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Be Bold in 2012!
(January 1, 2012)

My husband and I took the kids to his parents in Enugu for Christmas, and after a week of eating and touring places where Daddy grew up, the kids and I were ready to get back to Lagos to prepare for the New Year.  We headed to the airport on the 27th only to be told that our flight had been cancelled because of bad weather (severe harmattan season + terribly old planes without sophisticated landing equipment in low-visibility situations = no flights)!  After a second cancellation on the 28th and a realization that flights had been cancelled five out of the last seven days, we began to think of alternative ways to get to Lagos.  My husband and father-in-law began to sell the idea of road travel to me and I fought to curb the rising tide of panic in me.  

After years of hearing tragic stories of accidents, armed robbers and kidnappers, I had developed a solid fear of road travel in Nigeria and usually opted to fly or not travel at all.  I had never even travelled by road to the nearest neighboring cities from Lagos so the thought of crossing 5 or 6 states with my children in the car sounded dangerous and foolhardy to me.  My father-in-law took great pains to assure me of a van service he'd used several times before to Abuja because they were most professional (left on time so they could get to their destinations before dark, hired well-trained drivers and equipped their vehicles with alarms that went off whenever the speedometer went past 80).  When the airline told us they could not guarantee a flight the next day or a seat on the flight if there was one, I agreed to travel by road and began to pray.

We had been told the journey would take approximately 10 hours, give or take 2-3 hours based on traffic, which could be horrendous at this time of the year, so we set out early the next morning.  About 30 minutes into the journey, I began to relax and get excited as the kids pointed out some of the places we had seen on our way to visiting my husband's village a few days before.  Midway into the journey, I was in high spirits, taking pictures of landmarks I had only ever read about, like the River Niger that gave the country its name, and wondering why we'd never done this before!  It was a wonderful geography lesson for the boys and me! Plus, we kept stopping to buy the freshest fruits and vegetables we had ever seen at ridiculously low prices.  It was absolute fun and there wasn't even one "are we there yet?" from the kids!  There was barely any traffic so we made it into Lagos within 7 hours and we were home in another 20 minutes.  As we climbed out of the van in high spirits, I made my first New Year resolution right there: that 2012 will be a year of bold steps and amazing leaps of faith!  I am energized by the possibilities and hope you will join me in stepping boldly into 2012! Let's shake off the fear together and climb to new heights in our career, relationships and faith.  Happy New Year! 

 
Sit at the Table
(February 18, 2011)


I went back for my annual class at Harvard Business School (scroll two blogs down for clarification) three days ago and was surprised by how different this group of students was from last year's group and particularly from my class at HBS.  In my day, most of us were more concerned about landing plum jobs and launching successful businesses and our questions to guest speakers revolved around that.  Not so with this group -- they asked me questions about personal happiness, work-life balance, how to choose the right partner and what to do when children entered the picture.  One student (a male student no less!) even went so far as to ask me if I had developed a perfect solution to the work-life balance dilemma that I sold to clients.  I smiled at that and told him that there was no perfect solution (unfortunately) but that each person had to figure out who they were and what worked for them.

When I noticed that a lot of the young women who were asking about this were not yet married (some didn't even have boyfriends), I remembered a TED conference video I watched online, in which Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Google) talked about some young female colleagues being so concerned about work/life balance that they pulled themselves back from the best jobs/promotional opportunities before they even got pregnant.  At that point, I had to switch gears and start talking to the students about following their passion.  God forbid I leave them with the impression that they should seek mediocre opportunities just so that they wouldn't have to choose between work and children some years down the road!

So today's blog is dedicated especially to the young professionals and grad school students who are asking themselves these questions about the future.  Here are some strategies that I have seen work with clients:

First, follow your passion.  What do you love to do?  It is important that you base your career decisions on what you like to do because when you do start having children and the work/life struggles begin, it will be important that the time you spend away from your family is spent on meaningful work that fulfills (and challenges) you.

Second, choose the best possible partner, someone who believes in you even more than you believe in yourself.  If you are dating someone whose favorite pastime is to belittle you, lose them fast.  You want someone that respects you, is fully supportive of your career and willing to come up with flexible solutions when issues arise.

Third, perform at your possible best!  This is critical -- hit the ground running from the first day you join your company and volunteer for stretch assignments.  Develop a reputation for excellent performance and be the go-to person for something.  This will become your collateral when you start having children and want to ramp down for a while -- the company will be eager to retain you and you will have more flexibility to design your work schedule around your family's needs.

Finally, when the time comes to have the work/life balance conversation, know what you want.  Don't look to your company to design something for you -- instead, think about realistic win-win strategies that would work for your family as well as your company and get some senior people's comments and buy-in before you present it through official channels.  Don't make the mistake that I've seen most clients make, which is wait until you're drowning and someone complains about your declining work performance before you face your reality.

I chose to title this blog "Sit at the Table" because Sheryl mentioned how she would often go into important meetings at Facebook and notice the men at the table and the young women sitting against the wall.  This is something that bothers me too when I go to client meetings -- young and inexperienced as I was at Goldman Sachs and Nickelodeon, I always made a point to sit next to my bosses at important meetings and I believe that it is part of what made my experience at both places remarkable and what gives me the confidence to call on mentors I developed around those tables today.  I also use it as a metaphor -- when it comes to important life decisions, make sure you're sitting at the planning table and making decisions jointly either with your spouse or with your boss.  After all, this is your one wild and beautiful life!


Connect with Your Resourceful Self
(July 15, 2010)

Right from my first coaching class in 2006, I’d been introduced to the concept that everyone has all the resources they need to achieve all their goals, and I have successfully coached hundreds of people based on that assumption.  However, it was during a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) workshop that I fully realized what that meant.  While learning about Ericksonian hypnosis techniques, I was actually able to communicate with different parts of my subconscious that had perfect answers to issues that have been plaguing me for years!  Talk about a mind blowing experience!  I was buzzing for the rest of the day and my kids, who had no idea why Mom was in such a great mood, got swept up by my positive energy and allowed me to practice some of my new-found techniques to get them to get along with each other and get everybody to bed on time.


