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Archive for September 11th

Moving on to other things

Photo Credit: Bonni Titgemeyer #Brucetrail

Photo Credit: Bonni Titgemeyer #Brucetrail

Today is the 15th anniversary of September 11, 2001 attacks, and it is a tradition for me to write a blog post as a sort of memorial.

I mean no disrespect when I write that this year you will not find me deeply immersed in replays of that terrible day.

There were years where I was.  Deeply immersed that is. In all the sadness that surrounds a day when with perfect precision thousands of innocent people died and millions more lost some measure of their personal freedom.

In years past, I’ve written down everything I can remember about that day.  Where I was, who I was with, what was said, who was on the radio, how vulnerable I felt being so far from home, what I did in the hours afterward.  I’ve written it all down, even though I wasn’t at ground zero, nor did I have any family or friends there.  But I was affected.  If you were alive and living in North America that day, chances are you were too.

In response to what happened, over the years I have vowed some things, like to not let people with bad intentions interfere with my pursuit of happiness, and to promote an environment of peace.

This year however, I’ve decided that I am moving on to other things.  What that means exactly, I don’t know.  But, it’s time for that.

There is significant literature out there from experts and others on how to move on after experiencing a loss.  Much of it is about mindset.  Allowing yourself to get through the stages of grief.  Choosing to be happy.  Faking it until you feel it.  Getting busy.  Building new memories.  Closing the chapter.

On one of my Bruce Trail hikes recently, I came upon a beautiful sight.  It was a field of blackberries, thousands of ripe ones.  There were so many that our walk took twice as long that day because we had to stop and sample them.  They were so sweet they tasted like cotton candy, free for the taking.  As I sat on a stump with my hands full of them, stains on my shirt and with purple teeth, I started thinking about what got me to that point at this point in time.  I felt good, almost giddy.  Certainly there are many things, but one of them was the decision to return to Canada after 9/11 and to experience all of what Canada offers.  For that, I am very thankful.

14 Years Later

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It has become a tradition for me to specifically post a 9/11 remembrance blog on this date.

This year, I decided not to re-read older posts before starting to write this one, just to see what still sticks in my memory. There is still a lot of detail that is vivid for me, but admittedly, some detail is fading.

I remember that it was a beautiful, sunny late-Summer morning in Cedar Rapids, IA on September 11, 2001. I was there on a work assignment that I viewed as a dream job, and I was planning a long-term move back to the U.S.  It was my three-month anniversary at work.

I left for the office a few minutes later than usual that morning which meant that I encountered traffic, although not the type of traffic you think of when you are living in Toronto.

On the road in, I can visualize myself in my brand-new sand-coloured Mazda Protégé, window down, in a line several cars deep, watching a train cross in front of me and onto a trestle over the Cedar River and into the Quaker Oats yard. Trains are long in Iowa and when they cross a road, they make you wait, a long time. That’s traffic in Iowa. I always found it fascinating how many of the train cars in Iowa were marked with the Alberta Wheat Board logo on them.  I remember that the air in Cedar Rapids that morning was thick with the smell of baked goods; and near Quaker Oats, it always smelled like Cap’n Crunch (my favourite cereal).

I was listening to the radio. There aren’t a huge number of redeeming features about living in Iowa, but the radio, well, Iowa radio is awesome. It is one of the things I miss most about living there.

In my drive to the office that day, there was no mention of a plane crashing into the World Trade Centre. It was still early and I was in a different time zone.

The first news arrived the second I walked into my office, which was just a few steps from the entrance to the parking garage. I could hear my phone ringing as I got to the door.  My husband was calling. He was in a panic. He worked for Merrill Lynch at the time on Front Street in Toronto. It was bad in New York. They were vacating all of Merrill Lynch’s offices.

He hung up and I started my computer. The Internet crashed. I remember that I kept refreshing the screen but all I could get is a single small picture on Yahoo of smoke coming out of a building. My office was ugly–grey walls and a brown desk and chair. I hadn’t been on assignment long enough to decorate. It felt bare and impersonal. I walked around and started asking questions. Our department coordinator had a radio. The songs were suddenly being interrupted by a steady stream of news updates.

I remember feeling puzzled, a sense of denial, thinking that a large plane purposely hitting a building was preposterous. A bad joke.

