Posts

backpacks for adventure seekers

When Your Biggest Fears Come True

This post was originally published on Belong Magazine.

There comes a time in life where your biggest fears come true. Mine happened unexpectedly while I was kayaking on a beautiful blue lagoon nestled in a quaint fishing village in Vietnam. I had been backpacking in Africa for two months and reminisced on the fond memories I had in Uganda and Zambia while I looked at the vibrant green mountains and clouds painted around me. I had met the most incredible people and had a calling to pursue my dream business: creating backpacks that symbolize and support girls education. I never once thought for a second my biggest fear would come true. I was on the last leg of my backpacking trip excited to start the next chapter of my life in South East Asia. I was finally living in the moment. I felt a calmness in me that I can’t quite explain.

I breathed in this stillness and thought, “My life is perfect.”

That stillness was soon interrupted by the buzzing of my phone- it was my mom. My first reaction was, “I’ll just call her later when I’m back on land.” But my phone did not stop ringing. I had this bad feeling inside of me I could not shake off.  I paddled frantically back to shore and ran to my room. I had five missed calls. I called her back. She said in between sobs, “ I need you to come home. Daddy died.”

I was hit by a wave of pain, shock, and sadness. I immediately crashed to the floor. The room was spinning. Gravity took hold of me. “ No. Please. No. No. No. He can’t be dead. Why? He’s alive. He’s fine. He can’t be dead. He was healthy. He’s only 66. This is all a dream. A joke.” He’s alive. I’m going to wake up. WAKE UP, Danielle.

I didn’t wake up. Fast forward to the day I planned my father’s funeral. I was consumed by self-pity and anger. My life was perfect and the universe decided to take that away from me, and give me the biggest fear of my life. Losing my father.

I had the weight of my family, funeral, and the loss of my father on my shoulders. I could not fathom living in a world without him. He was supposed to be there for my wedding, the birth of my children, and when all my dreams came true. He will never walk me down the aisle, and he will never get to hold his grandchild. I will never hear him talk again about one of his greatest loves in life: music. The thought killed me.

But I had two options.

  1. I could go back to my self-destructive coping mechanisms and numb the pain.

  2. Or I could do something even crazier. I could persevere.

I looked up at the Funeral Home Director as he handed me all his paperwork to sign. “Take all the time you need,” he said. I didn’t need time. I knew what I had to do.

This was the day I decided to pursue my calling. ACE.

My heart hurt. But my idea was still flickering a tiny light in my head, and now in my heart. I know that this is exactly what my father would have wanted. This time, I was all in.

It’s Times Like These

Think of your biggest fear. Has it come true? Has fear ruled the path of your life? Or has fear empowered you? I remember the anger I felt holding my father’s death certificate. My hands were trembling as I read the word “deceased.” I walked around the mortuary at my father’s funeral with a blank face wondering, “What next?” I felt that anger again. I was so, so angry. I wasn’t just angry that he died. I was angry with myself. Why didn’t I call him when I got to Vietnam? Why did I move to New York to just be farther away from him? Why did I travel when I could have been home spending the last few months that he had on this earth? I wish I could have held him for one last time, tell him how much I love him, and make sure he knew that he is the most amazing father. But I didn’t have that chance.

When I got back to New York a few months after his death, I became overwhelmed with anxiety and self-doubt about ACE. I wanted to pursue ACE. I had that fire inside of me, but those thoughts always crippled me and that fire became a dim light.

“I want ACE to happen so bad and to honor my father but what if I fail? I have $10,000 from him- what if I use it to make ACE happen and it fails? What “honor” would I be bringing him?” There were so many times I wish he had given me answers.

I went back to working at the coffee shop and decided to completely open up to my coworker and friend, Garrett, about everything that’s happened in my life. “I have been trying so hard to figure out how to honor my father after all of this. But I am terrified of disappointing him. Failing him.”

Garrett said the best thing that I have carried with me till this day. “Honor yourself. If you honor yourself, you are already honoring your father. Because your father would’ve wanted you to be happy. Go after your dreams. Live your life according to you- even if you do fail. That’s how you honor him. Through honoring yourself.”

He was right.

My father never wanted to change me. All he wanted was for me to be happy and healthy. He never pressured me to be anything but myself. But who am I and who do I want to be? I wanted to be someone who lived like an ace.

An ace is someone who has struggles, but despite the struggles, despite the fears, an ace decides to keep going and be the best version of themselves. An ace is someone who perseveres, lives boldly and courageously. Someone who spearheads their dreams with fear, but achieves them with courage.

That is who an ace is. THAT is who I want to be.

We all share struggles, every single day. Most of the time, my struggle is grief. Some days, it’s self-doubt. Other days, it’s depression. Every day is a different struggle. What’s your struggle? Whatever it is, we can all choose to be aces.

You make the choice. Making that decision is scary. Terrifying, actually. It requires you to take risks. Taking risks means being vulnerable. It means the possibility of failing and then deciding to rise up again, and again, and again. When you rise up, there’s only the process, because there are no guarantees when you take a risk. Just you and the beautiful unknown.

The Moment

Everyone has that moment. The moment that they decide to put on the battle armor and fight with all their heart. I sure as hell wasn’t ready to fight.