Growing up as the youngest of five children, I was quite competitive – always striving to be the best at everything so as to get and keep the attention of my parents.  That attitude remained with me even after I left home and moved to the United States for college and, later, for work.  I strove to gather as many “high-achiever” resources as possible and went to school and work only at the best possible places – McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Harvard Business School, Nickelodeon.  The first reality check came in when I started having children and realized that there was no “best” manual for raising children – I just had to rely on my natural instincts and hope for the best!  Then the push-pull of being the best employee at work and best mom at home got too much for me and I lost my zeal for the fast track.  This caused a wave of identity crisis that landed me on a coach’s couch!  My coach forced me to take a really good look at myself and something finally clicked. I fell in love with coaching and haven’t looked back since!


There are still some days though when challenges present themselves and I forget to look inward for the resource I need to come up with appropriate solutions and I waste time running from the situation or from myself.  Eventually, I calm down and begin to pray and meditate, and often the right solution pops up.  I didn’t realize how this happened until my NLP class today.  That we have been so fearfully and wonderfully made that everything we need is right within us can be hard to believe sometimes when we’re going through the worst trials, but it is the simplest truth!


Are you going through a trial right now or need to make a difficult decision?  It is time to stop running to everyone you know for advice and to start believing in your ability to solve your own problems.  It can start with something as simple as taking 10 or 15 minutes a day to meditate.  The word “meditate” may sound intimidating, so think of it simply as quiet time.  Waking up ten minutes earlier each morning to relax, quiet your mind and go inward will do amazing things for you.  If you’re having trouble, try to focus on one thing like how your breath goes in and out or what your fingers are doing.  If you’re religious, you can read a verse that means something to you from the Bible, Koran or Torah before your quiet time, but then put it away and remove all distractions as you focus more on your spiritual energy.  Do this everyday, and you will be surprised at just how resourceful you can be!



Just Who Are You?

(February 19, 2010)


Every year in mid-February, I go back to the Harvard Business School classroom, where I sit at the back and watch as 80 or so second-year students analyze my life as they discuss a video case about me that they watched the previous night.  It is a nerve-wracking experience because I never know what to expect, having sat in that same chair years ago analyzing other case protagonists and either praising their wonderful business acumen or condemning their foolish acts that led to the destruction of their businesses.

 

Thankfully, I usually come out of those sessions with a great deal more insight and optimism about my life which I see as a random set of choices, but which these students connect into logical patterns that got me to where I am today. 

 

Two days ago during this year’s class, the professor asked a closing question, “If you were a venture capitalist, would you back Simi?” and many heads nodded with one male student saying, “I would totally invest in her because of the passion and tenacity we see displayed in this case.  She seems to always get what she wants, and that smile would charm the pants off anyone!”  The entire class laughed in agreement and I thanked God that I was a Black woman so they couldn’t see the evidence of my deep blush.

 

The class gave me food for thought as I left Boston for Atlanta where I was to conduct an all-day workshop on Emotional Intelligence (popularly referred to as EQ) the next day.  I had learned a lot about myself that day and the first and most critical piece of EQ is self-awareness.  At some point during the workshop, I asked the participants, “If I were to ask five people who work closely with you what your greatest strength is, what would they say?  What about if I asked for the thing that you consistently do that hampers your achieving your best?”  The room was so silent for so long that I began to wonder if I had just bored everybody to sleep!  Finally, a few of them admitted that they had never looked at themselves from other people’s perspectives before and were not quite sure of the answers!  That was all the encouragement I needed to spend the day drumming into them the importance of self-awareness.

 

How we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us in the workplace can be very different.  There are many clients that have looked stunned after I delivered results from a 360-survey about them to them.  One particular woman was shocked to hear that she was perceived as timid by several colleagues because she was “usually a fireball” at home, but went out of her way to restrain herself at work lest she be labeled “an angry Black woman.”

 

It is necessary to stop and seek feedback often from colleagues, friends and even family because it is the only way you can get the true picture of how the world sees you, and this either provides the impetus to change for the better or the encouragement to play to a particular strength that you didn’t even know you had!  Now I know, if I decide to seek VC funding, I just need to send them the Simi Nwogugu case from HBS ahead of time and be prepared to go into the meeting with a big smile!


Guilty as Charged

(November 25, 2009)


I was in Memphis, Tennessee earlier this month waiting to give a lunch keynote address at a client’s women’s forum when one of the participating women walked up to me and asked me where I was from. I paused because it is a tricky question, given my slightly complex situation. After some back and forth, we determined that my home is in Lagos, Nigeria (where my husband and kids are), my work is in New York City (where my office is) and my clients are all over the place. She looked at me with great concern and said, “That must be so hard for you, being away from your kids so much.” I started to explain that I really wasn’t away from home that much when she was called away and I was left feeling like an inadequate mother.

I looked at the time on my phone and wondered if I could squeeze in a call to Nigeria before my session started. By the time I woke up in my Memphis hotel room that morning, my boys were already at school so I started to feel guilty that I hadn’t spoken to them that day. But just then lunch was announced and I had to take my place at a table and eat quickly. The lovely young man given the task of introducing me took a seat beside me to go over my bio and he introduced me to the woman sitting beside him. By the time he finished describing my wonderful life, his companion turned to me and said, “That must be so cool! To get to live in your country with your kids and still have the opportunity to travel and work whenever and wherever you want! That is the kind of balance I’m looking for.” By the time I was called to the podium, I was walking on air.

During the Q&A session that followed my keynote address, one woman asked how to deal with what she called ‘the working woman’s guilt’ and I gave her my automatic answer: that guilt comes from two things: not living with intention and measuring yourself by someone else’s yardstick. If you know you are living the life you want to lead (e.g., I am working because I love this job and I want to be in a financial position to provide the best for my family) and you are not comparing yourself to someone else (that stay-at-home mom who bakes the best cakes, is best friends with my kid’s teachers and knows all the names of the kids in his class), it will be much easier to squash guilt whenever it raises its ugly head. Then I paused and confessed that guilt never fully goes away, even for me, but knowing what I want for myself and my family and taking active steps to build that life helps me deal with that monster.