About 45 minutes later, I saw the second building fall on a television in the workout area of the health club on the main floor of our office building. I knew many of the people around me. Peter Jennings was speaking. We were all standing there in suits and ties, arms folded staring. I gasped.

After several hours of barely productive work, mostly phone calls to clients to cancel meetings, I was back at my apartment by early afternoon.

After that, I experienced many emotions, including separation, fear, indignance, sense of patriotism, the feeling of everything being disjointed, the feeling of being trapped, empathy, anger—these emotions lasted for days and weeks.  How come the hospitals were empty? Who are all these people on missing posters? How many people died? I didn’t know a soul that died but yet I cried daily for weeks. I put candles on the balcony of my apartment in remembrance of the four Merrill Lynch employees who were known to be dead.  For a long time, I fell asleep every night with the roar of a building collapsing in my head.  I find this strange because I doubt anyone who knows me would associate me with the warm/fuzzy/emotionally-out-there type of HR Professional. I’m not really someone who cries.  I might even argue I was personally impacted for years.  And I know I am not alone.

I found comfort in watching the aftermath on CBC, which came in on the TLC channel in Iowa for at least a week following 9-11.  Canada’s reporting seemed a bit more rational.  It helped, especially since there was nothing else on.

I made many decisions in the years following that I can directly attribute to 9-11—to gain a greater understanding of what drives the battle between the east and west, to be more active in my community, to focus on being a more thoughtful human being, to not let terrorism steal my sense of adventure or joy, to speak out against measures that limit our freedom, to enjoy being home, to be replete in my family life. When we find the gift in seeing what great things rise in the ashes of truly awful situations, we succeed.

Today, fourteen years later, what lingers is a resolve and a purpose that I hope will carry on from here.  We need to realize that there are other people in other parts of the world whose existence is torn apart by terrorism. They are hurting and they need us to remember what that violation feels like and how kindly most treated us as we recovered. Your mission, help people in need–regardless of faith or culture.  Remember that underlying it all, most people are good. The fortitude of good will triumph over evil. Always.

 

On the Other Side of 9/11

It has become a tradition for me to write a September 11th blog post here at The EO List.

Like many, September 11, 2001 was a defining time for me. And, I don’t think we’d have EO without it, so I feel it is important to pay the day respect each year here.

I have written all sorts of 9/11 tributes in prior years, some on the day. Before “blog” was even a word, I was a much younger HR professional, writing a weekly newsletter about my experiences in HR going back to the U.S. In creating this newsletter, I had documented my feelings and experiences in real-time. What has been interesting is over the years going back and adding sometimes insignificant but yet context-driving details about what the world was like in 2001. Here are the links to some of the prior posts:

Some of these posts are darker than others. This year, because I am working on the happiness project, and because I feel like we are on the other side of 9/11 now, I am focusing this post on three changes in human resources management since 9/11.

Here we go:

  1. Workplace security. There was a time in the olden days when you found someone you liked and you hired them, at best with a reference check. Today, the security/clearance process has become extensive, and entire new industries have been developed to assess the risk of bringing in new people. I was at the ACE Conference yesterday and spoke to a person who blew me away by showing me the extent of personal, accessible information that is available about an individual’s habits that would help an organization understand whether an employee is a security risk.
  2. Talent management. Sure, even thirteen years ago we used terms like “succession planning” and “career development” to describe human resources, but the process of finding, developing and managing the careers of individuals is light years beyond what it was in 2001. The day before September 11, 2001, I sat in my office and I listened to my first webinar. I have no idea what the subject was, but what I remember is that the software had features to raise my hand, tell the speaker whether I was bored, and much more. Those seem so basic now compared to the three-dimensional progressive systems. Tracking of training used to be done on multi-tabbed spreadsheets. Mentorship was a buzz word rather than a process. Feedback in real-time was minimal.
  3. HR–the profession. Sure, in 2001, there was a CHRP and an SPHR designation back then, but little of the profession was focused on strategy, workforce planning and architecting, and other aspects of business like it is today. Perhaps in this we have made the least progress. The critics of our profession accuse us of being process excellence individuals rather than thought leaders.

Back in the late 1990s, there was a great IBM commercial which focused on a future with e-commerce. Whenever something seems antiquated in our household, we always make a joke about whether we want a spinning logo or a flaming logo. In closing, enjoy some humour on this day: