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Growth in Paradise

sabbatical life lessons

Our trip to Bali was a lot more stressful than I imagined it would be. Before we left, I envisioned what it would be like for months and months. I manifested and I mean, hard. I believed and hoped for the best parts of it before it happened, but it wasn't without its ups and downs.

The truth was that I cried a lot while we were there, much more than I expected to in a tropical paradise. Both my husband and I were very sick early on. We had a terrible upper respiratory infection, and it lasted for weeks. It only stuck with me for about two weeks, but it lasted forever for Jonathan. One night Jonathan was up all night coughing and we debated going to a hospital since it had been 3 weeks by that point. That night was the turning point of his sickness and from the next day on, he got better steadily thank goodness!

We also both had bouts of the dreaded Bali belly throughout the trip, so while most of the food was terrific, we still longed for the familiar. We also thought we'd likely have a kitchen or some kind of place to cook for most of the trip, but that was also not true. We ended up eating out for almost every meal, especially on our first long stay. This small detail made the journey feel a little too much like an extended vacation. We both would have preferred to 'live' more like we actually lived there.

taking a work sabbatical
A tasty, healthy salmon + sweet potato fritter from Bali

On the bright side, I became a much more adventurous eater while we were there. I think this was because it's very inexpensive to go out, so even if I didn't like something, it didn't feel awful to order something else instead. I used to not like sushi or fish at all. Now, I get excited about poke bowls!

The most significant source of sadness for me was missing our people, our dog, and the ease of our old life. Being away from my family and friends was the most challenging part of the journey. Until that point, I didn't realize exactly how much energy I get from being around others that I love. Being with people that I love and care about is what inspires and motivates me. I'm excited about being with these people, sharing ideas, and hearing about their lives.

Interestingly, Bali is full of digital nomads and exciting people that are just doing their own thing. We worked out of co-working spaces while there, mostly Dojo in Canggu and Outpost in Ubud. Dojo had a powerful sense of community. The managers make a valiant effort to create after-work events, fun outings, and general hang time.

Early in our trip, there was a Story-Slam kind of event at Dojo where several speakers told us stories about adventure. One of the storytellers was Nik Wood, and he told us a really remarkable tale about how he traveled through South America with basically zero dollars. He somehow managed to start teaching high school students -- despite having no degree from any formal institution. He was a great storyteller, and I was so interested in him and all that he was. There were many great storytellers, but Nick stood out because he was a great speaker and a ginormously tall dude on top of that.

While there was a lot of fun stuff happening all around me, I was very overloaded with how much I missed my family and friends. I was concerned about the way our lives change by the time we returned. I remember having big emotional moments before leaving NYC, thinking about how nothing will ever be the same. I had many similar moments in Bali, too.

A few days after the story slam, Dojo shared a GoFundMe for someone that was a member of the community. A person had fallen and hit their head and was seriously injured and in critical care at a hospital in Bali. Reading it made my heartache, so badly, but when I expanded the GoFundMe, it was the storyteller, Nik, who had fallen. A young guy, not that much older than me, and now his life was forever changed. He was literally on the brink of it, his life teetering on the edge. He survived, thankfully, and recently posted a very compelling IG about the experience, see below:

Nik and his brush with death had a profound effect on the whole trip and my life. It made me realize that life is precious, and we should do whatever we can to live our purpose every day. We all have the choice to live a purposeful life, and sometimes it takes something startling to realize this. Being a bystander to Nik's experience made me desperately want to reconnect with the people I was escaping from when I went to Bali, especially my family.

This experience, combined with being away from the people I loved and any sense of regularity, taught me that digital nomad life wasn't quite my jam. If I had started at a different point in my life, perhaps I would've given it more real consideration. Don't get me wrong, I loved the traveling aspect, especially once we were a little more than halfway through. My mom had come with her boyfriend, John, to visit before we did a quick visa run to Malaysia. Seeing her and John brought me back to life. I was so grateful to spend time with her, and she gave me all the pep talks I needed to allow me to embrace and enjoy the 2nd half of the trip!

work sabbatical lessons learned
Did someone ask for carrot, apple, ginger juice? #yesplease

During the whole trip, I focused on figuring out the meaning I want to give my life. I tried to plan what the future looked like, especially regarding marriage, my career, and my family. This was a tall order for a 3-month trip, and it set me up to stress 0ut way more than anyone should, especially in a tropical paradise. I spent a lot of time worrying that I would never figure it out. What I needed to do was let go and know that if and when I need a net, it will find me. Going into this with a grandiose concept of what I'd return with was a terrible way to start the trip.

At some point, about one month in, I spoke to my sabbatical coach, Lyndall, from Beyond a Break. She encouraged me to use my time more wisely, to say yes to things I wanted to do, and no to anything else. She reminded me of the many reasons I was on the trip in the first place and how I can use this time even if it doesn't cause all the answers to bubble up right away. Considering Lyndall's words of wisdom again in reflection is helpful. It made me realize just how many powerful learning experiences I had there.

To find more internal peace while I was there, I focused on a lot of meditation and breathing exercises. I loved working out of Dojo because there were so many great meditating spaces, and you saw people doing it regularly. It was where I could finally melt into mediation. I can meditate for more than an hour these days, which creates so much clarity whenever I do it regularly. Sometimes, I feel good with just a few minutes, but it's lovely to know the sense of calm it gives you when you truly need it.

Gratitude was another spot of focus for me. Writing in a journal regularly about what I'm grateful for makes me more reflective and appreciative of all the wonderful in my life. Whenever I remembered, I'd write a list of all the things in my life that made me feel some sense of gratitude. Some days, it wasn't many, but other days I filled pages. I used to wish for and want so many different things, but now I can see much more value in wanting what you've got.

I learned a lot about business while I was in Bali too! It was so exciting to be around people that were doing their own thing, creating companies, and living their best lives. Going to the events, they held in our co-working spaces enlightened me to parts of my business that I hadn't considered. At the time, I didn't realize how helpful and how many takeaways I would get from these presentations, but they have proven to be incredibly invaluable, many months later. It gave me a better framework for the company I'm operating now.

Here are a few more lessons that I learned while on our trip:

  1. Figure out what gives you energy and what drains it. Knowing what actually works for you will provide better ideas on how to collaborate with anyone.

  2. Love and appreciate your relationships with others, especially when you're with them. Let them know it too.

  3. Try to put your phone down and appreciate nature, the small things, and the dynamic changes from day to day.

  4. You don't figure everything out about your whole life all at once in a 3-month trip. Who were you kidding, anyway??

  5. Planning everything in your future down to a tee is futile. There's nothing wrong with being open to the flexing and ever-changing nature of the universe.

  6. Preparedness is part of any journey. Being ready when the right moment comes along is part of the deal. If you start getting ready now, you'll be prepared when the opportune moment strikes.

  7. Fear is not worthy of playing a central role in the story of your life. Don't believe you can't handle whatever comes your way. You can.

  8. Meditation is an art, but it can be a science too. If your mind wanders like mine, keep a notebook handy in front of you while you meditate. Jot down the thoughts that won't stop coming. Throw the other ideas away.

  9. Reflection, gratitude, and awareness of all the wonder and love in your life can get you through tough times and is worth trying even if you're not sure. Give yourself a 30-day gratitude challenge.

  10. I love Balinese food, and lemongrass, and when we buy a house and have more kitchen space, I need to get a juicer, STAT.

  11. Do something that scares the bejesus out of you at least once in your life. If you like the feeling you get after conquering your fear, do it more often. Sometimes it just takes one triumph to realize that you might be more afraid of living a dull existence.

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