Mindful Breaks. Taking intentional breaks is always important but is imperative now. As we live and work in the context of a global pandemic, we must take exceptional care of ourselves, especially if we are feeling higher levels of anxiety and overwhelm related to the pandemic.
As a part of my series about the strategies that extremely busy and successful leaders use to juggle, balance and integrate their personal lives and business lives, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine E. Kiesinger, Ph.D. — Vice President of Business Development and Lead Trainer of Emotional Intelligence and Conscious Communication, studio BE. Christine helps to integrate her deep understanding of conscious communication and mindfulness into the studio BE curriculum. She also founded CEK Communication and offers an array of trainings related to interpersonal communication, conflict management, innovative leadership, group/team dynamics, stress management, and public speaking.
Christine taught at the University level for 30 years, recently retiring to focus on her personal/professional development coaching practice, corporate communication and mindful leadership trainings, as well as her work as an integrative Wellness educator. Whether in the classroom, meditation cushion and yoga mat, or within corporate settings, the foundation of all of Christine’s teaching is mindfulness.
Christine is a published author of several articles, book chapters, and blogs. Most recently, she is co-author of the book: Narrating Mid-Life: Crisis, Transition and Transformation, (2019, Rowman and Littlefield) and author of: The Vow: Transformation Through Mindful Self-Devotion (forthcoming).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share with us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career?
I came to studio BE after retiring from a thirty-year career as a university professor. I was blessed to begin my work in academia at a young age and I enjoyed a rich and fulfilling career. I taught mostly in the areas of interpersonal and family communication studies and conducted scholarship in the areas of autoethnography and narrative as qualitative inquiry.
Simultaneous to my work as a professor, I taught yoga and meditation in the evenings. I cherished my work in various yoga studios, gyms, church basements, community centers, and corporate boardrooms as much as my work in the college classroom. The teaching was remarkably similar. Regardless of the setting, I was teaching self-awareness, conscious communication, how to connect more deeply to self and others, and pathways toward transformation.
I left academia to continue expanding my corporate work. Just two months after leaving, Jennifer Ciarimboli, Founder and CEO of studio BE invited me to join the team she was assembling in preparation for launching her company which launched in early 2019 and has grown quickly. For me, taking on my role at studio BE has been the perfect way to merge my expertise in communication and my love for meditation. I love my work with studio BE and continue to be amazed by the ways this company is evolving.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started? What lessons or takeaways did you take out of that story?
One of the most interesting things to happen to me along the path of my professional journey was being invited into a leadership role at a very young age. I was a new Ph.D. in my first tenure-track job and was asked to step into the position of department chair. I never had any aspirations to lead in this way, nor did I have any experience. That said, this leadership role brought together the relational and communicative qualities that I most value and opened my eyes to the role that emotional intelligence, conscious communication and interpersonal excellence play in leading a team, growing a program, and generating meaningful change. This was one of the most exhilarating times of my life and one of the most unexpected! It created a firm foundation from which the rest of my professional life has evolved.
What does leadership mean to you? As a leader, how do you best inspire others?
As mentioned earlier, I came into leadership quite unexpectedly and at an early stage of my career in academia. I remain grateful for that experience as it provided the foundation for how I define, teach about, and “live” leadership.
For me, leadership goes far beyond a set of “doings.” Leadership is a way of being — a way one “shows up.” Leadership is a way of communicating and relating that leads to visioning, inspired action, and collectively achieving an outcome. Exemplary leaders do not take off their leadership “position” at the end of the day — they “live” and embody their leadership.
What is exciting about this way of thinking is that anyone can be a leader. I can step up as a leader in a team context. I can lead in my family, community, or in a sports organization. I can be a designated or named leader. Position does not matter. What matters is this expanded understanding that leadership is a way of “being.” The best leaders know this. They live their leadership in powerful and impactful ways.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are many people who have played in important role in my professional journey and I am grateful to each of them. Since joining the studio BE team, our founder and CEO, Jennifer Ciarimboli has played a significant role in my being in a position where my best gifts are being fully utilized and expressed. When Jennifer launched studio BE in January of 2019 and invited me to be part of her team, she created a space for me to integrate my work in the areas of interpersonal communication and leadership studies with my work in the areas of mindfulness meditation and yoga. This marriage of topic areas and practices that I cherish has led to deeply fulfilling work and I am so grateful to Jennifer for this opportunity.
As a leader, Jennifer has a keen sense of the gifts and expertise that her team members possess and she allows each of us free reign to excel in our arenas. As a result, a beautiful alchemy of sorts has been created among all of us and the outcome of this alchemy is studio BE. It is incredible to work in such an inspired and inspiring environment which such an intuitive leader.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main core of our discussion. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your life into your business and career? Can you articulate what the struggle was?
