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In a room full of journalists in Sirte, Libya, a Swedish, blue-eyed, young woman was picked from a crowd to meet the subject of her report, Muammar Gaddafi – Libya’s notorious dictator. In fact, 25-year-old Sofia Ek was the only reporter who had a chance to formally meet the former prime minister that day nearly a decade ago. She knew it was the beginning of something big, for better or for worse.
Sofia was working on a report for Smart Money. It was part of a series intended to provide a glimpse into a country’s economy and people and serve as an investment guide to big businesses in the West. Given the opportunity to work abroad during an exciting – and perilous – time, Sofia jumped at the chance.
Young, fearless and ambitious, Sofia started engaging with Libya’s most powerful players, including heirs, oil tycoons and criminals to help with her piece. It’s a story she tells in her recent memoir, The Minefield Girl, which was recently turned into a visual audiobook on Spotify and is narrated by actress Camilla Belle.
It’s a story Sofia recently shared with me at her audiobook launch party, where she described the experience of working abroad as a young woman and how she was able to get access to some of the most influential people during her one-year stint in Libya. But it didn’t come without a price – she found herself fending off danger, which included negotiating with criminals, being in vulnerable situations with powerful men, being spied on and navigating the culture shock of a country that was far different than her own.
Sofia, who in the book admits she used her looks to get ahead, also learned to use her charm and business smarts to her advantage. “Being a young woman in Libya and doing business, I felt like I got a lot of powerful people’s attention simply because of that reason. I had to work really hard to shift them on to business, and in most cases I succeeded,” she told me.
According to Sofia, she was able to gain respect and access because she offered real solutions to some of the country’s most pressing problems. Among them: providing opportunities for positive press to encourage investment or helping to bring in a companies to remove the country’s landmines in order to clear an area where oil drilling took place.
Sofia, a mother of two young girls, said she is telling her story about imperfect success to encourage young women to take risks.
“I want to show them that it’s okay, you don’t have to perfect,” she explained to me. “ … If you’re going down the road less traveled, you’re bound to make mistakes. You’re not going to accomplish anything in life if you’re terrified of messing up.”
Ultimately, Sofia – who is now married to Spotify co-founder Daniel Ek – said her year in Libya was life-changing.
“I understood politics, because I had survived its dirtiest form of exchange,” she wrote in the book. “I understood society because I had surrounded myself with its scariest character and still managed to climb to the very top. I understood people because I finally felt what everyone else felt – anger towards Gaddafi’s Libya and its rules that kept us in our place. I was also at the mercy of the family that ruled this land. I couldn’t help but understand them.”
Daniela Pierre-Bravo is Know Your Value's millennial contributor. She is co-authoring book with Mika Brzezinski titled "The Millennial Challenge," a guide for women just entering the workforce. It will be released in spring 2019. Read more about Daniela here.