So Not Ready For This

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.

before they know they can do it