Later that day, on my way to the airport, I thought about my earlier conversations with women #1 and #2 and smiled. Talk about half empty versus half full! It is amazing how often we let other people’s extreme perspectives of our lives color our own perspective. My friends with full-time 9-5 jobs introduce me as a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) because of the amount of time I get to spend with my kids on weekdays and the SAHMs in my sons’ schools are horrified by what they think is my hectic travel schedule. The truth is often somewhere in between. I am home with my kids a lot more than I am away (thanks to a profession that’s phone- and email-friendly) and when I am away, I do miss them, but I know they are being spoiled rotten by Grandma and Dad (who doesn’t travel when I’m traveling) and I have nothing to worry about. It is the perfect work-life balance for me, but once in a while, someone like woman #1 comes in my life and makes me question myself. That is when I have to stop and remind myself, “I chose this. When it doesn’t work anymore, I’ll choose to live my life another way, but for now, it works and I’m loving it.”

What's your perspective?



What Does It Mean to Be True to Yourself?

(August 24, 2009)


This was a question I was asked last month.  I had just finished facilitating a leadership workshop at the Working Mother conference for Best Companies for Multicultural Women in New York, and the advice repeated most often throughout my workshop (and the rest of the 2-day conference) was “be true to yourself.”  After my workshop, a seemingly frustrated young lady came up to me and asked, “What does 'be true to yourself' really mean? I hear it all the time and I don’t know what it means!”  I asked her to join me at my lunch table so we could discuss further.  Luckily, I had just developed a presentation on that topic for another workshop I did two weeks before so I was able to give her something more than a lunch time pep talk that day.


Her question stirred something in me though because not everyone is able to voice their exasperation with today’s catch phrases like “be true to yourself,” “find your passion,” “cultivate your brand,” and many others, which only succeed in frustrating people who are looking for direct advice.  So I decided to dedicate this month’s blog to the question of being true to yourself, otherwise known as being authentic.


According to Bill George, author of True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, the journey to authentic leadership begins with understanding the story of your life.  Many of the leaders he interviewed for the book reported that their motivation for leadership came from a difficult experience that shaped their lives.  I find this to be true with my most passionate clients.  A senior executive Latina client of mine once told me, “Every time I face a new challenge at work and feel like complaining, I remember how much my parents sacrificed to get me into the United States when I was young.  I was six years old and did not speak a word of English when I left Nicaragua, but I remember my mother’s determination that I would not end up cleaning people’s homes so she did everything she could to get me where I am today.  I don’t intend to throw it all away because of some minor challenge.”  She is not only a senior executive at a major financial institution, but she has also won numerous awards for her contribution to the Latino community, particularly in the area of literacy for young girls and women.  What fantastic motivation!


What is the story of your life?  What are the defining moments that make you stop, assess who you are, who you want to be and take the first steps to put your plan for yourself into action?  Another client of mine mentioned that her defining moment was when she found herself pregnant at age 17.  At that point, she was the rebellious daughter of a young single mother who resented their hard life, and the pregnancy woke her up to the fact that she was destined for the same life if she didn’t stop rebelling about the present and start working on her desired future.  Now in her 40s, with three children and a position in senior management, she maintains that her first son is still closest to her heart because it was his pregnancy that made her turn her life around.  In addition to raising three children and managing a large team in a demanding environment, she is an active volunteer with women’s shelters particularly those serving pregnant teens.


I use these examples because these are two authentic leaders.  They don’t hide from a painful past but instead use it to fuel their future.  Many of us are so used to trying to fit in or measuring ourselves by someone else’s yardstick that questions like “what’s your passion?” and “what are your deeply held values?” draw a blank stare or a dismissive statement such as “I don’t have time for such soft stuff.”  But it is this so-called “soft stuff” that brings out our authenticity – the person we were born to be.  And until we stop running away from who we are, we won’t be able to start the process of getting to who we want to be.


Learning at the Elbow of a Master

(July 16, 2009)

 

I collect mentors like other people collect stamps so I was thrilled when a client asked me to develop a guide for mentoring minorities recently.  I had such fun putting the guide together because it really made me appreciate the people in my life who have been instrumental in getting me where I am.  At every single job I’ve had, I have identified someone to admire and emulate, either close up or, more often, from afar.  However, there are a few role models/mentors that stand out from the pack because of the impact they had on my life during my formative years, so I am dedicating this blog to their honor.  Please indulge me.

 

First is Susan Taylor.  She was Editor-in-Chief of Essence when I interned at the magazine the summer after my sophomore year in college.  She had such a warm and loving aura that I tried to be in her presence as much as I could that summer.  I would walk by her office and if she happened to be in there and not busy (which wasn’t often) I would knock on her open door and find some excuse to go in.  She always welcomed me with a hug.  I asked her all sorts of questions about writing and running a magazine business, about when she would take Essence to Africa and about what life lessons she had learned from being a single mother.  I loved the fact that she always had TIME for the interns (and I was not the only one fawning around her that summer).  I was so sad to leave Essence that summer that I went back to MHC and spearheaded an effort to bring Susan Taylor to campus to speak to the students of color there.  I still remember the inspiring chant she left us with that day, “Give yourself to yourself before you give yourself away.”  From Susan, I learned the importance of doing work that I love and being generous with time for people who look up to me.  I became a much better listener to my friends and practiced developing my own warm aura.  Those things are what help me establish instant trust and intimacy with potential clients and make me a better coach.

