My Elleven

My experience and evolution as a survivor of the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. A poetic essay.

World Trade Center, Twin Towers, May 7, 2001

TW (Trigger Warning): 9/11. Honour yourself by prioritizing your mental health. Choose self-compassion and self-care.


The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY

Screaming all around, drowned out by the deafening silence of the unknown, wondering if this was my last bow. Curtain call? I didn’t know they’d fall. It was still too soon. Not the end. But I was ready for it as I asked for my creator’s forgiveness. I did not seek to stay for my own sake, but for my parents’ fate; who wouldn’t have recalled that I would walk through the mall to get from one tower and exit through the next as part of my morning stroll; who wouldn’t have known how to search for my body, or who to contact – perhaps nobody; who would have wondered what kind of way I moved onto the rest…of eternity. Would there be remains or just a void that could only be filled with pain? These, the only thoughts that felt sane as everything went shaky and hazy. I ran across the platform praying I wouldn’t soon transform into a worry then a memory. 

My living was to prevent their suffering. Running towards a beam of light, while my life was buffering. Heels when I normally wore flats and a heavy physicality because my body was that and with that, hastening my pace was the best I could do hoping I’d get through… to the street, through flying debris, to a landline.

Was this it? Was this all? I stood and watched the unknown fall. 

Burning airplane hubcap, drawing a blank — a temporary stop gap.

Front row tickets to the show. The sight of those escaping through their windows, their only way to go – down. And it went on and on like an abrupt ending to every song that started that day the same way. Maybe with a sense of possibility and play. But certainly not their last day, not doomsday.

I’m sorry I couldn’t save you when you passed by.
I bowed my head in prayer when you chose the best way was to fly.

“May peace be upon you,” I said. “May you return to the light from which you came.” May your consciousness be cradled as you grew your wings. When you closed your eyes for the next life to begin, so you didn’t experience a thing. Nothing that would cause any more terror, than deciding whether, or if, knowing your life’s only outcome was never. 

Severed ties from connected lives.
Broken dreams strewn about with unimaginable things. 

Thick plumes of smoke, tingling skin. Was this a cruel joke? What nightmare was I in? Some, only 20 years later I recall. Back then, I just stood there, stalled. Against the scraped sky, choking on tears, spirit aching, a yearning to reverse it, as if it was a script being rehearsed. What’s to come? Processions of an empty hearse. Bursts of emotion as wide and deep, as Mariana’s Trench. Going through the motions and all the above felt like eternity in a single moment. Later, would come that stench.

Momentum that said, “call mom.” Each time it went through as if the universe opened a direct channel and shielded me with a dome. Hearing the facts through the phone, from the television, thousands of miles between two places I called home. A home three time zones behind…

…and she couldn’t sleep tight, so she rested on the sofa and heard the only phones with the ringers on, otherwise silenced upstairs throughout the night.

“Flee”, she advised, as tears found new paths down my face, each in a race to create more space. “Walk away and don’t look back.” Not a peek over my shoulder. Getting further away, feeling the weight of a boulder. Anyone will say it was the perfect weather day, beautiful, but it just felt darker and colder. I could feel myself age 10 years older, I was just out college starting my life and, in an instant, it felt over.

I don’t recall my feet leading me.
It’s as if the footprints belonged to someone else who carried me. 

I was immune to the cacophony of the wretched sounds. Then came the frantic call, “Are you okay, can you see, did you find a place to duck, where must you be?!” Confused, I wondered why she was in extreme panic. “You can look now,” and I turned around to see one tower missing, not dismissing the fact that I felt like I was just there a few minutes back. I couldn’t fathom how I made such a long trek in a short while and I wailed. All I could do was cry on the quad of my alma mater’s campus surrounded by a few familiar faces who embraced me with their arms, shocked faces, and gentle graces.

 Then it swallowed me. Broken but whole. An undigested experience and immediately detested because I was brown. 

 “Who are you to speak of this pain?” some may say. “You lived.” But what kind of life is feeling dead inside, having to hide who I really am. My melanin and faith come from within. To conceal and pretend, felt like its own kind of end.

20 years and the hours and days that felt taken are now for me to reclaim. Knowing that prioritizing mental wellbeing and identity have always been a champions game. 

