Let Your Heart Win
Ever wanted to quit your job, sell your shit, and follow your heart to a tropical paradise?
So have we. Meet Kait, who did all of these things and then wrote about it.
Hi! My name is Kaitlyn (Kait) and I was born and raised in eastern North Carolina. In October of last year my boyfriend, Lukas, and I quit our jobs, sold our things, and packed our bags for Costa Rica! Since then we’ve been traveling around Costa Rica and Nicaragua in pursuit of new adventures, life lessons, and volunteer opportunities. Check out my attempts to chronicle our travels and more at awordfromthewild.com.
For me, this journey began more than six years ago. Cliché as it may sound, I spent a summer studying abroad and that was the beginning of the end. I didn’t come home this drastically different person or anything, but the experience left me increasingly discontented with all the comforts of home that had once made me so complacently happy. It created a void in me that could only be filled by traveling. Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t right. I still had another year of school to complete my undergraduate degree and then another year at least to get my Master’s. After graduate school I dove head first into trying to build a career. As far as I could tell, it was time for me to grow up and start saving for more important things like retirement, a house, and the children that I’m still not sure I’ll have. It was time for me to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life, what I was going to make of myself, and traveling would just have to wait.
Fast forward a few years to my second annual employee review for a position that my supervisor and I both acknowledged I would never make a career out of. In a discussion about my long-term goals for the job, all I could think about was how I wasn’t sure what I would be doing in five years, but it wasn’t this. Fortunately I had a manager who cared tremendously about the well-being of his employees and also knew when to put down the employee review Q&A document and start asking the questions that really mattered. He asked me what I was passionate about doing with my life and I told him that I wanted to help people, I just wasn’t sure how. At the time I didn’t believe that I had anything to offer. I had little money, little experience, and no real talent or specialty that I felt would be helpful to anyone. So then he asked me what I was passionate about doing in my free time. “You know, if you didn’t have a job or any other responsibilities to take up your days, what would you do?” Easy! If I had it my way, I would travel all the time and see as much of the world as possible. His response left me rattled. “Then why do you only travel on the weekends?”
It seemed so straightforward, so obvious. If traveling was really what I loved, why was I spending 40-60 hours a week NOT doing it? “It isn’t that simple,” I told myself. I had bills and a job and responsibilities to uphold. Obligations. Plus, I enjoyed my weekend excursions. Sure, I would love to drop everything and travel full-time, but that wouldn’t be the adult thing to do.
Getting a house would be the adult thing to do. Getting a raise would be the adult thing to do. According to a vast consensus from my social media network, getting a puppy would be the adult thing to do. So why was I still renting and puppy-less? It occurred to me for a moment that maybe there was a reason I wasn’t embracing these things, but I brushed off the feeling as some sort of delayed onset Peter Pan syndrome and carried on.
A few months later Lukas and I came home one evening in our routine fashion, both of us in sub-par spirits. Nothing particularly noteworthy had happened on that day but we found ourselves trying to make light of our general dissatisfaction with the direction of our lives. I couldn’t help but think back to that conversation with my supervisor. We were doing the right thing by staying, right? I was sure of it, but then again, I had this gnawing feeling that I wasn’t. We talked, jokingly, about how we should just quit our jobs, sell our things, and move away to paradise. It was the same conversation we had time and time again, but never acted on. Next thing I knew, the conversation turned serious. We were talking about all the places we could potentially live and all the things we could see, and what we would need to do to get there. Why couldn’t we? It was something we had both always dreamed about. Then we made a decision. Our passports needed updating so we would get to work on that, and in the mean time we would do some research on where it might be feasible for us to go.
Before we knew it we had a narrowed list of potential destination countries. After many long, premeditated conversations with friends, family, and co-workers, we had more support and encouragement than we knew what to do with. We had up to date passports in the mail. We had a departure date (sort of). Luke’s rental agreement was up in August and mine was up at the end of October. October it was. Then we sat down one evening and decided we would travel to Costa Rica. The research was done and we had plenty of reasons, but at the end of the day it just felt like the right choice. So we bought a travel guide and started making flash cards of vocabulary words in Spanish (we never used either). We made a pact to stop accumulating things and start donating anything we could live without. Each morning before work I would check airline ticket prices for various dates in October, waiting patiently for an inevitable dip in fares.
Then it happened. We had tickets. Tangible, one-way, non-refundable plane tickets. It still didn’t feel real. It was like we were going through the motions leading up to a day that would never actually arrive. Next we got physicals and then we had no washing machine. Bit by bit the little one bedroom apartment that we had come to share grew skeletal. Anything we wanted to keep was packed in boxes and left with our families. It had been almost a year since that initial conversation, but it was like I blinked and nearly everything I owned in the world fit neatly in this horridly pink hiking backpack which sat upright on its own in front of me. And it hadn’t taken an act of God or any extraordinary effort, really. It was little by little, one day at a time.