Managing life and work is inherently challenging. I believe that many of us get caught up in the notion of “work-life balance,” only to discover that it is a far-fetched aspiration.
Over the years, it has been much better for me to contemplate work-life “integration,” as this more accurately portrays what most of us live. To make the most of this notion of work-life “integration,” I regularly spend time thinking about the positive ways that certain aspects of my life enrich and inform the work that I do. I also consider how the positive aspects of my work enhance my personal life. When we can be very intentional about thinking in this way, we begin to develop a healthy and meaningful integration of work and life. This does not mean that one becomes or overwhelms the other but rather, both are meaningfully impacted by the each other.
The notion of work-life balance has been challenged in the months of COVID-19. For many, work is occurring within the very context within which they “live.” As such, this is very new territory for most people. We have yet to know the impact of this merging of work and personal life, but it is re-shaping how we work and how we experience our home and relational lives.
In order to give greater context to this discussion, can you share with our readers what your daily schedule looks like?
I have been meditating daily for a bit over 30-years now. My life is infinitely better as a result. If I cannot begin my day with a quiet period of time, I have a very different kind of day. Meditation and other restorative practices have taken on a new level of importance for me during this pandemic.
Like so many of your readers, I am working remotely now and have been for the last five months. As such, a supportive and nurturing schedule — one that address my well-being is imperative now. Without this, I’d not be able to perform in productive ways.
Here is a glimpse into my day:
Meditate for 12–20 minutes.
Coffee or hot tea.
Take time to mindfully connect with my dog. This usually entails a short walk without listening to anything or talking on the phone.
I usually spend 20 minutes or so purposefully mapping out my day (sometimes I do this the night before.) The central question guiding this planning is a focus on these questions: “What is most vitally essential for me to focus on? What tasks can be set aside?”
Get to work.
Taking intentional breaks is always important but is imperative now. As we live and work in the context of a global pandemic, we must take exceptional care of ourselves, especially if we are feeling higher levels of anxiety and overwhelm related to the pandemic.
Between work meetings and tasks, I have been taking 3-minute mindfulness breaks. The nature of these breaks varies. At times, I might drop into a quick 3-minute meditation or spend three full minutes practicing deep, conscious breathing. This might also mean taking a three-minute span of time to walk through my yard, do a quick sun salutation, brew a hot cup of tea or reach out to a loved one through a supportive text or quick email. These breaks have been game changers for me. They are a great way to purposefully transition, experience a brief rest, and then resume my next task with more focus and clarity. This commitment to break between tasks adds up to nearly 30-minutes of mindfulness by the end of the day!
Commit to a stop time.
This is a commitment I make when planning my day. I aim to make an inner agreement to stop at a designated time. This commitment helps me to stay motivated and organized so that I can keep my commitment to end my workday in ways that are healthy for me.
It is important to remember that our evenings are meant for connection, rest and rejuvenation. To savor this time away from work, it is important that we ask ourselves: “how will I use this time to connect with those I care about, rest and rejuvenate?”
If you have children or teens in your home, be a good role model and be uncompromising about the importance of committing to this sacred time of day.
Did you find that as your success grew it became more difficult to focus on the other areas of your life? Can you explain?
Initially, I did find it difficult to focus on all areas of my life as my professional life began to flourish. However, the body is an incredible source of wisdom and is always communicating with us.
Many years ago, I experienced severe burn out which coincided with my children coming into their pre-teen years. This was a turbulent time.
I became very ill and was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Although common, Hashimoto’s, at its worst, can be incredibly painful and wreaks havoc on all areas of one’s life. This was my situation. This condition caused me to take a major pause, slow things down, and commit to self-care in a way I never had before.
The body will give us clear signs that we are heading in the direction of burnout and if we do not heed the warnings, we will often be stopped in our tracks by a major illness.
My diagnosis was a wake-up call for me — one for which I am grateful. I was forced to create new habits around nutrition, sleep, movement, stress, and time management. I have not wavered in my self-care since.
What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal/family life.
The experience I described with Hashimoto’s was an extremely powerful tipping point.
Ok, so here is the main question of our interview. Can you share five pieces of advice to other leaders about how to achieve the best balance between work and personal/family life? Please share a story or example for each.
- Break free from the unrealistic expectation of work/life balance. Seek purposeful work/life integration. Welcome all the ways that your work impacts your personal/family life in positive ways and the ways that your work is enriched by your personal/family life.
It is important to become aware of the ways that work/life is not an “either/or,” but a “both/and.” That said, hold both work and personal/family life sacred. Never forget that we have permission to enjoy and to thrive in both these realms of our lives.
