Santiago Skyline

The f-word

Transmissions from South America, Numero Seis

I was supposed to be home by now. Instead, I changed my ticket and delayed my return home by two months. Even then, five months just isn’t enough time. It’s surprising how much I haven’t got around to doing. Last week, we finally went to Chile—that trip was supposed to happen in December, when we first got here! I’d like to make it down (further) south to explore Patagonia a little; I’m dying to visit Bolivia’s salt flats and Peru’s high-altitude Incan cities; and I still haven’t made it to Rio, although I think I’m glad I skipped Carnaval. I haven’t taken a tango lesson yet, and while I feel like my Spanish has improved a great deal, that’s sort of like saying my suntan has developed—that is, I’m now “slightly ecru-ish” instead of “ghostly white”.

But, to be quite blithe: whatever. I’ve felt this way my whole life—like I’m not achieving enough—and I’ll probably forever feel like this. No matter what I manage to achieve, I will always feel that I’m failing on some other front. As long as I can remember, I’ve always felt overwhelmed, and I’ve always been spurred by a fear of Failure. In the past, what this has meant is that I work like a demon at something, letting other things slide, until the whole thing manifests itself into a giant mental breakdown, and I disappear for two days until I recover from it all.

I’ve finally changed this behaviour. Instead of focusing on my failures, I’m trying to turn that energy into positive direction. In theory, if I focus my energies instead on a positive direction, at least I’m making efforts against the almighty Failure, no?

Santiago Skyline
Santiago de Chile, as seen from Cerro San Cristóbal. Way more breathtaking in real life, and a long, long hike down. I discovered on the funicular ride up that I'm sort of squeamish about heights.

A month or so after I arrived in Argentina, I started to develop body issues. This seems like such a clichéd girly problem, I’m ashamed to admit that I finally succumbed to it. But the ladies here are oftentimes rail-thin, and somewhere along the line I got to the point where I was comparing myself (unfavourably) with them. I’ve since learned that Argentina has one of the highest rates of eating disorders in the world (second only to Japan), that it has a thriving plastic surgery industry (I regularly get Groupon emails offering up cheapo liposuctions), and that the problem is so widespread that the government at one point enacted a law demanding that clothing retailers offer a range of sizes beyond just  “stick” and “pancake”.

Of course, this doesn’t provide me any comfort, but instead of dealing with my problem by such crazy methods as diet and avoidance of chocolate and wine (basically 90% of my diet), I’ve opted for the truly insane: exercise. I joined a boot camp class a month ago, which has rapidly turned into one of my favourite things about Buenos Aires. (If you’re ever here, I recommend you go. It’s fantastic and will kick your ass in all the good ways, and I’m going to be very sad without it.) Body image issues aside, my new interest in exercise—by which I mean I’m doing it, not so much that I’m liking it—is bar none, the healthiest way I could possibly have dealt with this problem, and I’m so proud of myself for taking what could very easily have become a highly unhealthy obsession and dealing with it a way that’s actively making my life better.

Last week, I ended up once more in the pits of despair—this time convinced I wasn’t producing work that was good enough. This, too, happens regularly, and it’s often caused, again, by comparison: I see some fantastic designer’s work and become morose that I don’t measure up. But instead of heading to self-pitying territory, I took that mopey energy and turned it into real dedication, spending more time on the details and minutea of a particular design than I usually would have done. (We’re ignoring the “blown budget” issue that may or may not exist. I needed this one!) I joined forrst (find me here!) with the hopes of getting some badly-needed feedback, realizing that working by myself, I’m really lacking in this department, and discovered a whole community of intelligent people willing to share and listen, which in and of itself is getting me excited, and inspired, about design work again.

So, to the crazy demon in my head that’s always telling me I’m not good enough: screw you. Failure is an option, and I’m choosing to take everything I can and balance it the best I’m able. If I fail once or twice along the way?

So be it.

Crossing the Andes
I may not be the world's most foremost designer, but I get to see large chunks of it. Here, we're crossing the Andes in a giant bus. It's a slow hike up on the Argentinean side, until you hit the border at about 4000m. Then it just drops like crazy until you get to Santiago.
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