 

Second is Pamela Thomas-Graham.  She was the highest ranking African-American woman (woman of color, period) at McKinsey & Company when I interned there the summer after my junior year in college.  That summer was my first introduction to business.  Though Essence was a business, I approached that internship with the lens of an aspiring writer so my McKinsey summer was my first exposure to corporate America (or at least to providing professional consulting services to corporations).  There was much to learn and in Pamela I found the perfect teacher.  The day I got staffed on a project with her is one I still remember vividly.  It was my first week at McKinsey and I was lounging around reading a story about Pamela Thomas-Graham and admiring a photo of the firm’s “most likely to be first female African-American to make partner” when the staffer called to tell me about a project with her!  I would have laughed at the coincidence if I wasn’t trying so hard to be professional.  At the first team meeting I attended, I tried to focus on what the project was but I couldn’t take my eyes off Mrs. Thomas-Graham.  She was so polished and so smart!  Her hair was perfectly coiffed, her nails perfectly manicured, and her voice clear and authoritative.  While I didn’t feel the rush to hug her like I did with Susan, she also had a calming disposition about her, which I suspected came from a deep confidence in herself and her abilities.  You don’t get a dual degree from Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School and not know a thing or two about confidence! 

 

I worked very hard that summer to impress Pamela and was over the moon every time she praised my work.  I learned as much as I could about business from her and jumped at a chance to go to lunch with her any time the opportunity presented itself.  At those lunches, I saw a different side of Pamela, a more relaxed side that told me stories about her personal life and gave me advice on my future.  She weighed in on my quandary about whether to attend business school or law school (since she attended both) and heavily influenced my decision to choose business over law (according to her, the best thing she got out of law school was her husband, whom she met there).  From Pamela, I learned the importance of being prepared for meetings and for exuding confidence.  When we met with the client or with the senior partner on the project, Pamela sounded so brilliant that you could (almost literally) see them putting aside any biases they may have had when a Black woman walked into the room and leaning forward to (almost literally) eat out of the palm of her hand!  After I left McKinsey, I heard that Pamela had made partner then given birth to a baby and taken time off to write a mystery novel!  My heart swelled with joy for her.  It was one more thing that drew me to her -- my desire to write novels and live a balanced fulfilled life as a successful businesswoman and mother could be possible because here she was living that life.

 

The next two are men.  White men.  Tim Ingrassia was a Managing Director when I joined Goldman Sachs as an Analyst upon graduation from college.  He was of a rare breed of MDs – one of the few people who had risen to the top from the position of Analyst without ever leaving the firm to get an MBA from a top business school.  And he was the smartest MD I worked with while at Goldman.  He had the uncanny ability to look at a valuation analysis I just spent all night crunching out and tell me exactly what I did wrong in five seconds flat!  It was unbelievable and it brought out my best work.  Tim loved presenting difficult quantitative analysis in simple pictures for clients to understand so I would spend extra time creating nice charts to impress him (and, in turn, the client).  I loved doing it because, unlike many other MDs or senior VPs, Tim showed genuine gratitude for hard work.  He also cared about the Analysts in a way that the other MDs didn’t, perhaps because that’s where he started his career at Goldman. 

 

I remember when things seemed to be blowing up in our group and my friends in the Analyst class quit one after the other.  It was 1997 and I was in the Communications, Media and Entertainment Group, which prior to that year had been a small group.  Everything changed that year when communications blew up (too many telco operators to name suddenly appeared on the horizon), the Internet blew up (my group started talking to eBay about taking them public) and entertainment giants seemed to gobble each other up at every turn.  The few analysts hired into the group were completely overwhelmed and we grew accustomed to not going home until the wee hours of the morning only to return to work a few hours later.  This took its toll and my two closest friends in the group quit very soon after our first year.  Tim was the only MD who noticed and he called me into his office to mention his concern that I was on my way out because he knew those girls had been my comrades.  He offered himself as a mentor and asked if there was anything he could do to make my experience in the group better.  After a tongue-in-cheek request for an Analyst evening off to go see Janet Jackson in concert using the Goldman sky box at Madison Square Garden (which he granted), I told him I didn’t mind the work as long as it was interesting and meaningful.  After our conversation, I got staffed on great projects (including an awesome BET project that led to my meeting Denzel Washington!) and relied on Tim for support every time I needed it.

 

The other Goldman Sachs mentor was George Foussianes, a senior VP in the Mergers & Acquisitions group when I was there.  I worked on a project with George in my second year when it is typically time for Analysts to decide if they are doing a third year or going to business school.  I couldn’t decide and George was great at helping me figure things out.  When an opportunity to return to Nigeria to start a non-profit presented itself and I spoke to George about it, he encouraged me to explore it.  We had a British client at the time and he said he would look the other way if I disappeared during our next trip to London for a few days to explore the Nigerian opportunity.  I was so grateful for his encouragement that I stayed in touch with him long after I left Goldman Sachs.  In fact, when I decided to apply to business school three years later, George was the first person I called to discuss my decision and he offered to write a recommendation later to Harvard.  From George and Tim, I learned that there was no substitute for great performance.  Because I had proven myself to them by my hard work, they gave me much more leeway to do non-traditional things than they may have otherwise.  I also learned that my mentors and role models did not have to be the same gender or race as me as there was much to learn from every competent human being in the world.

 

I have met many more mentors over the years, including my HOD advisory board members, some of whom remain my most loyal clients to date, but these four people were crucial in my formative years because I still carry a piece of each of them to every client project.

 

Who are the mentors in your life?  Please take a moment to recognize and honor them today.  And if you need advice on how to ask someone you admire to be your mentor, do not hesitate to call or email me.



Follow Your Compass Not Your Clock
(April 11, 2009)

At the Catalyst Awards conference last week, Avon CEO Andrea Jung talked about a time when she was passed up for the CEO job.  Then she was #2 at Avon and was the clear frontrunner for the #1 position, but when the board decided to hire someone else, she was extremely disappointed.  She said she received several tempting offers to become CEO at some other companies (some even larger than Avon) but when she discussed it with a mentor (another female CEO of a Fortune 500 company) she was given the advice, “Follow your compass, not your clock.”  She thought about how much she loved working for Avon and decided to stay and not long after, she got the top job.


