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?

Leaders, Time to Get Your Shift Together

In a time of scarcity, the greatest abundance is the plentiful of being more of who we already are.

Today’s leaders own a lot. We are responsible for a continuum that has the bottom line on one end, and on the other, cultivating conditions for the organization to thrive during times of uncertainty. We must empower our people to reach beyond the boundaries of imagination to enhance the customer service experience and develop innovative products and services. 21st century leaders are tasked with engineering an ecosystem of hope in the workplace and beyond. This is challenge of the new engagement paradigm.

In the new engagement paradigm, conversation is the catalyst for every shift

I believe designing a space that betters organizational and individual life while driving business excellence requires 5 key shifts.

1. Openness ⇒ Truth

Open-door approachability is no longer enough. Leaders must shift engagement from providing opportunities for autonomy, to creating a culture of authenticity. Once we recognize our truth as leaders – who we are when at our best, and we own it, we can begin to understand how to consciously influence engagement in a way that matters.

2. Values ⇒ Voice

It’s time to stop talking about what connects us, and to start talking to each other about why we’re connected and exploring how it shows up as a strength in the workplace. This shift is a trust-building exercise.

3. Performance ⇒ Play

Employees are hired to perform on time and on budget in agreement with the essential job duties they signed up for. This also grooms them to have one foot out the door. The leadership call to action is to be in the relentless pursuit of emotional, spiritual and financial profit. Happiness improves the bottom line.

We must empower our people to reach beyond the boundaries of imagination to enhance the customer service experience and develop innovative products and services.

4. Dream ⇒ Dare

The impetus for implementation is shifting from creativity to bravery. Thanking your talent for being bold enough to push fear of failure aside is just as important as ideating. Curating courage to do things differently is what organizations need to transform brainstorming to building.

5. Embrace ⇒ Exchange

If we look at adoption to change as a physical action, it’s opening our arms to invite and welcome. However, as we seek to grasp and hold onto this new way of being, we end up using our energy to guard and protect what we’ve learned. It’s just as important to find ease in extending our willingness to share, as it is in accepting knowledge. Organizational resiliency lives in these exchanges that harvest collective intelligence.

Hope is not the expectation that things will turn out well, it is the belief that there is meaning no matter how things turn out. Vaclav Havel

In the new engagement paradigm, conversation is the catalyst for every shift. It starts with the one you have with yourself (personal truth), then with your talent (leadership truth) and with your customers (brand truth).

When you are clear on your truth as a leader, tell it to five people outside the boardroom and empower them to pay it forward to another five. As this exercise unfolds, the circles of truth will begin to overlap and the dotted lines will disappear. What will emerge is a sense of community weaved together through storytelling, ownership and trust. This is where the organic flourishing of an ecosystem of hope begins.

The new engagement paradigm starts from within.


This post was originally published as part of the Winning Employees Through Engagement series on SwitchandShift.com – a leadership blog and community dedicated to the “Human Side of Business”.

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