Fearless, not Flawless / by Nicole Rothwell

When I turned 27 last November I vowed to myself and the world, via social media, that this would be my year to be: fearless, but not flawless. I was going to embrace my imperfections and life’s uncertainty. I decided to embrace my whole self and do more to fight for change. Was I overly-ambitious? Of course.

On that chilly November day, I took off from work, trekked to a bougie SoHo salon, and overpaid to dye my hair purple. It was the first time I had ever dyed my hair. It felt liberating to reject the professional standards of capitalism. People looked at me differently. Like I disappointed them, or intrigued them, or surprised them, and some didn’t notice at all. Regardless, I was still pissed when it faded two weeks later and I was left with a judgmental bank account. So that was the beginning.

Purple resistance. 

Purple resistance. 

Beyond the symbolic hair (which I ended up chopping off this past spring), I’ve traveled to four countries, brought a newfound ferocity to my work organizing for social justice, and quit my job…without a new one lined up. After two years of on-and-off job searching, I decided to, as a mentor of mine put it, “make some bold moves.” I wanted to pursue my passion for international education and get a job in that field. But after many dead ends and heartbreaks, I decided to really think about what I wanted and determined I needed to be more open. I realized that might mean taking pay-cuts and going abroad if that was where the right opportunity for me was. The same mentor who encouraged bold decisions had forwarded a seasonal internship opportunity with the Americas Program in Mexico City. When I read the job description and noticed it required a “foreign policy analysis from a feminist and grassroots perspective, and a commitment to social justice and movement-building.” I paused…wait, what. That. Is. Me. I was so excited about this opportunity to get back to my roots with writing while working with a radical organization that holds the same values as me. Who knew that the stars would align? Well I do know one person who wished on a shooting star for me one night in Chile last December.

So I took the opportunity! I’ve been reflecting on when I left to study abroad, and when I impulsively moved to NYC five years ago. I wasn’t careless, but I was a lot lighter then. I did not consider the implications or ripple effects of my decisions. I just followed my gut and heart. Yet, as another mentor of mine asked me, when has my instinct, soul, and heart failed me? Were those wrong choices? Absolutely not. But it was certainly different and more difficult this time. I’m older, and adjusting and giving up stability is a lot more challenging. The capitalist system ensures that.

I almost had a panic attack when I put my student loans into forbearance to pursue this unpaid internship. I thought to myself, “Is this how I imagined my life at 27?!” Probably not. But who wants life to be exactly as you always imagine it? How boring. That does not create change within yourself or your communities that you exist in. And, hey, my $80k undergrad debt isn’t going anywhere with any nonprofit salary so why let it hold me back, and prevent me from pursuing my passions and commitment to radical social change. (In fact, burdensome student loan debt is exactly how the system is immobilizing social activism. We must resist that.)

But gratefully I have such a loving and supportive community from Washington to New York to Chile. You all have grounded me, and encouraged me as I adjust to this new stage in life. I finally feel like I am on the right track professionally. 

I have now been in Mexico City for three weeks, and I love it. I love my new job, and have been learning so much about social movements, Mexican and Latin American history, even more details about corrupt U.S. foreign policy, all while finding the space and time to slow things down and give to myself. Now that’s not to say it’s been easy. My Spanish is not as great as I thought it was. I thought because I had learned the NYC transit system, that Mexico City would be a piece of cake or something, but nope. I’m away from loved ones. And that’s real hard. But all of this is part of the process, and I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m easing into it, and being open. Unlike when I’ve been in new places before where I jumped from one neighborhood to a tourist attraction to some café; here, I’m taking it in baby steps. I don’t know why exactly, but that is my approach and I’m diggin’ it.