I am who I am. My values speak louder than bias ever can.

Decades of double. Still troubled by the status quo. The pressure to say yes when every cell of my being says no. My skin does not need to be thick. My body need not be thin. I can only win if I’m right within, thank you Lauryn Hill. 20 years I’ve kept it all in and it hasn’t felt right. More shining of my hues and neurosuphero moves. Bob Marley’s wisdom begs, “Everything’s gonna be alright.” 

Life is how we design it. Make it beautiful. Make it true.
Be the masterpiece of our own truth.

Let us never forget. Let the strength of who we are set our worth.

Keep singing your song uncaged.
No matter your age.
You are the sage of your destiny.
Be who you are and want to — just be. 

Blessed, as I release my story and rest. Grateful that my fate was full – of love and learning and listening to the voices around me, above me, and within me that said I am meant to be here, now. It is not curtain call. It is not yet time to take my final bow, but a vow to be my voice and that of others who don’t have this luxury of choice.

Salima

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Remix: 6 Lessons on Playing Smart and Failing Forward

Dug this one up from the archives, dusted it off and gave it a fresh polish — you might even see your own reflection in it.

1 #NoHustleWasted. The shortcut to success takes years to create. There’s no copy & paste formula for it and along the way you’ll fail. Good. Failure is an outcome not a brand. If we don’t fail smart, we can’t play smart or grow, so we remain stuck in the fallacy that more of the same means progress. It doesn’t. You’ll screw up. Own it and show up again.

2 Owning mistakes is not easy. It means being courageous and humble and leading outside your comfort zone (which also happens to be where the magic happens right?). If you find yourself with your desk in a box and a proverbial blank canvas, fill it with what you want to do, not with what you “should” do. Don’t should on yourself and don’t be afraid to colour outside the lines. Perfection is the enemy of human. And it’s cool to be human again!

3 “If you’re not giving back, you’re taking too much.” ~ Robin Sharma
This one is simple. Say thank you, ask how you can help and show up for others. Find opportunities do one of each, every single day. When you rock the hustle of serving beyond yourself, the universe will boomerang the goodness.

4 Chances are designed to be given and taken. Think of a time when someone took a big risk to invest in your talent as much you invest in yourself. Pay it forward. Keep taking risks on yourself. Stay swift in evaluating opportunities, ensuring fit for personal values and future aspirations. Be fearless + audacious when your gut says so and smart when you feel it’s not a win-win. Be Curious and Pivot (for best results, rinse & repeat).

5 Serve and Protect – Being generous with your knowledge is a form of service. In authentic relationships, where the level of social and emotional intelligence is high, this occurs with a spirit of reciprocity. Find these connections and cultivate them. Where there is not alignment, listen. There is always something you can learn – even if it is about what doesn’t feel right so you can be more agile in recognizing it next time. Your network amplifies your story and narrative – your brand. Practice safe brand.

6 Say No to Status Quo. Unless you’re set on building a brand that says “I’m the cookie cutter of the corporate world”, don’t be afraid to be different. Take on roles and initiatives that ignite, inspire and stretch you. Have the courage to be more of who you already are a bit more each day. I dare you.

One final thought: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is resilience – it’s constructed moment by moment. This is yours – it always has been and will always be.

What’s your top smarten-up lesson?

Lean Learning

It first happened in 2010 and then everyday thereafter. Emerging from my Master’s Degree in Adult Learning & Global Change and leaning into social media, I couldn’t connect the dots between 40 pages of a training workbook and 140 characters on Twitter. What troubled me was that I couldn’t un-see it. I still can’t. What troubles me even more is that as workplaces and organizations, for the large part, leaders can’t see it to begin with.

If how we consume information is increasingly lean, why aren’t we Lean Learning?

We spend most of our lives talking about lean bodies and budgets. We’re obsessed with it. We Photoshop and save pennies for it. Yet when it comes to learning, we pack on the details and filler. And then we retweet, repost or simply repeat facts at dinner parties like “Goldfish have greater attention spans than we do today.” GOLDFISH. Think about it – but you won’t be able to for too long because. Yeah. So why are we still elevating excess information when simple is not just sufficient, it’s just right?

