ReCognizing our Relationship with Work

In the US, we have had a customary 9-5 model for the way we “do work” and we’ve been in a protracted relationship with “climbing the corporate ladder” but it is time to “break -up”. This relationship has run its course, and we want more than what we have grown accustomed to over time. Employers and organizations of all sizes and types, should be engaged in self study and benchmarking in order to address the three major recent concerns of employees:

  • remote work schedules
  • health & safety in the return to the office and
  • the ever elusive idea of work-life balance

After almost two years of the world working remotely (and enjoying it to some degree) we are seeing office environments shrinking, a higher demand for flexibility in work schedules and remote work options and record shifts in people quitting or opting for early retirement. Just as with most social ills, we must first admit we have a problem (RECOGNIZE) in order to address it and provide solutions (RE-COGNIZE). Our need as a country to re-think our relationship with work is also the culprit of continued DEI disparities, such as the wealth gap, gender parity and bias in recruitment, hiring and promotion processes (to name a few).

The Great Resignation

(only the beginning)

We have all seen the pandemic cause us to think, re-organize the ways we work. Beyond companies moving to remote work, and now hybrid models, the workforce saw the COVID pandemic as a time to re-prioritize work in our lives (no time like a global pandemic to get you thinking about your priorities, right?) With this also came a great deal of contemplation about the WHO, WHAT and WHY of our work. LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky in a recent interview with TIME called this last year The Re-Shuffle. The LinkedIn team tracked the percentage of LinkedIn members (roughly 800 million) who changed jobs and they found that job transitions have increased by 54% year-over-year and younger workers are leading the way. I am one of the multitudes of people who made the leap, deciding early during the pandemic to step away from what was my norm (higher ed) and to make space for myself in the marketplace with A2H and/or find more meaningful, challenging yet flexible work in another industry/sector. Even though our government leaders and most organizations seem to be returning to business as usual, employees, especially Millennials and Gen-Z folx, are leading what I think is a not just a Re-Shuffle, but the zeitgeist of 2020 and beyond.

Don’t forget about your commitments to equity & inclusion

I heard a diversity leader say recently that “top-talent are ALWAYS employed”; so organizations look for the leaders in other organizations. I emphatically disagree with this. Using this as a method/model for recruiting will NOT yield diverse & equitable outcomes. This strikes me as bias in the recruitment process or (at minimum) a flawed talent pipeline and this line of thinking perpetuates the existing propensity of organizations to recruit and hire from the same places. This ultimately produces homogeneity in our organizations and more specifically in the leadership and C-suite level positions. Now consider that, with the juxtaposition of the old addage: “talent is universal but opportunity isn’t“. It appears in the US we are talking out of both sides of our neck on this. In one breath we challenge ourselves to find talent in new ways, but our practices have yet to truly change. Further demonstrating our urgent need to RECOGNIZE our opportunities and challenges and to RE-Cognize what work looks like.

Talent is universal (everywhere),

opportunity is NOT.

Author Unknown

The Aspire2Higher Perspective

Recalling when I heard the CEO of a company that specializes in DEI work, state that top talent is always employed, I recognized why he and many other would think that way. It disheartened me though because as the Founder of the Aspire2Higher Movement, I have come to know many people not employed in the old customary ways we think about work. What does that way of thinking say about creatives, who are self employed and working from project to project, or freelancers, or the workers in our gig-economy? Are they not worthy of the opportunity that is so plentiful? If so, how are organization leaders shopping their opportunities to this audience? (I’ll wait… insert proverbial crickets) This is why I created Aspire2Higher; to teach people how to de-program themselves from these old customary ways of seeing the world of work! This movement is about RE-COGNIZING our approach to all of this.

The goal of the Aspire2Higher Movement is to infiltrate society with the Elements of Success! That simply means, we’d like to see the US culture shift to one where people use the Elements A2H as an internal compass for success. Using Aspire2Higher’s unique approach to professional development, talent management, recruitment and retention can help minimize the impacts of economic shifts or disruptions in employee productivity as well as shifts in workplace cultures. We’d like to see organizational leaders utilize the Elements of Success as part of their employee engagement programs, in their diversity, equity & inclusion work, their professional development and talent management initiatives. We have a 7 Step Model for improving workforce and workplace cultures that addresses all of what we’ve mentioned here. We look forward to rolling out this 7 step model in the new year, but you can get in on the ground floor, by participating in A2H courses, attending upcoming seminars and being an active member of the A2H community!