My story may be the same as yours, or it could be different. The point is, we all go through this moment. The moment where it feels the universe is stacked against you while you wear your silly little wooden armor suit with your silly wooden sword and you go out there to take on the world. “Is that all you got universe?!” I still find myself saying.

But that’s it. That’s the moment. Whether that moment comes after losing someone you love, or losing the house you grew up in, or after going through a traumatic experience. OR, that moment could just come! Out of nowhere. That moment is everything. That moment is where you decide.

Are you going to rise up from the ashes? Dust yourself off? Or are you doing to stay down? This moment…this is where I want to encourage you to rise up.

When you rise up, that’s when the magic happens.

I’ve come so far since that moment. I finished the design of my backpack, created a spec sheet, sourced a bajillion fabrics, published three articles, attended textile conferences and met with fabric suppliers from all over the world, created a website, made business cards, launched social media accounts, hired a sample maker, and I went to an amazing conference specifically for women who live like aces. I’ve made new friends, met the most inspiring people, and the most important thing? Every time I wanted to give up, I didn’t. I never surrendered.  

When Life Happens

Life is full of trial and adversity, but it is at those pivotal moments that we can shape the success we have tomorrow.

When faced with the unknown, most people prefer to stay within the comfort of security. But what if next time you were faced with life’s oppositions, you stood your ground and forged a new path?

I’m not promising it will be easy. In fact, it will be one of the hardest things in your life you’ve ever done. I’ve cried and screamed into my pillow many times. I’ve told myself over and over again, “I can’t do it.” But every single time, I always ask myself, “But what if I can?”

It is only when you’re tested that you can truly discover who you are and who you can be.

Every woman goes through the battlefield to succeed. But what you don’t know is that these ups and downs of daily wins and losses lead the successful women we are today. Success is a movement, not a destination. And in order to create that movement, you have to take action.

I believe that an ace is for truth living individuals who own their story. Through being vulnerable, we find the courage to empower ourselves to reach our full potential. Through that act of bravery, we are able to create an impact greater than ourselves that can send ripples through the universe. I’ve owned my story. Now it’s your turn to own yours.

Every day you have a choice, to live like an ace or not too. That choice we make in the moment can define the rest of our lives. Find your inner ace, she’s in there somewhere. When you do, let her thrive in this magical, chaotic battlefield I call success.

ACE Backpacks origin story

ACE’s Origin Story

Let me just start with the fact that I never, ever, thought that I would be designing backpacks. All I knew was that I wanted to dedicate my life doing something that made the world a better place.

I wanted to be a truth seeker. Find the truth. Tell that truth. Then share it with the world. Where does a truth-seeking 18-year-old go? Journalism school! I pursued a degree in Journalism at the University of San Francisco. Storytelling immediately became my biggest passion. It wasn’t until October 9th, 2012 while I sat in my Journalism Ethics class, I knew how important that would be to me.

That day, Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban for going to school. My professor came in that morning and put on the news. She looked at us with tears streaming down her face and said, “The truth matters.”

To say that Malala’s story impacted me is a downplay. Her story inspired me to dedicate my entire life to storytelling and girls education.

After I graduated college I landed a job at a media company, packed my bags in San Francisco and moved across the country to New York City. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, my big career move wasn’t for me. I was miserable working at a desk 9-5 feeling as if my passions and creativity were drifting away. All I knew was that I was never going to find my dream at a desk job. So I quit.

I spent two years trying to figure out my career path. Was it graduate school for Journalism? A writing job at a reputable news outlet? A freelancing gig? I knew my passions but not what I wanted to do with them.

I needed to do some serious soul searching. How you might ask? I left my office job and became a barista at the coolest coffee shop in the city (s/o Pushcart Coffee) and nanny for the coolest kid I know in the Upper West Side. I saved enough money after a year of work to put my entire life in a backpack and headed to Uganda.

Still unsure of what my career path may be I still knew I wanted to dedicate my life to girls education.

Here I was in a special little town called Mbale. I always dreamed of the red dirt roads and the beautiful green mountains in Uganda. The sound of boda boda drivers and the smell of rolex’s brought me so much excitement to get out of bed and explore.

One morning I walked out of my apartment and saw hundreds of students in uniforms walking proudly to the local primary school, balancing books on their heads.

Of course, my immediate reaction was, “These kids should have backpacks – just like students in America do!”

It was at that moment the idea hit me. I need to make backpacks for these kids! I will sell a backpack in the United States and give a backpack to a child in need.

Excited about my idea, I ran home to tell my housemate who appreciated my enthusiasm but told me the harsh reality:

Roughly 80% of these students will not make it to secondary school.

That was unacceptable to me. These students didn’t need backpacks. What good is a backpack if kids don’t have access to education? The struggle wasn’t carrying books. It is a plethora of issues: child labor, early marriages, lack of sanitary pads, transportation, disability…the list goes on. However, the universal challenge is poverty.

This changed my original idea to give free backpacks to kids to using the backpack as a symbol of education.

Something that will advocate for education, create jobs that lift people out of poverty and empower children across the globe.

A backpack isn’t just a thing to carry stuff in. It means so much more.

Coming back to New York in 2016, I returned to my coffee shop job and continued nannying. Starting ACE has been a constant work in progress, but I’m doing exactly what I’ve felt destined to do. A seed was planted in my heart that day I saw those kids walking to school in Uganda. It’s been a wild journey watering that seed every day. This is where the story of ACE began.