set upon my own business endeavor, Spectyr Media, Ltd. I do consulting for social media and internet marketing as well as branding, graphic design and website design (this one included).

My mother is now a treasured business associate, taking the time to answer any questions a small business owner may have and being supportive of my business. When I can, I urge those of my clients who could use her services to do so.

My mother has a great marketing mind and she is also a great mom! Happy Mother’s Day, to my mom and to yours. If you’ve learned and gained as much as I have personally and professionally from your mother as I have, then consider yourself fortunate. I know that I do!

[“Mothers Day” image credit: Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay]
Engagement Musings

A Twilight Zone Episode? If Only!

[Note: I’m delighted to feature this brilliant piece written by Izzy Gesell, who generously allowed me to share it here. A former stand-up comedian and public school teacher turned professional facilitator, coach, and speaker, Izzy creatively applies improvisation to enhance personal and organizational learning. You can learn more about this “organizational alchemist who helps individuals and organizations transform their thinking from commonplace to extraordinary” by visiting Izzy’s website.]

“Ladies, gentlemen & non-binary passengers. This is your Captain speaking. This inaugural flight of Air Pandemica is beginning its final descent into the partially renovated New Normal airport.

I know we’ve been in the air much longer than anticipated so I hope the complimentary Zoom memberships made the journey a bit easier.

Please take the remaining time to check around your seats and into your heart and make sure your risk-tolerance belt is tightened low and snug around your assumptions.

The flight crew will make one final pass through the cabin to collect all old habits, empty sanitizer bottles and the take-out food containers that have sustained you during this trip.

In your seat pocket you’ll find our complimentary in-flight magazine called “Lessons Learned.” You are welcome to take it with you. Please read it and discuss it with your children and grandchildren so they might know what to do if or when they have to take the same trip.

We’ll be landing shortly, fingers crossed. Vaccinated passengers wearing masks will depart first. Thanks again for flying Air Pandemica. We know you had NO choice in airlines but we thank you anyway. Hope never to see you again. BuhBye.”

[Thank you, Izzy Gesell!]

[Image credit: photo by Daniel Norris on Unsplash]
Engagement Musings

Time for a Play Date with Your Inner Child

The arrival of spring combined with advent of mass COVID vaccinations is the perfect time to refresh ourselves as we emerge from our winter cocoons and quarantines. This year in particular, it’s also the perfect opportunity to safely indulge in a little fun with a re-visit to one’s inner child. Here’s why:

“We’re living in a world that’s more conducive to anxiety than playfulness … Play offers a reprieve from the chaos, and it challenges us to connect with a key part of ourselves that gets lost in the responsibilities of adulthood, especially during a crisis.” Kristin Wong

Here are several play date ideas for you to safely engage your inner child:

  • read a favorite story book or book of poems from childhood
  • weather permitting, roll down a grassy hill … look for four-leaf clovers in a green field … play hopscotch …
  • share favorite childhood memories with friends (and they don’t even have to be the ones you made the memories with)
  • dance to the music of a favorite band or recording artist from your youth
  • bake a family favorite cake or batch of cookies
  • draw pictures with crayons or color in a coloring book [Remember the scent of opening a fresh box of Crayola crayons?]
  • build with clay, LEGO® bricks, or other building materials
  • read comic books or race Hot Wheels® or Matchbox cars
  • watch your favorite childhood cartoons or movies [I love that I can now watch an hour of Bugs Bunny & Friends on Saturday mornings!]

Whatever your inner child decides to do, be playful … whimsical … let your imagination take you wherever it leads … Just let go and enjoy.

“What all play has in common is that it offers a sense of engagement and pleasure, takes the player out of a sense of time and place, and the experience of doing it is more important than the outcome.” Stuart Brown

[Image by Gustavo Rezende from Pixabay]



What R-R-Resonated with Me in 2020

Like most people, I’m looking forward to putting 2020 behind us.

Reflecting on the year, I noticed many words starting with “r” used to describe the pandemic’s immediate, near- and long-term impacts. Here are the r-words that most resonated with me and why.

