“Focus on being productive, instead of busy.” With Dr. Ely Weinschneider & Cristie Norman

Dating will probably look different (for the better) after quarantine. How amazing that the world of dating apps and hook up culture is subjected to isolation for a few months? I think people will come out seeking connection and activities outside the bedroom; in fact, out of the house entirely! If there’s someone you’re considering […]

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Dating will probably look different (for the better) after quarantine. How amazing that the world of dating apps and hook up culture is subjected to isolation for a few months? I think people will come out seeking connection and activities outside the bedroom; in fact, out of the house entirely! If there’s someone you’re considering dating during quarantine, how amazing is it that you can use the excuse of social distancing to get to know somebody for a few weeks before seeing them again? This is a great reminder to cherish activities that we have become accustomed to, like going to movies or dinner at your favorite restaurant.

Asa part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cristie Norman, co-founder of the United Sommeliers Foundation.

Cristie became a certified sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers at 21 years old and joined the Sommelier team at Spago that same year. She founded a tasting group in Los Angeles with over 200 sommeliers and wine professionals that gather monthly for Masterclasses and bi-monthly blind tasting opportunities. She had a vision to make learning about wine easy and accessible, so she created The Online Wine Course, a learning platform designed like a driver’s ed course for wine, that takes a complete novice through everything the average consumer should know about wine in an afternoon. She recently founded the United Sommeliers Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity, to support sommeliers in crisis inspired by COVID-19.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

When I was 16 I worked at a teahouse with over 120 different teas to choose from. I was making beverage recommendations based on origin, variety, level of caffeine and individual aromas; I was fascinated by all types of tea and mom always says it was a natural progression that I fell into wine.

I was working two jobs when I was 19, one being a lead server at a BBQ joint during the day and the other as a barback at a steakhouse at night. I realized that learning about wine would greatly improve my chances as becoming a server and making a lot more money at the steakhouse, so I studied until I turned 21 and could take the Court of Master Sommelier level 1 exam. I really loved studying wine and it became a huge passion for me, so I became certified that same year and passed the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (Level 3) as well.

At that point, I was anxious to start working with a big wine list, so I set my sights on Spago Beverly Hills, since they had one of the largest wine programs in the world (20,000 bottles at the time). I applied multiple times for different positions, but the management didn’t think I was the right fit for a food runner or server position. After about 4 months of trying, I almost gave up, when they said they had an opening for the wine team. I was 21, certified, with basically no real wine experience, but Phillip Dunn the wine director decided to hire me; He liked my energy and called me by the nickname “spark plug.”

I collected a relatively large audience online, since I was always posting rare and expensive bottles of wine, but as I became more knowledgeable, the more I realized there was a lack of general wine education for the public. With the help of my friends online and a lot of guts, I spent a year to create The Online Wine Course — For Beginners, which is essentially like a fun Driver’s Ed Course, except for Wine. I had a lot of support from friends and educators around the globe. (Right now, during COVID-19 Cristie is offering all unemployed hospitality professionals a free course, just DM her on Instagram or email her, contact information below.)

Concurrently, I created a tasting group hosted at Spago that accumulated over 200 Sommeliers that would meet for weekly tasting opportunities and monthly Masterclasses. I really wanted to have wine education available for consumers and professionals. Being so connected with the sommelier community, I was deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, so when my friend and Master Sommelier Chris Blanchard said he wanted to help, we teamed up immediately to create a fund for sommeliers, which now turned into a full-blown 501(c)(3) with board members, the United Sommeliers Foundation. We are working to provide financial relief for sommeliers who have been displaced or terminated because of COVID-19 or other circumstances beyond their control in the future.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

“Bluefishing: The Art of Making Things Happen” by Steve Sims. It’s a personal playbook of strategies and anecdotes supporting Sims from being a bricklayer to one of the world’s most internationally recognized personal concierges. He creates once-in-a-lifetime experiences, things that you don’t think anyone could ever get access to, for his clients through his power of building and maintaining relationships. One of my favorite moments of the book, which I apply daily, is when he gets a “No,” he finds the root of exactly what they are saying “no” to. He asks questions to find what people really want, not just what they present, and he digs beneath the surface to illuminate what excites them. He also has a rule called “The Chug Test” which he uses when considering a new client or business partner; “Would I chug a beer with that person?” If the answer is no, he passes on the person, even if he loses money. The book is full of amazing strategies I use daily.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Reason #1: I have tons of time to try new things and learn new skills. Because of this epidemic, I’ve created a full blown charity with people I admire, learned how to use TikTok, and connected with friends around the globe to create new streams of revenue for us all. Darwin said something like “It’s not the strongest or most intelligent that survives, but those that adapt to change.” Use this time to build your resume, your brand, or your personal life.

Reason #2: I have time to listen and people have time to talk. Sometimes months or maybe even years pass by before you have gotten a solid chunk of time to really connect with people you love. When I’m worried about some awkwardness when I haven’t connected with someone in a while, I start the conversation by taking full responsibility for the state of the relationship. Full responsibility doesn’t mean saying “work has been crazy” or “I don’t know where the time went”; I say something like “I want you to know how much you mean to me. I take 100% responsibility for not being a good friend to you and I’m committed to connect regularly going forward.” That literally dissolves any awkwardness and I’m sincere, so you can just connect without tip-toeing and you get straight to what matters. If you commit to calling them regularly going forward, follow through.

