Where Were You On 9/11/01 and How Has Life Changed For You? Finding the Balance

“Knowing what must be done does away with fear”

– Rosa Parks

“Entrepreneurship at its heart is aligning your purpose for being on earth with a business idea so compelling that you simply must do it, despite the fears that hold you back.”

– Pamela Slim, Author: Escape from Cubicle Nation

“Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing”

– Mark Twain

Today is a bittersweet day. On one hand, I am reflecting on my life, in the aftermath of 9/11, and remembering those we lost, especially those of us who protect and serve. As a New Yorker who lived through 9/11, who actually knows people who were injured or forever lost in the Twin Towers, today is one of those days for introspection. One of those days where I think about the road not taken so to speak, and the choices I’ve made or others made for me, that have led me to this point in time, writing in my blog, about my book and Big Plan. My mission, to do work that matters, to empower more women, especially in the educational and healthcare arenas to partake of both the Entrepreneurial and Tech Revolutions. It’s time.

Yesterday, 12 years after 9/11 and 6 years after the first iPhone was launched, Apple™ gave a press release about the new iPhones and the new operating system, iOS 7,  which will again revolutionize the way we live and interact with others. It boils down to emotional attunement, i.e., Theory of Mind, a term coined by neuropsychologists, which refers to one’s perspective and empathy. Apple™ is so popular because of its visual aspect (design excellence, ease of use, etc.) and its visionary aspect (trailblazer, etc.). I wrote about my impressions and reflections in my latest Huffington Post article:

“Visionary Product or Visionary Leadership: Can’t A Female Entrepreneur Have Both?”


I still remember being a child who was already aware of the glass ceiling women encountered in the workforce, who was so proud when Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, boarded the Space Shuttle Challenger. I remember that fateful day in 1986 when it  exploded in the sky, and I was asked “Where were you?”. I was asked this question again as an adult in 2009 when the first Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon died aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. To me, space travel was and still is,  the culmination of both visionary leadership and visionary products, despite the setbacks. That’s the Star Wars and Star Trek geek inside me, and the Techie speaking.

Fox News ran an article today, “Where Were You on September 11, 2001- When America Changed Forever?”


We are once again reminded of the ongoing human quest to find meaning and combat evil. The epic battle between good and evil still plays repeatedly in various world arenas; current events, geopolitical movements, tech trends, and through storytelling in TV/film. I will write more about that, and the wonderful storytelling and thought leadership provided by master bards Joss Whedon and Tim Kring in the future. For now, the point I’m making is that the proverbial seesaw one needs to balance these days is not just about good vs. evil, but it is about humanity vs. technology. That struggle, to find balance and psychic harmony between man and machine, is what gives us the means and desire to spurn collective change. That balance gives the competitive, solitary, sometimes grueling nature of striving for perfection its wings to be free, and be more in touch with one’s humility and inner sense of humor.

There are times when I think of that balance as “humanity & technology”. Like Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in The Internship. Like peanut butter & jelly. Like chocolate and vanilla. Like cereal and milk. Then people act a certain way, the media gets wind of it, goes to town, and I think , uh-oh, here we go again, back to “humanity vs. technology”. Like someone making a phone call to set up a date vs. texting the request (ugh!). Like the Terminator movies. Like inane selfies and video clips from that party that can ruin a person’s digital reputation and make for cringeworthy job interviews, family reunions, and self-flagellation.

I’m humbled and gratified to see relative calm in cyber-space today, on 9/11/13, where it’s often the opposite…. due to tech and social media frequently being used at best as a narcissistic outlet, or at the worst, a tool of manipulation or power play.