People often ask if it was worth it. If we made the right choice. If we miss home. The answer is yes. All of the above, yes. Easily the best decision we’ve ever made. As for home, I miss certain aspects of it every day. On the other hand, I know we are where we should be, and we’re fortunate to have a special kind of people in our lives who are selfless enough to love us from a distance. Personally, I dealt with a whirlwind of emotions leading up to our departure that included second guessing and copious amounts of guilt. I’m not sure why I felt so guilty because no one tried to make me feel selfish for leaving, but I still had it in my head that I was being irresponsible. Fulfilling this dream meant that I would miss my little brother’s high school tennis matches. That I would miss seeing my best friend’s little boy growing up. That I might not get the chance to say good-bye to my ill granddad. In spite of all these things weighing on my conscious, I knew in my heart that we had to go. There would always be reasons not to go. This was something I had to do, for myself, to be happy and to make me feel like my life is worth living.
Since departing on this journey we’ve met countless people who decided to make a similar change in their life. Every single one has their own unique story, but there is a general consensus on one thing we’ve all experienced. People generally assume that this lifestyle must be temporary. That one day we will have to go back to ‘real life’. That we need to have a car, a house, a job, a wedding, children, etc.
People imply it without even realizing it in the form of innocently intentioned questions. Don’t you miss your family? Don’t you feel like you’re running away? Don’t you worry about money? Of course we do. We are no different from anyone else in that regard. Being a traveler doesn’t make us immune to our basic human vulnerabilities. From what I’ve gathered, we are equally self-conscious, uncertain, and for the most part, all raised in one society or another that told us that the lifestyle that we are living is neither acceptable nor sustainable. In some conversations I’ve been surprised at how people seem to believe that we are a certain breed of person. That we have some sort of unattainable quality that allows us to take on this new lifestyle and thrive. I’m here to tell you, that couldn’t be more wrong.
Almost six months we’ve been in Costa Rica now and it has been an incredibly positive experience, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been dark days. Six months in one of the most laid-back places on Earth, and I still feel anxious about one thing or another every single day. I feel like I shouldn’t be spending money. I feel like I should be working harder. Doing something more important. Something more meaningful. I second guess whether or not I should be prioritizing a career or a marriage. On occasion I have spent entire days lost in the illusion that this new lifestyle is somehow setting us up for some vague impending crisis that certainly loomed just over the horizon. All because I still don’t quite believe that I could possibly deserve to be this happy.
The challenges of this transition have been more mental than anything else, and they have taught me this valuable lesson: everything in life is a trade-off. Everything. And you can have absolutely anything in this world, so long as you are willing to trade everything else for it.
What we’ve found was well worth the trade.
I’ve been reassured through countless encounters, time and time again, that we are doing the right thing. That we are here for a reason. Being here has taught me so many things, but most importantly that it is ok to be gentle with yourself. That you can do things in life for no other reason than that they make you happy, and that you don’t owe anyone an explanation or an apology. I’ve known all along that we needed to come here, but I couldn’t exactly tell you why, until now. Learning to be gentle with ourselves has also taught us to be gentle with others. Travel forces us into situations where we have no choice but to throw judgement out the window. It makes us see things for what they really are. Makes us see ourselves for who we really are. When we stop setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves, we also neutralize our expectations for others and condition ourselves to accept life as it is, rather than as we think it should be. It takes time and practice, but in doing this, we find that happiness comes without needing to search for it. Doing this increases our compassion for ourselves and, as a result, our compassion for all other people.
The best part is, we aren’t alone.
I’ve realized recently that we are part of something much bigger than our journey. By simply stepping away, my eyes have been opened to a growing phenomenon that I was never aware of at home. People all over the world are refusing to settle. We’ve met people from all walks of life who are choosing to follow their heart instead of their pre-determined career path, and many of them have encountered much greater obstacles and resistance than we did. Yet, here they are. Because all over the world, people are coming to the same realization that I am.
Our happiness is part of something much bigger than ourselves.
Before departing on this journey I spent a lot of time and energy trying to decide what I should “be”, when all I really wanted to be was happy. All I really wanted to do was help people.
Since I started going with my flow, I’ve realized that it’s not that complicated. If you’re not sure what to strive to “be” in life, strive to find your happiness. Strive for compassion. If you want to help people and aren’t sure how to get started, just be kind. Set your sights on a path that makes you happy and find ways to spread kindness as you pursue it. Everything else will fall into place. Because you can never go wrong when you choose to be kind. And it’s not about the goal anyway, really, is it? It’s about how you choose to pursue the goal. It’s the little by little, one day at a time. You don’t have to have money, experience, talent, or anything else to be kind and help people. To make a change. Or to be happy. And you can make an impact on the world just by following your heart.
So the next time you’re feeling guilty for making a decision based on what makes you happy, remember that your happiness affects more than just you. Happiness begets kindness and kindness begets understanding. And what our world needs most of all right now, on a fundamental level, is more kindness and understanding.