Diego Rivera's: Sueño de una tarde de domingo 

Diego Rivera's: Sueño de una tarde de domingo 

Last weekend I went to el centro, and simply walked around. I went to an anti-Starbucks Mexican café. (It’s a dream come true for me!) I walked to Bellas Artes, and admired the regal post office that looks more like Grand Central (but fancier and cleaner). I let a group of high school students interview me for their English class project. Then I walked through Parque Alameda and found a nice spot to sit on a perimeter of a fountain. The water was doing a dance routine. Niños were playing in the fountain. Everyone was uniting here as the street performers entertained nearby. I had my headphones in, and was in a bit of trance hallucinated by the fountain dance. A viejo sat down next to me, and I’m not going to lie, my NYC instincts struck and I felt uncomfortable: like, why are you so close? I hate that I felt that instantaneously. But then I came to my senses: everyone is close to each other circulating this fountain. Get over yourself. Then viejo spoke, “Que bello es el agua, no?” Yes, the water is so pretty and tranquil – I responded. Viejo continued, “Sin el agua, no hay nada.” Absolutely, I responded, and unfortunately, there’s a global water crisis now.

From there, we struck a 30-minute conversation that didn’t even falter when the sun maneuvered above the trees scorching us and sweating away the rest of our fountain friends. Rogelio, I learned his name, told me all about the history of Mexico City and that each monument, neighborhood, street, every little thing, has its propio history. We even discussed our critique of the U.S. education system and how it doesn’t teach the real history; that those of us in the U.S. have to seek this truth outside of the classroom (for the most part – shout out to NYCoRE and to all the other radical educators challenging the system). Rogelio knew what was up. When we finally parted ways I expressed that I hoped our paths would cross again, and he agreed. He gave me a gentle embrace and a beso on my cheek. So much love from a stranger. As I walked away, warmed and enlightened from our conversation, I thought when was the last time I talked to a stranger for that long? I couldn’t remember. There is so much to gain from human connection. Moving forward I am dedicated to being open, and not just here in México, but also in NYC (which may lead to some interesting subway conversations). Headphones out from now on.

Baile de agua

Baile de agua

I have also been reflecting on the fact that the last time I traveled independently was in 2008 when I studied abroad in Chile. I forgot how liberating it is. How it causes me to be more present. I walk slower. I smile and greet others more. I need to embody this no matter where I am, or who I am with.

I think we all have our imperfections, our pasts, our room for growth. I think we have to acknowledge this to consciously find our inner-peace so that we can completely love ourselves as we are today, in this very moment, flawed and all. I’m still on that journey, because every now and then that sneaky guilt twists my intestines and makes me breath a little harsher. But I truly believe we are all beautiful and complete, even with our incompleteness.

As for being fearless…I am also still on this journey. I think fear is unavoidable, but I’m learning to acknowledge it and persevere. I am scared about my finances without an income right now. I am worried about finding a job by January. I am freaked out about grad school. I still get creeped out by bugs. I’m terrified by the pull Donald Trump has right now. Seriously #dumptrump. I am concerned about all the long distance relationships I have to maintain; I know from experience that life moves on without you. Everyday I face self doubt. However, I’m getting the hang of crashing into these fears, and finding comfort in knowing each day I do the best I can. Being present, trying, admitting when I screw up, learning, being open, and always giving love. I’m trying to not let fear conquer me or the potential the universe gives.

Speaking of fear. I’ve been procrastinating writing my first blog post for months now. I cannot decide on a focus, or theme. I wonder who will judge my words, or think less of me. But I realized all this external fear was preventing me from expressing myself in the first place. So here I am. I don’t know what the focus of my blog will be. Likely about my personal journey that maybe others can relate to, about feminism, about social movements, about global justice, about anti-capitalism, about whiteness, about anti-racism, about anti-imperialism and decolonization, maybe even a creative writing piece here and there. I’ll figure out. Until then, it’s going to be a mashup. Because I am dynamic, and so is life, and so are all of our lives. This will be a platform of solidarity and a molecule of my life. 

So let’s embrace our whole selves, and not give into fear. Let’s change this world. And especially the United States. Because, well, it’s the worst and it’s the root. We have to dig deep, get dirt under our nails, sweat as we attempt to pull out this deeply entrenched poisonous weed, and feel ashamed when we can’t at first, at least, alone we cannot triumph. Together, with courage, we can and will.

Siempre en amor y solidaridad.