Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Manal Al-Sharif, the brazen Saudi woman who made history (and TIME’s Top 100 Influential People list) by videotaping herself driving a car and uploading it to YouTube. I felt lucky to have briefly met Manal back in January when I attended Yahoo’s Change Your World Summit in Cairo, but even luckier last night when I got to actually sit and talk with her for awhile.
Until, that is, she ruined my upcoming birthday.
You see, on May 18 I will turn 30. I’ve been pretty excited about this, and will be spending the week in the Netherlands with my nearest and dearest, and have rented a boat for our little group on the actual day. I was telling Manal this, and watched her face droop into a look of a concern.
“Just a boat ride?” She asked, “You have to do something outrageous, something you’ve never done!” As I pondered, she began to tell me why.
It seems, you see, that on Manal’s thirtieth birthday, she was alone at a conference in a foreign city, feeling sad, when someone came along and turned the day into a new adventure. After that, she decided to top each birthday with the last.
Last year, Manal turned 32, and posed the question to her Facebook friends: “What could I do to top last year’s adventure? I know, I think I’ll record a video of myself driving!” (I will take a moment here to interject another hilarious anecdote: Manal got her first driver’s license in my home state of New Hampshire!) Though it took a few weeks, she eventually did, and in doing so, made history. And that is the story of how Manal Al-Sharif (almost) ruined my 30th birthday.
I say almost, of course, because it’s not too late! So, my friends, I am now scheming for something truly epic. I will never top Manal, of course, but I hope to start big and then challenge myself each year thereafter. You see, for a year now I’ve been inspired by Manal’s fortitude, but after getting to know her a little, I’m even more inspired by her attitude and sense of adventure.