I have been trying to decide what the “perfect” first post (other than my love letter to Rome) should look like. I’ve tossed around various ideas in my head, but I can’t seem to get anything down on paper (or type anything on the keyboard) because I dismiss every idea as “not right” or inadequate. Yes, that would be my chronic “friend” Perfectionism entering the room. He almost always turns up at times when I’m very invested in something, or when I care deeply about a subject, or at times when I feel passionate about a topic, a project, an essay, or this blog. And he never comes alone. He’s always flanked by his loyal henchmen, Self Doubt and Low Confidence. Of course the rational part of my brain tries to rebuff the trio, telling them the obvious truth that there was never going to be a “perfect” first post elegantly laying out what I hope for this blog. But they hang around anyway.
This reminds me of a personal essay I wrote in college about this very issue I have with wanting so badly to be perfect that I ultimately achieve nothing. The essay begins like this:
I stare at the blank page, taunting me in its utter pureness, its sheer possibility. I have sat staring at it for more than 5 hours now, turning over personal essay topics in my mind, fleetingly getting ideas before quickly then dismissing them as not good enough a few minutes later.
Sometimes I even manage to write a few words on the paper before erasing them in disgust. Five hours of work – not to mention the countless hours (sorry for the cliché) I have spent fretting over this essay since it was first assigned – and a blank sheet of paper still mocks me from my desk, daring me to spoil its virtue by disgracing it with a word or a sentence that will inevitably sound all wrong.
I think back on all the times in my life this very frustration has overtaken me – in different aspects of my life – but always the familiar nagging in the back of my mind, the same churning stomach and shaking hands, the same fear of never being enough. My mind, with all its marvelous capabilities – can paralyze me. I can debate something in my mind so much that by the time it comes time to act – I am frozen in fear.
The essay goes on to illustrate and chronicle issues that have plagued me and occasionally taken up residence in my head for long periods of time and for as far back as I can remember. But those are issues and stories for another time and another post.
So what does this have to do with a blog I started to keep friends and family updated about my travels? Nothing, at least at first glance. Nothing, except that for me, travel is almost a sacred experience. As I say in my little bio on this site, as cliche as it may be, my times abroad have always led me to examine myself and travel as deep within me as the miles I’ve physically covered via plane, train, or automobile. And this includes confronting such “friends” as Perfectionism, Self Doubt, and Low Confidence. You see, this self-examination I inevitably undertake when I travel isn’t always fun or easy. Staring at my flaws and faults, and trying to figure out how to minimize them while acknowledging they will always be a part of me – it’s hard. But it’s always worth it. The neverending trek towards self-awareness is always worth it in the end for me.
But you know what else this type of self-examination means? It also means standing in front of the Colosseum for the 100th time and still getting goosebumps because I never tire of it. It means being awoken alone in bed in a hotel room in Beirut by the call to prayer and being in absolute awe that I am there, in that time and place, experiencing a culture so foreign from mine. A culture that leads me to examine my beliefs and sense of self and appreciate a different way of life, even if it’s not how I personally choose to live. It means getting wonderfully lost in the maze of streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, and suddenly looking up to see the Western Wall and Al-Aqsa Mosque in front of me and being rendered literally speechless at the history of the place, at the thought of the devotion and reverence it has evoked in people for thousands of years, at the battles and wars waged over this area of land I now have the privilege of experiencing.
So before I get too long-winded (I think it’s too late), I’ll just say that I know this talk of inner examination of self through travel and transformation and increased self-awareness can sound like one big cliche. But that’s okay. It may be cliche, but it’s my cliche. I am never more “myself” than when I travel, nor have I ever gotten more insight into the puzzle of who I am than during my solo journeys across oceans. To continue on the cliche kick: Travel feeds my soul in a way nothing else ever has. It makes me feel more alive than I thought possible, to where I can physically feel it. It selfishly helps me put my life in perspective. It teaches me about the world and all its people in a way nothing else can. It proves to me that there are different ways to live one’s life, and it gives me the extra boost of reassurance that I can live my life in my way. And that’s okay. (I promise, Erica, it’s okay!)
These next few months abroad already feel like I’m finally able to take a deep breath after a year and a half of shallow breathing and gasping for air. I couldn’t be more thankful I have the ability to do this, and I couldn’t be more excited to see how it unfolds.
Oh yeah, I probably should mention that I’m leaving for Rome on Monday night to try to find an English teaching job there and to travel around parts of Europe depending on how the job search goes.
I’ll end this post with the ending from that personal essay I wrote in college:
It will always be there, the obsessions, my over analytical nature, my OCD tendencies, but what I know now – something that I still must convince myself of every single day of my life – is that the key to fighting this incapacitating opponent is to take a deep breath, put the pen against the paper… and simply write.
Relief! My first post is done. I’m not sure if it makes sense, but I’m not sure that matters. I wrote it. More soon.