  • Response and recovery
    How healthcare professionals, scientists, leaders, and communities acted to help those affected. How business and educators adapted/adopted technology to enable people to work and learn virtually. People who also helped include manufacturers who revamped their facilities to make sanitizer; volunteers who made masks; mental health experts who made themselves available for counseling; restauranteurs and volunteers who provided food for people on the front lines and those in need. [This list is not exhaustive.]
  • Recognition 
    How people celebrated the heroic efforts of healthcare workers, “essential” front-line workers, food service, and others who continued to serve while at risk themselves.
  • Reset, reframe
    Coming to grips with the situation and putting it in perspective. Like other major natural and man-made disruptions that significantly change our behaviors and priorities (e.g., earthquakes, fires, epidemics, wars, etc.), COVID-19 is a societal reset that will affect how we live and work.
  • Resilience
    This is our ability to face adversity, bounce back from it, and learn and grow from the experience. I’m continually amazed how people manage to cope and adapt. Getting through a traumatic situation involves persevering and building on what works and what doesn’t.
  • Renew, reimagine
    Changes in how we live and work in response to the pandemic created opportunities to re-think how we live and work.
  • Reality
    The need to be realistic while trying to be positive also resonated with me as turning the calendar page to a new year doesn’t mean an automatic refresh.

“We are in this for the long haul. Expecting that a single day will come when we are liberated from the stresses and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic will, sadly, be an exercise in frustration. We will likely never go back to the same “normal” in which we operated in January of 2020.” Beth Steinhorn, Redefining Leadership: Finding Balance in Recovery and Renewal

Ready to move forward
It’s too early to predict what the world will look like post-pandemic, except that we are profoundly changed. I’m hopeful that at some point we’ll experience the eventual return of in-person collaborative meetings that co-exist with virtual ones; unrestricted in-person dining; attendance at cultural, entertainment, and sports venues; group celebrations; and handshakes and hugs — especially hugs!

I wish you all a better, safer, and more sane New Year!

[Image credits: Goodbye 2020 by Immo Wegmann on Unsplash. 2021 Stay healthy by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.]




“Hi, this is a truly candid auto-reply you wish you’d thought of first”

“Find lightness and humor in each day. There is a lot to be worried about, and with good reason. Counterbalance this heaviness with something funny each day …” Margie Donlon, psychologist

This is why I’m sharing this post from Vu Le, a respected nonprofit professional, writer, speaker, and founder of Nonprofit AF. I love his bio that says, “Vu’s passion to make the world better, combined with a low score on the Law School Admission Test, drove him into the field of nonprofit work, where he learned that we should take the work seriously, but not ourselves. There’s tons of humor in the nonprofit world, and someone needs to document it.”

Fortunately for us, that someone is Vu. Here is his post, shared with permission, and abridged for space. Enjoy!

Honest email auto-replies you can use during these challenging times by Vu Le

Hi everyone. The past few months have been ridiculous. If you’ve emailed me, you literally got this auto-response back:

“Hi. This is an automatic reply. Due to parenting and homeschooling two small children, I will be slow to respond to emails. And I’ll be honest, I may forget to respond completely. If something is urgent, please call or text me. Thank you. Vu.”

This has actually been extremely helpful to have in place, as folks have been a lot more understanding when they hear from me three months after they email. Things are not normal. We all need to be a little more honest with one another in our communications. With that in mind, here are some auto-responses I drafted to serve as inspiration for you all. Feel free to adapt them to suit your needs:

General: “Hi, thank you for your message. This auto-response is to let you know that due to the pandemic, election anxiety, and other factors, it may take me some time to respond if I ever get around to it. If you need immediate assistance, I hope you find it somewhere.”

For parents of small children: “Hello, this is an auto-response. I am a parent with small children, so I am constantly exhausted and frazzled and it may take some time before I get back to you. My kids are a joy and it is so wonderful to get to spend so much time with them. It’s like getting to eat your favorite ice cream! But a whole gallon of it! Every day! If something is urgent, it’s best to call me, but keep in mind that there will be screaming and crying and the smoke alarm might go off during our chat because Chloe might be trying to set the couch on fire again. I look forward to a conversation with an actual human adult, so please call me! Especially if you understand these new ways that kids are being taught how to do second-grade math!”

