In November of last year, I stuffed a backpack full of bikinis, clothes, dresses and a pair of flip flops and flew down to Costa Rica. What was supposed to be a mini-vaca became what I’d like to describe as a “this chick is going through an early 20s-life-crisis”. So let me backtrack a bit and fill you in on where I was at that moment in time.
Skew you Success!
In October of 2014, I was 24 years old, had just left a marketing start-up that I had been at for several years and was feeling down and out. Although a lot of my friends would tell me how jealous they were that I had the guts to join a start-up, the truth was I envied them.
I graduated from one of the best business schools in Canada (or so we’ve been told…) with a boatload of smart kids. My friends went on to become investment bankers, traders, brand managers at Tier 1 Consumer Packaged Goods companies, consultants and other 1%’er jobs. Slick suits, sexy shoes, flashy cars and enviable downtown lifestyles… they were becoming the epitome of success that we had been groomed to embody.
I was still living at home, growing a business that no one knew about and essentially becoming the opposite of what my school defined as a success. I felt like a failure and was embarrassed to admit that I was depressed/worried about 95% of the time because I wasn’t having ‘fun’ all the time the way start-up life was suppose to be. Everyone else I knew was lighting it up in their careers.
What you read about startups these days is about the hoodie-uniform, laid-back, fun lifestyle. Endless articles were written about the culture of up and coming tech companies, how quickly they were growing, the strong sense of leadership and direction etc. Rarely are there articles written about the not-so-sexy things. Personally, I didn’t know if what I was doing added any value. What skills was I actually developing? What if this fails, then what? Did I just waste all my time?
I sat down and thought, I could either use this time to apply for jobs I don’t want or take a chance on myself and go somewhere completely new by myself and just live for once. So, I found a surf school online, rented the top floor of the shop and two days after my 25th birthday, I was on a plane to the #1 surf destination in Costa Rica: Santa Teresa.
When I first arrived, tears teetered close to the edge of my little Asian eyes. The shop was in the middle of the jungle and my room was not hotel-esque by any means. It was hot, sticky, and mosquitoes were everywhere. My roommate was a long-haired blonde kid from California that used words none of my business school friends had in their vocabulary such as: rad, gnarly, stoked.
It was the best decision of my life. Living there allowed me to immerse myself in the community of expats and experience what it was like to be a local. The jungle room became home and my everyday outfit consisted of a bikini, no make-up and flip-flops. Here’s how I eventually fell in love with Santa Teresa and lessons I learned along the way.
Lesson #1: Be open. Always. Don’t judge.
People are different. That is a fact. My surfer roommate from California and I are as different as they come. Bonding with him and many other locals taught me more than years of school ever did. Listening to different stories and how everyone had come to Santa Teresa, forced me to check my presumptions and stereotypes at the door.
My view of the world before was very one-sided and sheltered. Go to the best schools, get the best job possible, buy a huge ass house, buy a sexy car, marry someone equally smart and successful, life well done! It’s wrong to assume everyone else needed to fit that mold otherwise they weren’t ‘good enough’.
Moving somewhere different and forcing myself to meet new people and learn about their values made me realize that each and every one of us has a different view of the world but that doesn’t make other views wrong. They’re just different. Be open, be kind and listen.
Lesson #2: You are not your career. Work is not your identity.
The most beautiful thing I learned was that happiness is different for everybody and very few people have the courage to really chase after it. I know this sounds common-sense and cliché but hear me out. So many of my friends in Santa Teresa are people that do not define success by the size of their bank account. To them, life isn’t about chasing that next promotion or a bonus, but it’s about chasing the best waves. It’s about working to fund their true passion. WORK IS NOT THEIR IDENTITY!
For the first time in my life, conversations were not about work or career related topics. One of the most annoying things about catching up with friends or meeting new people back home is the immediate career-focused conversations. It’s draining trying to come up with buzz word infused sentences to make it seem like your career’s on fire.
I basked in conversations that were genuine and real. Relationships are built on strong foundations by actually getting to know people and sharing on a deeper level. I learned how to be someone other than my career and job title.
Lesson #3: Who cares what other people think. Get on a board and just try.
I put way too much focus on other people’s opinions and thoughts. Let me clarify: I care way too much about what people think ABOUT ME. I realized that I hate doing something if I’m not good at it because I don’t want to look stupid. Hence at the beginning I didn’t surf as much as I should have.
Everyday, I made excuses as to why I wouldn’t go out. I wasn’t scared about drowning, I was scared about looking stupid in front of all those real surfers out there.
I got completely owned by a set one day and I sat my ass down on the beach, water-logged and embarrassed. A friend had been taking pictures of us and had witnessed everything. He sat next to me and gave me a quick pep-talk, “You gotta get back out there and try. Everybody gets owned and you learn from it. Don’t give up!”
By trying and trying again, you become great.
Lesson #4: Be in the moment
In today’s tech-digital savvy world, we are absorbed in insta-likes, fb-likes, snaps etc… we lose out on being in the moment. In the jungle, we did have access to wifi but most days were spent hanging out with friends and living in the moment. I was able to experience the beauty of waterfalls, ATV through sleepy towns, learn how to cook, and sit still on a surfboard waiting for the perfect wave.
We only get one shot at living, let’s make the most of it. Let’s enjoy our surroundings and be grateful for the beauty right in front of us rather than wondering if someone will like a post. Enjoy this thing called life.
Lesson #5: There’s only one you in the world. Be YOU.
This one is a bit lengthy. I realized the BIGGEST reasons why I felt inadequate was because I was living for everyone else around me. I had been living based on other people’s expectations of who they thought I was. Parents, peers, friends… I was absolutely miserable because I was so busy trying to be who they all wanted me to be and felt like I was letting them all down if I didn’t act a certain way. Things that are inherently who I am, I suppressed because it’s not what “that” Gloria was suppose to be like.
Work at living as you. Take a look at who you are. Ignore the noise and tap into yourself. Forget what everybody else is telling you to do/be and take a chance on owning who you’ve been made to be.
While I was in Santa Teresa, I did things for my own happiness. Jumping off waterfalls, learning how to ride a motorcycle or simply going to tide-pools everyday to relax and live in the moment.
I did what I wanted and realized nobody judged me for it. Own who you are and be the best you that you can be. If you’re busy trying to be someone else, then who’s going to fill your spot in this world?
The most important lesson…
I learned that success is different for everybody.
A key moment that stands out in my mind was one late evening when a few of my friends and I were hanging out at a beautiful infinity pool (lots of cervezas had been consumed at that point). One of them turned to me and said, “Whatever you do, when you go back, don’t chase money. Do what makes you happy and get really good at it, the money will always follow.”
At that moment I stopped to think about my time in Costa. I was dirt poor but had so many beautiful memories, gone through experiences that changed my perspective on life and finally learned how to surf! For the first time in my life, I truly felt success and I had almost $0 left in my bank but my life account was feeling good. I finally got a glimpse of what it meant to feel success. It was a beautiful thing.
I moved back from Costa Rica this past May and un-quit life. People ask me all the time, “Why did you move back? I thought you were going to be one of those world-travelers!” I now understand that I get a sense of satisfaction from work because I enjoy solving complex problems, being in high-pressure situations and working with other people to build and deliver beautiful experiences. It’s not about selling out to the ‘dream’ but it’s about embracing Gloria’s dream life.