A Better Design - A Reflection on a Year in Costa Rica

We are two weeks out from leaving Costa Rica after a year abroad.    It has been the best year of my life.  But don’t confuse best year with the easiest.  In fact, this has been a year of immense challenge.  I started a new business called Stride.  I learned a new language (loosely called Spanish for me).  I adapted to a transgender daughter.  You know, just the basics.  I have cried.  I have laughed.  I have triumphed.  I have failed.  I have forged new relationships and let go of others.  And….it’s all meaningless.  Well, sort of.  The events that happened have no inherent meaning, but how I have chosen to interpret them certainly do. 

So how have I chosen to interpret the circumstances?  Since I’m in control of my life, I’m making the rules, and these are some of the axioms that have emerged powerfully for me this year in Costa Rica and that I am determined to bring home with me to Seattle.

Whatever happens is perfect.   This was first expressed to me by my coach, Lex Sisney, when preparing for a trip to Ecuador with my family in 2012.   We were hustling to get organized for all the moving parts with a six and eight-year old in tow.  My wife and I were breathing down each other’s necks and Lex said, “If you remember one thing, whatever happens, it’s perfect!”.  I heard what he said then, but I have certainly lived it in Costa Rica.  The ups and downs are exactly as they are meant to be.

The power of friendship is priceless.  I have watched my wife become emotional that she is leaving these incredible friends she has made here.  I have forged some special relationships too.  These are the kind of friendships that make me a better person, that inspire me, that encourage gratitude.  These can be found all over the world but when in a foreign place, the power of finding friends is magic. 

It will always get better.  If you care about changing something and working toward that change, it will always get better.  I knew that my Spanish sucked a year ago, but I also knew that I’d be a little better the next day and the day and months after that.  It’s okay to suck but I won’t always suck and eventually I’ll master it if I want to.  Apply it to anything.  Start by applying it to one thing.

Everything should be temporary by design.  I knew Costa Rica was temporary so I soaked up every opportunity to try something new. I didn’t care what it was, who saw, where it took me. This idea of temporary is cool, whether it is about place, friends, or circumstance. Squeeze as much learning out of that as possible. This is particularly poignant as we return to Seattle, a city we know well.  But what if we treated it as temporary?  What would we do different?  Get up earlier?  Try new experiences?  Meet new people?  Yes, all of that and more.

The best ROI is gratitude.  When my oldest child said to me yesterday at breakfast that they were grateful for the year in Costa Rica, I lost it.  The tears just started pouring down my face (and I appreciated when she came across the table to hug me).  For a year and a half, we endured the resistance, the pain, and the loneliness because we knew that one day they would reflect on the experience differently.  To hear gratitude was the ultimate Costa Rica ROI and well worth the wait.

Intentional learning doesn’t stop at 20-something.  Who says that at a particular age you must “buckle down” and stay dormant for 40 years until the possibility of retirement?  I used this year to embrace continued learning and wonder and curiosity without judgement.  I realized that there is so much for me to experience during my time here and I don’t want to “wait” simply because that is what we are conditioned to do.

And, of course…..

PURA VIDA.  Pura Vida is the philosophy of Costa Rica, the simplicity of the Pure Life.  I’m not talking about the patronizing “Pura Vida” I declare when we have two flat tires in one week or the “Pura Vida” when the bridge is washed out and we have to drive an extra hour or the “Pura Vida” when I’m running a race in a torrential downpour.  That’s misusing the point.  The point of Pura Vida is that “It’s all good.”   It’s as it was meant to be.  Don’t create a bigger deal out of it than it is.  Chill out!

So much of our Costa Rica experience has been about challenging us to define the life that we want to live through the lens of how we choose to define our circumstance.  Knowing that it is in our control has been one of the greatest gifts.  Continuing to adhere to these standards, however, will be the work ahead.  The learning continues!