In 2004, I spent Christmas day on the banks of the Ganges River. A journey inspired by childhood memories of my father sharing stories of kite battles in the streets of Old Delhi. I'd come to India to discover something about myself.
Back then, when asked what I did for a living, I'd wittily tell people I worked at a radio station called KPMG. While KPMG was where I worked, it was no radio station. I'm a Chartered Accountant, and back then I used my skills to help design international tax plans for my clients.
I wasn't fulfilled by my career and I was scared to do anything about it. My fears ran deep, the same pattern they'd run my entire life. I was the girl who'd been heartbroken more times than I could handle. The child whose best friend moved away when I was eight and who feared that my parents would plummet to their death falling off of a cliff in a car accident.
I had lost my way and love for myself. I cried a lot, but the reality was I was afraid to move beyond the tears to really feel the fear. Viscerally, there was no flow. No lightness. My yoga teacher often said that all fear, when boiled down, is a fear of death. While in India I contemplated this, which opened me to fleeting moments of surrender where I could feel my internal compass beginning to turn. I could recognize a self that went beyond the story of a sad young girl who feared being left behind and abandoned.
Just as I began to feel like an adult ready to make choices to love myself and others, I encountered my diving board moment. There are many ways to soar from a diving board. At times it's a beautiful swan dive, others times a fantastic cannonball, and we've all done our belly flops.
Mine came three days before my 31st birthday. I was pushed off. As my sister and I drove into my driveway, I saw the look of death in my brother in-law's eyes. I learned that earlier that day my beloved boyfriend, who was also my best friend for many years, had been killed in a tragic accident.
The fall was immediate -- I mean I literally fell to the ground and then from there I continued to fall. All the fears, sadness and loneliness I'd felt in the past were now substantiated. I could see that I had become the author of my own demise.
And then something happened. Two days after Paul was killed, I was buried beneath my bed covers, drowning in sorrow I'd never felt before. Though my support network was amazing, I could only hear the sound of their voices and not the words they spoke. Until a voice came through clear. My sister, in conversation with a friend, their voices full of fear saying: "I don't' know if she's going to make it through this."
My sister's words became the opposing energy to the gravity that was pulling me to the deepest hole. I couldn't believe she questioned my strength. I knew that death would not rob me of my life and that happiness was something I could choose.
So I started to walk endlessly. Every day I chose to wake up. Every day I chose to get up out of bed and face my fear; rather than numb the pain. Day after day, the physical movement of putting one foot in front of the other began to help heal the wounds and I started to experience an undiscovered creative part of myself.
Despite these baby steps, I continued to free fall for about another year and half. Then, after months of grief and despair, dissatisfied with my work and my life and what I thought was my destined future, I woke up. One morning I resigned from my 12-year career, and literally dove in, not knowing how or where I would land. Then, sooner than I could have imagined, the forces that bring all things together stepped in, and the opportunity to help build what is now imagine1day became mine. All there was, was nothing and everything ahead of us to create.
On my first bumpy trip to Ethiopia in 2007, I discovered a country with a commitment to educate every one of its children. I learned quickly that the people of Ethiopia are building a future that positions them as active players in the global economy, and are investing heavily in the education of their children to achieve their vision of being a middle income country by 2025. This makes imagine1day's goal of access to quality education for all Ethiopians, free of foreign aid, by 2030, very achievable.
Some days the challenges of building imagine1day can feel like a push off the diving board. However, on most days, I reflect on the incredible rainbows I've seen in a country known for drought. I recall the beauty of children smiling and I marvel over the leadership I experience in parents and educators, who day after day are generating their vision of universal education.
Whether it's inspiring children in Ethiopia with their own diving board moments, or pushing the boundaries of creative people all over the world to make their next big leaps, I continue to see the miracle in it all eight and a half years after Paul's death. Knowing that people's lives everywhere are being so incredibly impacted by what we do at imagine1day, is like a flight off that diving board above the clouds, where the sky is nothing but the perfect shade of blue.
Today, I walk again, this time in support of imagine1day. I have pledged to walk 100km in support of schools in Ethiopia, and sustainable education. As I walk, I'm reminded that we're creating something truly magical that has grown out of my own diving board moment.
Sapna Dayal is the Executive Director of imagine1day. She's currently walking 100km for imagine1day's latest Creatribution: http://100kfor100k.ca/