Archive for Learning and Unlearning

The Morning After….Reflections from Yesterday

2014-06-24_13 29 30The morning after…


 Sitting in this large hotel ballroom yesterday gazing at Hillary and Bill Clinton do their thing on stage made me think about my parents.  In this thousand or more person plus audience, there I sat.  Daddy’s little scrappy girl, poor, and often ashy “Bobcat” was on the stage with some of the most affluent people in the world.  His poem of “I can’t is a pale, puny pimp,” was echoing in my head.  Mom’s spiritual wisdom passed down to me on a daily basis including one of her favorites, “so the last will be first, and the first will be last,” burned in my brain.  The culmination of these rapidly firing thoughts resulted in simply this…..  I have a heart filled with extreme gratefulness.

> It was shared on stage yesterday, that a child born to parents in the bottom fifth of the income distribution has a 7.5% chance of reaching the top fifth of the income distribution in the United States. The panelists, one by one, discussed what our parents and communities instilled into each of us.  You can’t let poverty, zip codes or stats control your destiny.  Education is still the #1 accelerator out of poverty.

What has slightly changed is that STEM education trumps all other education in terms of return on investment.  Women, as an example earn 92 cents on the dollar in STEM careers versus 77 cents today in non STEM jobs.  STEM jobs are growing 2X non stem jobs.

So, today, I get back on spread the STEM gospel grind. I focus on this moment; not the memory of what is in the past. I’m a steminist with the goal of helping one student at a time. My aim is to connect each student personally with the belief and grit of knowing they have the power to be and excel beyond their wildest dreams.

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Nelson Mandela's Prison, Robben Island

This is an inspirational piece to remind us that we all have the power to be our best.    Thought management is critical to this process and it will  require ”freeing of the mind.”  Drop me a comment regarding your thoughts on this topic.  I’d especially like to hear what’s shackling you and keeping you from being your best.  This is a great week to get off your “buts”  (as in excuses).


Freedom escapes us more times than not

Even without the ties that physically bind.

No chains on our feet. No prison walls.

Yet we are seriously constrained by our mind.

Freedom escapes us

During our strenuous efforts to please.

We seek to gain the satisfaction of others,

And in turn, cause ourselves to bleed.

Freedom escapes us

Too easily in our day to day.

And small decisions made hour by hour.

Choosing the opposite of our truth,

In a effort to suit others,

Results in relinquishing our power.

Freedom Escapes Us.

And what does power have to do with being free?

If we imprison our passions and dreams,

The power of being true to ourselves will slowly deplete.

We then live a story that is a replica.

And our gift to this world is not complete.

Freedom Escapes Us.

Written by Barbara H. McAllister ©

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Parenting Is A Lot Like My Day Job

You must admit that most of us are open to inspiration from any source. Inspirational breakthroughs are especially warranted when leading teams though challenging work or complex environments. Even with an attitude of openness towards trying new strategies, I never dreamed parenting a teenager would help me so much in my role at work. There is a deep reservoir of similarities. Here are just a few examples. You will be able to relate even if you don’t have kids because when you look in the mirror, you’ll be reminded of the kid you once were.

Transferable Knowledge:

 1) Change: A shift in behavior is not as easy as the owner visualizes in his or her mind. “Just don’t leave your dirty socks on the bathroom floor.” No matter how clearly the owner of the change sees value, there will not be a sustainable shift until the person sees value what’s in it for them. There has to be an upswing somewhere or a cost for not changing to get buy in.

 2) Training: Just because you gave training one time does not mean it will be done to precision immediately after the training has been done. “Son, this is the trash can, this is the bag that goes in it . Once the trash reaches this level, it should be emptied.” That sounds pretty clear, doesn’t it? Verbalizing training is one thing, PowerPoints are good, too, but getting someone to ownership is a whole different story. It may take several iterations of training and hand holding before the behavior sticks.

 3) Attention Span and Distractions: To get the mind share of a kid is really tough these days. On any day, the number of distractions is overwhelming. With ear phones on, texting in the right hand and updating a Facebook status on his netbook while completing homework, my son will declare if you are lucky. “oh, you said something?” This is true at work too. In the middle of meeting, keystrokes are pecking in the background and you’ll get. “can you repeat the question?” People are overwhelmed with content and overloaded and distracted with technology. You rarely have 100% of a person’s mind share. .

 4) The Right Information and Solution but Wrong Timing: Sometimes you can give your kid quality information like, “you know planning ahead on your homework assignments will prevent you from staying up all night.” In that moment, the information may not have an impact. Don’t assume because it wasn’t received the first time that it is impossible to be heard at a moment when the timing is better. If the information is the right information and adds value, stay focused and eventually it will coincide with the right timing.