How it started vs How it’s going: The Evolution of A2H

This movement got its start many years ago, as just an idea in my mind. Believe it or not, I simply created Aspire2Higher as a result of several phone conversations with a friend about our goals. I decided that I would have a philosophy that I would live by in my ambitious twenties and I use to tell myself to Aspire2Higher! Later, as began to take this on as my personal mantra, and as I struggled to find my path as a 20-something, I started a blog. I used to write about my experiences with work, sharing my thoughts and reflections much like I am still doing. (This is how it started!) My blogging days have since slowed down a bit, but Aspire2Higher has definitely grown and evolved into much more than a blog.

How its going–A2H has been through (what I think) is a beautiful evolution! The premise and foundation of A2H has remained the same. So I often say, we not new to this, we TRUE to this! It gives me great pride to be able to say, I’ve been growing, and nurturing a vision that is truly larger than what I initially imagined. Sharing my career journey through the Aspire2Higher blog gave me a reason to practice self reflection, effective questioning and introspection so that I could deliver effective messages and career motivation to my audience. As my career path shifted and I gained new knowledge and work experiences, all of that was funneled through my A2H mind and what you all see today as Aspire2Higher a more fully formed business has emerged.

I did not write this post to brag, but to demonstrate and provide a testimony of sorts. A small idea planted in the back of your mind, could be just the thing that leads to your life’s work! I’ve been so diligent and careful with the seed God planted in my mind called Aspire2Higher that now, I fight with myself to slow the pace at which ideas come! The ways that A2H has evolved has come from my self awareness and my ambition, but also my tolerance for ambiguity. I did not have a clue that God had plans for me to be a diversity, equity & inclusion professional, but it has been a VALUE ADD to my professional growth. It is also become a value add to Aspire2Higher’ s business model. I always knew that I would be involved in self help and personal development in some way, but I could not imagine (back in the anguish of my twenties) that I would have the mental fortitude to develop a comprehensive framework for success. But God knew better! The image above is a quick summary of The Elements of Success.

If you haven’t, I encourage you to click through a few places on the website to see the ongoing evolution of Aspire2Higher! There are so many programs and services and new resources being developed each week so that we can be a VALUE ADD to YOU!

NEW PREMIUM SUBSCRIPTIONS

Now that you’ve been subscribed to receive our blog posts, invest in more detailed, valuable content from Aspire2Higher. The A2H brand has expanded in the last 2 years, and we now have so much more to offer.  We want to make sure YOU, our most loyal audience members, get the BEST from us!

We have THREE valuable options for you to choose from

  • A monthly Premium Subscription
  • An annual Premium Subscription or
  • The LIFETIME PREMIUM SUBSCRIBER (the BEST VALUE)

Here are just a few of the features & benefits of a PREMIUM SUBSCRIPTION:

  • Quarterly Virtual empowerment check-ins (15 mins with Executive Director to begin 2022) 
  • Priority Access & VIP ticket packages for our events 
  • Discounted tickets to the annual symposium (10% for annual & 20% Lifetime members)
  • Access to Online Courses (20% off  to Annual members, FREE to Lifetime)
  • Access to ALL E-books (FREE to Lifetime Members)
  • ONE FREE Unemployment Counseling Session (all virtual for now)
    • Annual members receive 1:1 session
    • Monthly members receive group sessions
  • Discount on ALL merchandise ( except art)
  • Exclusive Access to Podcast Broadcasting events
  • One hour VisionWork Session (FREE to Lifetime members)


For more information, or to START YOUR PREMIUM SUBSCRIPTION visit the website today!

IMAGINATION

Photo Credit: http://all-images.org/imagination-makes-our-days-much-more-exciting-and-interesting/

As a child I had an active imagination and as a teen that imagination turned into plain old grandiose dreams. I used to imagine myself as a singer and movie star and even as a teen, I would sometimes create fake television shows and videos in my basement. Well, only a few things have changed. I no longer dream of being famous, singing or acting. However, I am still guilty of getting lost in my imagination. These days I use my imagination to guide my work and voila……you have what I have coined “VISION-WORK” (trademark forthcoming).