Reason #3: You watch leaders emerge. I think everyone is going to handle this crisis differently, and there is nothing wrong with being depressed, angry, lonely, or any wide range of emotions you may be feeling. I’ve felt all of those things at different points during this crisis. That being said, you do see pretty clearly who is moving and who is not. If you’re looking for a new business partner, a new manager for your company, workout buddy, roommate, or even friends, watch carefully. The way they react now is likely the way they react to other problems; This is not saying to judge them, but it is great information to take note of especially if they are creating solutions, fun projects, virtual social gatherings, new streams of income, or new companies even when they are stressed.

Reason #4: Dating will probably look different (for the better) after quarantine. How amazing that the world of dating apps and hook up culture is subjected to isolation for a few months? I think people will come out seeking connection and activities outside the bedroom; in fact, out of the house entirely! If there’s someone you’re considering dating during quarantine, how amazing is it that you can use the excuse of social distancing to get to know somebody for a few weeks before seeing them again? This is a great reminder to cherish activities that we have become accustomed to, like going to movies or dinner at your favorite restaurant.

Reason #5: The world is not ending. If you needed a sign to start brand new, like try a different career path or pursue something more meaningful, this is it. I literally lost my wine dream job because of COVID-19, which only existed because there was such a high demand for wine at my restaurant. I have no idea when or if I’ll be hired back, but it doesn’t make me any less hopeful that I’m going to find something even better suited for me. I’m looking at this whole thing as a giant reset button on everything. I know that sounds disheartening if you lost your business you spent years building, but if you can do it once, you can do it again and with fewer mistakes than last time.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

I take theanine as a daily supplement to lower my anxiety and I tell all of my friends about it. It’s a vitamin that’s really commonly used and safe. I used it when I was training for bodybuilding competitions when I was younger and I noticed that it made a huge difference in my day.

We are the source of everything we are looking for. If you actively (or subconsciously) seek out scary headlines, that’s all you’ll see. Notice when you are looking for the good, that’s what shows up too. Seek out blessings, opportunities, and beauty and you’ll notice them everywhere.

When my friends are having anxiety or are in a breakdown, I think it’s so important to flip the script to see it as a blessing. Lost a new, huge client over a small issue? You didn’t want them anyway. How lucky you lost someone so volatile before you were really invested in them. I am known for asking “what did you learn from this?” It’s a much more powerful position to be grateful something happened to you, rather than being a victim to it.

Request support. I think connection is often the last thing we want when we are in breakdown, but it is so important to reach out and let people know you’re not doing okay. Talk on the phone or video chat. My friends and I will actually text each other “requesting support,” when we are having a tough moment; I will drop whatever I’m doing to talk to them and vice versa. Listen and ask powerful questions to guide them out of it. “What are some things that you can do to create the results you want?” When someone says “I don’t know” I respond with, “Okay, but what if you did know? What would you say then?” It usually gets a chuckle, but opens their mind to possibilities they didn’t see before.

Keep them accountable. For example, if my friend says she’s not drinking enough water, so she’s unhappy with her skin, I would say “Okay, how much water are you going to drink tomorrow and by when?” If she says 1 gallon by 8pm, I’ll literally send her a calendar invite for 8pm. It’s much easier to do something when you have an accountability partner. Things without deadlines we want to accomplish or get into the habit of, can cause me a lot of anxiety if I’m not doing them. Let them set their own deadline for themselves. They will probably thank you.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

I have recently been seeing a therapist virtually every week, which has been tremendously helpful. If you’re worried about the costs, many of my friends use the online therapy platform “Better Help.” Investing in your mental health should be at the top of the list, no matter what.

Write down a list of all of the things you’ve been putting off and knock them all out. Before I start a big project, I make a list of everything that needs to be “cleaned up.” Do you keep forgetting to fix the squeaky cabinet? You have meant to clean out your closet for the last year? Knocking those things out really lowers my day to day anxiety.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Focus on being productive, instead of busy”- Tim Ferriss in “The Four Hour Workweek.” About 6 years ago I read that book and realized how much of the things I did daily could be outsourced completely, or made much more efficient. If you’re worth $25, but you’re doing something that someone working $12 an hour could do, you’re wasting your resources. I’ve had an amazing virtual assistant for the last 3 years and she handles a lot of things that I’m not good at or don’t like to do, so I can capitalize on my strengths and revenue generating activities. My days feel less cumbersome because the tasks that take my mental energy are taken care of.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂

“If it is to be, it’s up to me.” I realized that a lot of my life I was a being a spectator, rather than an active participant. If you were the author of your life, if you could dream the biggest dreams and make them happen, how would you act differently? I want people to know they can have everything they want in their life; All it takes is one person with courage to change legislation, institutional injustice, environmental problems, etc. If you care deeply, and are willing to do whatever it takes, the person to make the change is you.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?




United Sommeliers Foundation:

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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