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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5 Steps to Being Fabulous in the Workplace and Beyond

It’s been an interesting few months as I’ve reconnected with parts of myself that I had shelved in favour of what I thought I should be doing, how I thought I should be living and who I thought mattered (on paper). The funny thing is, I didn’t think I was THAT person. After all, I’ve been doing work with clients and in a community around Authentic Leadership for the last few years. While part of the work of emotional intelligence is knowing we’re all at difference places in the journey towards being more of who we already are, I somehow managed to go missing-in-action. To find my way back I had to call myself out. When it came down to the moment of truth, the moment I looked myself in the minds eye and said “time to disrupt yourself”, I realized that meant something entirely different than what I had imagined. Disrupting myself meant being myself. Period.

 

Step 1

Know it. Be it. Share it. Own it. Tyra Banks, a fellow ‘word wizard’, has come up with the concept of “Flawesome” – owning oneself as awesome because of and not in spite of flaws. I finally started living this by staking claim to my truth in this blog postThat was Step 1.

 

Step 2

Prove your intentions to your self. I did this by entering the “I Have Great Genes” Plus Size Modelling Contest. I have 240 votes as of now and there are still four days left to cast a daily vote. Two hundred and forty times in a single week, someone has thought of me with respect and taken great care in their life to vote, and in many cases to share words of encouragement and support.  240 times – Thank YOU.

 

FriendshipJimMorrison

Step 3

Gain more clarity on what you bring to every encounter, professionally and personally. As a consultant and entrepreneur, this awareness has raised the game . No wonder I had a challenge identifying my brand and finding my voice through a website and blogging! I was on the path to digital ventriloquism. There’s a silent club of folks out there that are mouthing what others are saying then clicking their own publish button. Not rocking the Member’s Only jacket helped me discover some powerful things about myself:

  • I breathe to ideate, design, create, share, reflect and write. My best decision has been to surrender to this rather than fight the battle best suited for the gladiators of detail. It’s a hustle to remain focused on where I can create value with the greatest amount of ease and joy.
  • Sometimes the best course is not staying it. Sometimes its getting a GPS so I can focus on the joy of driving my dreams and arriving at my destination ready to rock n’ roll (so I don’t veer off course and join the workplace circus as a ventriloquist ;).
  • I’m finding myself being less and less concerned about the mundane of the Ivory Tower jungle and losing myself in the conscious chaos of the creative world instead.

 

MembersOnlyJacket

Step 4

Make it Happen. This is about the intentional hustle of getting sh!t done. Doing it. Writing, publishing, writing, publishing, being a better writer. Giving – thanks, gratitude, knowledge, time, resources, stories. Asking…with integrity and humility. I have to ask because if I don’t, I’m choosing to take the long-way when I’ve already found the shortcut – meaningful relationships.

Let it Happen. This is a difficult one because it means letting go of the people, opportunities and relationships that are not part of the new design, by trusting your gut and going with ease. If there’s no ease, I’m merely trying to wade in the water at high tide. It’s also about allowing things to align and embracing a great thing instead of resigning to complacency. If I don’t let the magic happen everyday, I won’t know a good thing if it showcased itself to me in flashing neon lights.

Step 5

 

  • …is happening at this very moment. I hit publish, you are reading this and I am thankful you are taking the time to listen in and tune in to yourself.

 

When Fabulous Has No Fear….YOU are possible.

Now go be great and let me know how I can help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

salimaname

#FabulousHasNoFear
#NoHustleWasted

 

 

A Day of Reflection and Remembrance

The World in Our Hands

“Democracy must be nurtured in ways that are practical and flexible. Pluralism must be embraced, so that it exists both in fact and in spirit. A diverse, engaged civil society will advance these values.”
— Excerpt, Where Hope Takes Root

Dear Community,

I’m a former New Yorker, a 9/11 survivor, and an Ismaili Muslim. I am blessed to have walked away that day, physically unharmed. But no matter how many years that pass, I will never forget the sight of all the falling stars we couldn’t catch. And sometimes on this day, I feel like I’m still trying to catch myself.

Embrace today. Love, hug, thank, be thankful and carry light in your heart for all of humanity that has and continues to needlessly suffer.

I am grateful for pluralism, freedom, and the friendships of the familiar & of the chance encounters that deepen my awareness about the responsibility of being human.

salimaname

 

#FabulousHasNoFear

My Top 6 Smarten-Up Lessons on Work, Life & Play

This summer marked the start to a new year in my life and I’ve been reflecting on how to shape the coming months. I’ve been very fortunate to have some fantastic experiences and opportunities. But it hasn’t been all “kittens n’ sunshine” though with the life lessons. Some of these lessons have been harder than others (way harder) and I’ve persevered because I’ve been surrounded by people who have believed in me, hustled on my behalf, and paved the way by sharing their own enlightened experiences. So in the spirit of paying it forward, here are my Top 6 Smarten-Up Lessons on Work, Life & Play:

#NoHustleWasted. The shortcut to success takes years to create. There’s no copy & paste formula and along the way you’ll fail. Good. Failure is an outcome not a brand. If we don’t fail, we can’t grow and 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.

