Nearly three years ago, I decided to pack up my 18-year-old life in New York City and move to the island of Bermuda.
It was one of the boldest moves I’ve made in my life.
After years of hitting the pavement of the concrete jungle, exhausting myself and my bank accounts, and running endlessly around the hamster wheel of “success,” I knew it was time for me to part ways and say goodbye to the “greatest city on Earth”—the city that you go to to “make” it.
I was over the idea of “making it” and defining my happiness through my mercurial real estate career and the illusion of “success.”
My mind was made up. I was embarking on a new journey to discover new parts of the world, and more importantly, to discover newer parts of myself.
So, on a sunny day in mid May, I took that 1.5 hour flight from the island of Manhattan to the island of Bermuda, an island nearly the same size of Manhattan’s 23 square miles, at 21 square miles but only 65,000 people. Not even one percent of New York City’s population including all five boroughs.
I said goodbye that day to the city that once created sparkles in my eyes, and I never looked back.
I lived in Bermuda for two years and I reflect now on all the powerful life lessons I learned.
1. Wherever we go, there we are.
When I would share with others that I was living on an island, many would say, “I could never live on an island. I’d be so bored.” Well, truth be told, after my 10th or 11th year in the city that “never sleeps,” with skylines, bright lights, endless restaurants, bars, and shows, I had lost my flame for New York City and became a disgruntled and complaining New Yorker. However, peace and happiness with my former love was restored by focusing on gratitude and inner fulfillment my last two years in the city.
So, truth be told, “wherever we go, there we are.” Peace and inner fulfillment are inside jobs. If we can’t find happiness from within, a change in geography will not create it. I was blissful in Bermuda, not just because of the pristine turquoise waters, pink sandy beaches, and crystal caves, but because I brought peace and joy with me. Bermuda was enough for me because I felt like enough inside of me.
If we choose to run from ourselves, we will only find ourselves wherever we go. The moment we unpack our suitcases, we unpack the same things we left with. The key to peace and fulfillment is loving and accepting ourselves and finding freedom from within.
2. Less is more.
Coming from a city where material things are glorified and everything is available at your fingertips, to living on an island where shopping is nearly nonexistent and everything is imported, was a bit of an adjustment. Yet, the only thing I really missed was my favorite takeout.
Leaving behind most of my clothes and personal items in a NYC storage unit, I discovered how little I actually needed to be happy. Less “stuff” in Bermuda created less worry and I loved it. It gave me freedom. I was no longer attached to or identified by all the things I possessed. Most of my clothes were on quick repeat and it didn’t matter. I was still happy.
Often times the “stuff” is a replacement and even a distraction for something else that’s missing in our lives or in our hearts—voids that need to be filled, wounds that need healing. Less stuff to do and to own allows us to spend more time going inward, connecting with ourselves more deeply and discovering our real needs.
3. Appreciation for Earth’s water.
Water makes up three quarters of our bodies and three quarters of the world. Yet, safe drinking water is still a scarcity in many parts of the world. Bermuda is surrounded by water, however it relies solely on rainfall for its running and drinking water. This quickly taught me the importance of water conservation. I struggled with this and I am still working on improving my water usage. But, I did develop some simple practices to reduce my water usage. Here are a couple of easy changes to make:
>> Turn the faucet off while brushing your teeth. Run the washing machine on quick wash unless we have heavily soiled clothes or towels.
>> If we wash dishes by hand, we can wash them all with plenty of suds first and then run the water over the dishes in the sink (some fill a sink of water to wash dishes rather than letting the water run, but that’s not my favorite technique).
>> Shorten the length of showers. This is still tough for me because I love long showers.
>> Pour clean, unused water in plants.
4. It’s not the size of the island, it’s the size of the mindset.
Bermuda is indeed small, but it only feels small if that’s our mindset and what we focus on. It’s small if we keep our thinking and our perspective small. It’s important when living on a small island that we keep our minds stretched and opened. Sometimes that means jumping off the island every few months and re-engaging with other parts of the world. Although the size of our “world” may shrink, our minds don’t have to.
In life in general, it’s important for us to focus on mindset, and to continue to grow and learn about ourselves and other people and cultures.
5. A smile goes a long way.
One of my favorite things about the Bermudian culture is its polite and well-mannered people and children. It’s a bit formal, yes, but a breath of fresh air from the brashness and often hurried behavior of many New Yorkers. Greetings include “good morning,” “good afternoon,” and “good evening,” not “hi,” “bye,” or no greeting whatsoever. In fact, if one would walk by someone without a proper greeting, they might hear a slightly higher toned, “good morning” to inform them that they’re not being polite. I loved this style of communicating. It was refreshing. Even small children walking to school are taught to speak and make eye contact with adults and to give up their seats on the bus for an adult or elderly person.
This continues to be a habit I practice and I hope to embrace it always. I am still amazed by many people’s reactions in the States when hearing “good morning”—there’s a look of surprise. If we enter an elevator, people often keep their heads down to avoid contact and communication. It doesn’t require much for us to say hello and to be kind. We never know what a simple smile or greeting may be for someone who is struggling and feels lonely and isolated. Besides, smiling raises our own vibration.
Let’s smile and greet one another more.
6. Living and working in another country is a privilege.
If we’re ever lucky enough to live and work in another country, we’ll soon discover that it’s a privilege and not a right. Bermuda has strict immigration laws, so my ability to live and work there was a boon, not an entitlement. Whenever the borders to another country are open to us, it is our privilege.
In addition, I also realized during my stay in Bermuda how truly grateful I am to have an American passport. To have the option of returning and living in the country freely—one that so many people from around the world wish and dream they could live in—made me appreciate my American nationality more than ever. It is a privilege that I often took for granted, but living on an island in a foreign country, I discovered greater gratitude and patriotism.
7. The world won’t end if it slows down.
Yes, Bermuda’s pace is a lot slower than the U.S. I had to adapt to 3G cellular usage, a slow internet connection, and at times, disruption of service. Sure, it was frustrating at times, but I always got through it. Nothing terrible ever happened when I didn’t have service or connection to the world. In fact, slower internet service allowed life to move a bit slower. The rush dissipated and mindfulness improved. It allowed me to be more present in the moment and more engaged in the activities at hand—something I still practice every day.
Should anyone ever consider moving to an island, the most important thing we can bring is an open mind and an open heart. Soon we may discover that there are many different ways to live a happy and joy-filled life. Island living isn’t for everyone, but if one is adaptable and remembers to search for joy from within, they may find that their greatest treasure lies wherever they are.
Author: Angela N. Holton
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy & Social Editor: Lieselle Davidson