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In just 11 years, I’ve been entirely reeducated by New Mexico.
Since moving here in August 2009, I worked in an elementary school (plus a middle and a high school), I taught at the undergraduate level, and I earned another masters degree. In a sense, I moved through my entire education—kindergarten through master’s—again!
My lessons this time, though, are deeper, more irreverent, and more true.
Everything was straightforward during my first education: study, test, get an A, repeat. I got good at it, even while becoming terribly bad at trying new things, failing, or taking myself less seriously. For the 20 years that my first education took, I was academic and terribly earnest.
In contrast, New Mexico—like the planet Saturn—has had the ability to strip me down to the bare essentials. Here, nothing is “extra.” Here, I’ve become grateful for everything that is offered because nothing can be taken for granted.
I reviewed the lessons of my first, formative education and found that many of them don’t hold up. I had to let go of everything I thought I knew—of so many people and experiences—and let real life beat me up a bit. So, for a good reason, I’ve even relearned heartache here.
Here are some things I’ve learned during my reeducation:
1. You don’t need to be “good”— you need to be authentic.
This one is huge for me. While in my first education, I stridently worked to be “the perfect good girl.” I learned that now I need to be an imperfect, authentic woman instead—the imperfect, authentic woman I am.
To me, being authentic is about making choices—even when they are unpopular or misunderstood—because they resonate with my soul. This is what adults, rather than children, do. Being in New Mexico has made me grow up.
2. Practice makes imperfect.
During my first education, I quit anything that needed practice—ballet, tap, guitar, french horn, flag corps—because I wasn’t good at it, to begin with. I didn’t know at the time that we are never good from the start at things that need practice. I think a lot about how education in the United States is all about getting A’s but not about learning how to fail.
Now, after so much failing here, I can see that we have to practice things that take skill—like communication, creativity, and rigor. Even then, the best we can hope for is an imperfect performance—even with tons of practice.
3. What looks good may not be a fit for you.
Everything in my first education was linear, and it built upon itself. Find the career; find the partner; find the place. It all made so much sense when I was on my first of each of these. Finding and losing careers, partners, and places multiple times made me pause, especially because each was a lovely option at the time.
As it turns out, even a lovely option may not be right for us over the long haul. Not only that, but things that don’t look good in the public eye may be a perfect fit for us. In any case, the internal compass is the one to listen to.
4. Humility is what’s up.
Being here in New Mexico has had me dig my roots up with my bare hands. I’ve been stripped down to my grief, my longing, and letting go. In my first education, I was arrogant—a luxury I can no longer afford to sustain. Everyone, including myself, is struggling with something.
For me, humility includes not only cultural humility and hearing how intersectional identity affects experiences for others, but also listening to how different personalities and styles perceive, learn, and interact. I am keenly aware of my humanity now, so in meetings, the first thing I internally do is bow.
5. Laugh lines are the best.
In my first education, I did everything according to a serious plan. There was no room for spontaneity, fun, nor god forbid, the unexpected. Improvisation has been one of my saving graces here. Since coming to New Mexico, not only I took improv classes, but I also taught them.
I did improv shows and got out of my shell. I take myself much less seriously now, and I have learned to relish and respond more effectively to the unexpected these days. My ardent wish is that, as I grow older, to develop laugh lines as my first wrinkles. Play, curiosity, and openness are key aspects of wisdom to me now.
Wisdom is better than intelligence. In my first education, even as I got glimpses of wisdom, I only invested in cultivating my wit. I thought my wit was what gave me value before I learned these lessons.
So take this for what it’s worth. To me, these lessons are worth the world.
As I prepare to move, I’m so thankful for one of the best teachers I’ve ever had: New Mexico. Being here has exfoliated me, smoothed out my rough edges, and taught me that I have value just as I am.