 5) “No” is debatable sometimes:  Kids are never discouraged by “ no.” I love their resilience. No is never the end of the story for my son. It’s the beginning of new dialogue. Experiencing this with him has increased my persistence at work. Kids simply do not focus on the no; they focus on working on a solution that moves the conversation from “no.”  They keep working it creatively from different angles. Although sometimes no ends in a definite no, it is never personal and there is no fear about bringing the topic up again in the future.

 I’m sure there are many other similarities and some under construction, too. Share any similarities you have experienced between parenting and your day job. Watching my son grow up mirrors in so many ways how my projects grow up at work.

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There is so much to do!

This poem was inspired by our visit to Oriental Weavers in Cairo, Egypt. In this visit, the company shared the manufacturing process of bringing together 14 unique strands of thread in various colors chosen to create the rug master pieces we see in places like the Marriott, Home Depot, Target and other retail locations. I was also inspired this week by our local site host, Nada El Gammal. She has the energy of 20 expressos and the knowledge of ancient historians. Nada, Thank you for the insightful agenda that you put together for our team. You gave so much of yourself this week and we sincerely thank you!!!! We hope you get some much deserved rest post our journey back home. 

At Oriental Weavers standing next to a rug of Cairo's President

At Oriental Weavers standing next to a rug of Cairo's President

There is so much to do!

My heart is saying this out loud
As I pack my bags, ending our Cairo trip
There are children to be educated
And gaining skills that will have them better equipped.

There is world peace on the line.
We don’t have time to sit still.
Let’s share the core of what we experienced here.
No wars or weapons or violence in the streets.
We see beautiful human beings working so their families can eat.

What a great spectrum we’ve seen of the haves and the have nots
It’s now up to us to do our part.
The best of us will be those that give.
Rather than stay silent in our comfortable spots.

Our team is woven like an Oriental Weavers rug
Young Middle East ambassadors of truth, you’d might say.
Each one respresenting their unique strand.
Bringing a different perspective causing you to think a different way.

No need to stand alone.
There is so much to do.
We saw first hand the value of bringing many threads into one.
We have the talent of the million dollar loom.
With a call to action in our hands
Waiting for us to answer in alignment, “yes, we stand.”

We stand for sustained improvement, aligned objectives and results.
We stand to make a difference.
We didn’t travel all this way to take notes and complain.
We stand to collaborate on key issues that will bring about change.
Change that brings us together for the greater good.
Because woven together , we create an unbreakable foundation.
Strands out of alignment result in gaps to our nation.

There is so much to do.
And the doing starts with me and you!

Barbara McAllister
EOP (end of poem)

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Beyond Your Comfort Zone-Day 1 of my Middle Eastern Travel

<blog dedicated to my Business Fellowship Travel for the month of October. Pls follow me on this remarkable  journey.>

Advancement  in growth is often achieved when you are in situations beyond your comfort zone.    I’m just completing Day 1 of the Business for Diplomatic Action(BDA) Fellowship program.  BDA is a two way exchange between Arabs and Americans with the ultimate goal of breaking down stereotypes, better understanding each other’s cultures and building bridges to the world.  No, not all Arab women wear head wraps and not all Americans dine on fast food 24X7.

Today’s activities opened dialogue that will aid in this quest for the truth and clarity that we are more alike than we are different.  We are not one size fit all and our differences can be used to make us stronger. We have a wonderful group of fellows with so many different backgrounds.  I was frankly amazed at the various experiences, education and travel contained in one room.  We covered all kinds of topics as we were getting acquainted including head wraps or not, women in the work place in Dubai, who extends the hand shake first and locations where women do not shake hands with men.  True to form, there were vast differences in cultures between a south carolinian and fellows from Iowa that were worthy of discussion as well.  

It dawned on me that I have never traveled to Iowa.  Here I find myself headed to Dubai and Egypt; yet never traveled to Iowa.  I bet there is a ton of culture for me to experience in Iowa.  I’ll add that to my bucket list.

The factoids for today that resonated most are 55% of an opinion that people form about you in the first 30 seconds is based on how we look and more importantly 85% of your job success is connected to your people skills.

So getting out of your comfort zone may require us all to connect beyond our typical network.  I’m so excited about this program giving me that opportunity. I can already see that Dubai is the place where people move to work.  Just like many of us move from rural towns to work in more technologically advanced areas, Dubai seems to be very similar in that way.  In talking with a fellow from Cairo, Egypt, this was not an easy transition for her or her family but one where she experienced a ton of growth.

