Beyond Acknowledgment: Embracing Imperfection

By Vanessa Chavarriaga Posada

Vanessa, once silenced by self-doubt, now glides through the backcountry sponsored by Fischer Skis. Unceded Cayuse, Walla Walla, Umatilla, Eastern Shoshone, Shoshone-Bannock, and Cheyenne lands.
Photo by Jr Rodriguez @jrrdrgz

This write-up was originally featured in our Spring 2024 Trail Break issue.

Like many immigrants, I grew up with some pretty rigid expectations of who I should be and what I should do with my life. Perfection was the baseline, but the goal was always to break paradigms and create higher levels of success than I knew. The goal was to be so good that they could not look away.

The drive to do better pushed me further. I removed the word “difficult”from my vocabulary. Describing things as difficult was a privilege; it assumed that some things were easy. For a young undocumented immigrant living in a conservative wealthy white suburb, nothing was easy.

I kept my head down and worked hard. But what I didn’t know is that I was tightly weaving my identity and worth with my ability to produce and succeed. The better grades I got, the better person I became. The more extracurriculars I did, the further I would go in life. This pattern got interrupted very harshly by one of the biggest fears an immigrant teenager carries: college rejection letters. Seven of them, to be exact.

I had been selected for a highly competitive scholarship program for low-income students. I felt over whelmed with pride when I read the names of all the Ivy Leagues on the pamphlet: this was it. My hard work had finally paid off. When all of the responses came back negative, the world of meritocracy I had lived in my whole life vanished. My family didn’t have the right legacy, I thought I didn’t have the right legal status or enough money. I wasn’t good enough. I would never be good enough.

What started as despair eventually became freedom. Knowing that I would never be good enough to succeed in a white supremacist world gave me permission to stop trying to fit into their boxes. It gave me permission to get creative, build my own world. All of this led me to skiing.

I hit the skin track with fervor at the age of 22. As an adult learner, expectations were low and perfection was impossible. So I kept showing up imperfectly. The joy I experienced learning to ski gave me the bravery to keep trying. But something was different: for the first time in my life I allowed myself to stand out and embrace my culture. Spanish rolled off my tongue like water rolling down the snowy creeks, my gold hoops caught the first rays of light, my snacks served as curiosities and inspired stories. I carried my culture and my ancestors with me in this frozen and foreign territory.

Embracing imperfection gave me permission to show up as my whole self. I quickly learned that all the parts of me that I carried around shamefully as a teenager were the most beautiful ones. I learned that I don’t need to be the best at everything. Being an immigrant is all about being a trail breaker. The space we create is only the beginning.

VANESSA CHAVARRIAGA POSADA @vanessa_chav is an environmental sociologist and outdoor athlete from Medellín, Colombia. She is a three-culture kid whose childhood was split between Colombia, the US and Mexico. As an immigrant and woman of color, Vanessa recognizes the systemic barriers that purposefully keep BIPOC out of outdoor spaces. Taking up space in the outdoor community feels revolutionary. Her work now focuses on the intersections of race, identity, and nature through sponsored content, DEI education, public speaking, and writing. Vanessa’s film “Soñadora’’ was the first recipient of WWA’s Human-Powered Film Grant in 2022 and toured across the country with our 19th annual Backcountry Film Festival program.