Empowering Beyond Borders–Because You’re Worth Your Dreams

Image

Sitting next to me is a mason jar housing a few remaining Hershey’s Kisses and Charleston Chews. One of my best friends inscribed “Happy Pills: Take as Needed–Unlimited Refills” on an attached label and prescribed them to me a couple months back. I’d like to say it’s the last vestige from that rough patch, but I’d be lying (and that’s a general no-no in the blogging community.)

You see, back in late January-early February, I received rejection letters from both my childhood dream school and one of my back-up colleges. To say it was a tough blow would be an understatement. Any semblance of self-worth went flying out the window–along with “the thing with feathers.” Where I was once fearless and optimistic, I became scared and cautious. I no longer knew how to have faith in the future–something I once held so dear. But, I was still waiting on three more letters. The old me would have spent the months of waiting consumed by day dreams of What Could Be. The new me built an army in my mind to fight off any thought of the best case scenarios. I refused to wear my coveted Brown sweatshirt, and I ran from any conversation about college (which were unfortunately frequent).

Then the fateful day came. I opened up my web browsers, and to my surprise, discovered I had been wait-listed at both Brown and Princeton. Remember that self-worth that shot out the window before? Well it came flying back in, eager to bask in the pride and joy. For the first time in a long while, I beamed. I beamed because I believed in the possibility of the future again.

But, what I have come to notice lately, is that outside influencers only offer temporary self-validation. No college can prove to me my worth. That is something I am going to have to figure out for myself. I have been evaluating these past few months lately, and I still wonder if I’ll ever be the girl I used to be before everything happened. Especially on days like today, when I am afraid of what lies ahead, I try to be that girl. But what I am slowly realizing is that not only can I never be that girl again, it’s okay that I can’t be her. Who I am now is who I am supposed to be. I have a greater self-worth than ever before, and it’s not reliant on anyone or anything other than myself. And maybe this fear I am feeling is just because I finally understand what is at stake here. Maybe my dreams are just bigger than ever before. And how grand is that? To know that your dreams are so big they scare you? I think that means you’re starting to truly live.

So what’s my fear you ask? Well, I have been invited to participate in the global gap year program Thinking Beyond Borders next year! This means that hopefully this September I’ll venture with 18 other students to Ecuador, Cambodia, India and several other countries for nine months to study global development issues. Basically it’s an educational year full of training for exactly what I want to do with my life (an international journalist–read: Nick Kristof/Sheryl WuDunn). Our year will consist of living with host families, fieldwork with local experts, academic study, language learning, and independent travel opportunities. Unfortunately, it does cost money. The total cost is about $30,000, but Thinking Beyond Borders has agreed that for every $1 I raise, they’ll raise $2! This means I need to raise $10,000 to experience this global gap year.

Understand my fear now? There are some nights that I am gripped by the panic of not reaching my fundraising goal. Then there are other nights where I think of how important this gap year is to me, how much it can teach me, and the incomparable lessons I will learn, and my optimistic soul says there’s no way the universe could take that away from me. But somewhere in the middle there’s a voice of reason, reminding me that I am going to do everything in my power to raise this money. And, after all, that is all I can ask of myself.

Last night I launched my online fundraiser: http://igg.me/at/TBBempower/x/6680532. I have 60 days to raise this money through the site (and then I have until July 1st to commit to TBB). I will host fundraisers, a letter writing campaign, a video campaign, apply for scholarships, and so much more. Yet, even with all that said, the fear still haunts me. It was especially prevalent today as my anxiety was high due to the recent fundraiser launch. I eventually calmed myself down by repeating, You are worthy of your dreams.” Because at the end of the day, I think that’s where fear of failure lies–in the belief that we are somehow not worthy enough for our dreams.

I have news for you (and for myself): if your dreams are big enough to scare you, you’re plenty worthy of them. It takes courage to dream big; to put your heart and soul on such a breakable limb; to look the unknown dead in the eye and continue walking forward. You see, fearlessness is not the absence of fear. It’s having the courage to keep dreaming even after you’ve been rejected. Look, I may not ever be the girl who never allowed the idea of the worst case scenario to haunt her again, but I am the girl who believes in the best case scenario, even with the worst case in mind. And that’s just as fearless.

To donate or understand the trip in full detail, please go to: http://igg.me/at/TBBempower/x/6680532

Go Do.