What are some ways today that you can identify with that may get you out of your comfort zone?  That’s where your growth resides.  Let me know what you come up with and I’ll be checking back in when I arrive in Dubai.

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5 Must Have Skills to Succeed At Almost Anything

 We are coming off of a pretty tough past couple of weeks with many families losing their loved ones. In my prayers this morning, I asked God for a less intense week on the emotional side so I can focus!  Although, it wasn’t my family, I could relate to the loss.

 Whether you are a Michael Jackson fan, puzzled by the Steve McNair mistress tragedy, touched by the fighting spirit of Farah Fawcett, or reflecting on a loss of your own; death brings about moments of introspection.  

 It is often during these times that we cut to the chase rather quickly on coming to terms with the reality of our own longevity.  It is during these times that we call into question our true meaning and purpose.  Many of us ponder if we are on track to our life goals or not. What are we on this Earth to do?

 All great thoughts to process; It is a great time to ponder and an awesome time to thank those in your life that you value and love.  Bring more focus this week to all of these things and begin to tackle challenges now that will make a huge difference in the quality of your life.

 Here are 5 key skills that you will need to pack along with you to succeed at almost anything including improving your quality of life.  There are many others but this is a solid must have set to get us up and moving towards our goals.

 1) Self Management“This above all, -To thy own self, be true!”   You must have a strong sense of your strengths as well as your weaknesses.  In minutes, you should be able to articulate what works for you and have the ability to quickly discern between what  a great working environment looks like for you vs a poor one.  We cannot run away from our weaknesses. Manage them too. Be honest about them and incorporate a plan around how best to manage them including calling in the experts when needed.   The better you know self, the better you will be able to choose ripe environments for you to excel.  It can be as simple as knowing your prime productive hours or as complicated as knowing the required Myers Briggs leadership style of your manager.   

2) Planning and ExecutionIt is golden to plan and platinum to act on the plan.  Your plan is just a piece of paper until you put some feet on the plan. Get that plan to walking! To be successful, you must have the ability to critically think, take in various pieces of information and translate all of that into an actionable plan both short and long term.  In parallel with planning is the execution.  It is crucial to act.  Actions separate the “wannabees” from the “get er dones!” 

3) Networking – Leaders that are the most influential, get the most done (results) and at the same time maintain high quality trust relationships are those who will have mastered the art of networking.  We were created to be in fellowship with each other.  We will not be productive long term in isolated environments.  A viable and healthy network can put your plans, ideas into action and in places where you personally cannot reach. Let your network help you achieve your dreams. Thank them often and try giving them more than you receive. 

4) An Avid and Active Learner – No one has to tell you how quickly things change in our economy. By the time you starting using your new cell phone, the manufacturer has released an upgrade.  Similarly, you want to be able to be just that flexible and agile as it relates to work.  When one program shuts down, everyone knows you can take on this new challenge because you saw it coming and was already preparing yourself in advance for the change. I know a custom builder that was excelling in the housing market builde craze of two years ago.  When that came to a screeching halt, it didn’t deter him. He took those same skills, transferred them and is now excelling at home renovations and other build projects. We have to stay on top of everything; learning, reading, exposure beyond your comfort zone and never feeling like you know it all will keep you poised well for success.

 5) Relaxing and Self Care – My brother, Marvin, would call this, “knowing when to hold and knowing when to fold.”  We have to prioritize our self care and relaxation as #1.  Stress is bad for you and bluntly, will kill you.  Being able to laugh and finding a way to manage yourself without injury even during your most stressful moments is a key to success.  According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the U.S. agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related illness and injury, 40 percent of workers reported their job was very or extremely stressful. This means we need to have readily available a fire proof way to fight stress.  Think of it as a stress extinguisher. Just as you would have one ready for fire, have one handy for stress.  You may need the travel kind that you can also carry on the road (smile!!) 

Here’s to a good week of introspection and planning.  Remember to secure that stress extinguisher if you do not already have one.  Let me know how things are going.  Feel free to share your top 5 or other skills missing from the list above. 

Cheers, Barbara

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Busting Through Unwanted Habits

Many of us have a strong desire to make positive change in our lives.  This change may take on the look of wanting to change our diet, clutter, careers, finances and even our relationships. 

We most often know in pretty exact terms what life would look like if we were able walk and live in this new light.   “If I can lose 10 lbs or exercise 3X per week or move from screaming daily at my son about his dirty bathroom.  If I could save $200/week or if I can shift to a new role in 12 months or if I can complete my degree?”

Why then is it so difficult to make a shift when our goals are clear?   

