Own Your Beauty is a groundbreaking, year-long movement bringing women together to change the conversation about what beauty means. Our mission: to encourage and remind grown women that it is never too late to learn to love one's self and influence the lives of those around us - our mothers, friends, children, neighbors. We can shift our minds and hearts and change the path we follow in the pursuit of authentic beauty.
When people ask me what I do for a living, my answer usually results in a response akin to "You What?" I own a safari company and take people to Africa. And yes, I am a certified field guide. I've been traveling to Africa for the past many years, having gone over thirty times (I haven't kept exact track of the numbers). It sounds impossible. How could a 48-year old woman raised in Birmingham, Alabama wind up as an Africa guide?
My journey begins with a phone call. This was back in 1998 and I was living in San Francisco. I had called a friend of mine to complain -- about myself, about my life, about how hard everything had become -- full of self-doubt and loathing. What I hadn't taken into consideration was that my friend on the other end of the line was dying of AIDs. Now that was something to complain about. But instead of berating me, this sweet soul asked me a question: "If you were going to die tomorrow, what would you regret not having done?" The first thing that flashed into my mind was seeing Africa. By the end of that summer, I was on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Africa had enchanted me. Initially, I had no intention of going back -- I had checked that off "my list." But something kept pulling me back again and again -- the animals, the adventure, and how I felt about myself when I was there. When I was in Africa, I felt truly special, beautiful, and very much at home. I started training to become a field guide in South Africa. Despite being a woman, a foreigner, and the oldest in my training courses, I found I could achieve what my younger co-trainees could not. I knew what I wanted in life -- I had already lived so much of it. I began to see what I had thought of as disadvantages in reality put me at an advantage. It was, after all, only my own perceptions of myself that could hold me back. Once I dispelled my own doubt, I was free to be whatever I wanted.
I realized that dreams are indeed possible, only if we believe them to be. The universe had given me a gift to share with others and the self-confidence from this discovery gave me a courage that has led me along a remarkable path. I've found myself on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, this time to help others. Oh, I'm still guilty of complaining from time to time, but I will never return to the depths I experienced over 12 years ago because now I know I am beautiful and blessed.
I challenge you to answer the same question I did so long ago and then, do something about it -- right now. Find your Africa, stop telling yourself it's just a dream, and make it happen.
Jody Cole, Owner, Wild Rainbow African Safaris; Board Member Equality California; Board Member International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission; Certified Field Guide with the Field Guides Association of South Africa; Kenya
Photo Credit of Mt. Kilimanjaro: justjoff.
Photo Credit of Jody Cole: Cheryl Mazak.