Book Review #4: Szen Zone by Gary Szenderski Enter Szen's Zone, and be the positive change you seek.

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Now and Szen: A Synopsis

Szen Zone, the book.

When I first received the book Szen Zone: Reaching a State of Positive Change by Gary Szenderski, admittedly, I thought it was going to be all about meditation-type yoga stuff. I figured I’d basically be learning how to calm the F down in stressful situations, with the goal of freaking out less, and chillin’ out more. I perhaps expected to learn things like breathing exercises, oohmm-ing correctly, yoga poses, etc., with the end result a happier, healthier, less cray-cray Jill.

S2 and me, the perfect portrait of all things Zen, amirite?

However, to my surprise, that was not what Szen Zone was about, at least directly. Indirectly, reading this book did, in fact, lead me to a place of improved calm and increased happiness. However, the discovery of my own personal “happy place” was not due to any sort of “technique” or “exercise” learned in the book. Instead, as I read Szen Zone,  I found myself developing an increased understanding of how to look within myself, as well as out at the world in order to create the positive changes I desired in my life. Reaching said state of positive change is what would then lead me to become what I described above: a calmer, happier, more pleasant overall Jill! The thought is most definitely appealing.

According to, Zen has a secondary definition as an adjective, defined as “having or showing qualities (such as meditative calmness and an attitude of acceptance) popularly associated with practitioners of Zen Buddhism.”

Which would explain my initial, incorrect assumption of the book’s content.

While there are zero references to meditative practices or Zen Buddhism in Szen Zone, the concepts, ideas, and truths that Gary Szenderski discusses can lead a person to a “Zen-like state,” simply by 1. internalizing his ideas and 2. acting on them. In the book, Szenderski discusses methods of action coupled with the power of positive thinking in order to change one’s life for the better. Some of these actions he discusses include taking chances, facing fears, and being honest with your true self to embrace positive changes not only in one’s present, but also in one’s own individually desired future. Heavy stuff, and great food for both brain and soul, indeed.

Reaching the ‘Szen Zone,’ as I understood it to be, requires more than just stopping to smell the proverbial roses in life. We’re talking more changing thought processes than changing yoga poses. Taking action rather than passive observing. Gettin’ er done, so to speak. Entering the ‘Szen Zone’ requires some degree of an internal makeover, with the goal of becoming the best you, the youest you that you ever thought possible, to quote the great Dr. Seuss, kinda sorta.

One of my favorite all-time quotes, this poster currently resides on S2’s bedroom wall.

After reading Szen Zone, I feel empowered to take the first steps toward become the best me I can possibly be. The Book of Szen has made me feel totes zen. In fact:
I have a peaceful, easy feeling.
And I know that I won’t let me down.

Yeah, you know what’s coming next:

Gary Szenderski, Master of Branding

The back of the book, with reader reviews and Szenderski’s author bio.

Author Gary Szenderski is, according to his bio, an “author, speaker, teacher, and ‘branding specialist.’ This is the first time I’ve ever heard the job title ‘branding specialist,’ though after reading Szen Zone, I completely get what it means. I also know that Gary Szenderski is nothing short of a branding masta.

First of all, the title of the book itself is genius. Szen Zone has an immediate association with Gary Szenderski, for the obvious, nomenclature-esque reason. Just coming up with that title alone is a feat of genius, in my eyes. By insertion of his own name into the book’s title, Szenderski becomes his product, and his product becomes he.

Well played, Sir Szen, Branding Guru, Master of Names.

As I read, I was impressed by many aspects of Gary Szenderski’s book, including his boss level branding skillz.

Not only is Szenderski’s name in the title, he also made sure to generously pepper his ‘name brand’ throughout the book as well. In the introduction to Szen Zone, Szenderski discusses the book’s focal point, “identifying the lift-off point for creating positive change” (Szenderski, viii). He then lists origination categories for his insights. They include such names as:
-Szenabling File
-Now and Szen

I spy, with my little eye, a pattern!

Each of the 8 chapters in Szen Zone contain about 10 vignettes, all laid out in a similar fashion. Each begins with a short narrative illustrating the overall point of the episode. The narrative then segues directly into Szenderski’s intended talking point, where he builds upon the lesson the story served to illustrate. Finally, each short piece ends with a 1-2 sentence ‘Szenippet,’ wrapping everything up, truth bomb-style.

A whap-pet?

‘Szenippet.’ Yes, Mr. Brandman Szenderski is at it once again. Only a branding genius would figure out a way to insert his name into every single book chapter, multiple times. Without the repetition annoying the reader, to boot. Well played, Sir. Again.