While it is difficult and complex to know all of the reasons, a large portion of the answer resides in the slow motion of our habits.  It is often in the root of our day to day tasks and activities.  

I’m a recovering shoes and clothes shop a holic.   It’s been one year now since I’ve made the shift from shopping for the XXXth pair of shoes to living with less volume.   It’s been a remarkable shift for me.  The change didn’t occur however until I took a deep dive and analyzed my habits and actions in really, really slooooow motion.  The intervention that shifted me closer to my goal was stopping me at the trigger point that initiated the urge for me to make a purchase.

Perhaps you can choose 1 habit this week that you’d like to shift to get you closer to your goals.  Try these steps and share your results with someone in 4 weeks and every 4 weeks after that until you have this new habit down for 90 days.  I’d love to hear your successes and failures.  And oh by the way, I am now working on personal change #2 – how to rid of mounds of paperwork.   My approach to this shift will be the same. Treat the challenge at its root,  be honest with myself about what I’m giving up by not making this shift and get moving toward the desired change.

 Step 1:  Acknowledge the habit you wish to shift and be clear and honest with yourself about why.  What’s bringing this to your attention right now?

Step 2:  Write down the cost to you if you do not shift away from this habit.  Answer this question. What’s the impact to me now if I do not change anything about this habit?

Step 3:  Visualize what success would look like and how you would know you are being successful?  I always like to celebrate wins too.  Be sure to include recognition goals for yourself as well.

Step 4:  Enlist the help of an expert, coach or consultant.  For ex, in my case, I utilized a closet organizer. We made some key agreements on the # of shoes I’d commit to only having, # of black pants, etc. etc.   This was a huge learning for me. Sometimes you just can’t go at these things alone.  You may want a personal coach or trainer as an example for expertise and added accountability.  

Step 5: Slow down and really think about what is triggering you to sustain this habit?  It will be easier to keep doing the same old same.  Begin journaling your thoughts in the moment.  For ex.  Every time I get the urge to buy another pair of shoes, I stop myself, review my goals of being clutter free.  Before buying something new, I am now automatically thinking through the item to throw out.  I operate under buy 1 item, throw 1 out.   You’ll be amazed at what you learn about yourself from this process.

 So, give it a try and keep in mind that one key to breaking an unwanted habit is to become closely connected to your thinking.  Increase your ability to focus in slow motion and with a big microscope at the habit’s point of origin.  This will aid you greatly in busting through an unwanted habit.

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It’s Plan Time. Develop A Plan for You!

In the next couple of months, many companies and organizations alike will kick off their 2010 planning and budget process.   Many of us are quite familiar with this process as we have either led these strategic planning processes for our organizations or we’ve provided necessary input many times over.

 While we do this for our companies and our big projects at work, many of us do not prioritize this very important annual exercise for ourselves and neither do we apply the same level of diligence in the planning for our very own personal goals or our longer term vision for ourselves.

What if you were asked about your company’s plan for the next quarter and in the same conversation asked about your own personal goals for the next quarter?  Many of us would be fluent on the company’s goals but would flounder on our personal goals.

Just supposed we took the same care and diligence this year to perform a strategic planning session for 2010 for us, for our personal goals.  What if we stopped to assess our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities or threats in the way of our personal success?  What if we simply stopped ourselves to reawaken the vision within us that we’ve allowed to stay buried underneath layers and layers of fear?  What if we took some positive steps in the direction of  realigning our day to day activities towards those tasks and habits that will move us closer to our longer term personal goals and dreams?

Try the following steps as a part of your upcoming budget and planning process for you!

1)  First, draw up your vision board or key vision themes of what you want success to look like in a finite period of time.  Start with over the next year just to ensure the goals are tangible.  You may want to ask yourself some key questions that will aid you with your vision.  Ex.  What would I be doing if I knew I could not fail?  What am I crazy passionate about?  If I am being successful in 2010, what would that look like?

 2)  What are 3 things I can do in the next quarter that would move me closer towards my success goals? 

 3)   What does my support structure need to look like that will enable a faster speed and steady path toward achieving my goals?  Who or what things do I need to move out of the way that are no longer serving me?  Are there habits that need to be broken or new habits that I need to create to aid me in my journey towards getting closer to my end state goals?

 Once you’ve completed these 3 steps, consider enlisting a coach or a support buddy that will keep you on your toes and inquire frequently about your progress.  You do not want to share your vision with just anyone.  Make sure it’s someone you trust versus a vision buster. 

 This will be a great first start towards you moving closer to your dreams and I wish you well as you start this very important journey. 

 Unless you have a definite, precise, clear set of goals, you are not going to realize the maximum potential that lies within you. -Zig Ziglar

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