It was a cool afternoon at 8,000 feet in the Sacred Valley of Perú. I had just finished hiking more than a mile from Machu Picchu to the Sun Gate, the entrance to the Inca Trail.

Overseeing the entire site, my breath was taken away at how small Machu Picchu looked from the Sun Gate as it nested in the Andes.

Even in this place, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, my mind began to wander. I caught myself trying to prove that I was real and that my life wasn’t perfect. Prove I was “real and relatable, just like everybody else.” I settled on my biggest struggle in life; fear of failure and comparison.

I was having a really hard time being present and living fully, because I couldn’t forget the past. I kept hanging onto shame, guilt, and regret. How crazy this is. Here I am in this place where Incan rulers went on retreat and I’m thinking about my past failures of not speaking Spanish fluently, adding on another major junior year, and a list full of “I wish I would haves…”

As I sat on top of the sanctuary’s rocky terrace I remembered before leaving for SST in Peru reading a blog post from Jordan Lee who wrote about being a recovering perfectionist and the need for our us to stop complaining so much about comparison. The one thing that stood out was that I can’t keep going forward if I keep looking backwards. One of the reasons I decided to come on Study-Service Term was to get pushed out of my comfort zone. I learned along the way I didn’t need to “find myself,” but rather understand myself. I had to consider who am I in my rawest form when no one is around and when pressure is off. Not only understanding myself, but actually being the me God made me to be. Understanding who I am in Christ and what he says about me, because his truth will combat all of the lies I’m sitting with.

More of the sun managed to peek its way through the clouds, bringing me back from my thoughts with a fresh breeze of air. I rose to my feet and began to make my way down the Inca trail. As I was walking down, my friend Dez came up next to me, telling me it would be a great idea to get a photo of me doing a scorpion, a cheerleading flexibility skill, because I mentioned I wanted to take one. But that was before I found out we are not allowed to do intense yoga positions here and would get in trouble if we did so. Dez reassured me from the distance we were standing at the guard would not possibly see me doing it. I honestly did not want to get in trouble or embarrass myself if I failed. At this time I had a decision to make; either continue living in fear and playing it safe like I always do, or confront it by overcoming my fear and seeing what happens.

I took a deep breath. Shrugged my shoulders and said, “why not?” with a smile on my face. Positioned myself facing the mountainside, I stood on my right foot while pulling my other foot back and upwards behind me. Doubts began to fill my head, and I hear someone from afar say “she’s going to fall.” I soon began to feel pressure from others watching and became nervous that the guard would eventually see me. I was running out of time.

I straightend my leg and pulled my foot upwards as high as it could go. Dez held his iPhone with the camera open, ready to take quick photos when all of a sudden we heard a whistle. We knew it was from the guard coming from up above the Sanctuary. We immediately looked at each other and out of panic begin running down the Inca trail not looking back. I heard the guard shout out “señorita!” I began to slow down, while Dez on the other hand ran right past me saying “see ya!” and continued running down the trail, leaving me behind.

I could not believe he left me. My jaw dropped and I was shaking my head as I put my hands on my hips looking down at the rocky trail. In that moment I felt abandoned as I watched my friend make his way down trail while I stay behind to face the consequences all alone. I felt embarrassed when a few of my other friends were touching my arm expressing sympathy as they walked passed me. I appreciated their concern, but was not in the mood to be comforted.

The guard eventually made his way down to meet me. He was a little taller than me, and I tried not to look scared as he stood before me, so instead I smiled a little as my defense mechanism. He gave me a long lecture, and I nodded my head in agreement and respect while squinting my eyes and nose, and inserting a yes and a sorry in Spanish. He shrugged his shoulders displaying a doubtful face while looking around and then back at me. I assured him he wouldn’t be seeing me. I finally caught up with Dez at the end of the trail and shook my head with a smile in disappointment for him leaving me behind. At the end of the day, the photo might not have been worth it but it didn’t matter. I cared more about believing in myself and taking the risk, because if I didn’t I wouldn’t know whether or not I could do it. And I did it. It’s true that we have to overcome fear to have great experiences.