Crying in my Uber
Today, I left one of my families — my National Geographic Society Family. This week was National Geographic Explorers Festival and I had the honor and privilege of attending this year. For two years, I sat at home and tuned in to the festival via live stream, yearning to be there.
This year was my year.
On the way to Explorers Festival, I wrote a piece about what it’s like to leave my own family to join expedition teams and vice versa. In those moments, I was teary-eyed as the train departed my home town. This time, the train departs Washington DC soon, and I find myself in my Uber, crying as I depart my National Geographic Family. It does not get easier to leave either family at any point. But what I do know is that I cannot be the person I truly am without these experiences.
This week was an expedition of celebration, collaboration, new connections, fangirling the Explorers I admire and taking selfies, exchanging bold ideas, and seeking new ways to change the world. It was an emotionally and physically draining expedition, but one that I had dreamed of for two years. It was everything I hoped it would be plus a little more. I was often asked by people throughout the week what my biggest takeaways, surprises, happy moments, and “ahas” have been— and now that it is over I think I know the biggest takeaway.
Just before I left, I was scared out of my mind and had convinced myself I did not belong and I was not worthy of attending the festival. I spent half a day crying as I exchanged texts with friends I would see in DC. There were even moments this week in DC that I still felt that way.
“Why am I here?”
“What makes me a part of this community?”
It took a lot of things for me to finally realize on the train home that I do belong, I am here, and I will save the world, but it won’t be alone. I always knew that last part — but what I did not know was how the entirety of that sentence would play out, how I would realize this is it.
If Andres is reading this, I am certain he is shaking his fist at the screen while, he is my biggest cheerleader, mentor, friend, and teammate in this journey. He constantly reminds me that I do belong, I am here, and I am making a difference and will continue to do so. Sometimes though, you have to realize this on your own.
A few big moments for me were when I would go to introduce myself to someone I admire, and Explorer, a Director or Executive with National Geographic Society and before I could go full on fan-girl mode, they said my name.
They. Said. My. Name.
They knew who I was, they knew my work, one even said my hashtag — wait what. I was all about to start talking in high speed, requesting a selfie, and gushing about how I knew THEIR work, involve my students in replicating their field work and protocols and hoped one day to meet them…but THEY felt the same for ME.
Incredible. Unbelievable even.
Don’t get me wrong, more moments were spent with me in awe and in fan-girl mode than people recognizing me — but those few moments were enough to open my eyes to what I actually do, what I am doing, and what the future could hold for my work.
What really tipped the iceberg for me though, was a conversation on the final day with some of my friends on a couch. We shared our stories about the school year, many of us feeling frustrated, stuck, even questioning ourselves as educators, explorers, and effective changemakers. What this made way for though, was passionate manifestos about our dreams for our work and impact. It was beautiful. I loved hearing these stories woven with such positivity and passion. When it came to my turn to share, I immediately shot into The Boiling River Project, the expedition with Andres. This year, we are on the brink of something incredible. I will contend that Andres has been for the past 11 years, but this field season is a tipping point. The team, the goals, the diversity of projects, ideas, and even people is something to be reckoned with. While there is not much that I can release to you as of right now, suffice it to say this field season is going to he HUUUUUUUUUGE. While speaking about the team this year, the talents, the passion, the vision, I realized in that moment as I spoke a mile a minute that what I do IS a big deal. Again, I am sorry Andres — but I get it now!
This project and the team is incredible and my role as the Education Team Lead is kind of a big deal. In that moment I realized all of this, the impact we will have, the precedents we will possibly set for future expeditions — the array of subjects from microbiology, paleontology, anthropology, entomology, ichthyology, and so on — there are incredible connections to nearly every discipline of science that exists; endless possibilities for educational components to be created and brought to classrooms worldwide. What I thought was just me, on an expedition, doing my thing and hopefully one day bringing it to classrooms outside of my own is a huge reality. It has always been my dream — to go on expeditions, scale for classrooms and distribute worldwide and it's happening. The time is now.
We are on to something amazing.
We will change the world.
We will save the Amazon.
It was through this conversation that I realized the impact that we will have, and I am a part of it.
To top this all off, as I was speaking at light speed in full Schnekser-animated mode, on a couch but propped up on my knees as if delivering a sermon — Andres rounded the corner and I couldn’t stop. I think in that moment, Andres realized too that the light finally went off (or maybe ON!) for me. You see, the previous night, I was zombie-like at times, still unsure of my place here. Andres knew it — but it was difficult to have a conversation, always on the go here and at the time (most of the time), surrounded by people that I wasn’t ready to open all of this up to. Nonetheless, the fire has been ignited and Andres came over, and joined the conversation, lighting up just as I did. That’s kind of him though — always on fire.
This. This is what makes leaving my field expeditions so difficult. They are an ingrained part of me, of who I am.
This is why I am crying in my Uber.