Szenippets contain the moral or the takeaway from each episode, summarized concisely in 1-2 sentences. And these szenippets I speak of, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, are the absolute best parts of the book.

Read For Content, Save For Szenippets

You’ll want to bring a highlighter along as you read, trust me.

In Szen Zone, each vignette concludes with what Szenderski dubs “a szenippet.” These brilliant takeaways are consistently spot on and extremely profound. Many szenippets seem so simple, they should be obvious to every living human being on the planet. But alas, they aren’t. Why? Because people, in general, are unaware AF. More often than not, human beings frequently don’t look any deeper than exactly what they themselves see. Even Gary Szenderski says so (see szenippet p. 141, “The way we see the world is the only way that matters.”)

I am too-often guilty of lack of awareness beyond myself as well, BTW, though I’m trying real hard to change that. See? I’m already embracing positive change, even as I write this.

A Szenippet Sampler

Some of my favorite szenippets in Szen Zone include:

“If what makes you go, makes you sad, don’t go.”
This pretty much sums up why I left the corporate world to become a teacher! My corporate job made me sad. Very sad. So I took action, made a positive change, and haven’t regretted it in all the 13 years I’ve been an elementary public school teacher.

See that guy? He’s got my back, and I, his.

“With love in our heart, we never travel alone.”
This one is for my husband, Michael. Having his unconditional love gives me a security that I am fortunate to always be able to carry with me. Without him, I’d be lost.

“If you don’t know where to start, begin with how you want to end.”
This idea is how I get writing when I am stuck. This is also how I teach kids to attack math problems when they have no clue how to begin as an AIS math teacher. This strategy kicks ass in so many life situations, it’s invaluable.

“A decision is also a commitment to the intended result.”
I’m not a fan of making big decisions, just for this reason. Click here to read one big example why, in an article I wrote for House Beautiful last year. Thankfully, the result of that particular decision is something I can now both live with as well as in. But damn, ain’t this szenippet the truth? You hit the nail on the head with this one, Gary Szen.

My favorite szenippet:
“Thinking about doing something is the first step to getting it done; and usually the most important.”

These two ladies will always come first, my husband, second, and my dreams of being an adult fiction author, a distant third. I wouldn’t want it any other way, but I’m still gonna finish that GD book someday.

Man, I think a lot about continuing to write the adult fiction novel I started last summer. But life, and more specifically, responsibilities, just keep getting in my way. However, reading Szen Zone renewed my excitement for the fiction novel I’m writing, as much of the idea and advice I gleaned could be applied to my book situation. You see, I’ve been on chapter 4 of this book since last summer, even though I have the entire 3-book series outline etched firmly in my brain. My chapter 4 purgatory status is mostly due to a combination of lack of time to work on it due to family and teaching job constraints, and constant, near-obsessive revision that I need to learn to control when I do get a moment to play author.

But I’m always thinking about writing my book. Though thinkin’ ain’t everything, as evidenced in this szenippet, here:

“It serves no purpose to dream, and then not make some move to live the dream.”

Yeah I best get back on that book, and soon. Thanks, Gary Szen, for helping keep my dream alive, whilst giving me the kick in the pants I so desperately need to get movin.’ I’m on it, ASAP!

Final Thoughts

On second thought, maybe I will stop and smell those roses on my journey to change.

Gary Szenderski’s book Szen Zone is a ray of positivity in a too-oft negative world. Szenderski teaches his readers how to make positive changes in their lives through entertaining short narratives followed by his own gentle expositions and szenippets. A few times, Szenderski even shares intimate details about his own life to help illustrate his point, which I found quite courageous. His willingness to add personal details from his life to help other folks improve upon theirs, to me, added an air of genuineness and humility to his writing that you don’t often see from self-improvement book authors. Szenderski allows himself to open up to his readers, and by doing this, he show us that he is just as human as we are. This caused his likeability to skyrocket in my case, as it made a brilliant, knowledgeable, guy instantly more relatable to regular ol’ folks like yours truly.

Gary Szenderski’s prose is joyful and refreshing, a bright light in a sea of the hard reality called life. The book Szen Zone, by Gary Szenderski is an eye opener as well as a fascinating, uplifting read. For anyone entertaining the idea of making positive changes in their life, I enthusiastically recommend this book. It is indeed a 5-star worthy read, by a 5-star worthy author. Thanks for the good words, Gary Szenderski. Your knowledge and advice is much appreciated by this lady here.

Thank you so much for reading. Until next time!

Disclosure: The book was provided to the reviewer. All thoughts belong to the reviewer and have not been influenced.



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  1. Alright Jill, you made me blush with your comments. Much appreciated.



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