Three years ago.
At times it seems like an eternity since I was sipping wine outside my Costa Rican apartment with my friends from Germany, Switzerland, England and the United States. We were inseparable – dancing the nights away at our favorite beachfront nightclub, watching the days go by as we sat poolside overlooking the Pacific, and laughing riotously at the simplest conversations while indulging in cake and oreos.
But in other ways, it seems like it was just yesterday.
The memories are so vividly carved in my mind. The sights, the smells, the sounds – everything is clear as daylight. Those carefree days and nights living by the beach were unforgettable.
It wasn’t my first international experience. But up to this point, it has been my most profound. And, yes, I often wonder if it was the best or the worst decision of my life.
It changed me as a person and it altered my entire outlook on life. But it also made me more confused and lost than I’ve ever felt before. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the beach, the palm trees, the slow bike rides and most importantly, the people.
If you’ve read any of my previous articles about my year and a half living near the beach in Costa Rica, you know that it wasn’t pure bliss 100% of the time. I don’t think that happens. Ever. There were days, sometimes weeks, when I struggled with being there. But without a doubt, it was one of the happiest periods in my life.
It was the BEST Decision of My Life.
Three years ago this month I left my job and quit the United States. Or is it the other way around? Either way, I ended up in a small Costa Rican beach town ready to become a certified TEFL teacher. I won’t explain the whole story, you can read more about “The Pura Vida Lifestyle” if you’d like.
To be honest, at the time, I wasn’t sure if I was absolutely off my rocker or not. But I soon learned it was just the change that I needed. Living in a culture that values people and nature above money and materialism was refreshing. It made me realize that working in an unfulfilling job simply to pad my retirement savings when I’m 65, 70 or maybe even older means that I’m missing out on a large portion of my life.
And, when I do reach retirement, no amount of riches can turn back the clock. I will never be able to re-live any moments of my life, so I better make sure the ones I do have are pretty darn good.
But living in the moment was just a small part of what I learned.
I learned to love. To let someone into my life without believing there were ulterior motives involved.
I learned to tune out all of the distractions of the world. Keeping up with the news without obsessing over stock market woes and employment numbers 24/7.
I learned I can be productive even when I’m not in an office and that it’s not always necessary to be glued to a chair for 8 or more hours every day. We were given arms and legs for a reason and it sure wasn’t for hoisting ourselves in and out of office chairs!
I learned that when you come across people who truly care about you, they’ll do anything to cheer you up when you’re down and support you along your path, even when everyone else doubts you.
I learned that I am fortunate to have been raised in a prosperous country. But the world is a big place and I don’t need to confine myself to my birthplace.
I learned that other places aren’t as dangerous as what the media makes them out to be. Common sense, above all else – whether you’re in the ghettos of India or suburbia USA.
I learned that only you can make yourself happy. And, if there was one thing I walked away from Costa Rica with, it was a sense of happiness. I wasn’t particularly happy when I left the United States and thus consciously chose to change my situation.
Costa Rica became the best decision of my life.
BUT, that’s not the whole story.
Although I’ve been back to Costa Rica for extended visits, including five months in 2012, it has been a year and a half since I left my Costa Rican paradise. I lived in the moment in Costa Rica. So I also need to focus on the present right now.
And, when I look at where I am today, I wonder if Costa Rica was also the worst decision of my life.
Let me preface this by saying that I’ve never regretted a moment of my time in the “Rich Coast” or my decision to go there. But there have been unintended consequences as a result of me leaving.
To say that my decision to leave was unpopular amongst some of my family members would be an understatement. It was a downright catastrophe and life-ruining decision in the eyes of some. The economy was failing, unemployment was rising and the overall mood throughout the United States was dismal.
I had a job. I had health benefits and a 401K. I had a car and an apartment and NO debt.
Why would I possibly want to leave that?
Happiness. Adventure. Change. You name it and it probably crossed my mind!
I can’t say if there was one thing in particular that caused me to finally hand in my resignation papers and take this leap. I think it was a combination. I was 25, single and had no children. I had some savings and was just ready for something different.
But my decision was not deemed responsible by everyone. It alienated me from some people and caused rifts in my relationship with my parents. They had dreams for me that I didn’t have for myself.
I went to college and started a career like they expected. But my job didn’t fulfill me like I thought it should.
I wanted to escape from my cubicle walls. See a different part of the world and test out a different career path.
And, while leaving did bring much clarity to my life, it also brought more confusion. I know the type of lifestyle I want, but how do I go about getting it? I know I want to continue to travel the world, but can I make a living while doing it? And, I want my family to support my decisions, but can they let go of what they thought I’d become to let me pursue my own dreams?
I followed my heart when I was in Costa Rica. I didn’t try to meet the expectations of others. But being back in the United States I’m once again faced with the question: Do I pursue my goals or those that others have for me? Do I build my own lifestyle or latch onto the one that society has already built?
Because my goal of Native Foreigner is to bring returning travelers together, I want this to serve as a reminder that coming home can sometimes raise more questions than offer more answers. I know what it’s like, but I certainly don’t have everything figured out.
Life takes us all through ups and downs.
So, as I did back in 2010, I’m ready to get in the driver’s seat of my life and ignore (for the time being) the static noise around me. What I want today may not be what I want one year from now. But if we’re going to live in the moment, then we might as well do what we want right now. Perhaps it’s really not worth it to analyze the decisions that we already made…it’s too late to change them now anyway.
But it’s never too late to choose our future paths.
Have you ever struggled with doing what you want versus what others want you to do? Share your experience below.