Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
It has been said that traveling abroad in your twenties can ruin your life. My recent travels have certainly made me step back and evaluate life from a completely different perspective. How would I live my life if I knew I was going to die next month? Where would I want to be and what would I want to be doing? What would I do differently if I knew I was going to be dead in a year?
If you had asked me that question 5 months ago, I would have responded, “Nothing. Life is perfect the way it is.” And that was the truth. I was living a life that I loved, and working with an amazing team of people that were like family. I enjoyed waking up every morning, diving into my work, and spending my evenings at tech and startup events. I’ve always had a deep thirst for knowledge, and my startup lifestyle quenched that thirst. The reality of life itself was perfect, and I had never been more content in my 28 years.
Stepping foot on Rancho Margot in November 2014 permanently changed my life for the better. It was the first time in my life I felt whole — my soul was full. The food I ate gave my body immediate energy. The things I experienced inspired me to do something crazy…
Shortly before my 29th birthday in May, I left the USA for 1 1/2 months of international travel. My company allowed me to introduce an experimental perk: work the month of June abroad. I told anyone who would listen about this awesome perk, and how excited I was to take advantage of it. I was going to volunteer on an off-the-grid, chemical-free, permaculture farm in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle! The idea of this month abroad first surfaced while at Rancho Margot with Under30Experiences in November 2014. I fell in love with the farm and wanted to come back and experience this way of life.
After arriving at the farm, I set my schedule to work on Synapp.io 5–8AM, volunteer 8:30–3PM, and back to Synapp.io 5–9PM. It wasn’t easy. There was no cell service in the bunkhouse, so using my phone as a hotspot wasn’t an option. As the rainy season commenced, the solar-powered wifi began to suffer. There is limited bandwidth, and once it runs out, someone has to ride a horse up a mountain and fetch the wifi box to recharge the signal. When there were large groups of guests combined with 20 days straight of heavy rain, it wasn’t uncommon for the wifi to go out in the late afternoon and not be back on until after 9AM the next day. This greatly affected my ability to collaborate with the team, which was my main responsibility.
When I wasn’t sitting in reception (the only place with wifi) and working at my computer, I was spending my days working in the garden, exploring the ranch, learning about snakes, teaching photography, and educating and interacting with the students at La Escuela en El Castillo.
The simplicity of life on the ranch and the seclusion from the outer world made me appreciate things I would never have considered before: clean laundry, toilet paper, plastic bags, internet access, dry socks, electricity, ice, books to read, transportation, and the list goes on. Plastic bags are essential to protecting electronics, and aren’t easy to come by. The only way to get to the nearby pueblo was to walk or beg one of the few people with cars to drive. Near the beginning of July, there was a problem with the hydro-electric generator due to insane amounts of rain, and the owner and ranch workers had to rewire the entire ranch’s electrical system in two days during torrential downpours. Sometimes email took several days to download. I was never able to update all of the apps on my phone using the wifi. I once had to wear the same clothes for 4 days in the garden because the washer and dryer were broken, and I couldn’t find a ride to El Castillo to take my laundry to get washed.
This was all part of the experience.
I started caring less about what was happening on Twitter and more about watching the birds and finding red-eyed frogs.
I loved appreciating the small things.
The highlight of my weeks was spending time with my students at La Escuela en El Castillo. Rancho Margot has a wonderful program where the volunteers, guides, and guests come to La Escuela and El Colegio and spend time with the students. English is an important component to the program, but it is also focused on teaching values and exposing the students to people from all walks of life. Tourism is a large part of Costa Rica’s economy, and Rancho Margot’s program helps educate children from a young age to embrace different cultures, respect the land, and speak English.
Journal Excerpt, June 22, 2015
Crazy to think this is the first time I’m writing since being on the ranch. What a crazy month this has been. I have lived in a surreal dream world the past month. I am taking each day as it comes. One at a time. Every experience is something new. Every person I meet is a chance to learn.
There’s a big part of me that’s drawn to what I will never have in America. The things I would never have in America — a different lifestyle, a different culture, a different approach to life — come with a steep price.
What do I want the next 10 years of my life to look like? How about the next 5 years? The next 3 years? The next year?
Is my curiousity a flaw or a feature? Is my ADD a blessing or a curse? Am I self-destructing or rebuilding and reinventing?
What does my ideal life look like? What do I have to do to achieve it?
Why do I keep feeling like this is supposed to happen? Why do some of these things feel like pre-destiny?
What is truly important to me? What do I want my legacy to be? What is my dream?
I began pondering some serious shit; things that had not crossed my mind in many years. I was questioning everything about my life: career path, lifestyle, day-to-day living, and my future goals. The perfect reality that I had known only a few months earlier was shattered to pieces by this new reality, which fascinated me.