Andrea’s story moved me because I work with so many women whose eyes are on the clock.  Just this week, I was talking to a friend of mine who suddenly got a wistful look in her eyes and talked about something she’d been dreaming about and wished she could do.  I couldn’t see what was stopping her from following this new career path, but she said, “Oh but it would take me two years to do all the research and get the credentials I need to do it successfully.”  And when I asked, “So what?” she replied, “At my age, I can’t just blow off 2 years like that! I should be at a point in my life where I am bringing in stable income for my family.”  Bingo! Eyes on the clock.  By the end of our conversation, she realized that 1) she would be so much happier in this new career that her family would support her 100%; 2) a lot of the skills and credentials she had in her current job were transferable to the new career path so it would probably take her less than two years; and 3) she was the only one standing in her own way by measuring herself against some invisible yardstick of what people her age should be doing!


Though I am very good at helping people see these self-limiting beliefs in themselves, I am not so good at it for myself sometimes.  I often catch myself complaining about all the things I have on my to-do-list that I haven’t accomplished then I stop (sometimes with help from my coach, sometimes with help from God) and think about everything I have accomplished and how grateful I am to have a family that loves and supports me no matter what and a job that I love so much that most of the time I don’t even realize I’m working!  That’s when I realize that I am following my compass and you couldn’t pay me a million bucks to "follow my clock"! [Ok, well, maybe a billion.]


Are you following your compass?



The Tension of the High Achieving New Mom
(April 3, 2009)

I have received a lot of comments on an article I wrote for The Glass Hammer recently, so I decided to add a link to it here.  Enjoy, and let me know what you think!


Making Time for Games
(February 4, 2009)

A couple of days ago, a friend forwarded an email to me from the creators of Playsavvy.com, a new gaming site for moms.  They were looking for a few clueless moms of gamers looking to get educated about video gaming.  I was neck-deep into designing curriculum for two new clients and badly needed a break so I volunteered myself and went off to AOL’s Video Gaming Boot Camp for Moms!  It was hilarious!  I was like a kid let loose in a candy store as I screamed every time I hit a strike on Wii Bowling or knocked out my opponent on Wii Boxing.  When they announced the end of the boot camp, I was too busy jamming on the Guitar Hero on the X-Box and the head drill sergeant of the boot camp had to blow her whistle twice to get me to stop.  I got my certificate and floated out of there in high spirits, determined to sell my husband on the idea of getting a new gaming system (we do have two boys who enjoy playing computer games after all, so video games is the next logical step!)

 

By the time my sons got home from school (which is usually the time I emerge from my home office feeling worn out after a day of coaching clients back to back or developing complex workshops) I was still in high spirits and they were delighted to prance around and act silly with Mom.  My husband, who’s out of the country at the moment, couldn’t believe that I had bagged work to go bowling and boxing on a video game console!  That’s when I realized that I do not make enough time for fun in my life.  Yes, we take the boys out for family trips on weekends, and once in a while I’ll meet friends for dinner, but I almost never just do something by myself for the fun of it during a work week (ah, how irresponsible would that be!?)  Yet, because of the one hour I spent in the video gaming boot camp, I had more than enough energy to complete my work for the day, play with my boys and have a long conversation on skype with my husband who was halfway around the world!  I even got to finish reading the entries for a literary prize that had been sitting on my nightstand collecting dust while my judging deadline loomed closer.  (Click here for a short video clip of the boot camp.)

 

The impact of this one afternoon has made me promise myself at least an hour of fun just by myself each week.  How about you?  What do you do to relax and rejuvenate yourself?  In these tough economic times, it can feel very irresponsible to make time for leisure, but this is exactly when we need it most… so go ahead, put it on your calendar.  At least one hour to stop taking life so seriously, to stop worrying about the future and to just stop and enjoy the present moment.  Have any fun ideas? Email them to me at simi@hodconsulting.com then get moving!




The Audacity of Hope
(January 17, 2009)

It is amazing to feel the electric energy permeating the nation as we count down to the upcoming historic inauguration ceremony on Tuesday, January 20.  Regardless of your politics or whom you voted for back in November, it is very hard not to be swept along in the wave of optimism and hope that is spreading across America as we all watch President-elect Obama ride the train to Washington, D.C. today.  Even in these tough economic times, when so many have lost jobs and homes, the expressions I see on the faces in the crowds gathered to welcome him along the way are of joy and hope.


A friend of mine started a Facebook group called “I Am Barack Obama” and I joined immediately I heard about it because I too believe that mine is a story of hope and faith.  There have been many times that it would have been easy to give up (to not even throw my hat in the ring in the first place) but hope, faith and dogged determination have led me onto the most beautiful paths.  Even now as many companies are letting go of coaches and consultants, I find existing and new clients relying more on the work of HOD Consulting to retain their high-performing women.  My husband laughs at me when I get misty-eyed over the loyalty of corporate clients that I was sure were long gone. 


At times like these, it is so easy to lose hope and to doubt our own ability to rise above the din.  Many of us have used these hard times as opportunities to do some soul searching and go for what we really really want, while others have chosen to take the "safe" road.  Some of the women I coach who belong in the former category are more afraid of success than of failure – what if they get that job/promotion/grant that they are seeking by sheer “luck” and find that they are not up to the task?  What if everyone finds out that they are really impostors – faking their way to success? (I went to Harvard Business School and it is amazing how many of my fellow students, especially women, secretly believed they were “admission mistakes.”)  Usually my first sessions with clients like these focus on building their confidence and holding up mirrors for them to see the track record of success that led to this pivotal point in their lives, and now, thanks to Barack Obama and one of our HOD coaches, I have two new things to share with these women. 


The first, of course, is the story of our new President.  Two years ago, when he started this journey, I doubt that his biggest fear was of losing.  I’m willing to bet that his biggest fear was, “What if I win?”  To say that becoming the President of the United States at this time would be a tough challenge would be the biggest understatement of the century!  Yet, Mr. Obama, pressed on with hope, faith, hard work and a strong determination to get to the White House.  I’m sure he still has moments of brief panic attacks, but I am also sure that he would not be where he was today if he let himself dwell on those moments.


