Just about every day, for one year, I set out to run one and a half miles. I was twenty-two years old, living in the City of Baltimore as a full-time volunteer. Running was an inexpensive and healthy hobby. After work I would head home, change clothes, put on my sneakers, and sit on the couch resting up enough to run my one and a half miles. When I felt ready, I would drag myself over to Druid Lake, my track of choice, where the circumference around just happened to be one and a half miles. I look back on that year and, funny enough, I really can’t remember if I was ever able to do it. Maybe once or twice I ran the perimeter without stopping, but years later that is not what sticks out to me. When I tell this story, I don’t think about finally reaching that goal. What I remember is the feeling I had each day, as I ran just a little bit further, the challenge felt just a little bit easier, and I could laugh at the idea that I had convinced myself to do something that felt impossible when I started.
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done? I’ve known people who have quit their jobs, sold all of their belongings, moved away from home. I’ve met people who have sky dived, free climbed, and free dived deep into the ocean. Stepping out of your comfort zone is pretty… uncomfortable. Putting yourself out there forces you to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is scary too. A lot of people set out to prove something to someone else, and that’s probably because proving something to yourself is a hell of a lot more frightening. What do you tell yourself, when you let yourself down? Furthermore, can you even tell the difference if you didn’t try in the first place?
Sophie asked me to write a blog post about this amazing opportunity I’ve been selected for – and I’ll get to that, but for me, I haven’t been quite able, just yet, to wrap my head around the amazingness of being 1 of 95 women in the world selected for a groundbreaking leadership program, or going on the largest ever all-female expedition to Antarctica. For me, it’s about the moment last April when I told myself, I had nothing to lose, to put myself out there, tell my story to a bunch of strangers, and see if they saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself.
I wrote myself out of this opportunity twice before I finally applied. The universe sent me two invitations to apply over the course of six months, in the form of alumni newsletters from both my alma maters. It wasn’t until I was sitting in on a presentation by a previous expeditioner who said the same thing – “I almost didn’t apply” – that I decided at that point, the only reason I wasn’t going to Antarctica was because I was telling myself I wasn’t cut out for it. And so, I applied for Homeward Bound.
Homeward Bound is a leadership training program for women in STEMM who share a passion for environmental sustainability. It focuses on preparing women for decision making positions in situations where the outcome will shape the future of our planet. This is about climate action, but it’s also about improving the health of our planet despite it. This is about women as leaders, but it is also about creating a dynamic where men and women are stronger together. But first and foremost, it is about those things in the context of leadership. The program is delivered over a series of monthly video calls where women from all over the world “get together” and learn from impressive experts in leadership development. We focus on four cornerstones of advancement, in strategic capability, visibility and science communication, science collaboration, and, of course, leadership. The program culminates in a 21-day voyage to Antarctica to witness the effects of climate change in real-time, and to test our new skills as leaders and collaborators in the most isolated location on earth. All of us are stepping out of our comfort zones.
This isn’t an unfamiliar feeling for any of us. I remember having it every day, when I would start that one-and-a-half-mile routine - I didn’t think I could do it, so I didn’t want to do it. When I would collapse in the grass after run-walking my one and a half miles, I would sometimes imagine myself sitting on the couch after work, where I was less than an hour earlier, mustering up the courage to move, and think, “how the hell did I do everything between the couch and this grass?” I can proudly say though, since those intimidating days at Druid Lake, I have run a handful of 5ks, five half marathons, and I’ll be running my second Cherry Blossom ten-miler in D.C. this spring. And I will admit to you that, to this day, I come home from work and sit on the couch for an hour mustering up courage to go for my daily run.
Runners will often say that hardest step is the first one out the door. So, here’s my encouragement to you – put on your sneakers and take the first step out the door. If you need to sit on the couch for an hour and muster up the courage, that’s fine too. But don’t write yourself out of things because you are afraid of failure, or because you’re not enough. You are enough. Sometimes we need to take the first step out of our comfort zones and then let someone else tell us we are enough, but it starts with you. And who knows, you might just end up on a boat to Antarctica.
If you liked my story, please consider making a donation to my fundraising campaign - https://chuffed.org/project/katiepiazza .
If you would like to learn more about the ground-breaking leadership initiative, Homeward Bound – or to apply yourself – please visit - https://homewardboundprojects.com.au/application/ .