Written by Cuenca, Ecuador Gap Volunteer Luke P.
It was going to be perfect. All of the ingredients were laid out before us. The best recipe was ready and waiting. Research on needed adjustments due to the altitude were noted on a piece of paper. Together, my host family, Ellen, and I were going to make the most delicious chocolate chip cookies ever created.
And so the experience began. We creamed and mixed and folded, our fingers finding their way into the batter at every step to sneak a taste. The bowl passed from person to person, each adding an ingredient or sculpting the batter into the next step. When it came time to add the chocolate chips, more of them found their way into our mouths than the bowl.
We put the cookie batter into the fridge and let it sit overnight to harden. The next day, the baking began. Using spoons, we scooped the dough into rows on the cookie sheet. Again, sampling the dough every couple spoonfuls, just to make sure it still tasted good. Converting from Fahrenheit to Celsius, we set the oven to the correct temperature. When the time came, in went the cookie sheet.
It was a waiting game now. Every couple minutes, I would shine a light into the oven to see the progress. They were spreading out! They were puffing up! They were turning a golden color! My enthusiasm could not be contained. It was wonderful to be able to share this piece of my upbringing with my host family. I could not wait for them to try our creation.
It was time to take them out of the oven. Abuelita Carmen placed the cookie sheet on the countertop, and we let them cool for a while. They looked perfect. Equipped with spatulas, we began to transfer them to a plate. Almost every single one had a charred black, burnt bottom.
“That’s alright,” I thought, “We’ll just make the next batch better.”
We adjusted the oven temperature and cook time. But nonetheless, batch after batch came out with the same results. I felt disappointed and ashamed. These were not the best chocolate chip cookies that I intended to share with my host family! My expectations had met a different reality.
Our baking session morphed into a scraping session. With knives and forks in our hand, we got to work on the bottoms of the cookies, a fine black dust covering the table. Paula, my host sister, was in charge of the operation, directing us toward the cookies that needed to be scraped or needed more scraping. Laughter filled the room as each of us accumulated our own little pile of
burnt cookie bits. Smiling and scraping, smiling and scraping, smiling and scraping.
Finally, it was time to taste them. The flavor was different and the burnt undertone was undeniable. My host siblings, entirely supportive, voiced how much they loved them. I could only smile at what an adventure that had been.
I think there is a lesson here that can be applied to so much more than just burnt chocolate chip cookies. My entire life, I have been someone who has tried to create and find perfection everywhere I go. This entirely unrealistic goal has affected my actions as well as my perception of the world around me.
Part of this gap year for me has been structured around the goal of finding the beauty in the imperfection. Yes, the cookies were not perfect, but did that make my experience any less incredible? When I redirect my mindset to look at the beautiful moments of joy and connection that were created from this imperfect process, I realize how meaningful this experience was.
Applying this mindset to my daily life in Ecuador is challenging. With so many imperfect and awkward and difficult moments each day, it is easy to feel frustrated with yourself. However, by breaking my mindset that tied this happiness and feeling of self-worth to perfect outcomes, I have been able to embrace the beauty that is found in imperfection.
Maybe it’s taking some time to have a mini dance party (for an hour and half!) alone in my room when I really should be working on the list of things that I need to do. Maybe it’s using the word judge instead of the word bone and laughing instead of becoming embarrassed. Maybe it’s letting go instead of keeping it all in, crying because I need to, learning that some days are going to
be very hard.
If you had asked me before I began this journey what lessons can be learned from burnt chocolate chip cookies, I would likely have looked at you in confusion. If you asked me now, I would tell you that it’s a symbol for finding beauty in the imperfection.