Go Do.

Here I am, splitting my conscious between planning for my gap year abroad with Thinking Beyond Borders and reading James Joyce’s “An Encounter” for AP English Literature, yet always subconsciously dreaming up adventures, when I come across this little magical sign I just had to share:

“But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.”

Ah, Joyce, I have never loved you more.

International Women’s Day 2014

images

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day devoted to empowering women of the past, present and future. My post is relatively short and sweet because I am fortunate enough to be spending the weekend with some of the most inspiring women I know. It’s weekends like these, filled with passionate rounds of Pictionary, magnificently un-choreographed dance scenes in the car, and memories made around dinner tables, that make me realize how lucky I am.

IWD’s theme this year is Inspiring Change. As part of IWD, I encourage every one to recognize the women in your life–or in society in general–who inspire you. If you have social media, post a photo of an inspiring woman with “#sheinspires.” Spread the word and empower the women in your life. Above all else, remember that female inspiration and empowerment lasts longer than one day. Each and every day, there are hundreds upon thousands of women changing the world. Be thankful for them. I know I am.

c1109107f230b60e7240548964a7a1a4

 

Traveling Botanist, Croc Fighter, and Himalayan Hiker

In search of a female role model? Look no further! Here are three of the most bold, daring and brave women in history. Oddly enough, they go relatively unnoticed as far as the history books are concerned–and were even deemed “unusual” in their societies. This TEDEd lesson gives an inspiring animated lesson on three Victorian women–Marianne North, Mary Kingsley, and Alexandra David-Néel. From globe trotting botanist to resilient crocodile fighter to covert Himalayan hiker, these women make me want to set sail on my own exploration at dawn.

Check out the entire TEDEd lesson on “the contributions of female explorers” here.

The Beauty of Lupita Nyong’o

Lupita Nyong'o

Lupita Nyong’o: Oscar winner and Yale grad

Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o has dominated social media and water cooler conversations alike since her stunningly poignant and eloquent acceptance speech last night.

When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid. -Lupita Nyong’o

As the talk of the town, Lupita seemed to be in every Oscar centered conversation at school. It’s wonderful to hear so much buzz about a female actress, especially considering the ferocious gender bias in awards and the 5:1 ratio of men to women working on films.  Yet as happy as I was to join in on the girl crushes over this talented Yale grad, I couldn’t help but find that something was amiss in the conversations. When naming off her numerous inspiring qualities, about every other characteristic there was a consistent clamor over her appearance: “And she’s so pretty!”

There is no doubt Lupita Nyong’o is a beautiful woman. Lupita Nyong’o is pretty. But she’s so much more than that. It would be one thing if the comment was made once or twice, but every other quality? What does this say about our youth? What does this say about media’s influence on girls? What does this say about the female perspective? To me, it seems to be saying that girls–and women–place the most subjective and uncontrollable and insignificant character trait above a myriad of the most rare and honest and inspiring characteristics. Girls, it seems, believe outward appearance–beauty–to be the pièce de résistance of Oscar winner and Yale graduate Lupita Nyong’o. And I can’t just place the issue on every one else. I am a part of the problem, too. While I may not have piped up incessantly about Lupita’s “prettiness,” it is certainly one of the first adjectives I think of.

Before I continue, let me get a few things straight. I am aware that physical beauty is just that–physical, and so it is doubtlessly one of the first adjectives we respond with. I am in no way diminishing Lupita’s beauty, and I am especially not diminishing the idea of beauty. Rather, I am simply trying to point out the curious favoring of outward beauty over the rest of the rainbow of inspiration.

What intrigues/mystifies/angers me the most about this issue is the unavoidable attachment of the varying “degrees” of beauty onto a woman. Something I always try to do when a somewhat gender related issue arises is the good ole’ fashion gender swap. For instance, if these Oscar conversations had been centered around Matthew McConaughey, would various people repeatedly mention his handsomeness as a primary quality? Probably not. Sure, it may get tossed out a couple times but certainly not every other word. I googled the definition of beauty, and the second entrance on Dictionary.com is “a beautiful person, especially a woman.” Since the dawn of time, woman has been unwillingly coexisting with the haunting notion of beauty. What a horridly subjective concept to be dealt. It’s no wonder we’re so focused on actresses’ appearance. By definition, women are beautiful people. And they are! But with unrealistic and Photoshopped expectations of the “ideal beauty” consuming our every waking hour, how can we expect to be content with the beauty we’ve been naturally given?