2. Commit to exceptional self-care. Work, personal and family life will never feel good, fulfilling or meaningful if we do not feel well. In this time of COVID-19 and in a cultural atmosphere of political and social unrest, it is critical that we begin taking self-care seriously.
We are living in a period that is inherently stressful and not bound by time. Self-care is no longer about the occasional massage, manicure and pedicure, or a weekend away. I recommend self-care as a daily habit informed by those actions, activities, and ways of being that best serve you in operating at optimal levels. This is different for everyone. Reflecting on what fuels you in positive ways and committing to doing many of these things will help you to establish your own unique self-care protocol.
3. Connect, connect, connect. Our relationships always matter but matter now more than ever. I know that my collegial relationships fulfill me in ways that spill over and into my personal/family relationships and vice versa. My professional success, motivation, and productivity is impacted by the health and strength of my personal and family bonds. The health of my personal relationships is impacted by how much meaning and value I find in my work. There is an integral connection between our work and personal “connections.”
Tend to all of your relationships in conscious and meaningful ways. This might mean taking just a minute to reach out to a team member to share that her virtual presentation was rock star quality or creating a once per week ZOOM café to meet with colleagues for meaningful conversation. This also means taking a bit of time out of your work day to tell your daughter how proud you are of her for arranging a socially distanced ZOOM movie night with her friends, or taking a moment and initiating a sustained embrace with your partner — one in which you are both fully present.
Connect deeply with work colleagues and those who matter to you outside of work. Over time, you will notice how important all of your relationships are to your well-being.
4. Commit to unplug. If your work is suddenly in your home because you are working remotely, you must commit to unplug. Having easy access to work material, your laptop and your home office is not an invitation to work more. Unfortunately, many people are reporting that they are working longer hours from home because they can. Although work/life integration is a powerful reframe, it does not mean that work “becomes” our lives. Our work can shape, inform and impact our lives in positive ways, but work is not meant to overwhelm our lives. Please be mindful of this.
5. Grow. Although many of us have currently been in crisis response mode related to managing our personal and professional lives, it is important to consider all of the ways that we can grow during this transitional time
Presently, personal and professional development opportunities are ample — especially in virtual formats. I have taken advantage of several workshops and trainings over the course of the last few months. That said, I aim to make the content applicable to both my personal and professional life.
In a recent training on exemplary leadership during times of crisis, I took the content and applied it to my professional life and used it to assess the degree to which I am being an exemplary leader of my “own life” during such a turbulent time. When we can listen to podcasts, read books, listen to webinars and take online offerings meant to enhance our professional work, we can simultaneously ask how the content we are learning might also be used to enhance our personal and relational well-being.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Recently, I came across this quote in Diana Winston’s book: “The Little Book of Being: Practices and Guidance for Uncovering Your Natural Awareness.” The quote is attributed to Loch Kelly and reads:
“What is here and now if there is no problem to solve?”
I have been sitting with this quote for a few months now. It has provided great solace and sanctuary during this global pandemic. Whenever I am feeling tossed around in the turbulent waters of fear, anxiety, and overwhelm, I will pause, take a deep breath and ask myself: “Christine — what is here and now if there is no problem to solve?”
This is a powerful practice. If I am honest with myself — what is here and now absent of a problem is Joy. Freedom. The sheer vastness of experience. There is respite from the struggle, the resistance, the fear, and the overwhelm of anything I might be perceiving as a “problem.” How much of our day is spent focusing on what we perceive as problems? How do we create problems for ourselves? How often do we rest in moments with the acknowledgment that perhaps there is no problem to solve?
What I have discovered in working with this very simple, yet powerful question is that when I am present to what is now — most everything is okay.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I have so many ideas for movements! That said, when I place this question in this current period of history, I would say that we could all use daily doses of kindness.
About four months ago, when fear around COVID-19 were acute, I developed a practice with an outcome that was two-fold. I wanted to keep myself out of stress response as often as possible, and I wanted to stay connected to those I love.
I call this practice: “Just 3 Things.” The challenge is to make a daily commitment to reach out to three people in your life who might be surprised by hearing from you. Offer them a word or gesture of appreciation, let them know how much they mean to you, or applaud them for something they have accomplished. For me, this can be a quick, supportive text. I have written a few letters. I have sent beautiful postcards. I have set up ZOOM dates and have reached out by phone. The goal is to go beyond asking how someone is doing, but intentionally “acknowledging” them for who they are. It is a beautiful practice especially if you reach out to individuals who might be truly surprised to hear from you.
When we offer gestures of appreciation and gratitude, it moves us out of stress response. Try to be authentically appreciative and grateful and stressed and anxious at the same time! It is nearly impossible! This practice also impacts those you reach out to. Can you imagine what this planet would become if “Just 3 Things” was a practice to which we all committed?
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This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!