The second is a wonderful quote from Marianne Williamson.  I had read the quote many times a few years ago when I was facing a crisis of confidence myself, but I forgot about it until one of our wonderful coaches (who never fail to inspire me) sent it to me today.  I leave you with this quote in the hope that you will print it out and read it every time you start to doubt yourself.  And if you need a pep talk, you know where to find me: simi@hodconsulting.com.


“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’  Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.  We are all meant to shine, as children do.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. ”

--Marianne Williamson

Happy New Year!


Getting Clear For Success in 2009
(Nov. 25, 2008)

My husband and I recently put our apartment in Brooklyn on the market.  On the morning of every Sunday, I run around putting clutter away and hiding things where open house guests won't see them.  Then the open house ends and I can't remember where I put my lucky earrings or my son's favorite teddy!

Clutter is just one of those things that seem to happen to us when we become mothers.  Whether physical (overstuffed house) or mental (those endless to-do-lists), clutter clouds my ability to think clearly, and therefore I am not the best mother to my kids or the best coach to my clients.  Because of this, I have decided to get clearer in 2009, downloaded the Clean Sweep form from Coach U and hired my super organized friend Suzanne to coach me on my journey toward clarity.

Are you battling with clutter in your life? Or are there some things that have lived a long time on your to-do-list and have become a drain on your energy? Sometimes it's the smallest things (e.g., that door knob that's a little loose and occupies your mind every time you leave the house but you still haven't found time to fix) that have the biggest drain on our energy and focus.  I invite you to take your own personal clutter assessment and make a commitment to get clear for success in 2009!

If you need encouragement or just want to support me as I try to complete the daunting Clean Sweep form, please send me an email at simi@hodconsulting.com!

PostScript February 2009
: Thanks to my friend, Suzanne, the decluttering was such a smashing success that I got profiled in a WebMD article!


Who is in Your Force Field?
(Oct. 30, 2008)

I've been doing a lot of reading about systems theory, force field analysis and homeostasis lately, not because I am a geek (hardly!), but because I believe that understanding how my clients' system affects them helps me be a better coach for them.  The theory that the people we interact with most often have a profound impact on our health and well-being is very intriguing to me.

I went through a tough business situation recently, which was akin to a professional divorce.  While knee-deep in this mess, I got a call that Harvard Business School wanted to do a case study on my life as an entrepreneur mom.  The first thought that came to my mind was, "But I'm about to become a failure!" but I agreed to it anyway (who wouldn't?!)

They insisted on interviewing people in my circle of influence so I had to call my mentors, clients, business associates, family members and friends to ask if they would please agree to an interview with HBS about me.  It turned out to be the best thing for me at that point in my life -- hearing people I admire say wonderful things about who I am and what I can do/have done gave me the confidence to stop focusing on this one negative situation, let go of toxic relationships and reorganize my business into what is HOD Consulting today.  Now we have assembled an even stronger team and have clients coming out of our ears!

Look around you.  Who is in your force field?  Who are your champions -- people who will say the right things to you when you are at your very lowest and get you up and flying again?  Call them often.  Who are the naysayers -- people who bring nothing but negative energy?  Get rid of them (and if you can't because they are a close relative, then confront them with it and try to spend as little time with them as possible if they don't change).  You will be a better person (mom, wife, employee/entrepreneur and friend) for it!

Caution: As you conduct this "pruning" and your light begins to shine brighter, other people may resent it and fall away from you.  It's OK.  Let them go.  You will form better relationships with those who stay and will also attract new people into your life who will connect with you in new and better ways!

And if you need a pep talk, drop me a line at simi@hodconsulting.com.  I would love to hear from you!


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Past Blogs

What Do You Want?

(July 27, 2008)

This is the question I have been asking everyone around me lately (clients, friends, kids, DH) and, except for my kids who have no problem telling me exactly what they want and how they want it, I think I am driving everybody nuts.

The question seems so simple, yet we find it so hard to answer. Why? Because we have been conditioned to accept what we "should" do as opposed to what we want to do. Many of us refuse to give ourselves permission to dream, or permission to tell others what we really want, yearn for, aspire to be. But it is really simple, it starts with a decision to live the life of your dreams. Once you make that decision, then you need to start asking yourself, what exactly does that life look like, feel like, taste like? You start realizing that you will never be truly happy until you can define for yourself what you want. And not just define it, but take steps to move toward it. Concrete actionable steps. Scary, isn't it? No wonder that I am driving my people nuts.

So, in order to encourage you to give yourself permission to dream big and take steps to move toward your dream, I will share some of my wants with you.

I want to be a great mom. I want my kids to tell their friends what a wonderful mother they have. I realize that it will take me my lifetime to work on this goal but I am committed to it, even when they become teenagers and yell "I hate you!" before slamming a door in my face, I will breathe deeply and remember this commitment.

I want to write a book that will move the world. I am not quite sure yet what form this book will take (memoir, novel, how-to, self-help) but I am committed to this dream and I will start writing it just as soon as I clear all the clutter in our apartment, fix all that needs to be fixed, sell our apartment and move into our new apartment, in which I have set aside a small room for writing (I have told DH he can blame Mount Holyoke College and Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own for my insistence on this space for myself).

I want to make the world a better place for women and children. Again, I don't know what form this will take, but I have committed to spending the rest of my working life doing work that meets this goal.

I want to build great big beautiful FREE children's libraries in Lagos, Nigeria. This is my most vivid picture (vibrant colors on walls and furniture, plenty of light, very cool air, comfy sofas, large areas of play space and BOOKS, lots and lots of great story books that children of Lagos State can lose themselves in!) and it brings a huge smile to my face every time I think about it. I have absolutely no idea how I will make it happen but I want it so badly that I can taste it. When I am stressed out, I imagine myself sitting on a lush carpet surrounded by kids whose faces are lit with excitement and possibilities as I read them a story from a place far far away from their world of hunger and hardship. And my stress evaporates instantly!

What do YOU want?


Getting Techy

(July 2, 2008)

"What did you do before the Internet?" My doorman asks this as he carries a large box from Diapers.com into my apartment.  Just a couple of hours earlier, he had helped the FreshDirect delivery guy carry some boxes of groceries through the same door.

