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Lelemba Phiri

Lelemba Phiri

Zoona Zambia Limited

Lusaka, Zambia

When the fear creeps in, I ask myself, "‘What if it turns out to be beautiful?"

I was worried as I walked towards the biggest and scariest roller coaster in Cape Town, South Africa: The Cobra. I had refused to go on The Cobra the last time I visited the park 3 years before, because I felt I needed “prior mental preparation” before doing it (that’s code for: “I’m not a very spontaneous person and I was afraid”). This time around I was determined to get on because in a few weeks I would be leaving Cape Town, where I had lived for six and half years, to move back to Lusaka, Zambia where I am originally from.

I was returning to Zambia to board another kind of roller coaster: a new job as managing director for Zoona Zambia Limited, a totally different role for me. The thought of leaving and trying something new gave me a feeling similar to the one I felt as I faced The Cobra: nervous, unsure, and a little bit nauseous. But I thought, one fear at a time.

There I was, moving forward in the queue with my husband Sandras by my side. He was urging me on and telling me it would be okay, as he had ridden The Cobra before. I held his hand tightly and said, “I will do it!” And the ride was absolutely beautiful! I wasn’t afraid at all—even though my husband was screaming in the seat next to mine. Mesmerized by the amazing adrenaline rush I felt, I kept saying ‘This is beautiful!’ I felt alive. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to Cape Town.

I thought of The Cobra as I confronted, head on, the other challenges and changes in the months ahead. I migrated from Cape Town, which had been my home for six and a half years. I took on a lot more responsibility as a managing director. And the most difficult change was that, after assessing many options, my husband and I had decided that our sons would be better off in boarding school in South Africa, as we made all these big moves in our lives. I was anxious and afraid, as I had been when staring down The Cobra. There were many chances to curl into a ball and scream, “I can’t do this!” There were many chances, in other words, to not board the ride. But when the fear crept in, I asked myself, “‘What if it turns out to be beautiful too?”

So far, the ride of my life has turned out to be just that. Six months in and I have settled into my new role at work and am making important contributions to the team. The boys are thriving at their new school. And we love our new home in Lusaka. My husband has been a 50/50 partner as we’ve made all these changes and supports me the same way he did in line for The Cobra.

Are there still more chances for me to take chances and overcome new challenges? Of course there are, not just for me but for African women all over. I just came back from a mobile money conference in Lagos, Nigeria; of the 31 speakers at the conference, only 3 of us were women! Sometimes I still feel that fear and uncertainty. But then I ask myself again: “what if it turns out beautiful?”

And I promise you that it usually does, so let’s keep embracing the ride.

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