A bit of midweek inspiration: Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall Image credit: Jane Goodall by Nick Step, on Flickr. CC BY 2.0. 

Today, I’d like to wish a happy belated birthday to one of my personal heroes, Dr. Jane Goodall. Her birthday was on April 3rd and she turned 81.

Jane Goodall has dedicated her life to one mission: studying and protecting our closest animal relative, the chimpanzee. She left home for the wilds of Africa in her 20s with little knowledge of the terrain or the animals. She didn’t even have a scientific background to rely on. She turned her love of animals and her natural curiosity into a career that has spanned six decades, and she shows no signs of slowing down.

Jane is an inspiration to me for one reason: her fearlessness. When I was a girl, I remember hearing about this woman who lived in Africa with chimpanzees. I watched National Geographic specials about her and marveled at how a tiny blonde woman could live in the jungle with wild animals. Wasn’t she afraid of the insects and spiders? Didn’t she worry about the chimpanzees, or other wild animals, attacking her? I could barely go down to the basement for fear of seeing a centipede. I wished I had Jane’s courage.

In college, I had the thrill of seeing her speak live. She came out on the stage and greeted the auditorium with her customary chimpanzee greeting. She didn’t blush or even seem embarrassed after doing it. She spoke for over an hour without stammering or forgetting what she was going to say. Her voice didn’t shake. Not once. I was as intrigued by her self-assuredness as I was by what she had to say about her studies. I had an intense fear of public speaking and took a D in a public speaking class because I was too afraid to finish most of the assignments. I wished I could speak like Jane.

Jane travels over 300 days a year to speak about animal rights and to educate people about her beloved chimpanzees. That’s a lot of travel for an 81-year-old scientist. Doesn’t she get tired or sick? Isn’t she afraid of falling and hurting herself or of someone taking advantage of her because of her age or of getting stuck in a ditch on the side of the road? I hope when I’m 81, I can still travel like Jane.

In recent years, I’ve started to conquer my fears. During a recent trip to Costa Rica, I took photographs of huge scary spiders instead of screaming and squashing them with my shoe. I’ve zip lined off mountains and in the rainforest. Scariest of all, I started Emmet Street Creations, a business that allows me to do something I’m passionate about. I still struggle with public speaking and I’ll never warm up to centipedes, but I’m making progress. I’m starting to live more like Jane.

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