Greyhounds and Great Expectations

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By Dalia Mogahed
2013 ICAN Women’s Leadership Conference Keynote Speaker

When I was in 5th grade my teachers selected me to represent my school on a Rotary Club sponsored trip to the nation’s capitol. I was extremely honored to have been chosen from among my peers and especially grateful because it made my parents proud. They were so delighted, in fact, they actually allowed me — a ten-year-old who had never been permitted to sleep outside my house — to go on the week-long Greyhound bus trip from Madison, WI to Washington, DC. Still they were understandably scared and so was I — scared to be away from my familiar friends, family and hometown. I decided that if my mother and father were going to make this psychological sacrifice and venture outside their comfort zone to let me go, I would make sure to make the most of the opportunity.

My time in Washington was as wondrous and surreal as it would have been had we taken the Greyhound bus to the Land of Oz instead of Pennsylvania Avenue. We visited the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and for the ultimate highlight, went on a tour of the White House. It was like walking into a postcard and becoming part of history.

Never in a thousand years would I have imagined entering the same building three decades later as a member of an advisory committee to the President.

As a young person, this experience was transformational because it opened up the possibilities of conquering fear and going beyond what was familiar. I had made this monumental trip by myself, had experienced places no one in my family had seen, and was suddenly ready for anything. In a way I would only come to understand much later, these short days were the inception of a life-long journey to surpass the limits of my expectations and find new paths that surprise even me.

I have carried this sense of wonder for what is just beyond the limits of our expectations with me in my career, always stretching further, challenging myself and my team to exceed our own perceived possibilities. This doesn’t mean I am never scared — quite the opposite. I’m terrified every time I get a new opportunity.  I’m scared of failing. I’m scared of disappointing the people who believed enough in me to take the risk. I’m scared of being laughed at for being so audacious, just as I was the first time I left home on my overnight trip to DC. And like that journey, this fear fuels my resolve to run faster, fight harder and work longer than anyone expects to make sure I succeed.

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Dalia Mogahed is co-author of “Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think” and the former Executive Director of Gallup Center for Muslims Studies. President Obama appointed her to serve on the White House Advisory Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.