Owning mistakes is not easy. It means being courageous and humble, and leading outside our comfort zone, which also happens to be where the magic happens. If you find yourself with a fresh blank canvas – fill it with ideas and don’t be afraid to colour outside the lines, perfection is the enemy.

“If you’re not giving back, you’re taking too much.” ~ Robin Sharma
I got something like 120 Happy Birthday messages on my personal Facebook page this year. Unheard of for me – I was overwhelmed and extremely grateful, and I responded to each one of them, individually. My personal messages were a way for me to say, “I see you, I hear you, I value you and I care.” Keep it real and give thanks, regularly.

Chances are designed to be given, taken. We can all identify a time when someone took a big risk to invest in our potential. Now gift it to someone else – pay it forward.  And if an opportunity comes your way, don’t let fear be a barrier. Be swift in evaluating the fit for personal values, culture and future aspirations and decide, quickly. Be audacious when your gut says so and smart when you know it’s not a win-win. Be curious – lead with this.

Serve and Protect – Being generous with your knowledge is a form of service and community building. 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. There are also those who seek to climb to success on the backs of others and we can’t avoid them entirely. So listen more and be selective in what you share that you haven’t already published. It’s a form of brand and intellectual property protection.

Say Hell No to Status Quo – Unless you’re dead set on building a brand that says “I’m the cookie cutter of the corporate world”, don’t be afraid to be different. Take roles that are interesting, volunteer where you can grow your knowledge, network and connections, and take on off-the-beaten path projects. Disrupt — I dare you.

Here’s the thing, we’re in this together, all of us. And since there is no instruction manual for life, the only way to Raise the Game is if we elevate our potential and stick together.

What are some of your best lessons learned in the past year? Share them below in the comments.

Human Potential and Pancakes

What does the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) have to do with being a leading lady? Everything.

“International” was the first multi-syllable word I learned to spell. I used to drive past an IHOP on my way to daycare and my dad had me spell it out daily as part of his “knowledge is everywhere, no excuses” campaign. I was four at the time. My father, who was a coach and a friend, was also my very first brand strategist; teaching how my culture, history, and gender – my story – were competitive advantages. I grew up being encouraged to educate myself because it was the one thing that could not be taken away from me by a man or an ineffective leader who didn’t align with the way I chose to show up. I believed I could do or be anything I wanted to, as long as it was rooted in my identity and values, and honored service to others along the way.

“When I grow up I’m going to be the Indian Oprah. My mom said I could.”

My parents have always been my role models. They came to Canada from East Africa in the early 70’s on the last plane out of Uganda in the Idi Amin era and relinquishing their retail businesses to a socialist government in Tanzania. They were in their 20’s and supported their families, sacrificing a formal education to make ends meet. At the age of 35, my mom single-handedly ran a new business and raised a newborn + two more children under the age of 10, while nursing my dad back to health from a quadruple bypass. The woman with the stylish knee-length boots and cape atop a skyscraper, wielding a certificate in secretarial studies and saving the world…is my mom. Being born and educated in the Western world with a Master’s degree, what excuses do I have? Apparently plenty.

My honorary degree in excuses.

I’ve had many of these uninvited houseguests in my head. Some excuses were engineered in the design studio of my mind– I’m not smart enough, thin enough, good enough or I need to be more like so & so. Some have been born from real experiences of marginalization based on age, gender, color or socio-economic status. It didn’t stop me, nor did failing remarkably many times. I’ve learned to “fake it till you make it” and that being underestimated is powerful because it always keeps you one step ahead.

Do we still face barriers as women of all backgrounds and cultures? Yes. We read stories about women who had to be pregnant in secret as they pitched their tech platforms. Or about leading ladies who are acknowledged more for their appearance than their intellect or achievement. While we may still get grounded in unhelpful ways like a plane delayed from takeoff, we are certainly more grounded today in ways that allow us the freedom to live our truth as women and leaders.

It’s taken me a few decades to stop hoarding excuses. To recognize that there is no direction but upward, outward and forward and that every path to meaningful success starts with looking inward. The journey has helped me realize that now is always the right time to ‘Show Up, Be Curious and Raise the Game’ ©. Today, I’m getting ready to share this with leaders and organizations to help them elevate their human potential in the 21st century.

“I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I’ve become. If I had, I’d have done it a lot earlier.” – Oprah Winfrey

Me too Oprah, me too.

This post was originally published on HR-Toolbox as part of the “Leading Ladies Series”.