It’s Complicated

Exactly, it’s way too complicated. Anything complicated in the workplace is the silent killer of innovation, ideation, and productivity. Yet we celebrate unnecessary details. We applaud terms that exemplify complicated like “matrixed organizations”. Then we use them in job descriptions and hope we get talent that can disrupt the matrix with their novel ideas and velocity. Lean Learning is part of the entrepreneurial DNA. Complicated learning says you don’t want to evolve, that you’ll die fighting for the status quo. This may have been cool in the 80’s or 90’s, and although stonewashed denim, scrunchies and audacious prints are reemerging as fashion trends, complicated will never again be in style.

This is Your Moment

Lean Learning is here to stay. It’s about moments of truth, of thriving, of clarity. Moments that propel entire days of finding meaning at work, of creating value beyond the boundaries of our own imagination limited by company imposed models & frameworks. Today, in the social era of limited time and excess consumption, employees need bite-sized pieces of social and digital knowledge that allow them to learn in a way that fits into their skinny calendar slots. This is how I define Lean Learning. It is being on the go and in the know and at its core are four key elements:


Learner as Hero – Save the day and increase self-efficacy on your own terms.

Micro Consumption – Learning that is lean and meaningful: short podcasts, 140 characters, 30-second videos, one-pagers, two-liners.

Social as Catalyst – Ideation through curation within and across social, mobile and collaboration technology.

Conscious Disruption – Showing up authentically, being fiercely curious, and raising the game by choice vs. prescriptive design.


Learning must be be lean and meaningful so that we can quickly consume, digest and apply it in real time, in real life to make a real impact on people as well as profit. In the world of work largely guided by an end goal of creating shareholder value, we often forget the need to create human value. Until robots run the world, this matters.

Stay Curious… 

 

Why Learning Should Be Open Source

If knowledge is not open source, we are running a dangerous experiment with the collective intellect of humanity.

 

At times the sound of the rain seemed to be louder than the crescendo of voices inside the coffee shop during the lunch rush; an enlightened irony of my conversation with a colleague about noise. Not the noise we hear with our ears, the one we encounter daily with our eyes and minds when we devour (or attempt to), massive loads of information. Words, ideas, images and infographics are pouring down upon us and we aren’t even protecting ourselves from ignorance with an umbrella of purpose.

 

 

Open-Source Learning

With social media and collaboration technology, ideas can now be analyzed, debated, deconstructed and reconstructed in ways entirely inconceivable in the prior era of elite-only learning. Social technology enables intellectual crowd-sourcing at its best. The validity of an idea in a single classroom is being tested in workplaces and communities in parts of the world where access to the Internet is the only source of formal education. Where disruption is the difference between surviving and thriving. Where being born in a slum means living in an ecosystem of micro-entrepreneurs. If it truly is about who you know, then it’s time to talk about how to get to know those people where they live, work and play. Open-source learning is the meeting of the collective mind.

 

Open-Source Ideas

What good is knowledge if it is only shared in the name of monetization? Are we that greedy to hoard possibilities to ourselves because we cannot in our own simple minds conceive of ways to create additional value? Unfortunately, yes. What’s frightening is that some of the most poorly designed content, curriculum, blog posts command top dollar. Sure, anyone can put pen to paper or connect their words to a keyboard. Writing is easy. Writing for influence is not. This requires you to facilitate expertise through social engagement rather than being the expert as author. The skilful content creator is expert as curator, engager and author. The master communicator is the invisible orchestrator of human engagement with knowledge. This is the single element that separates a ruckus from a symphony.

 

Noise Cancellation

Did you ever think that the spa days, mental health days, vacation in the mountains, digital detox/diets/sabbaticals could be avoided by simply choosing to produce and consume knowledge as it is meant to — in small bite-sized chunks with all the flavour minus the artificial fillers that are hazardous to our mind? I call this Lean Learning.

Is Your Organization Collaboratively Intelligent?

They say too much of something is not always a good thing – when you’re not being smart about it. Collaboration is no exception.

Is your organization collaboratively intelligent?

A Collaboratively Intelligent Organization has a culture of sharing, powered by thoughtful people, who access key knowledge, at the speed of need, amplified by community caring, so that in the flow of everyday work, ideas collide for good to create new forms of human and business value.