The Aspire2Higher movement follows the precept that ALL your work should be VISION-WORK, meaning that your work should be steps, action items, or strategies leading to the development of your VISION.

Your imagination should be the compass by which you navigate your life. Use it as a guide. Then tap into your creativity to paint what you imagine into existence!

In adulthood I suggest that we move from playful imagination to what we call VISUALIZATION as adults. If you are an avid reader of self-help books, you are very well aware of The Laws of Attraction . Allow me for a moment to attempt an explanation recalled from my undergraduate psychology major. The practice of visualization affects the neurological networks/pathways in your brain. Visualizing enables you to tap into (and perhaps control) your sub-conscious mind. The theory, in short, suggests if you are in the habit of practicing visualization, you can attract more of what you want in your life.

I still escape into my imagination as an adult, parent and working professional. As an Aspire2Higher leader I let my imagination (aka visualizing) aid me in goal setting, and it guides my vision-work. Just this morning I was awaken by my imagination. As I lie in bed, I visualized A2H events and collaborations that some might think outlandish (especially knowing my budget). I however am fully committed to modeling an Aspire2Higher life and in doing so, I choose to think of my imagination as a preview of what is to come.

I leave you with this quote from Adele Brookman:

“Use your imagination not to scare yourself to death, but to inspire yourself to life”.

What do you imagine?

Self in relation to others

Self Awareness is one of the 9 Elements of Success, also referred to as The Elements A2H.

This blog and online community is based on the title of my company, Aspire2Higher. The work of the company has been designed around a set of nouns, characteristics, traits or ,as I call them “elements of success”; the framework describes that these elements, when embodied will equip people to define and create the success they desire. The first Element of Success under the A2H framework is SELF AWARENESS. As I have been dealing with personal challenges this year, I have been reflecting on my experiences and my goals; but I have more recently been in deep contemplation about myself, my goals and my connection with others.

This contemplation kept bringing to mind for me a phrase that I hear and used to use often as an educator; self in relation to others. I have had a strong self awareness for many years, and in fact believe that self awareness is essential as a leadership skill and in the pursuit of success. This is why it is the first and most important among the Elements A2H. In these most recent months, which have proven to be some of my most challenging times personally and professionally, I have realized that my self awareness alone is just the start; its on one end of the self understanding spectrum so to speak. Having an understanding of myself, in relation to others is truly where synergy lives. This can be the fuel for not only defining success but manifesting the success you envision. Having this kind of self awareness is a fluid process, and having an awareness of “self in relation to others” is achieving the most balance as you move (fluidly) along the spectrum of awareness.

Another way to think of this is with the Johari Window Model. I learned about this somewhere during the course of my graduate studies and it still resonates. It is also a tool I use when facilitating A2H empowerment sessions and sometimes individually with clients. The Johari Window model/technique was developed by two psychologists in 1955, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham (Johari is the combination of their 1st names). It is used widely in psychology, counseling and the self help industry but it is also used in communications, and business development and consulting. The general idea behind this technique/model is that we all have four quadrants (or four panes to a window ) of self awareness. Those four quadrants are: open, blind (spot), hidden/façade and undiscovered/unknown. Outside of the model (or window) are four other realms: Known to self, Unknown to self, Known to others and Unknown to others. The goal is to be a person or a team/organization that has free flowing movement and communication between the four quadrants and through the four outer realms, leading to a person or team that has a large “OPEN” quadrant. The larger open quadrant (or window pane) represents a person/team that has a great sense of self awareness, while also having a strong sense of themselves in relation to others. (Thank you for attending my self help TedTalk, LOL).

