When I was hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2016, I stopped for a few hours to swim at a lake in New York. I overheard a gaggle of boys in canoes taunting and daring each other to do something by screaming, “Don’t be a girl!” Several moms and and young girls were within earshot, but no one said anything in response to the boys’ insults. My heart shattered into a thousand pieces. I wanted to yell out, “Don’t be a girl?! Can you HIKE like a girl? Because this girl is hiking 2,000 miles!”
We raise our girls to be afraid. We try to protect girls from the world by discouraging them from getting themselves into risky situations, but this only hurts us more. (The New York Times published a great article about this in 2016). Boys intuit this cultural bias and associate being a girl with being fearful. But being fearful is not inherent to being assigned female or identifying as a girl. Let me say that again: being fearful is not synonymous with being a girl.
The main reason I wanted to hike the AT alone is because I knew the trail would teach me how to take risks in a way I had never been encouraged or given the opportunity to learn before. I had so many inner fears—fears of rejection, judgment, being alone, not being good enough—that I needed to face head-on. I knew the lessons I’d take away from the trail would empower me to bring my best self forward for the rest of my life, even if being my true self means being bold and pissing some people off.
Here is what I learned on my first through-hike: healthy risk-taking does not require the absence of fear. Quite the contrary. Risk-taking is about understanding when fear is helpful and when it is standing in your way. Sometimes fear is your ally—an intuition that taking a certain risk isn’t a good idea at that moment due to lack of skills/knowledge, the conditions, etc. But other times, fear is a saboteur—a judgment or cultural bias that you’ve internalized that is overriding your own objective assessment of your skills or the conditions.
We need to encourage our girls to take risks, so that they learn how to objectively assess their own limits and boundaries in the face of fear. ONLY THEY can teach themselves how to react in scary situations by walking right up to the cliff’s edge of fear and then practicing navigating there, in the space between comfort and distress.
Imagine what the world would be like if more girls had the support to cultivate a personal practice of risk-taking and intuition-building. How would they respond to sexual harassment? Workplace discrimination? Ecological destruction? What would they create?
I’m so grateful for the community support that I received to face my fears on the Appalachian Trail, and now I want to support other young women in taking risks and embarking on their own personal transformation journeys, however that looks for them. That’s why, beginning with my first steps on the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada on March 25th, I will be launching a 6-month fundraiser for three amazing girl empowerment nonprofits: GirlVentures, Gaia Girls Passages and The Girls Empowerment. 100% of what we raise will go to these inspiring women-led organizations.
Subscribe to my PCT 2018 mailing list and stay tuned for the project kick-off. YES to young women blossoming into the brave and intuitive beings they truly are!