"I don't know," I replied. "I guess I didn't have children and I enjoyed shopping in stores because back then, it was mostly about trying on new shoes!"

He chuckled and left, but it got me thinking.  What did I do before the Internet?  It is hard to imagine that I was introduced to the Internet and email just 15 years ago because it seems like I have been on the World Wide Web from the womb.

When I had my first son and knew that I would have to leave him in 12 weeks to go back to my demanding job, I wanted to spend every waking moment with him so I got techy.  I stopped going to the movies and signed up with Netflix, shopped for groceries and diapers online, set up automatic online bill payments and constantly looked for ways to automate other parts of my life.

Last summer, my cousin who was a junior in college spent the summer with us and introduced me to Facebook.  Eureka! I could now hang out with my friends online too!  It was fantastic -- people I hadn't seen or spoken to in years just seemed to magically reappear in my life, for example, my Indian roommate in college whom I assumed had moved back to India (and who assumed I had moved back to Nigeria) found me recently on Facebook and we were happy to discover that we were both working moms living in New York City!  We still haven't managed to see each other yet, but at least for now, we have Facebook!

Another techy tool that is making this working mom's life easier is my beloved Blackberry (very much a crackberry addict here!) because now I can read all my emails and respond on the subway! This has ruined my reading life (the subway ride used to be the only time I could read my chick lit books with no nagging thought of all the work I could be getting done) but has definitely reduced the number of late nights I spend responding to hundreds of emails I couldn't get to during the day.  Now I actually have time to watch those Netflix movies that have been collecting dust on my DVD shelf!

Now if I could find a way to get some techy tools that would cook dinner, wake up with my kids in the morning and keep them engaged until I wake up, deliver a massage or footrub as needed and keep my house spotless 24-7, I would be all set! Any ideas?

 

Happy Mother’s Day

(May 10, 2008)

"Aren't you going to comb your hair?"

This is what my mom asks almost every morning as I head out for a meeting. I shrug, wet my hands and run them through my hair to loosen some of the tight curls. My mom shrugs as well. She has given up on lecturing me about my hair. I smile as I leave the house because now that I am a mom, I know how it pains her to watch her child go out into the world with crazy hair.

Sporting uncombed hair is just one of the things I do to maintain a semblance of balance in my life. Being a working mother is a constant act of give-and-take and in trying to be the best mom I can be and still have a career that I love, I have learned to give up quite a few things.

It was during a trip to the hairdresser that I got an a-ha moment. I was growing more agitated thinking about all the things I could be doing as I watched the hours slip by while I waited for the hairdresser to attend to me. I had read all my emails on my Blackberry and there were quite a few presentations I needed to send out to potential clients before the end of the day. I also had to make it home in time that evening because my babysitter had to leave early. By the time the hairdresser called my name, two hours after my appointment time, I was so fed up that I sat in her chair and told her to cut off all my hair.

It is one of the best decisions I ever made because not only has it saved me 3-4 hours spent at the hairdresser's every week, it has also saved me at least one hour everyday -- I go to bed, wake up, shower and leave the house without touching my hair (unless of course my mom stops me in my tracks and I quickly run wet hands through it). If you're a Black woman, you know what a big deal this is!

There are a few other things I have given up in my quest for balance -- the fast track in a high-profile corporate job, a steady paycheck, gorgeous designer shoes, to name a few -- but there are so many things I have gained -- a slow morning with my boys before we all start our day, ability to walk my 3-year-old to school or pick him up from school whenever I want to, many impromptu teachable and laughable moments with my boys on an ordinary day at home, running my own business and working only with people I choose to surround myself with, to name a few -- that I know I'm a happier person because of the choices I've made for my family.

So the next time you see me, I may have crazy short nappy hair and shoes that are not so fabulous, but don't worry, I am a better and happier working mom because of it! Take a moment to reflect on some of the things you have given up in the name of motherhood and then give yourself a vigorous pat on your back! Have a wonderful Mothers' Day!


Giving Thanks

(Nov. 22, 2007)

It's Thanksgiving Day and I have a little quiet time to myself as DH puts the boys down for their naps. Every year, there are many things I am usually thankful for (DH, my family, my career), but this past year has brought some things more into the light for me.

When Emeka (my 3-year-old son) and I pray before his bed time, we usually give thanks for everybody in the family, his baby sitters, teachers and doctors and sometimes he will mention the names of his special friends (either because they made an impression on him that day or because he just wants to delay sleep). It is now that I just started to encourage him to give thanks to God for my friends.

DH has been traveling extensively since April and I often find myself alone with two boisterous boy toddlers on weekends. After my mom left to go back to Nigeria and my cousin, who spent the summer with us, went back to college, I've had to spend time alone with the boys on weekends and found support in the number of friends who drop by to help! When I don't pack up my kids to Atlanta or Houston (where my sisters live) for long weekends away from New York City, I am often surprised by friends who show up at the last minute for a trip to the playground or park, a drive around Brooklyn, a trip to a children's museum or birthday party or a drive to Whole Foods for whole wheat pizza and gelato (yum)!

So today as DH and I make it a quiet Thanksgiving at home with the boys, I think about the declined invitations from friends and spend a few quiet minutes thanking God for them -- not only for my mom friends like Henrietta, who shows me how to raise two brilliant and energetic boys without losing myself and my sanity, but also for my single friends, especially Lydia, Aisha, Rupal and Suzanne, who take turns every weekend to come out and play and who leave quite exhausted and with a renewed commitment to postpone childbearing!

I hope this Thanksgiving, you take the time to appreciate the friends and family who come together to help you be a super mom! It really does take a village! Have a wonderful day.

 

Intro to The Mommy Divide

(Sept. 21, 2007)

I went to my very first Parent-Teacher meeting at my son's new preschool last night and it was eye-opening.  Not in terms of school business but in terms of witnessing the Mommy Wars first hand.  I loved reading Leslie Morgan Steiner's book on the war between working and stay-at-home moms, but couldn't relate to much of it because I had grown up in Nigeria where pretty much every mother I knew worked.  However, now that I am mom of a school-aged (or at least preschool-aged) child in the United States, I am learning about a whole new world.  The one where women (not-so-silently) judge each other because of the need to convince themselves that they made the right choice.  Anyway, I'm digressing.

