By Felicity Aston
Starting is the tough bit. A number of years ago I sat down and thought about what issues were important to me. What did I really care about? I had been doing a lot of traveling, and I had become aware through that travel that, as a woman, I was fortunate to have grown up and to live in a society in which I was free to make my own choices. The more I saw of the world, the more I realized that the majority of women on this planet don't have that simple freedom.
The thought made me unhappy, but I wasn't sure how I, an individual, could have any impact on such a global issue. I wasn't a policy maker; I had no experience in development, education or anything that seemed relevant.
It was a while before I began to look at it from a different perspective. I focused on what I was good at and tried to think of ways in which I could use my particular skills to address the issue I was passionate about.
What I was good at was organizing expeditions. For the previous ten years I had been taking part in, and then leading, ski expeditions to the Arctic having already spent three years living and working on an Antarctic research station as a meteorologist. Through those experiences I knew that skiing to the South Pole had become more than just an adventurous journey; it was (and is) a widely understood metaphor for overcoming obstacles to achieve a goal.
I wanted to put together an international team of women with the ambitious aim of skiing together to the South Pole. The expedition would be a positive statement about what women are achieving today. The team would not be experienced explorers but women with whom anyone following the expedition could identify with. We were wives, mothers and professionals, ranging in age from 19 to 43. Many team members had never slept in a tent or put on skis before joining the expedition. One had never seen snow.
I believed in the idea, but I didn't have any clue how I was going to make it real. I was an individual with no support from a big organization, no funding and no particular credibility. At the time, the world was in financial meltdown. It couldn't have been a worse year to look for sponsorship and support. Everyone with experience I spoke to gave me lots of very good reasons that now was not a good time, that I was not the right person, that my idea was sure to end in failure. Yet the response from women around the world couldn't have been more positive.
I received dozens of emails from people I had never met who had heard about my project, telling me how important this idea was to them, and about the impact it was having on their own motivation, ambitions, determination and views. I couldn't give in.
Starting was the hard bit. I began with a laptop and a makeshift desk in my spare room. I started with a website announcing my plans and then began talking to anyone and everyone who might be able to offer advice or support. My theory was that despite the bad timing and the lack of resources, if I plugged away for long enough, eventually I would find the solution to any obstacle. I was right.
Moving forward, even if only in very small steps, seemed to generate the momentum to keep making progress.
It took two years, but on Dec. 29, 2009, I stood at the South Pole with six women from six Commonwealth nations having skied more than 900 kilometers from the coast of Antarctica in the previous 38 days.
We were, and still are, the largest and most international team of women ever to ski to the South Pole.
Five years on and I still receive emails from men and women who have been given courage in one way or another by the story of the expedition. Those emails makes every moment I spent in the planning more than worthwhile.
I don't think there is ever the perfect time or the perfect set of circumstances in which to start a project. If we delay until everything is in place, we could be delaying forever. Starting is the hardest part, but it is also the most important. Whatever your idea, I urge you, make a start on it today!
Felicity Aston is a polar explorer, scientist, author and speaker. In 2012 she became the first woman in the world to ski solo across Antarctica. She regularly speaks to schools, businesses and audiences around the world about her expeditions and the lessons she has learned along the way.
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