I could feel my stomach tightening as my finger hovered over the ‘Post’ button. I swallowed, trying to push the nerves back down my throat. What was going on? It was just an Instagram post, right? A simple square, a picture, some text. Nothing life-changing. Just a quick announcement about an event a few weeks in the future. So why was I so anxious?

Last winter, I created Girl Speak, an event-based organization built to foster education and action on issues affecting teenage girls, as an answer to the calling I’d felt for years. When I first started labeling myself a feminist in middle school, I began searching for a way to become more engaged in social justice work and start making more of an impact on the world.

I struggled to find a central cause to undertake, for which I felt a strong connection. For a long time I did volunteer work here and there and posted many rants on social media, but my efforts felt unfocused. I was drifting. I told myself I wanted to be an activist, but I wasn’t acting on anything. It felt like a betrayal — a lie.

At the same time, I was examining my connection to Judaism and as my Jewish identity evolved, so did my dedication to tikkun olam. My religious faith became deeply intertwined with my concept of community and global service; one did not exist without the other. Suddenly, my lack of focus and action became a crisis of both my feminist and spiritual selves.

One day, though, I figured out my direction.

I can vividly remember the thought that went through my head, “Write what you know.” It had been hammered into me as a writer, a North Star to follow in the search for inspiration, and it occurred to me that there was no reason it couldn’t apply to my activism as well. I didn’t need to search for a cause; there was so much work to be done in the realm of my own experiences.

I began brainstorming Girl Speak as an answer to the questions I had about myself: What does it mean to have self-confidence? How can I work on claiming space and owning my voice? How do I navigate the mind-boggling world that is a high school social life? I spent weeks figuring out how I wanted Girl Speak to look, who I could bring in to share their knowledge and, even, what my Instagram feed theme would be.

Emma Cohn’s first “Girl Speak” event on body image featuring body image activist Lisa Zahiya (far left).

In the end, I created an event-based organization; each event centers around talks led by community experts on topics like body image and confidence, paired with workshops on the material I design. My intention has been to craft a space dedicated to education, discussion, and action around real issues affecting teenage girls. And it had all led to this moment: pressing ‘Post’ on the announcement I’d created for my very first ever Girl Speak event.

I was so proud of the work I’d done and couldn’t wait to share it with the world, so why was I having such a hard time? Why was I stalling? Why do I still stop each time I wanted to post a new event or to reach out to potential attendees? Because opening oneself up to the world is terrifying.

No matter how proud we are of what we create, and no matter how confident we are that it’s important and beneficial and beautiful, putting it out there for everyone to see and judge takes a lot of bravery, and vulnerability. Additionally,  asking people to evaluate your creation and decide if it is worthwhile for them to dedicate their time feels highly personal; it often feels like I’m asking people to decide if they think I’m good enough…if I’m important…if I’m worthwhile.

I’ve struggled tremendously with self-promotion. I often feel like I’m bragging or being arrogant, or that what I’ve created isn’t really worth attention. It’s an issue that’s based in both a fundamental questioning of the space I take up (or don’t take up) in the world, as well as a fear of putting myself out there. Luckily, in these moments of wavering, I have people to whom I can turn. I look to my sheroes, the women risking far more than minor mockery from my schoolmates to stand up for what they believe in, and I look to my faith. Stories of influential Jewish women in history remind me that there’s a long line of powerful Jewish women standing behind me, women who have my back and who are ready to catch me if I fall. And, through it all, I’ve realized that in the end that I just have to do it. I have to press ‘Post’ because amazing things may result? My first Girl Speak event was a success and each one since has taught me, as well its attendees, more and more.

Learning how to share what I create while asking for people’s attention is going to be a lifelong process as I continue to build my self-confidence and become more comfortable with my vulnerability. It’s therefore a journey I’m willing to take because I now know that I do deserve to own my space, and that my work matters.