I arrived at the PTA meeting worried that I was 10 minutes late only to find that the meeting hadn't yet started.  There was a group of moms in jeans and sneakers playing with the kids and acting all chummy with the teachers, but this didn't make an impression on me until much later when the meeting officially started and the working moms (and a few dads!) started to arrive with varying degrees of lateness.  They came in various work outfits from suits to business casual (one woman came in scrubs and told me apologetically that she was on call and had only a few minutes) and congregated in one corner of the room (the one nearest the exit).  

I watched as the stay-at-home moms made seemingly innocent remarks that underscored their devotion to their kids learning while the working moms either rolled their eyes in boredom or shrank in their seats with guilt. (This is of course a gross generalization as there were many moms like me who were somewhere in the middle and slightly amused by it all).  As I walked home afterward, I felt really good about running my own business.  Not only because it allows me to work from home most of the time, but because we are creating a world of women in the middle... women who are confident in their choices and happy to spend what time they have with family while also contributing what they can (when they can) to the world of paid work.

 

Ode to Mom

(July 31, 2007)

I just got back from a nice long weekend with family in Houston. For the first time in over a year, my family (parents, siblings and some extended family) gathered together to celebrate the christening of my sister's new baby boy. It was great to see everyone but it was particularly wonderful to be briefly reunited with my mom who immediately took over the responsibility of feeding and bathing my two boys. Boy, have I missed her! As my siblings and I fought over Mom, she happily took over the care of the seven grandsons in the full house (we all managed to fit in one house because my sister refused to let anyone stay in a hotel when there was so much bonding and catching up to do in the the three days we had)!

My mom lives in Nigeria but you wouldn't know it with the amounts of travel she does tending to grandchildren all over the world. For each of my sons, she stayed 6 months (from a month before I had each boy to five months afterwards) and I always miss her when she leaves even though my husband is a super involved dad and we have an amazing babysitter.

Before I left Houston, I negotiated hard with my sister to let my mom come to NY for two weeks before her six-month stay is over and I am ecstatic that she (after much pleading and bribing!) agreed. Now I can plan a short no-kids vacation with DH while someone I absolutely trust takes care of my boys. Life is good and I love Mom!

 

Retiring My SuperMom Hat

(July 5, 2007)

I spent this year's 4th of July at home with the kids - just me and two boisterous toddler boys. I actually enjoyed the day because it has been a while since we had the house to ourselves. My dear husband (henceforth, DH) has been traveling a lot during the past few months so our house has been a revolving door for relatives called upon to help care for the boys while I developed my business.

My mother stayed for four weeks until one of my sisters had a baby and automatically assumed first priority status. Another sister stayed for a few days until her job beckoned. Next in line was my father-in-law who was very happy to step into the role of man of the house and play with the boys when they woke up at the crack of dawn. Finally, my baby cousin, who's not a baby anymore and is now in college, got a summer internship in New York and moved in with me.

There were a few times when these relatives overlapped and I worried about who would sleep in the guest room and who would sleep on the living room couch, but overall, it has been a lot of fun - for me and for the boys. I have watched them learn new words and adopt new mannerisms and rituals, from shaking hands and counting to 20 with Grandpa every morning to bopping their heads to the headsets of Auntie Mone's iPod. Happily, I agreed with the saying that it takes a village to raise children.

The biggest test came when I had to travel to Boston for a two-day conference at Harvard. Since I had the boys, I had never left them overnight so I knew that this would be difficult for me, especially since DH was out of the country. After a million instructions to my father-in-law and cousin, I left while the boys were still asleep and called at least one hundred times on my way to the airport, as I boarded the plane and when I landed in Boston. Their laughter and happy voices in the background assured me that they were ok, but even then I didn't stop calling and didn't stop worrying until I got home the next day and saw them sleeping peacefully in their beds.

That's when I realized that I had been doing myself (and the boys) a disservice by trying to do it all by myself the past 2½ years. Right then and there, I kissed each boy and happily hung up my SuperMom hat.

 

Giving Myself Permission

(June 14, 2007)

I just had lunch with one of the most dynamic women I ever met. Kate graduated from West Point and served in the U.S. Army for seven years, where she served in various leadership roles from platoon leader to company commander. She has an MBA and an MPA from Harvard, has successfully completed many marathons including the Boston Marathon, climbed Kilimanjaro, and now works in private wealth management at a premier investment bank. She is also recently divorced.

At a point in our conversation, after I finished complaining about my sleep deprivation because I had just stayed up all night to work on our website and to finish a writing assignment for my memoir class, Kate looked at me and said, "Simi, I look forward to the day that I can say I'm running on only two hours of sleep this week because I have two toddlers, am starting a great new company and am writing a memoir. You have such a fabulous life!"

I immediately told her that I thought she had a fabulous life! She has this amazing experience and discipline (and great body!) from being in the army and leading a New York triathlon team, she gets to have lunches with interesting clients during which she helps them to figure out how to run their businesses and manage their money, AND she LOVES what she does. How many women can say that?

As we sat at our table at the Harvard Club admiring each other's lives, it suddenly hit us: at what point do we give ourselves permission to live the lives we want? We have degrees from top institutions, work experience at top companies and (in my case) husbands and children that love us. When do we stop trying to become perfect, stop looking at other people's lives (and bodies!) and stop measuring ourselves against some crazy yardstick when all that we want is right there in front of us? It may take time to get it all, but isn't it okay to slow down and just be happy for where we are right now before we make plans for where we are going to be tomorrow?

Kate suggested that I write down all the great things in my life that I'm thankful for and I think I'm going to do it. I'll share that with you in my next blog (after I get some sleep)! In the meantime, please share your list with me or just tell me a story about giving yourself permission to live the life you want.