Lupita delivered a powerful speech at Essence Magazine‘s Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon in which she reflects on her own journey through self-love. As an adolescent girl myself, her words rang the bell of my deepest insecurities. But it is in her speech about beauty that Lupita reminds us all that she is so much more than her beauty.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPCkfARH2eE

We are exposed at the earliest of ages to ardently respect, fervently admire, and desperately seek the elusive concept of beauty. It’s definition changes within the hour, and even the “ideal beauty” image has morphed over the decades. What has remained constant (at least in the past decade or so) is the reminder that beauty is self-defined. Beauty is more than just a thigh gap or curvy hips or long legs or skin color or dress size. Beauty is self-acceptance, self-ownership, self-love, self-confidence. Beauty is self–both in and out. 

Does it seem like I’m contradicting myself here? Tossing out the glorification of beauty and then defining it? Maybe the truth is that the concept of beauty is a balancing act. It certainly should not be the focal point of a woman’s description; yet, it is a seemingly permanent part of society which we must learn to embrace in the least critical way possible. We must not allow beauty to define us. We must define beauty. 

oscars

Lupita Nyong’o accepting her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 12 Years a Slave. Defining beauty in her own right.

 

Zero Discrimination Day

As part of WHM, I would like to invite you all to celebrate Zero Discrimination Day with me. While the night may be winding down and March 2nd is just around the corner, that doesn’t mean we give up the battle against discrimination. Like most issues I’ll be posting about, this one isn’t particular to just women. The fact is, discrimination is more than just a women’s issue. It is a human issue. Sponsored by UNAIDS, the HIV/AIDS faction of the United Nations, Zero Discrimination Day is a chance to celebrate everyone’s right to live regardless of what they look like, where they came from, or whom they love. So as humans, let’s put aside our differences and have more than just one day free of discrimination. Let’s make it a lifetime.

It’s Here!

Image

Hip hip hooray! It’s officially March, and you know what that means? It’s also Women’s History Month! We’re pretty pumped here at You Me We Empower. I’ve been decked out in my Rosie the Riveter costume all day. . . I’m kidding. (But that would be pretty cool.) However, YMWE will definitely be celebrating WHM. I am challenging myself to write one blog post a day for the month of March each dealing with a different women’s issue. So stay tuned and catch up on all things feminism. The posts will be ranging from the very issue of the word “feminism” to the rising Photoshop debacle to human trafficking.

Have any topics you’d like to suggest? I’d love to hear them! Let me know in the comments.

Tips From Liz

liz-alumni

Sseko Designs founder and CEO Liz Forkin Bohannon recently shared her second Huffington Post article,  “Human Trafficking: It Doesn’t Have to Be a Big Hairy Scary Issue,” on Facebook. Liz proposes that we “be a little naive.” In a world which is obsessed with information and knowledge and has tossed the classic idea of innocence out the window, telling people to be naive seems akin to telling a tree to breathe in oxygen. And I’ll admit, I’m a skeptic of naïveté myself. But once again, Liz has opened me up to a new mode of thought.

After reading her article, I realized that perhaps the reason my blog posts have been so scarce lately is because I have been looking at human rights–and really writing as a whole–as a “big hairy scary issue.” Not too surprisingly, I have been over-thinking my posts, planning them days ahead of time and then watching both time and motivation slip away like clumsy burglars. There have been hours upon hours in which I could have researched any one of my dozens of story ideas. I could have made a detailed outline (not that I really do those–but I could have if I wanted to). Perhaps I could have three stories submitted to a number of different media outlets by now.

But what did I do instead? I watched my clumsy burglar trip, stumble and fall down the stairs of great ideas and publishing opportunities. At least he was kind enough to leave behind a phrase here and there. He even spared me a couple of inspirations in my safe. In truth, I am the one to blame. I left the door wide open; I might as well have hung a big “Time and Motivation Thief Wanted” sign up along all the major highways.

All blame aside, Liz has again encouraged me to get back on the wagon of human rights and writing. She’s reminded me that sometimes it’s okay to be a little naive in order to face the “big hairy scary” monster in front of us.