Gasping for air and tripping over my feet while chasing Nepali men up and down a field was not exactly what I anticipated when I set out on my trip to Nepal. But it did end up teaching me a lot about entrepreneurship.
How did it do that? First, let me provide you with a little background on how I ended up in this situation in the first place.
I'm the co-founder and CEO of The Global Good Fund (www.globalgoodfund.org), an organization that accelerates the development of high potential young leaders committed to social impact through entrepreneurship. About 50 percent of our fellows are international. Visiting The Global Good Fund Fellows allows me to connect at a very personal level and experience the positive impact they deliver on the front lines day-to-day -- the heart of our business.
A few months back, I traveled to Nepal to connect with our prospective Fellow, Praskash Sharma. His organization, Splash, focuses on improving the health of vulnerable children by providing clean, safe drinking water to schools, orphanages, street shelters, rescue homes and children's hospitals.
Nepali student learning to wash her hands
To my surprise, I ended up on the front line during this trip more than I had bargained for. On the front line of the soccer field!
My visit to Nepal was incredible. To kick things off, Prakash toured me through several schools where I met children who are beautiful in every way. They trained each other about healthy sanitation and nutrition, all while learning about the benefits of access to clean water, something I admit I take for granted day to day.
Nepali students stand proudly after drinking clean water
I was also introduced to Nepali cuisine and dined at some incredible locations -- on the street, at the family table, on the floor and even at a restaurant located in a grand architectural masterpiece where my camera got the workout of a lifetime!
Aside from several fantastic dining experiences, I also got to enjoy lovely conversations at the home of my host family. One evening, we even hiked to watch the sunset at a temple atop a huge hill, where there were monkeys and monks everywhere I turned (I guess that's why the locals called this temple the "monkey temple").
On my last day in Nepal, Prakash told me that he was going to play soccer at 7:00 a.m. and invited me to watch the game.
"That'd be nice," I told him, "but I'd rather play, if that's all right."
Prakash gave me an amused look and graciously invited me to join him and his teammates, bringing an extra blue shirt for me to play in. When we arrived at the field, I quickly noticed that there were no other women warming up on the sideline -- let alone playing!
Men in traditional Nepali hats called dhaka topi
I was the only female to be seen besides Prakash's daughter, who cheered me on with great enthusiasm. Both soccer teams were very welcoming, though seemingly puzzled and amused.
The game kicked off and I sprinted up and down the field, trying to act like David Beckham. My absence of muscles and complete lack of foot coordination quickly became apparent. To be brutally honest, I couldn't remember the last time I played soccer, but I think it was at a pickup game several years ago -- and boy, did it show. Combine my two left feet with the elevation of Nepal and I was quite the sight on the field ... tripping, wheezing -- it wasn't pretty!
But the experience sure was rewarding. What made the entire game even more worthwhile was when Prakash's kids came over to cheer me on. When I saw Prakash's daughter light up on the sideline (at the sight of me flailing around the field), nothing else in that moment mattered. Playing this game of soccer was a great experience for both Prakash's daughter and for me.
After the game was over, Prakash's mother invited the family back home for a traditional Nepali breakfast and was incredibly amused by my interest in playing the game with all the men. Not only did I get to humble myself through a game of soccer in Nepal that day, but through my adventure, I was able to connect with Prakash and his family on a personal level.
Prakash's daughter and me
So how did this experience teach me something about entrepreneurship?
Attempting to play soccer in Nepal taught me to be open to new opportunities and to welcome risk. As entrepreneurs, we are programmed to leap outside of our comfort zones, but we often think of risk-taking only as it applies to our day-to-day work. From my time in Nepal, I learned to think outside of professional silos and to practice taking risks in every angle of life.
This attitude has not only greatly enhanced my life, but has also opened my mind to new business opportunities in addition to helping me forge strong business relationships. I entered Prakash's village as a stranger, but by taking a risk and playing in the game, I made unexpected friends and even a new business partner. I also bonded with my hosts, as we could laugh together at my soccer skills (or lack thereof).
Welcoming the unknown opens doors to enriching and enlightening opportunities. By constantly doing things that make us slightly uncomfortable, even in our personal lives, we make the fear of failure a little less painful. Taking calculated risks and embracing what makes us uncomfortable pays dividends. At the very least, it provides amusing stories.