I needed more time to think through this so called midlife crisis and wanted to give my boyfriend a chance to visit, so I spent another month at the ranch. The rain didn’t stop, and neither did the wifi problems. It was becoming harder for me to connect with my family, friends, and team via video chat, email, and text messaging. Meanwhile, I was still working in the garden, teaching photography, and taking school photographs of the students to create a yearbook. By this time I had learned to embrace the frequent downpours, massive insects, cold showers, rice and beans, and waiting days for clean laundry. I loved it.
One of my favorite activities all summer was teaching photography to Cade, a creative homeschooled student on the ranch. I was about Cade’s age when I fell in love with photography, and it was amazing and gratifying to watch her experience the magic of creating images. In preparation for the class, I brought along my favorite camera, the Fuji x100s, and an extra memory card for Cade. Through classroom lessons and shooting around the ranch, she learned the basics of exposure, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and natural lighting. Once we had covered an important element, we would walk around the ranch and put that lesson into practice. I rediscovered my love of photography by sharing my knowledge, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity.
Journal Excerpt, July 17, 2015
Obviously I have had quite a life altering experience in Costa Rica. I have thought about what I want to do with my life, where I want the next 2–5 years to go.
I have thought about what I would want to do if I knew I would be dead in a year.
Being here has activated a part of my soul that I haven’t felt since I was a child. I am so happy here.
In a place that removes everything and makes life simple, but very complex.
Working on the farm and contributing to dinner every night is amazing… but what I am learning through daily work, stories, and osmosis is a valuable life skill. What I am learning here will impact everything I do in the future.
My final month on the ranch was spent full-time in the garden. I worked with the garden crew from 8–3PM everyday. In La Huerta (the garden) I worked with the other volunteers and planted carrots, raddishes, green onions, beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, arugula, lettuce, mustard greens, celery, basil, chard, and many other vegetables. I learned how to prepare beds for planting, harvest la cosecha, and the difficulty of chemical-free farming. I did inventory on all 4 gardens (one of which has 80+ beds!) twice and got a glimpse into how the kitchen and garden work together. We worked rain or shine. When it was sunny, we listened to music and enjoyed the beautiful scenery while working. When it was rainy, we prayed for sun and weeded the garden, planted seeds in trays, and worked in the greenhouses.
Journal Excerpt, August 8, 2015
The distance between what I thought I wanted my life to be — and what it is actually becoming — is significant. Trading in ownership, salary, and tech for a simple life on a ranch. Even one month ago, maybe two, I would have called myself crazy.
I was experiencing a different kind of happiness and joy in the small things in life. I was harvesting the vegetables we planted in June, and literally eating the fruits of my effort. I was beginning to understand the difficulties of permaculture, and the important role every person on the ranch possesses. There is a very real cause-and-effect relationship that is felt by every individual’s actions. If I needed to ask someone a question, it wasn’t via message or a phone call. I had to walk to them and talk face-to-face. I had never lived like this before, and I never knew the joy that nature and community could bring.
Journal Excerpt, August 14, 2015
I just got up and happened to look out the window. I can see the lake, the mountains, and the valley. I am in heaven on Earth. “As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” — Steve Jobs. I know that I’ve found it. But how can I explain that in a way I don’t sound crazy? Honestly, the answer may be that I cannot. I may have to be crazy.
It wasn’t easy to say goodbye to my life on the ranch, but I was ready. My mind had grown restless. It was time to answer the questions that had been haunting me all summer. If I were to die next year, what would I do differently with each day of my life? What legacy would I want to build?
Journal Excerpt, September 1, 2015
Well, I came back to the USA. I had to return that camera, and reunite with my family (Sean, Lucy, and Layla) and my work family at Synapp.io and Tech Square. Being back with my dogs and Sean has been wonderful. Being back with Dustin, Kush, Ashley, Dina, Rick, and Kari is awesome. I love the joy the people in my life bring me.
Being back in the States isn’t so great. The air, the water, the lack of nature is driving me crazy. I’m thankful we live in a house that gets some nature. Working in the office, sitting in front of a desk all day is killing me after only 2 days back. Is it just the shock of being back? Or do I no longer find joy in what I do? It’s all a matter of perspective.
While it didn’t take me long to get back into the swing of things, I was mentally somewhere else. Are my current actions a reflection of what I truly want to be? Am I living each day of my life to the fullest right now?
For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
After a month back in the States, it was time for change.
Today, I said goodbye to my Synapp.io family. I am incredibly grateful for the support, understanding, and respect my team showed me throughout this selfish soul-searching process. They welcomed me back with open arms, kicked my ass in foosball, and encouraged me to follow my dreams. While saying goodbye is never easy, I’m excited about what the future holds and am thankful for Synapp.io’s blessing.
What’s next for me? It’s too early to spill the beans. :) In the meantime, I am available for short-term content creation, social media, or digital marketing projects. Connect with me on LinkedIn.