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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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”.

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

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”.

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 on the Switch And Shift blog in the “Winning Employees Through Engagement” series.