I am afraid all the time. It’s my dirty little secret. I had the idea for Million Girl Army for seven years before I started it. Seven, fear filled years.
That’s the exact length of time it took for me to get over the fear of not knowing all the answers, of not having all the necessary skills, of not knowing the exact sequence of steps necessary to make it a success, and take the first step.
I recently watched a TED talk by Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, who spoke about the importance of teaching girls to be brave, not perfect. She told of how somehow our culture is teaching boys to be brave, to try new things and to celebrate the lessons failure teaches along the way. And that same culture is teaching girls they must be perfect. It resonated with me.
I have lived a life seeking perfection. Doing the right thing, saying the right thing, getting the best grades, becoming a success in my profession. And for the most part, my life has followed the “perfect” path I chose. So much so I became bound by the fear that accompanies perfectionism when I reached a place where I no longer had all the answers.
My heart has yearned for years to have the courage to launch Million Girl Army. My head knew it was the right thing to do. I had traveled the world and had seen what girls and women face. I knew it was wrong. I knew I wanted to be part of the answer. But because I didn’t know all the answers, I was afraid to even try. For years, I couldn’t even take the first small step.
But there has always been a whisper somewhere inside pestering me. Telling me to stop being afraid. To have a little faith. A whisper reminding me that the girls of the world need me to stop being afraid and take action – some action, any action. They need me. They need us. They need us to stop being afraid, to stop being quiet as they are persecuted, to stop looking the other way when the problem seems insurmountable - And. Just. Try. Something.
A year a half ago I took the first step and found someone to help me design the brand for Million Girl Army. From that moment, one fear-filled, shaky step at a time, I’ve crept forward. The past year and a half has been filled with crossroads, of uncertainties, of problems that seem too big to overcome, of more stumbling than triumphing.
And yet what I’m learning is that just as the fear begins to overwhelm me and I feel like giving up, someone comes forward to walk alongside me. A donor with the money I need. A volunteer with the skills I need. A board member with the connections and passion I sometimes lack. A middle school girl with a fearless and bold spirit who believes in my vision and wants to be a part of it.
Million Girl Army is on the cusp of a nationwide launch. The idea is both exciting and fear-filled. How will I take this message, this vision that came from my fearful mind, and convince the middle school girls of the world they are the answer to the world’s problems? I don’t have the answers my reforming perfectionist wants. I don’t have a feeling of courage to help me lead the way. But maybe that’s the point.
If bravery is what’s needed, and bravery is taking action in the midst of overwhelming fear then maybe I am as equipped as anyone else who has ever tried to change the world we live in.
I’m holding on to that hope today and thank each of you for walking this road with me.
-Sara Johnson, Founder