Accepted: The Story of the Woman Accepted to Eight Ivy League Schools

Munira Khalif’s parents left Somalia to give her a better life.

Now a student at Harvard, Munira was initially accepted to all eight Ivy League schools.

When asked what makes her work so hard, Munira shared her “why.”

Knowing what her parents had gone through (emigrating to the U.S.) to give her this opportunity was her first reason. Second, the opportunity in the U.S. to do something good. And she’s made good use of this opportunity. For her commitment to education activism, as a teenager Munira won the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education’s Youth Courage Award.

Think Munira is unique? In the same year, 2015, seven other Ivy applicants pulled off the same feat (all eight schools). These were very different students with diverse backgrounds, educational goals, and from various parts of the country. The one similarity? All were children of immigrant parents and, in many cases, English was their second or third language.

What if your parents, their parents, and every one of your ancestors did everything so you might have the life you do? To grow up with the freedom to choose your life’s path?

What if?



I grew up in an area where apple orchards abounded. In late winter, the pruning equipment came out and the trees received haircuts. Up to a third of the tree was cut, snipped, and shaped to make room for new growth and encourage the best crop of fruit possible.

How much was cut? There is a saying amongst horticulturists. “Cut enough of the tree branches so you can throw a cat through without him grabbing a limb.”

That’s a lot of cutting. However, if the cuts aren’t made, the tree produces too much fruit of lesser quality. Or simply breaks in the spring winds from the weight of excess fruit. The tree cannot make the best fruit with too many branches.

Do you cut branches in your own life?

Like branches, the commitments we say “yes” to add up.

“Yes, I’ll do that. Yes, I’ll serve on the committee. Yes, Yes, Yes.”

Like the tree is pruned, so must we trim our branches.

Enough for a cat, enough for breathing space, enough for our best to be developed.


Find a Penny, Pick it Up?

My 7-year old son finds money.

In nearly every parking lot we walk through, his eyes are busily scanning the pavement for copper and silver discs. More often than not, his searching is rewarded with pennies, nickels, and the occasional quarter. My wife tells him the copper coins are “good luck.”

Many of us travel through life this way. We hear ideas, read information, receive feedback and put it all in our pockets as if the practice brings good omen.

Some ideas are harmful. Much of the information is worthless. And the feedback? It may not always come from a place of love and support.

If we collect ideas like coins, without a second thought, our pockets become overloaded. The ideas turn into limiting beliefs like, “I can’t do that” or “I’m not good enough.”

Today, let’s look in our pockets. What are we carrying that we’ve out-grown or is unhealthy?

Find a few dirty coins?

Let them go…and go wash your hands. (Hunter, I’m talking to you.)


There are no such things as CHEFbooks (Guest Post)

(Note: This is the first guest post published on the site. Brad Mercil is an inspiring EHS professional and currently with the Wyoming Air National Guard. Like the post? You can reach Brad at or click here for his LinkedIn profile.)

In his book “Linchpin”, Seth Godin argues there are no chefbooks, only cookbooks. His argument is that cooks simply follow the steps which they are provided. We are taught if we get the right ingredients and follow each step, we are almost guaranteed to create a dish which is certainly edible, while not burning down the kitchen. On the other hand, chefs push the boundaries of cuisine through continuous trial and error. Chefs use techniques and recipes which have been developed over thousands of years to create new dishes which contain the spirit of the original recipes. There is no argument that cooks and chefs are both highly trained in cooking techniques, but you will never become a chef by simply following the steps.

This same logic can be applied to safety managers and safety leaders. Managers are adept at following the rules, while making sure their safety program fits squarely within the constraints of established guidelines. These same managers take a situation which they encounter and determine if it’s right or wrong by trying to fit it within a box of rules and regulations. They know that if the book says its wrong, then it must be wrong. On the contrary, if the book doesn’t say it’s wrong, then it must be OK!

Safety leaders, on the other hand, are skillful at taking words off the pages of the law books and wrapping them around situations. They understand that rules and regulations cannot, and should not, be established for every situation which they might encounter. Therefore, they use their training, experience, and knowledge to find the intent of the law. Each decision made is done with the spirit of protecting people and resources, not out of fear of being right or wrong.en

Colin Powell once said “The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care.” Safety managers conduct spot inspections because the book says they have to. Safety leaders conduct spot inspections with the intent of building a trusting relationship with employees. Safety leaders know that they cannot find and fix every hazard within the workplace. However, they trust that the relationships they create will ensure that every employee is confident to raise issues to them. In Powell’s line of thinking, if your employees are not bringing you issues, you are not leading them.

Are your employees bringing you problems, or are they hiding them from you? Are you leading a safety culture, or merely managing safety program? Are you a cook following the rules to make a compliant safety program, or are you a chef whose safety culture is ingrained within every employee you lead? At the end of the day anyone can be a safety manager, but it takes courage and commitment to become a safety leader.



During an extended airport layover yesterday, a man, appearing to be in his 60s, sat in a gate seat next to me. With weather and maintenance challenges, flights were delayed and gate changes were frequent. The man made casual mention of “all the people flying to Sarasota.” As I was flying elsewhere, we spoke about our destinations and, as he was wearing a suit, I asked about his work in Florida.