Image of a Johari Window , Taken from, themindsjournal.com

Additionally, I have come to understand the importance of self in relation to others as an educator, specifically from my study of and career in higher education. Just as I came to learn the Johari model in grad school, I learned about the Chickering Theory of Student Development (as ALL higher education grad students do); this theory has been widely used in the practice of higher education, specifically by those who engage college students outside of the classroom. For a quick overview, the theory, developed by Arthur Chickering (1969) has since been revised in 1993 and describes the overall development of college students. The theory states that students go through 7 vectors or tasks during college as they continue in their psychological & identity development. The two vectors that most closely connect to the Aspire2Higher framework are vector three- Moving through autonomy towards interdependence & vector four- Developing mature interpersonal relationships. A large part of the third vector (autonomy–interdependence) is about students pursuing their own interests and convictions but they begin to understand that they are part of a whole. The fourth vector is related to accepting and celebrating difference in others; respecting & appreciating those differences while learning the interconnectedness we share through our commonalities.

I find these models relevant in several ways. They have proven beneficial to me at this time, as I have been in this contemplation about myself, my goals, my company and the work I set out to do. These theories provide the context for my work in many ways as I guide others in discovering how important self awareness is for their personal and professional success. These theories have also helped me to establish my own theoretical framework-The Elements A2H and they inform my work with students, seasoned professional clients, young adult entrepreneurs and even organization leaders seeking to understand and connect with their units or teams.

As I have been thinking about my goals and the work of A2H, I had to ask myself two important questions: (1.) How are you perceived by others and (2.) who is your main “crew” or part of your tribe? As I reflect on where I’m headed both personally and professionally, its has been much more valuable to involve others in my process. The gift of having a “crew” (you guys know I speak in hip hop terminology) that you can be transparent with ,that you can explore your blind-spots with safely; and a crew that will tell you how you are viewed by them and others (again I stress safely) is an enormous value!

As part of the Elements A2H, self awareness is at the top of the list and enables you to embody the other elements. While it is vital to have self awareness, understanding yourself in relation to others will be far more advantageous for your personal & professional development. As such, I implore you to get you a crew that will be the safe space for your self exploration and reflection which I have described. I also offer to you, if you do not have this type of “crew” the A2H community can offer you that space and be a stand in crew for you!

(A2H Support Crew & A2H Empowerment Session details coming soon! SUBSCRIBE NOW for early access!)

Concluding Black August in Reflection

REMEMBERING OUR WHY!

I write tonight in reflection, on the last evening of “BLACK AUGUST” of 2021. For those who aren’t aware, in the black community, we commemorate the historical revolutionary black resistance. More specifically, Black August is rooted in showing solidarity for incarcerated freedom fighters that we have lost.

As such, we keep the tradition of Black August going by continuing the practice of black resistance and we spend each August honoring those freedom fighters who came before us. I am writing to encourage all who read this to remember BLACK AUGUST as a time to reflect and learn about the legacies of black revolutionaries; a time for self discipline; dedicating time to study, plan and pledge to continue to fight for black liberation.

3 Ways A2H Fights/Works for Black Liberation

  1. Educational Liberation: Working outside of the traditional public system of education through the A2H Movement and with the “My Scholarship IS Affirmation
  2. Teaching Ready to D.I.E. Leadership: Training educators & practitioners through professional development sessions Diversity, Inclusion & Equity leadership practice. And teaching/training students through our J.E.D.I. Leadership Summit (launching before the end of 2021)
  3. CommUNITY Building: Through activity such as our podcast(s), the Hip Hop Symposium and various seminars workshops and special events we produce.

The A2H Commitment to the BLACK AUGUST Purpose & Spirit

As stated in our 2020 Purpose Statement, we remain ” intentional, unapologetic, and fervent about economic, educational and political empowerment of our community”. Today as we close out our Black August, I write to remind our followers and the A2H community that Aspire2Higher is an educational consulting brand that seeks to empower society with the Elements of Success. We’re building a movement of people who are empowered to define and design their own success. This is meant to liberate us from institutions whose structures & policies were designed to exclude, marginalize and minimize our inherent excellence. We work to create opportunities for people to study, train, celebrate and reflect on our ongoing fight for liberation. With our educational, training and community building programs we will demonstrate to the world that OUR SCHOLARSHIP IS BLACK! This is our WHY.

Aspire2Higher’s Connection to Hip Hop

As part of the Aspire2Higher Movement, where people are empowered to define and develop their own success; we offer programming and events that reveal, explore, amplify and interrogate both hip hop and higher education and the intersections between the two. Additionally, we have launched a line of merchandise as an extension of these efforts.

