6pm. Mexico City. A family is having dinner.
“Gymnastics!” muttered the father to himself, for the third time in a minute. He shook his head slightly and pushed away his plate. “Gymnastics!” he muttered again.
Across the table, his twelve-year old daughter looked down at her own food. Her father couldn’t see them, but she had tears in her eyes. Her dream had just been dashed. But why? What, exactly, was wrong with gymnastics as a career? She loved it. And she was good at it. Very good. Hadn’t her trainer told her so? Yes. Many times. And he should know: after all, he was a professional, and had coached her for six years. That’s why he had suggested to her father, that very afternoon at a parents meeting, that she should quit school and take it up full time.
But her father, gently but very firmly, had rejected the suggestion. He wanted her to have a ‘proper’ career. The army, perhaps. Or business. Or medicine. “Ah, now they’re what I call proper careers!” he had said to her on the way home. But gymnastics? Ridiculous! What money is there in that?!
It made Lupe cry. But what could she do? She was twelve, and her father’s word was law. So she sighed inwardly, and resigned herself to fulfilling his wishes. And, before she knew it, she was eighteen and choosing a university course. She knew what she wanted to be: a fashion designer. But, just as six years previously, it was a dream that failed to meet with her father’s approval – and for the same reason. “Fashion!” he had scoffed, rolling his eyes. “How will you earn a living in fashion? It’s not as if you come from a family with artistic talent in their blood. Be realistic!”
So she tried to be ‘realistic’. But another year was to pass before Lupe was to settle on a course which both she and her father found acceptable. It wasn’t exactly a subject which set her heart thumping with excitement, but it was interesting enough. Besides, she needed her father’s financial support, so it would have to do. Thus it was that, at nineteen, and weary of having her ideas rebuffed, she finally left her parents to study for a degree in Business Administration.
That had been fifteen years ago. Now, Lupe lived in London. And this morning, while sipping a pre-work coffee in her sunlit kitchen, she found herself reflecting on the chain of events that had led her here. She smiled inwardly at the memory.
Suddenly, a twinge of pain from her ankle brought her sharply back to the present. She glanced down at its cause: a tattoo so recent that it was still slightly sore. She thought it was beautiful: an intricate pattern of lines symbolising the Zapotec belief in the endless cycle of life: conception, birth, childhood, youth, maturity, old age, death and – finally – reincarnation.
Reincarnation! The start of another life journey: an opportunity to learn lessons you’d failed to learn in past lives. But was it true? Who could know? But there was one thing of which she was very sure: life is a journey. And it’s a journey that isn’t about endpoints, it’s about the trip itself. It’s about living life authentically; about self-actualisation; about fulfilling your own dreams, while respecting those of others.
Lupe took another sip of coffee and grinned wryly to herself. God, she thought: I sound like a self-help book. But it was true: she really did think about life like that. Happiness really was about self-realisation; shaping your own destiny. She knew this from her own experience – if she’d followed her father’s advice, she’d still be in Mexico City!
Another memory – this time from some ten years ago – suddenly floated into her mind: a memory of the time when, after graduating, she had taken an office job as her first professional role. It had lasted a full five years, and she hadn’t enjoyed it at all. True, it had been a life with a good and steady salary; a life that was safe and stable. It had been a life lots of people would have loved. But Lupe wasn’t lots of people. She was herself. And she needed to be herself, not what her employer wanted her to be: an automaton; a worker-bee; soulless. As long as she could remember, from her days as a budding gymnast, Lupe’s head had been bursting with an inner energy, an urge to express her individuality, a need to create. And this job was killing it. It was killing her.
But how could she escape? To leave her steady job would be a huge risk. It could end up being a big step backwards. For weeks – months – she sank deeper into inertia-induced depression. Then, one night, in the kind of dream you find in fairy tales, she found herself wandering, lost, along a busy city highway. Suddenly, rounding a bend, she was confronted by a huge neon sign, holding an image of her childhood gymnastics trainer. Underneath, in dazzling, fluorescent pink, flashed the words he used to shout at her almost daily. ‘Try it!’ he would scream, ‘if you miss the beam and break your face, so what? At least you tried!’
She woke from that dream a new person. Her trainer had been right! Being happy takes courage. Real courage. It involves risk. That’s why, she realised, she so admired people who are openly gay and bisexual, or who admit that they’re unhappy in a marriage. They live their lives on their own terms; they cross borders for a better life; they’re true to themselves and those they love, even in the face of a judgemental, and often hateful, society. Now, that was courage.
It was a transformational moment. Within a week, Lupe had quit her job and applied for a Master’s degree in a subject that had inspired her since her teenage years: fashion. And the first University to offer her a place was London. She accepted, and – just three years later – had her own company brand, with a mission to promote her native culture through fashion.
And now, at last, Lupe was happy. She was enjoying life. She was doing what she loved, in the city of her dreams. It hadn’t been – and still wasn’t – an easy journey. People she had trusted had betrayed her. Others had let her down in other ways. But many had been immensely helpful – even her father, who now completely respected her decisions. And hardly a day went by when she didn’t learn a new lesson – a lesson she could pass to others in her turn. She realised that we’re all here to learn and teach: that we’re all teachers to someone. But, despite Lupe’s positivity, she was also a realist. As someone closely involved with social media – it played an essential part in building her fashion brand – she understood it’s positive side, and knew it could be a force for good. But she hated its darker side: the fact that it was responsible for propagating a fundamental deception, the pernicious lie that Life is perfect. Because life isn’t perfect. Far from it.
But isn’t that, she reflected as took a final sip of coffee, the essential paradox? The final irony? Sure, Life isn’t perfect. But, weirdly, that’s just what makes it perfect. Getting the most from Life means overcoming challenges. And challenges demand obstacles: imperfections. So, for Life to be perfect, it needs to be imperfect. It’s just the way it is.
Lupe put down her coffee cup and picked up her coat, preparing to visit a supplier. As she did so, a thought occurred. Yes, Life is a journey. So she would name her next campaign just that: ‘LIFE IS A JOURNEY’, in celebration of the Mexican Day of the Dead festival, a celebration in which families welcome back to their homes loved ones who had passed to another journey. And she would dedicate it to her grand father who passed away fifteen days before she launched the campaign and to her natural father whose journey had been so very brief. So brief, in fact, that Lupe had never met him.
But that, she reflected as put on her coat, didn’t mean she never would. Life, after all, may be a journey, but it’s also a cycle. Reincarnation. She closed the front door and left for another day of challenges: imperfections that made life perfect
OK, you guessed it. For Lupe, read @erialvarezz.