The gender pay gap is real. And, according to the World Economic Forum, it’ll remain that way for another 169 years — until 2186. Since that’s far too long to wait, the organizers of International Women’s Day have made this year’s theme #BeBoldForChange.

“Through purposeful collaboration,” they explain, “we can help women advance and unleash the limitless potential offered to economies the world over.” Here at RTR, we couldn’t agree more: Only by working together, supporting each other and taking bold action, can we make a difference for women worldwide.

But, being bold doesn’t have to mean starting your own nonprofit or running for office (though those are wonderful ideas!). It could also mean speaking up about a sexist policy at work or pursuing a career in line with your passion. These moves may feel scary at the time, but they could pay off in big ways — both for you and the women around you.

To inspire you to #BeBoldForChange, we asked seven women to share their experiences taking a risk, from the stomach-dropping fear to, ultimately, the well-deserved rewards. Read on to hear their stories.

1. Pursuing a Dream of Book Cover Design

“When I was 25 years old, I had a stable and relatively well-paying advertising job. It was the height of the recession — so a lot to be thankful for — but I just wasn’t happy. For years, I’d wanted to apply my creative streak more directly to my career, but I never thought it would be an actual possibility. More specifically, all I really wanted to do was design book covers.

I woke up one day and realized that if this was truly my dream, I had better go for it. So I enrolled in a part-time graphic design program while continuing to work full time, and after a couple of years, I managed to end up with a small portfolio. From there, I was able to talk my way into an audience with my favorite book cover designer — and somehow convinced him to give me an internship. It didn’t pay and was a super risky move, but happily, it landed me a job in his design studio and I’ve been designing book covers ever since.

It makes me nervous looking back, but I couldn’t be happier about the risks I took. Now I spend half my time designing book covers, and the other half on a painting and crest business I started — a whole other risk that was also well worth it!” — Rachel Adam Rogers

2. Leaving it All Behind for Africa

“One of the biggest risks I’ve taken in my career was leaving my full-time job at the Houston Chronicle to travel in Africa. It was scary because I was leaving a stable job, and though I planned to freelance along the way, I didn’t know how or where I’d find a job when I returned. I saved up enough money to cover me for those six months and a few months when I returned, and used my travel time to beef up my freelance portfolio, writing about topics like polygamy that I’d never get to cover in the States.

In the end, the biggest reward for my career was I felt personally fulfilled, so I was ready to dive back into building my career full-force when it was time to come home. That career break put me in the position to accept an editor job at U.S. News & World Report and start my own content-management business.” — Alexis Grant, Executive Editor at The Penny Hoarder

3. Standing Up to Sexism as a Firefighter

“The fire industry is notoriously tough for women. Not only because of the physical challenges, but because of the discrimination, with guys constantly making sexist jokes and saying things like: ‘You’re pretty strong… for a girl.’ I’d always been afraid to report issues to my captain, for fear it’d make things worse, or make it seem like I couldn’t handle this career. But eventually, I had to say something.  

Terrified, I spent a few minutes talking about other things before telling my captain that my fellow firefighters’ sexist remarks had become too much. He immediately said he was glad I’d told him — and then asked why I hadn’t come to him earlier. I felt so relieved. Soon after, he spoke with the guys on my crew, and some of them even ended up apologizing to me. The remarks and jokes became much less aggressive, and much less frequent. Looking back, I’m so glad I stood up for myself. Not only did it let me focus on what mattered at work, it hopefully made things a little easier for the next female firefighter.” — Elisabeth S.

4. Going From Lawyer to Traveling Soup Aficionado

“It feels like yesterday that I was awake all night in New York, terrified about whether quitting my job as a lawyer would be the biggest mistake of my life. Colleagues insisted it would be disastrous. I was up for partner in just a few years. What was I thinking? But I had long dreamed of taking the trans-Siberian trains, and had saved up diligently over years of work to try and make that journey a reality. After years in a lockstep career, I tried to do what terrified me: be open to the possibilities, wherever they may lead.

I never would’ve guessed that, almost 9 years later, I’d be working as a food and travel writer. Somehow, that white-knuckled decision to walk away from what was comforting led to a new career, multiple awards and memories from over 60 countries around the world. As an entrepreneur, I still don’t know where it will lead. There are many days where that terrifies me. But if anything, my leap into the unknown has brought challenges that made me a better person, with more faith in my skills than I had before.” — Jodi Ettenberg, Founder of Legal Nomads

5. Finding Confidence in a Job Others Couldn’t Handle

“Six months after starting a job as a part-time cashier, the full-time Inventory Management Specialist position opened up. All I knew about the job was that it was difficult and a lot of responsibility — and the last two people who did it were fired or quit. Despite what I’d heard, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

When I took the job, I was so scared that my legs were shaking. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I took the leap and it was so worth it. This job has made me so much more confident than I’ve ever been, and that’s been beneficial in every part of my life. I’m doing so well that our district manager is considering me for a position that’s basically the leader of all the Inventory Management Specialists in our district. For all the times I’ve felt frustrated, scared, or lost, I come home proud of what I do, excited for what I’ll do next, and absolutely grateful I took the risk that got me to where I am now.” — Dallas J.

6. Hitting Rock Bottom — Before Going Way Up

“Two years ago, after losing my Grandfather, nearly losing my husband, losing my (admittedly awful) job and then losing our one car, I’d officially hit rock bottom. The benefit of doing so? You realize you’re still alive, still breathing and have nowhere to go but up. I’d always dreamed of writing for a career, but never thought I could actually do it.

All this loss showed me I should be bold and pursue that dream. Despite numerous rejections, I persisted in applying to every writing job I could. One of the best job posts called for five years of agency experience. Despite have absolutely none, I took a chance and applied anyways. I hoped my hustle could overcome my lack of experience. Thankfully, the team at OrionCKB saw my willingness to work hard, and hired me to be the voice of their digital ad agency. I’ve never been happier in my career and am continuing to grow — thanks to taking a leap of faith without worrying about the landing.” — Amanda Oliver

7.  Teaching Herself to Be Her Own Boss

“I was a middle school teacher for 14 years: I had tenure, a Masters degree and was set to take an administrative role within the next three or four years. I loved my job, but the stress was pretty high. My husband and I had opened a CrossFit gym a few years prior, and I helped out in my spare time. Combine my full-time job with this venture, and I was always running ragged.

Three years ago, we made the very scary decision that I’d leave the teaching profession and move into our business full time. That meant giving up a dependable salary and a guaranteed retirement. I cried and cried because we were putting all our eggs in one basket — but it was one of the best decisions of my life. I love the freedom of being my own boss and knowing my future is in my hands.” — Angela McCord

This year, and every year, think of all the ways you can #BeBoldForChange… you never know what might happen.