“I want to do it because I want to do it,” Amelia Earhart said to her husband. “Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about her in recent weeks as my 2,650-mile journey on the Pacific Crest Trail draws near. Amelia was my childhood role model and the subject of a “famous person” presentation I performed (in costume) in elementary school. As a child and to this day, I deeply admired how she went after what no woman had attempted before. I wanted to be bold, brave and adventurous like her.
What stands out to me now when I think about her is that her passion for flying must have deeply scared her husband and family. She must have known this, yet she chose to dedicate her life to it anyway. Because she wanted to. Because she had to. And what I imagine to be her family’s worst fear came true in 1937 when she mysteriously disappeared somewhere over the central Pacific Ocean on a flight around the globe.
Was it OK for her to do that to her loved ones? Was that an acceptable risk for her to take? Was that selfish of her? And would these question even occur to me if I were talking about a male pilot, adventurer or explorer?
From what I have seen and experienced, women are socialized to put the needs, expectations and desires of others before their own aspirations. This has been going on for generations. And I understand why—to stay intact, our communities need people (of all genders) whose calling is to be the glue that holds families and social groups together. But what if a woman is not called to do or be that? What if her calling is to explore something that is not what her loved ones are comfortable with or had envisioned for her?
Ultimately, we as women must give ourselves permission to take the risk and explore the uncharted territory, if that is truly what’s driving us. But it’s difficult to do that without any social support. Pioneering women like Amelia Earhart might possess a bullish courage that allows them to single-mindlessly pursue their dreams regardless of their socialization. But it would be a heck of a lot easier for the rest of us if we had the encouragement of even just one friend or family member.
So if there is a girl or woman in your life who is on the edge of taking a leap into some unknown that is calling to her, let her know that you are there for her. Breathe through your discomfort and let her know that you will support her in whatever she chooses to do, even if it’s not what you would have chosen or would prefer for her. Because by following their dreams, women are serving the wider community by breaking down boundaries and giving others permission to choose their own path.