We created our merchandise to affirm the intersectional and “Scholarly Swag” of queer people, black people, Hispanic and Latin X people, and hip hop heads.

As you know, my career has been in higher education and that is where I refined my skills in creating highly engaging educational events that have a basis in hip hop music and culture. The idea for a t-shirt and merchandise line also grew out of my experience in higher education.  My work in higher education focused on uplifting and empowering students who often feel marginalized and even ignored in educational and traditional academic spaces.  I have been utilizing hip hop as a cultural marker in my work to connect with a diverse student population. Our T-shirts are meant to amplify the voices and experiences of those students.

Our designs are also meant to motivate BIPOC, Queer & Trans educators and scholars. The feelings of marginalization and isolation felt in “the academy” were also experienced by people teaching and working there. I also sought to spotlight hip hop as an industry that is a legitimate line of work where leadership and black excellence exist; just as it does in other industries. With this merchandise, we also seek to affirm for hip hop heads, hip hop scholars, emcees, producers, and the like; that your scholarship is hip hop.

All of these ideas and experiences led to me being in the right space at the right time. In my first year working in higher ed in Raleigh, NC, I found myself in close proximity to the very first hip hop festival in the region (The Dreamville Festival). So, I shot my shot. I recruited a strong team, I proposed that my institution find ways to connect this festival to our mission and curriculum and we had a very successful hip hop & higher education symposium (pictured above).

Bringing this into the current year where COVID still has many of us holding events virtually, A2H has most recently partnered with the Ladies Luv Hip Hop platform. tomorrow we are releasing a brand new podcast titled, “Hip Hop IS Higher Ed”. On this podcast (just as in my previous work) we will explore how hip hop is a form of education, how it feeds intellectual curiosity, and how hip hop offers its audience unique forms of critical analysis. Please tune in to the podcast on Apple or SoundCloud, every first Tuesday of the month!

So, if any of this resonates with you and/or describes you or your experiences, order your merchandise and FOLLOW OUR PODCAST today… and proudly AMPLIFY YOUR SCHOLARLY SWAG!

Introducing A2H, The Elements of Success

Aspire2Higher Personal & Professional Development , INC is a three part business.

  1. The A2H Movement & Lifestyle Brand
  2. A2H Programming & Events
  3. Training & Consulting Services

The foundation of the company is based on a framework for personal & professional development created by yours truly, Founder & Executive Director, Stephanie Reed. Each part of the organization is grounded in what we call The Elements of Success-or The Elements A2H.

The framework was developed over the course of my 20 years of work experience as a career counselor, a sales professional, and higher education diversity administrator. Over time, I’ve researched many aspects of career development, personal success, employment trends, career readiness, employer needs, labor statistics, etc. Out of this work grew a simple idea that I coined, Aspire2Higher.

The idea was this: imagine if every person had a personal VISION, and work connected to their PASSIONS that they could use as an internal compass to navigate not only the world of work but their pursuit of personally defined success.

With this internal compass and personal definition of success, people would not need to look outside of themselves to navigate their careers or journey based on someone else’s definition of success. I used this way of thinking as my own personal mantra (and career compass) for many years, and I never settled for what others prescribed for me in regards to work or my personal choices. Back in 2010, I began to write about my ideas and created this framework for personal and professional development called Aspire2Higher.

In short, Aspire2Higher is about possessing some key elements of success, some of which include having Unapologetic Ambition and Taking Charge of your Career! Below is the list of skills and abilities that comprises the Element of Success:

THE ELEMENTS A2H

Self Awareness

Passion

Unapologetic Ambition

Vision-Work

Innovation & Problem Solving

Digital Literacy

Financial Literacy & Wellness

Physical & Mental Wellness

and

Tolerance for Ambiguity

Aspire2HIgher: The ELEMENTS A2H

We are not all born with the ability and resources to be young moguls right away. However, I believe we are all born capable and can become great leaders through the PERSISTENCE of GOOD HABITS and VISION-WORK! Aspire2Higher Personal & Professional Development has programs and services that cultivate this mindset in its participants and train people (young and “seasoned”) on the skills necessary to live an Aspire2Higher life.

Stay tuned to this blog, follow our social media, and participate in A2H programs and events to learn more!