Town: Brooklyn, New York
Quote: ““Today is the first day of the rest of my life.” – John Denver
Sarah’s Story: “What is your North Pole?” explorer Barbara Hillary asks a crowd of New York outdoor enthusiasts a few weeks ago. Though polar explorer herself, she acquiesces that perhaps not everyone wants to go to a pole. “So what is it that you want to do?”
Hillary had first gone to the North Pole in 2007 followed by a traverse of the South pole in 2009. She was invited to speak at the OutdoorFest final party as a way to connect the adventures of our ten-day festival with larger dreams and more ambitious goals. The quiet after she asked us about our personal North Poles question was surprising. She had just given us permission to dream and dream big. All of us.
I started OutdoorFest in the fall of 2013 with the goal of creating a more robust outdoor community within the confines of New York City and to connect my fellow adventurers with amazing (and often hidden) local resources. We had an amazing festival, with thousands of people engaging in all five boroughs involved. Yet, even among the stress of organizing over 80 events the hardest moments of creating and delivering this festival happened at the beginning.
Starting a business is obviously a risk and I knew not everyone would support me in taking that risk. What turned out to be surprising was the reason – my age. I was 25 when I quit my job, 25 when I started a company, and am still 25 as I write this article. It’s a number and also a reflection of my time in the workplace but not a testament to my specific abilities or ideas. You see there’s neither pre-requisite age for dreaming or ambition nor a maximum age when you have to stop adventuring.
Barbara Hillary is famous for being the first African American woman to go to both poles. Yet, as she spoke, I heard her explain a very different type of barrier than her race: it was her age, or rather, other people’s perception of her age. She was 75 when she traversed the North Pole and 79 when she went to the South Pole. In her 80s now, she’s planning new expeditions, pitching new sponsors and training just as hard.
But she faced the same questioning when she began her journey, with people doubting her resolve and abilities simply because of a number; a number that they’ve pre-determined as a limiting factor for her success. At 79 Barbara Hillary smiled after reaching the South Pole safely. At 25 I started a company. At 42, at 16, at 61 women are pursuing their own goals.
This is for all of the women out there reading this whatever age you are– your dreams matter regardless of a number. You certainly don’t have to wait or stop your journey North. You can push boundaries whenever you want.
“You can do whatever you want to do – you have a giant inside you” – Barbara Hillary