Michael Zajaczkowski begins his personal journey with the story of his parents. In World War II, Michael’s father, who was in the Polish military when Hitler invaded Poland, escaped Europe and went to England where he joined the RAF. He met Michael’s mother, a British shop girl, at a local dance. “She fell in love with the dashing foreigner in the crisp RAF uniform”, and the rest is history. They eventually settled in Southern California where Michael was born.
“Michael Z”, as he is known to friends and family, has written several books. But his recently published book, The Owner’s Manual to Life: Simple Strategies to Worry Less and Enjoy Life More, is the first title published under his real name. The others were published under a business name or anonymously. The Owner’s Manual to Life is comprised of 100 quotes that Michael has collected over the years. For each quote, Michael has written a short essay filled with tips and wisdom he has learned for living a more peaceful and enjoyable life. Texas Lifestyle Magazine visited with Michael recently and asked him about his new book.
Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles), and my wife and I moved to the Raleigh/Durham area of North Carolina about nine years ago. People ask why I’d move from L.A. to NC, and the answer is a simple four-word phrase: Better quality of life.
You started your professional career as a marriage and family therapist then switched gears to business and sales coaching. How did you make the jump from that to author?
After UCLA and earning my degree in psychology, I went into the financial industry for 16 years. Then, in the year 2000, I went back to get my degree as a therapist. Shortly thereafter, I opened a business consulting firm—which I still operate on a part-time basis. I’ve always written and in fact published several books on sales for my business, and written extensively for my blog. So, it was an easy transition to write The Owner’s Manual.
What inspired you to write The Owner’s Manual to Life?
It’s an idea I’ve had for years. I’ve always collected quotes, and years ago I read Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and I thought: what if I wrote a book that is similar in layout—short two-page essays, but used some of the quotes I’ve collected to launch the idea for those essays? And that’s how I came up with the idea.
Part of the title of your book is ‘Simple strategies to worry less.’ Can you share some of those with us?
Worry is a big part of everyone’s life—worry about health, about those we love and care for, about money, about the future—the list is endless! A big tool I use in my own life—and one I’ve shared with others—is to make a list of your current worries. I use a journal for this, that way I can refer back to see how things turned out, as well as use it to see the evidence that things do work out—despite what I thought might happen.
An example of this is in quote #82: “It all works out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out yet, it’s not the end.”
The value of doing this is that things always DO work out—even when I was afraid they wouldn’t. Moreover, things tend to work out faster than I think they will. It’s encouraging to go back and look at some of my previous worries—again, things I thought were a BIG deal and that would never get straightened out—and see that, yes, they did work out, or never materialize, or they just went away.
Just having this awareness helps when something new comes up—which it inevitably does. This technique also works with worries of the future. Sometimes, we spend far too much time worrying about what might happen tomorrow, or next month, etc.
I find the quote by President Calvin Coolidge speaks to this: “If you see ten troubles coming down the road at you, you can be sure that nine of them will fall into the ditch before they reach you.” I’ve found this is more true than not, and it’s helpful to remember this whenever I find myself worrying unnecessarily about future events.
Ultimately, having this tool helps you deal with the normal worries we all have, and by putting them into perspective like this, I’ve found it reduces the time and energy I used to spend worrying so much.
What about the other part of the subtitle: “How to enjoy life more?” Can you share an example of that?
One quote from the book immediately comes to mind: “Each day comes bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbons.” –Ruth Ann Schabacker.
This quote reminds me how precious of a gift today is. Someone once said that each day and each hour we have is a treasure, and that if we had all the money in the world, we couldn’t buy ourselves even one extra hour of it.
So how do we enjoy life more? We look at all the gifts we have, not only on this day, but in each hour of the day. And they are all around us, if we stop to take them in. And what we’re really talking about here is developing an attitude of gratitude. Right now: think of ten things you’re grateful for! These could be things you take for granted every minute, like your health—your ability to see, to hear, to walk freely: things many other people have been denied. They would give just about anything to have the basic things you might be taking for granted daily. Another strategy is to begin living life one hour at a time. Simply note the time right now—9 a.m. for example—and make a game of staying and focusing just on this next hour—until 10 a.m. Getting super present in this way allows you to rein your mind back from the future (or get it back from dwelling on the past), and this allows you to truly live more in the present.
And right now, right here, things are probably pretty good for you. Most of us have everything we need; we’re safe, warm, have access to food and water, and we often have the time to appreciate so much: nature, the sunshine, music that might be playing in the background, other people around us and the opportunities to be of service. Right now, right here, we are alive and life is full of wonder and potential and love. Right now, we have just about everything we need to be happy – joyous even – and free from worry. When we get presents, we realize we have so much joy to untie in the world, in our lives, and with everyone around us. Just think for a moment about what you’re truly grateful for. When viewed in this way, life truly is something to treasure and enjoy!
Why do you use 100 quotes, and where did you get the quotes from?
Again, I’ve been collecting quotes for over twenty years—from all kinds of sources: magazines, blogs, books I’ve read, quotes that friends have shared with me—really wherever I find them. I decided on 100 quotes because that seemed the perfect amount for one book. If I want to write a follow up to this book, I’ll simply choose another 100 quotes!
What is your favorite quote in the book and how do you apply it to your life?
It’s so hard to just choose ONE favorite quote, but I’ll give it a go: Quote #22: “Look out the other person’s window” is a favorite because it’s about empathy and remembering that we’re all looking out a different window onto life. It makes me more patient and understanding, and when I read it, I can feel kindness coming back into me.
On your website, you have a wonderful image of your family’s coat of arms—how did you get that?
Quick story about my coat of arms. In the mid-nineties, I reconnected with a cousin on my aunt’s side. That led to my first and only trip to Poland to visit my father’s surviving brother and sister—the same siblings the war tore him apart from. He never saw them in Poland again. This reunion was one of the great trips of my life. That first night, sitting in the tiny living room with my uncle Joseph, we gazed at the fire and at ourselves, both overwhelmed with emotion. He couldn’t speak English, nor I Polish, but language wasn’t necessary. Sitting on a couch, in the dim glow of a lamp, he simply took my hand, looked up at me and wept. Later, he shared some amazing photographs with me and reverently gave me a tattered booklet that had this coat of arms on it—our family’s coat of arms. The word underneath it was Prawdzic. I asked my aunt what it meant, and she said, “Truth.” I was quietly stunned: all my life, I’ve been drawn to the truth, and to think that I found it in that cozy living room in my father’s hometown.
Cover Photo Courtesy Michael Zajaczkowski