When I found out my mom had breast cancer, I was 4,200 miles away from her. That really puts things in perspective, let me tell you.
It was the spring of 2012, and I had been living in Costa Rica for the past few months, working as a teacher at an international school. My contract went through the end of the year. And my mom was sick.
All my life, I’ve been pretty Type-A, very American in the way I approach things. I’ve always looked for the problems to be solved, for the next task. Always doing stuff. When I got to Costa Rica in autumn 2011, I was quickly knocked off guard by the completely different way of life there.
Pura vida – enjoy life for what it is, in the moment, because you never know what will happen next. Pura vida is all about enjoying life right now putting worries aside for another day.
After a while, I learned to roll with it. To adjust my expectations. To let go of the idea that there was always something that needed doing. I don’t know how much that affected my reaction to the news of my mom’s illness, but one thing was certain: I was under contract, and I wasn’t leaving Costa Rica. So I stayed, even though it made me pretty depressed.
That summer was hotter than shit. I was so far away. Everything was terrible. I just kept trying to roll with it. Pura vida – it could be worse, right? But by the fall, I knew: It couldn’t really be a lot worse. I was spending my energy in the wrong way. Why was I here, stuck, committed to something that didn’t serve me? I realized that it was all wrong.
In the fall of 2012, I decided that I would no longer work in the classroom. January 1, 2013 was the first day of my new life. My Costa Rica contract ended, and I flew home to be with my parents. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I would never again waste time on something that didn’t create value for my life and the people I cared most for.
That was my first brave bellyflop.
For the better part of a year, I explored the possibilities. I got involved in community organizing for educators and even toyed with the idea of starting a new charter school. All the while, people were saying to me, “You should be a life coach!”
And I was like, “Hell no!”
Life coaching seemed sort of silly to me, new age-y, without substance. But then I started reading about it, and the more I read, the more I realized not only that I had already been coaching my friends for years, but that I might actually have something to offer.
You see, I regularly talk to people who say things like:
“But I can’t make a big change like that. It’s too risky! I’d run out of money!”
To that, all I can say is:
I know what it’s like to take risks. In leaving education, I took a $35k pay cut. I know what it means to make a life under all-new circumstances, with a fraction of the old income – and to be happy doing it. Sure it’s not easy! But it is so, so worth it. I can honestly say that I have never looked back in regret, not once.
The irony is not lost on me that, in leaving classroom education, I gained greater ability to do the thing I love: teaching. Or, to be more exact, helping people find ways to overcome obstacles, so they can create positive change in their lives. My coaching business brings me endless inspiration, and just for fun I also have an afterschool program that allows me to work with kids creatively. It’s what I always craved, and I could never have done it if I’d stayed true to my old mindset.
I’ve become fond of a philosophy called “essentialism” – the idea that you must focus your energy on the things that are truly important, and let go of those that are not. It’s a little like pura vida, in that you can let go of the rat-race mentality. But it’s more than that. It’s taking steps in the direction of your dreams.
With essentialism as my guide, I enrolled in a coaching certification program in the fall of 2013, and completed it in spring 2014. And on April 15, 2014, I took the biggest, bravest bellyflop: I launched my coaching business, and never looked back.
By the way, in case you’re wondering – my parents came to visit me here in Seattle a couple of weeks ago, and every morning my dad would go out for a walk, returning with flowers for my mom.