I’m reminded of my professors at NYU whom I heard, and the books by Dr. Oliver Sacks I read, such as the funny and moving The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, which gave me insight into one human truth I’d like to share with you. The ability to adapt to change, to move on and recover from challenges and setbacks, is known in psychological jargon as resiliency. The tool to wield, to forge a path ahead, to “activate” one’s resilient light switch, is humor. I write more about this in my book, and will gladly share more related insights in future posts, but for now, I want to write about getting in touch with our humanity, especially today of all days.  I want to emphasize that a sense of humor helps people “share a moment” and collectively become more in sync with each other. It’s what speech therapists and psychologists call “Emotional Attunement”. It helps people be more resilient. It has helped us in New York, and collectively as a nation “bounce back” and go on.

The most resilient people have humor in spades, and the best entrepreneurs learn to hone this skill. The effects are far reading, due to the ease of “sharing a moment” through visual digitalization, a form of storytelling, seen in social media venues such as Pinterest and YouTube. In fact, I so strongly believe that the human connection i.e. humor trumps technology savvy, (which is really just a tool to enhance quality of life and economic innovation) that I want to share an example from YouTube. This clip has obviously been shot by an amateur, and is not a feat of technological prowess. But it is all heart, and tugs at the heartstrings. It is why it’s been seen by about 5 million people so far, 30,000 of whom have “liked” it. It was posted on the Huffington Post, a sure sign that it’s officially gone viral. This YouTube clip is a real life window into the innate nature and resiliency of the video’s unwitting star, a husband lying on his back post surgery, who is understandably groggy and “out of it”. His wife video tapes him trying to wake up, (or as we speech therapists say, “reorient to person/place/time”) and figure out who she is. It’s a pretty funny, spontaneous video, but what really touched me was how open the husband was, how resilient, and how intact his innate sense of humor, while functioning at a noticeably diminished capacity due to the anesthesia!

Embracing one’s sense of humor helps one adapt and be resilient. It helps one embrace change, which also means embracing fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of ridicule and censure. Fear of failure. This man in the YouTube clip exemplifies that, as does his wife, for recognizing the comic timing and opportunity to digitally capture his monologue.  I have learned that in the aftermath of 9/11, when we Americans had to learn a new way of doing things re: security, commerce, and even travel. I continued to learn that in 2009, when I left my own physical and psychological “cubicle” and embarked on my entrepreneurial journey with my wits, previously learned skills, optimism, and Pam Slim’s practical and surprisingly funny book, Escape From Cubicle Nation, amongst others, to guide me.

Part of the good vs. evil struggle involves knowing when the Us vs. Them mentality needs to be transformed into the We mentality, so that goodness, courage, generosity, optimism, and yes, humor can prevail. Educators live this on a daily basis while molding young minds. Thought leaders know this when providing meaningful content. Inbound content marketers are learning this. The masses are starting to understand this. It is why entrepreneurship, especially my brand of entrepreneurship, social intrapreneurship, is beginning to flourish.


My company, Socially Speaking LLC, which I started to launch in 2009 and deployed it as an LLC in 2010 has a slogan;  Join the Journey for Change. With the publication of my book by Maven House Press, I hope to spread that message, amongst others.

My book cover & blurb are now live on the Maven House Press site:


I would like to thank my editor Jim Pennypacker for his sense of humor and optimism about the human condition, for truly understanding my mission, and for all my future readers for letting me share it. I appreciate my readers here in WordPress and on Tumblr, and hope to provide more musings and “shared moments” with y’all!





About penina4niceinitiative

Penina Rybak MA/CCC-SLP, TSHH, CEO of Socially Speaking LLC, is the author of "The NICE Reboot: A Guide to Becoming a Better Female Entrepreneur". She is an Autism specialist and educational technology consultant turned social entrepreneur. She is also a pediatric speech therapist and the creator of the Socially Speaking™ Program & iPad App. Her second book, "Autism Intervention in the iEra" was published in 2015. Since 2010, Penina has been a national/international speaker about social communication development, balancing humanity and technology, and best practices re: mobile and social technology. Connect with her on LinkedIn to learn more. You can also find her on Twitter: @PopGoesPenina, Facebook: Socially Speaking LLC, Google+ at The NICE Initiative for Female Entrepreneurship, and Pinterest and YouTube as well.
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