Last year, I uprooted my life and moved to Mexico, following my inner compass.
I had reasons far and wide for doing so, namely, to show my five-year-old daughter life, adventure, difference and beauty. I wanted to teach her things she would never learn in textbooks. I wanted to teach myself things I would never learn in the suburbs.
I wanted to share love, happiness, experiences, and tiny magical moments with my baby before she was too old and slipped out of my reach—before she cared about cell phones and Olive Garden—when it was still okay to rip her away from the world she was accustomed to, at the age when could be forever affected and incredibly impacted by the world outside her door.
I wanted to share time with her, and I wanted to watch her thrive and flourish in a different setting, with space to be herself. Space to explore her freedom, to live with nature and to understand that hopes and dreams can come true.
What I ended up learning along our adventure is indescribable, unforgettable, and amazingly special, for both of us.
I am so grateful for my ability to dream up such adventures. I am grateful for my inner compass for guiding me and keeping me safe. I am thankful in my heart and mind, for my courage, for my renewed relationship with my daughter and for my refreshed soul from Caribbean waters and sunshine. I have acquired strength from unimaginable challenges.
The world is a different place now.
Here are eight powerful lessons I have learned abroad:
1. Strength. And Trusting Yourself.
Like the cliché, “Life begins at the end of our comfort zone”, we are so much stronger than we know. Only when this is experienced in such raw form do we clearly understand the strength we possess to make correct decisions, keep ourselves safe, overcome fear, and just do it.
Challenge is healthy.
It keeps us aware, smart, and resourceful. It keeps life interesting, and shows us who we are and what we are made of. It keeps us from giving up.
On a dark, rainy night in the Cozumelenian jungle. Terrified of intruders and animals, protecting my baby. Wanting to hop the next flight, wanting to run from fear. Or on a day that strips your coping skills, when the stick shift breaks down at night and you are lost on an island, when you are sick of sweating from the blazing sun, when no one will convert your money, you can’t make a phone call, no one understands that you want medicine for your baby’s fever, your bank account is overdrawn because you can’t deposit internationally, and there is a scorpion in your washing machine.
Feeling defeated and alone. Wanting to run from the discomfort and helplessness. But we don’t.
That is strength. That is self-discovery.
I have learned that I am incredibly strong. And only in that strength have I been able to experience and recognize these invaluable life lessons.
2. Gratitude, not expectation.
Before, I tried hard to not have expectations. But now I see that I still did. I expected special treatment, expected air-conditioning, expected people to understand me, and expected road construction for the one tiny pothole on my street. Now, I don’t have expectations. I have seen what I have and what others don’t. I have gone without because I didn’t have the option, and I have been the outsider, thrown into a pen of discomfort—I cannot expect a thing, not speaking the language, knowing the environment, or having anyone to rely on but myself to figure it all out.
This has fueled gratitude. When I am comfortable, when I am clearly understood, I want to fall to my knees in thanks and smile at the universe—so thankful for that moment of clarity to receive, rather than ever expecting it in the first place.
Living in simplicity is a mental and physical purging agent of self-control. When we don’t have access to something, we don’t have access. Plain and simple. And yet somehow life is still okay.
When we make the conscious choice for simplicity, we are giving ourselves a gift and taking control of our lives rather than letting them continue to run away on the train of materialism. We are saying, “That’s enough. I want to be in charge.” And when we do, it takes about five seconds to realize that it is all trappings anyway. And when we have none of it, and nothing to do, but to sit and think, reflect, and just be, we become comfortable with ourselves in the silence and simplicity, in a way we never knew.
4. Patience. And how to take a backseat from control, and follow the flow.
This is the first rule when traveling in developing nations. My world was rocked by this realization back in 2003 in India and now has been reinforced in 2013 in Mexico.
We must leave our control mechanisms at the door because it gets us nowhere. Relinquish control and tight grips on life and learn to throw it to the wind and be okay with that.
Instead of getting frustrated when things are different or do not go as planned, it is necessary to sit back and let the world flow. This is a lesson for life, too. We are caught up in a world of structure and order and finite decision making and judgment. It’s crippling.
Taking a deep breath and listening to our heart and inner compass, handing the reigns over and not shaking from discomfort in doing so—learning to let go and let be, is an amazing awareness.
The world is beyond beautiful. In choosing to take time to smell the roses, we begin to smell the roses.
The piercing blue of the azul Caribbean Sea, the sound of palms swaying together, the variety of fish and natural cenotes. The way the clouds take shape, and the moon eclipses the sun. The sparkling sky and sounds of the jungle. The lagoons and flowers and white sand.
Walking hand in hand with my daughter at the sea, collecting water nuts for Christmas gifts back home, swimming with turtles, discovering seahorses wrapped around coral and sea plants, the mussels attached to the reef, and the sun setting across the sky, lighting the night and the calm water.
And the magic that keeps it all balanced. Nature is incredibly beautiful.
6. Friendships are the new family.
Life abroad offers the opportunity to meet and engage with people from all over the world. Friends become your family. When your new friend from France or New Zealand, is there to have a beer and share experiences, they become family.
When no one else understands what you are going through, they do, because they are in the same place right now, on the same quest, miles from home, and piecing together their own adventures.
With the same challenges and happinesses and lifestyle and paradise and self-discoveries. Understanding things that no one else will ever believe are even true, and grappling with the same issues of life abroad.
We all make mistakes, and in America they are judged. Which causes us to be hard on ourselves and expect to operate in a place of perfection with no room for error.
But mistakes are natural and are all moments of self-teaching. If it weren’t for mistakes, we wouldn’t be half the people we are today. So I have learned that it’s okay to make mistakes because I am human, humana. I now accept myself and my mistakes, and I am easy on myself.
We are all on our own paths. Writing our own stories, not someone else’s. Not being who we think we should be, but being who we are.
I have learned that it’s okay to be me, and that the things that make me who I am are all there for a reason. As long as we recognize and create our own paths with confidence. Owning up to our own lives, taking responsibility for failures and successes, and accepting that what makes us who we are, and being really happy with that person.
Living away from it all, in a paradise setting, has given me the time to process and believe this healthy manifestation that we are on our own paths. Full of ridiculously amazing moments, but also full of imperfections. And wanting to change who we are is like dying inside.
Be you. Be strong. Be brave. And be easy on yourself.
8. Dreams can come true. And never say never.
Before this adventure, I was under the impression that my life of travel and exploration ended the moment I gave birth to my daughter. But somewhere along the way, I decided that my dreams didn’t need to only be dreams because of her. But that, my dreams could now be her dreams, too. And so when no one else said I could, I did. I went and lived my dream. And in doing so, I have showed my daughter the number one rule of life: never stop believing in your dreams.
Because dreams can come true. And living life knowing that dreams can come true is the single greatest source of hope and purpose we can have. Everyone has a dream, no matter what it is. Do yourself a favor. Do your kids a favor. And go make it come true.
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Editor: Emma Ruffin
Photos: Peretz Partensky/flickr