I Kissed Hustling Goodbye. (For real, this time... I hope)
I wasn't always a perfectionist. In this months-long effort to reclaim my "essential self", I am finding myself having to peel off the layers of selves I was never meant to be, but covered my skin in what I thought was most acceptable, most successful. Boy, it's been painful. One of these identities I am casting away is perfection. I think I picked her up at some point in college; because it was walking through the halls of the Lewis K. Downing Engineering Building a few weeks ago that reminded me how less preoccupied I was with being better than others, and instead just being my best self.
Since it's #graduationSZN, I spent a lot of time with graduating seniors; listening to their plans, ideas, and HU stories while sharing with them my very convoluted trajectory as a way to let them know it was okay to not have it all together.
Man! I remember feeling at age 22 that having it all together, or at least "faking it until you make it" was paramount to a life best lived. Celebrating accomplishments and living and loving life just as it was should never, and could never be enough; there was always a bigger goal to reach -- a higher peak to summit.
Contentment was for the mediocre, and mediocrity a recipe for a meaningless, unfulfilled life.
For the purpose-driven Arielle, the threat of a life without meaning sounded like a doomsday prophecy. So I picked up the hustle sticks and got to planning. Solving for the problems of future problems were my forte, I was a trained engineer for God sakes:
Must find career. (LOL)
Must find graduate research topic.
Must find community.
Must find church.
Must find good church.
Must find leadership roles.
Must lose weight.
Must meet husband. (I didn't.)
Must decide on baby names. (I haven't.)
Must dress better.
Must own a house.
Must stop moving. (LOL)
Must settle down.
Must find friends.
Must find hobbies.
Must take care of family responsibilities.
Must become a dynamic public speaker.
Must obtain discretionary income.
Must turn up.
Must document EVERYTHING.
Must prove I deserve to be here. And there. And over there.
I found a lot, if not all those things at some point along the way. But what I also found in trying to be someone I am not and was never meant to be is exhaustion, frustration, anxiety and depression. I never learned that the goalposts of achievement in the eyes of others are always in flux. I never learned that I will always be one-step away from success because it really isn't measurable, and therefore always a function of how I see and love myself, right here, right now.
If I can't see or love myself, just as I am today... there will ALWAYS be something better. Like an addiction, I will always crave more opportunities to prove myself, to hustle harder, to bend my essential self like a pretzel to fit in with what others say is good. To burn myself just to keep others warm. Perfectionism is a cunning thief of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Thankfully, I began to break myself out of the hustle gang when I quit my job and moved to Ecuador. Life here is so much slower, so much wider, so much more free-flowing. There are very few deadlines, and if they cannot be reached, they just aren't reached. It doesn't make us less productive. Peace Corps life truly is about building friendship, strengthening community. This takes time, this takes effort, this takes repeated tries, this takes mistakes. Perfection has no home here. In its place, I find peace.
This mindset shift comes with a lot of second-guessing. Am I being a good Volunteer? Am I getting anything done, at all? Am I really making a difference? But then I remember Mary, who chose to sit at Jesus' feet; to listen, learn and understand him rather than Martha who worked herself to the ground to prove herself to him. Jesus said that Mary made the better choice. In Ecuador, I am following the same.
Selfies are forever :)
I experience success every day that I interact with mis queridos Pajanenses. There is success to be felt every night that I gather people to "camine conmigo" around town at dusk, or to dance freely to reggaeton and soca under the moon. I feel accomplished every time I have a good conversation with my host parents about life; or set future dates for training sessions for the health professionals in my county as we move forward with empowering women and building better avenues to talk about sex with our youth.
I celebrate every time someone commits to having an HIV test, or learns how to use a condom properly, and every small conversation I have with a fruit stand or veggie stand owner about when she thinks more strawberries will be available to buy, because YUM. My heart is filled with love with every child who runs to hug me while their parents smile from afar, and every time a bus driver greets me by name when I am traveling out of town. I am successful because over the past year, through all my tests and trials, I have made this beautiful pueblito my home.
I no longer subscribe to the spirit of hustle hard. Instead, I choose to love myself, love my community, love my family and love my God just as they are today... for better or for worse, in rainy season or dry. This is my Peace Corps life, and it isn't perfect nor predictable, but it is full of joy.
This is where my essential self thrives.
And whenever I am in doubt, thank God the beach is just a bus ride away.
Ayampe Beach, Manabí
(Yes, consider this another shameless plug to get you to come visit)