For exasperated BIPOC folks: “Hi, this is an auto-reply letting you know that as a [Black, Indigenous, woman of color, etc.] I am exhausted by the relentless assault on my safety and chance at happiness these past four years, and also since always. It might take me a while to get back to you because I’m tired of fighting and deserve a break so I am just going to be growing hybrid flowers on Animal Crossing New Horizons and making them into hats. If you are white, especially if you are a cisgender straight white dude, here’s my Venmo and Cash App so you can pay for some of the emotional labor I’ve had to do to educate you about various stuff over the years.”

For grantwriters putting up with BS: “Thank you for emailing me. This is an auto-reply. I will get back to you as soon as I finish these 18 grant proposals that for some reason are all due next week. Despite the pandemic and the threats to our communities, many funders continue to operate as if things are completely normal. Which is why I still have to answer inane-ass questions like ‘please explain your organization’s history, mission, vision, values, evaluation strategies, and recent successes in 100 words or less.’ Thank you for your patience…unless, you’re one of these funders who are forcing nonprofits to waste our time, in which case, screw you. (Haha, just kidding. You know, grantwriter humor and all. Please give us money!)”

For nonprofit directors: “Thank you so much for your message. This auto-reply is to let you know that I received your email and that I will get back to you as soon as possible. However, right now we are dealing with multiple challenges, including cashflow issues, Zoom fatigue, and general stress and chaos. Half the team is gone due to furlough and layoffs. Also, since the office has been empty, there is a mice infestation that started attracting rattlesnakes. Thank you for your understanding. If you would like to donate to our Rattlesnake Relocation Fund, please click the donate button on our website.”

For overwhelmed DEI consultants: “Hi, this is an automatic reply. If you are contacting me for a training or facilitation on undoing racism, advancing equity, etc., there is a 6-to-12-month waiting period. Y’all should have done this way before it was popular to do so. Feel free to contact another consultant, or else let me know you want to be on this waiting list. Meanwhile, use this time to find money, because this is exhausting for me so it’s not going to be cheap for you.”

For existentialists: “This is an auto-response. I will try to get back to you as soon as I can. But what exactly is the point of doing so? Life is a loose collection of primal screams echoing in the Void. As Heinrich Böll once said, I am a clown…and I collect moments.’ Are we not all clowns putting on the makeup of professionalism, collecting moments of productivity and meaning to display in gaudy curiosity cabinets for other clowns to gawk at? Your email and my response are nothing but a series of ritualized actions to distract us from the horrors of inevitable oblivion.”

Thank you, Vu! You can read more of his posts at Nonprofit AF. [Image by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash]





Engagement Musings

Not So Different – Helping Children Understand

He’s a writer of a popular blog, a book author, and sports freak.

He’s cofounder of a growing nonprofit that helps others live better.

He’s an in-demand speaker for audiences that range from elementary schools to universities to pharmaceutical companies.

He loves to travel with his girlfriend and his family.

He’s Shane Burcaw, and his new children’s book about what it’s like living with a disability was just released. 

This book is so Shane

Based on the questions he’s typically asked (Why is your head so much bigger than the rest of your body? …  How do you play with your friends? … Do people ever make fun of you?), Shane explains how he lives with spinal muscular atrophy. He describes why and how he relies on his family and friends to help him get dressed, shower, eat, and go to the bathroom — written in his inimitable style — with humor, directness, and a positive attitude.

Shane advocates the “power of positivity” in his writing and his nonprofit, Laughing At My Nightmare, to help others better cope with stress and adversity. Shane wrote his new book to help children understand that people who look different aren’t so different after all.

So many of the social stigmas that people with disabilities face could be squashed if we were able to instill in young people the idea that we are all different; we have different strengths, weaknesses, and abilities, and that’s not just okay, it’s beautiful.” 

I highly recommend Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Having a Disability and have already bought several copies: one for my personal library and the others to share.

It’s a great gift idea for children, schools, and libraries.

Musings Training & Development

Nonprofit Start Ups: Why Passion for the Mission Isn’t Enough

A corporate community relations professional lamented about a recent request she received from someone who wants to start a nonprofit. The passion is there, she told me, but little consideration for the scope of resources, structure, and process needed to sustain a successful organization.

