By GIRLWITHABOOK co-founder, Lena Shareef
I’ve just quit my job in New York City and I’m standing in REI gazing at rows and rows of travel gear. It’s absurd. I did not know packing cubes are a thing. Why are there so many different types of backpacks? What the hell am I doing here?
Fast forward some months and I am now sitting in a hotel room well into a four-month journey to Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, India, and Nepal, here to report on the state of girls’ education. My friends and I have been planning this trip for the past year (read more about it here), but I didn’t think I would be joining them.
It’s really easy to support another person’s dreams. Someone wants to create a startup? That’s fantastic! A friend wants to pack up and move to Ethiopia to work at a hospital? Amazing! Your cousin is becoming a Peace Corps volunteer? That’s so cool! These plans always sound great in my head but it’s incredibly hard to imagine myself doing something like that.
Just a few months ago, I had a great job working at a PR agency in New York City. I had health insurance (which included vision and dental, mind you), I had my friends (I still have those), a cool apartment, everything. I was on an upward, steady, very predictable track and I was living the life in New York City. What more could a millennial want?
Even as my friends and I got ready to launch our Kickstarter last spring, I still envisioned myself staying in New York. I suggested to my friends that I should stay behind to serve as a point person for all our content as they traveled to South and Central Asia. They looked at me with disbelief, but I insisted that it makes sense and it’s what I want.
Of course, once we got funded, that’s when the weight of our idea, our trip, our dream hit me. For the first time, it felt real and all of a sudden, everything in my heart and gut was telling me I should go. That terrified me. This meant a lot of things: quitting my job, leaving New York, subletting my apartment, getting ready for a trip to South and Central Asia. What does that even entail? Physically and mentally?
Even now, after we’ve embarked on this ridiculous trip, there’s a moment of panic that I feel nearly every day. I understand now that there is no getting ready for something like this. It’s quite possibly the craziest thing I’ll ever do in my life. But here’s the thing: I get angry when I read a story about a 13-year-old girl being forced into marriage. Or when a woman is shamed into staying inside her home at all times. Or when a mother can’t buy the proper medicine for her children because she doesn’t know how to read. So how much longer am I going to get angry at the many injustices women and girls face daily? How much longer before I actually do something?
Before I left, I kept asking myself one question: Will I regret it if I don’t go on this trip, if I don’t fight for something I truly believe in? And every time, my answer has been yes. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t have made a difference any other way. But I realized that this trip is a once in a lifetime opportunity that my friends and I created for ourselves. We built this from the ground up. So it’s all or nothing.
When I’m reading a book or watching a movie with a character that’s struggling to make a life-altering decision that seems very obvious to the audience member, I want to scream, “Go for it! You can do it!” But it took a lot more strength to be able to say that to myself. It doesn’t make sense because I should be my own number one fan. Don’t we all learn that in first grade or something?
A few months back, while I was procrastinating on Pinterest, I came across this fantastic quote from Amy Poehler that keeps me going:
Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it.
I’m definitely not ready, but let’s do this anyway.