And the conversation changed.

He smiled and remarked, “I’m 84 years old and haven’t worked since I retired at 58.”

My jaw dropped. By the way he walked, his demeanor, and posture, I’d have placed him in his early sixties!

Having only two minutes before my flight boarded, I asked, “What’s your secret?”

He grinned and advised, “Know when you have enough. Then quit. Everyone has a number. Don’t work a day past that number. And smile every day.”


Note: Some of these posts have no relation to EHS, but (I hope) serve a bigger purpose. The purpose of connecting us not only with our careers, but also with our lives.


You are good at your job, but…

My daughter is having an issue at school. She’s nine and the teacher arranges small student work groups to learning activities. But every group my daughter is assigned to work with “isn’t right” for her. The girls are mean, the boys don’t listen, Jack talks too loud, Jennifer said a bad word, etc. Every group.

It must be the school’s fault…the teacher/student ratio is too high! Or the parents’ fault…after all how do you raise children staring at your smart phone? Maybe it’s the teacher’s fault…what are these group things?

Or not.

We have EHS professionals like this too. They are good at the job. Highly technically proficient. Their annual performance reports say so. But every group, business unit, or department they are assigned to has issues. The people don’t understand. Their boss won’t listen. Their peers are distracted. And this new generation is just lazy and self-centered. Every group.

So I’m talking with my daughter…before she thinks she’s good at her job.

Build Trust Quickly

You’re building a strong team. And next year, or next week, your team will change. How will you gain traction fast, continue to produce, and gain momentum?

As a former franchise representative for Hooters, Kat Cole opened a new restaurant every week in a new country, with a new team, and in a new language.

Her secret to building productive teams?

Build trust.

Cole’s secrets to building trust:

1. Be genuinely kind to people.

2. Be vulnerable.

In an interview with EntreLeadership, Cole expands on vulnerability as sharing the things you don’t know, your mistakes, and your background so your team knows your motivations. In short, if your team doesn’t know where you’re coming from, they’ll fill in the gaps with their own preconceived ideas about “why it is you do what you do.” Engage with vulnerability and they’ll very often share in return.

One of the great accelerators of trust is certainly vulnerability. I learned it when I was young and I see it play out in leadership today.” – Kat Cole

The Urgent Addiction

What’s wrong with urgent?

A confession? I love urgent. I can check the completed task off and update my internal score card. There are those who do not like urgent tasks and deadlines…but they probably couldn’t handle it anyway, right? Wrong.

Urgency changes you.

A Stanford study, where a group of students were told they were each going to the next building to teach the biblical Good Samaritan story, shows the danger of the urgent.

Some of the students were told “speed was of the essence” and another group were not given a time input. Unknown to the students, an “injured” man was placed in their path to the adjacent building. In nearly two-thirds of the cases, the students who were not in a hurry stopped to help the man. Of those who were told that speed was important and were therefore in a hurry, one in ten helped the man.

One in ten helped…on their way to give a talk on the Good Samaritan story!

How does urgent change you?

Link to a summary of the Good Samaritan experiment 



A senior EHS professional told me a couple weeks ago, “I’ve spent the last 18 years reacting on a daily basis.”

The pace of an EHS career can feel frantic, urgent, and unstructured. And that describes the first ten minutes. After that it gets worse.

We’re not alone. Presidents, inventors, writers, and actors feel similar pressure.

The most successful make room for daily practices; inviolable rituals which strengthen, sustain, and inspire.

  • Theodore Roosevelt read every day. As the U.S. president, he averaged one book a day.
  • Oprah Winfrey and Russell Simmons meditate daily.
  • Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project”, says her rule is “get enough sleep.” In her research, Rubin found the top two reasons for bad moods at work: Tight deadlines and lack of sleep.
  • Fred Rogers, of “Mr. Rogers” fame, awoke at 5:30 a.m. every morning for reading, writing, and prayer. In bed by 9:30 p.m., he maintained a healthy weight of 143 lbs and inspired millions of young viewers.
  • Ernest Hemingway would honor an internal commitment to write at sunrise.

If life of late seems hectic and anxious, consider a few inviolable practices to bring order to the chaos.


The lie of a convenient tomorrow

In 1928 Otto Rohwedder completed work on a bread slicing machine. The mechanized slicer transformed the baking industry and made the consumption of bread convenient.

This dependence on convenience slowly infected both our personal and professional lives.

-The big project at work? We’ll do it when it’s convenient.

-Finish our graduate degree? When the kids are out of the house and work slows down.

-Study for that promotion or certification? Next year looks convenient.

Your calendar is a lie. Look ahead a few months…those wide open days, all that white space, so much opportunity! But you’ll fill it. Day by day, appointment by appointment, the space will become foggy and slowly disappear.

Your internal bucket list; those projects, experiences, memories and goals you want to accomplish…these will only be done in the inconvenience of today, not in the lie of a convenient tomorrow.

Don’t fear inconvenience. Fear the unlived life. (and slice your own bread)