A few days later I spoke with a woman who runs an all-volunteer operation; she is also unpaid. She acknowledged her expertise and time are heavily invested in running the nonprofit’s mission-based programs, more so than the critical activities of strategic marketing, volunteer management and fundraising. She enjoys the work – which is her passion – and wonders about continuity if something happens to her: who will carry on the mission?

These two examples illustrate that passion for the mission or cause by itself is not enough to sustain a nonprofit organization. What’s necessary, according to nonprofit professional Jan Masaoka, is “passion for the success of the organization and the work it does.”

Mission & More

A nonprofit’s success is two-fold: having an impact through its work AND a sustainable business model that allows it to continue to make an impact. This dual bottom line is characteristic of nonprofits that need: 1) a focused mission to inspire and engage people to do something worthwhile, and 2) the resources that will support the mission. In simplified terms, no mission = no money … no money = no mission.

Passion for the mission is a given when considering starting a nonprofit. However, founders and organizers also need to address hard questions that include:

  • “Are we looking past the myths [and our passion] to the realities?”
  • “Where will we get not only the start-up funding, but also operational funding to continue thereafter?”
  • “Who [will] help fine-tune our business plan?”
  • “Do we really know what we are getting ourselves into?”

These questions are adapted from the National Council of Nonprofits that offers a wonderful resource on how to start a nonprofit with key steps to follow and additional questions for consideration.

I also recommend The Five Life Stages of Nonprofit Organizations: Where You Are, Where You’re Going, and What to Expect When You Get There, by Judith Sharken Simon, to better understand the strategies and resources needed for nonprofit growth and development.

Musings Training & Development

It Happens: Reality-Based Career Advice

It’s that time of year when college seniors find themselves getting close to graduation and (hopefully) either gainful employment or grad school. It also reminds me of the many times I shared my experience in career development programs hosted by my alma mater and other schools because I was a liberal arts major “who made good in business.”

After my first ten years in the job market (mid-1970’s to mid-1980’s), I had sufficient experience to help other young women about to graduate and join corporate America. Since I began my marketing career shortly after the Mad Men era, my advice centered on networking and professional development to build skills and credibility while making in-roads in a still-male dominated workforce. Students found it hard to believe that one of my duties as a bank corporate planning assistant was to make coffee for the Tuesday morning executive committee meeting.

My career advice from the mid-1980’s to the late 1990’s shifted to achieving career success while maintaining work-life balance. I was in the midst of an exciting and hectic time — raising a child, transitioning from employee to self-employed, and serving as a volunteer leader in my professional association. It was quite the balancing act for me and my husband, who was equally busy with his career and community involvement.

Stuff Happens

Sadly, I haven’t been asked to do much career development speaking in the past several years. Perhaps it’s because my Boomer experience is vastly different from those of Gen Y building their post-college careers – especially considering technology’s impact on how we now live and work. Reflecting on my long (but nowhere near finished) career, here’s what I learned:

While the term “career path” implies a straight line from graduation to some destination dream job, the reality is stuff happens that makes the path curve in unexpected directions. Accept these twists and turns as opportunities to “recalculate” your course through self-discovery and the support of your personal and professional network. There’s no definitive GPS for this – it’s a lifelong adventure.

For example:

  • I graduated during an economic recession [stuff happens] and was so desperate to find work, I searched for jobs using the phone book. (Remember those?) I struck gold in the “banking” section of the yellow pages and found a job as a mortgage clerk. After a few months I switched banks and worked in bookkeeping until a position opened up in corporate planning, an area that transitioned into the marketing department. I learned about marketing on-the-job and discovered I loved the work.
  • I survived one bank merger [stuff happens] with limited opportunity to grow in that bank’s marketing department. I changed banks and found myself in another merger situation [stuff happens again].
  • With a great deal of trepidation and the encouragement of my husband, friends, and professional network, I left banking to start my own business. I’m now in my 25th year as a solopreneur, having weathered several economic downturns [all because stuff happens].

I have no idea what the next 10-15 years will be like for my business … I just know we all need to be prepared for that reality that stuff happens.