Monday, December 15, 2014

2014: The truth behind the smiles

In honor of the new year approaching and all the cliches that come with that, I wanted to say a few things.

This time last year I wrote a long post summing up all my adventures from 2013 and what I wanted from 2014: 

"My only hope for 2014 is that it will live up to 2013. I hope I don't forget the most important lessons I've learned: follow my heart, be a good friend and appreciate your good friends, things will work themselves out, everything happens for a reason, always look forward, and don't stop believing!" 

Well in many ways, 2014 did live up to 2013. I traveled a lot. I met new people and tried new things. I moved to South America to teach English in Peru, and for a time, it was incredible. While I was there I backpacked through Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. I experienced countless parades, festivals and treks. I climbed Machu Picchu twice! I encountered all kinds of exotic animals. There were many noteworthy experiences, but the highlights were Isla del Sol, the salt flats, Quyoriti (an annual pilgrimage to a glacier), Patagonia and the King penguin colony I saw there, Iguazu Falls, Easter Island, and of course Machu Picchu. 

But if I'm being honest, this year came with a lot of lows for me. There were many times when I stopped believing and temporarily lost hope. Not necessarily in a horribly tragic sense, but I had no idea what I was doing with my life and couldn't seem to see a clear future for myself. After the six month itch crept in like clockwork, everything about Cusco felt tainted and it spread like wildfire across every aspect of my life. The initial draws were replaced by a bitter taste in my mouth for the city, my job, and my life. Even though I made a few wonderful friends that I will always cherish, I couldn't seem to stop comparing everything to Australia and my time there. More than that though, I didn't like the person I was in Peru. Something about Cusco brought out parts of myself that I don't know how to identify with anymore. I didn't accomplish most of the goals I had envisioned conquering there, and my discontent showed through my lack of productivity. 

So there I was, in South America getting paid to teach English, and for all intents and purposes, I was living the dream. But despite my persistent smiling, I was panicking because I knew, that lifestyle couldn't last forever. I wasn't sure teaching English to middle class and rich Peruvians was the mark I wanted to make on the world (Not that there is anything wrong with it, I personally just didn't want to make a career out of it). The key to happiness, as I have come to interpret it, is giving your life meaning; and I genuinely lacked that in Cusco. So after the honeymoon period wore off, I was left with a void that desperately needed to be filled with a substantial purpose. The one thing that kept me going though, was my dream of becoming a Peace Corps volunteer. 

I went back and forth with wether the Peace Corps was the best next step for me, and ultimately submitted the application. Eventually I was nominated for an assignment in Tanzania in February 2015, and I put all my energy into making that happen (despite the fact that I still didn't possess an official invitation). I believed that by wanting it enough, I would will it into existence. So I didn't even bother with a backup plan. Coming back to the states without a real plan was risky, but I was desperate to be back in a developed country, and nothing else mattered. I was convinced I would immediately get a part time job, save some money, do some more traveling, everything would fall into place with the Peace Corps and being back in Arizona would be like old times. Reality couldn't have been further from the fantasy I had invented for my return. 

Upon landing in New York City, I literally could have kissed the ground. However, the high of being back in the states wore off quickly, when it became abundantly apparent that Arizona wasn't the same, and neither am I. My friends have moved on, many are married, having kids, or in serious relationships. If not, then they either moved, or aren't someone I can relate to anymore. In addition to dealing with reverse culture shock, which was more complicated than I anticipated, nothing went according to plan. The Peace Corps offered me an assignment in Swaziland for the end of June 2015 (9 months away), which meant some big decisions had to be made. I spent weeks applying for every imaginable job with absolutely no luck. The negative environment I was living in compounded with all my other stressors, and I began to feel lost, hopeless and generally depressed. 

Eventually, I went back to work part-time with my college job, started rock climbing again (something that made me happy in the past), and moved into a new place. I wasn't happy per se, but things were happening and I was getting into a routine again. Then out of the blue, I hear back from a non profit I had applied to a month prior. A Skype interview turned into them flying me to Oklahoma for a second interview, and eventually a job offer. 

So that brings me to the present. I accepted the job and now I am mentally preparing for this unexpected adventure that will take me to Tanzania to work for a children's foundation. It's not the Peace Corps, but in many ways, I think it will be better. I guess things did work themselves out in their own bizarre way. So even though I may have stopped believing at points, I never stopped following my heart.

So in keeping with my 2014 resolution to always look forward, here are my hopes and guidelines for 2015:
  1. Be open to opportunities in unexpected packages. 
  2. Avoid people who are not genuine, and if they are unavoidable then surround yourself with more that are (they will have your back and make the false friends easier to deal with).
  3. Disregard imaginary deadlines for big life accomplishments (which relates to #5).
  4. Understand that experiences are tied to the people you are with, so pick good ones for every occasion.
  5. STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHER PEOPLE! (Each person is on their own path with unique circumstances)
  6. Don't beat yourself up about mistakes, but also stop repeating mistakes.
  7. Love.
  8. Don't get too attached, but let people in (life is nothing without human connections).
  9. Stop putting off goals for the future that can be achieved now. 
  10. Read more. 
And now here is some photographic evidence of my adventures this year...

Carnaval in Urubamba, Peru

Qoyllur Rit'i Festival
Tipon Zoo
Moai statues on Easter Island
During a transportation strike
Tres Cascades in Bolivia
Salkantay Mountain (4600 meters)
Kayaking in Mendoza, Argentina
Moray in Peru
Paragliding in Mendoza
Salt Flats in Bolivia
Lares Trek (after surviving an unexpected snow storm)
Humantay Glacier Lake (Day 1- Salkantay Trek)
Iguazu Falls (Argentina side)
 a blowhole on the beach in Arica, Chile!

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