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If there’s anything my time in Costa Rica has given me, it’s time to think. With only a thirty hour work week, more or less, and no extracurriculars, I’ve had more time to think about my life in the past two months than I’ve had in the past two and a half years (ok, not exactly, but nonetheless…).

And if there’s one thing I’ve realized through all of this self-reflection, whether it be while running, sitting in Quaker meeting, or simply staring at the ceiling in my room, it’s that I’m incredibly hard on myself. And I don’t think I’m the only one who’s like that. I know at my college, and at many other universities throughout the U.S., there’s a culture of being hard on yourself. There’s a culture of never thinking you’re good enough or that everyone around you is doing more and doing it better than you are. It’s a culture and society of overachievement.

And as much as I wish it weren’t true, I was and am part of that ubiquitous American university culture of self-doubt and trying too hard. Last semester, I was part of ten extracurriculars, four of which I had substantial leadership roles in, and additionally I had four campus jobs, plus a full course load with an ed observation. Looking at my journal, I can’t tell you how much anxiety and stress the entries contain, from taking what felt like my mom’s place by my grandmother’s bed before she died in September, to coping with the increasingly apparent fact that calling my mom for life advice is calling a woman who has major issues with anxiety and paranoia, to realizing the rest of my family members have their own lives and problems to deal with, to finding out after eight weeks that birth control was making me feel depressed, to making the incredibly poor life decision of getting back together with my ex-boyfriend, only to have him use me and break up with me a second time.

While it may not seem like it from any of my past entries on this blog (I usually try to keep things around here upbeat and cheery), last fall was decidedly one of the hardest times of my life. I think the whole birth control=depression for me had a lot to do with it, but I also think it had to do with trying to keep up with all of the incredibly intelligent, incredibly talented people around me, and my expectations for myself, when it felt like my whole family and everything back home was falling apart. Practically every Friday I was having nervous breakdowns, and so many mornings I was waking up with the uncontrollable thought, “I am worthless,” that would follow me throughout the rest of the day.

I am telling you all this not so that you can pity me or write a comment expressing an apology, but to provide background for a thought I had while running the other day, which was:

You are a lot stronger than you think you are.

Granted I had this thought after running/trudging up the pretty steep climb to the escuela, so most directly it applies to my ability to granny-jog my way up a mountain, but I do think it applies to so many other areas of my life as well.

You see, for so long I have considered myself to be broken. Broken because I had sex with a guy who ended up not loving me “enough.” Broken because I had a mom who up and left home for six weeks during high school without once apologizing. Broken because my political/religious beliefs didn’t align with the evangelical fellowship I had found myself apart of and had invested so much time in. Broken because I was so busy I couldn’t be a good friend to those closest to me. And broken because I couldn’t live up to my own expectations for myself, and how my college years should be.

But I am stronger than I think I am.

Whether it was by grace or through grace, I got through last semester. I got through the second (and first) break up with the same guy. I got through my mom leaving us before Thanksgiving my senior year of high school, and not going to her own mom’s funeral last December. And I got through thinking for an entire month that I was absolutely worthless.

I am stronger than I think I am.

Despite all of the craziness of last fall, I still somehow have pretty good grades. I am discovering that teaching is in my blood. It’s my life long passion. I can run up mountains, and down them. More than once. I can make a pretty dang good cake (and chocolate chip cookies). And my heart is in so many different places that I have no clue where I’ll end up living.

I am stronger than I think I am.

But even more importantly,

We’re all stronger than we think we are.

We’re all far too harsh on ourselves. We all have unrealistic expectations and think everyone around us is better at the whole life thing than we are.

But, you know what?
We’re all stronger than we think we are. And we can all granny-jog our ways up that gosh darn hill to the escuela, maybe not physically, but at least metaphorically.

And, just so you know, the downhill is beautiful.