I write a lot about the absurd and sometimes challenging aspects of island life. Why? Because there is just so damn much raw material to work with here. Truth.
Island life puts you in situations you never imagined when you lived back in the land of reason, structure, and convenience. Things like interminable lines, questionable customer service, exorbitant utility bills, empty grocery store shelves.
Of course, island life couldn’t be all bad or nobody would voluntarily live here, right? Don’t be silly. Nothing is all bad.
There are wonderful aspects to life on a tropical rock. The proximity of the sparking and warm turquoise sea lapping gently on white sand shorelines. Beautiful sunsets that rival artwork in any gallery. A laid-back approach to most situations (at least by the locals and seasoned expats – newbie arrivals are a whole ‘nother story). A year-round climate that makes you forget about snowstorms or perma-drizzle (oh Seattle…I love you so, except for the gray skies and near-constant mist in the air).
These are all fine aspects of island life that tend to offset the aforementioned stress points. And at the end of the day, it all balances out. Yin and yang. You take the bad with the good, and the good always outweighs the bad. As my friend Chrissann from Women Who Live On Rocks fame so aptly put it, life on an island has its own luxuries that you never quite appreciate until you don’t have them anymore.
But beyond the luxuries that island living affords, there is one thing that – at least for me – is the number one reason I keep putting up with the sometimes farcical ups and downs of island life. It is nothing tangible (although finding my favorite brand of tequila for sale here – cheaper than in the States – recently ranks up there as a total island win).
Rather, it is a feeling.
I’ve lived many places and experienced many lifestyles, but never in my life have I experienced the sheer joy and total inner peace that I do living on this crazy, arid, inhospitable rock. Not even my solo jaunts into the rugged Cascade backcountry delivered the same emotional boost. Close, yes, but not quite as amazing.
I felt it the first time I stepped foot off the plane at tiny Flamingo Airport, the pre-dawn wind blowing in my hair, the sun just hinting at making an appearance. It was that unexpected feeling of being “home” that had me slowly and sub-consciously re-arranging my life to make moving here possible. Although it took several years, loads of uncertainty and multiple visits before I finally bought that one-way ticket, the one constant along the way was my abiding love for the island – and the indescribable feeling each time I landed on terra firma here.
Fast forward nearly eight years. In many ways, my life has settled into a predictable routine. Bills to pay, work to do (no retirement for this Island Girl – I’ll never be a lady who lunches), goals to still work toward. Life is still life, no matter the latitude.
And along with this routine comes the unfortunate fact that the blissed-out feeling I have only ever known here isn’t around 24/7. Some days suck, to be totally honest. Others are just mediocre. I mean, this is real life, you know? Not a perma-vacation.
But what I hang on for during the sad/mad/bleh days are those unexpected moments when the universe sends me a gift. While it’s not wrapped neatly and topped with a bow, it is easily recognizable as something to be treasured. The gift is those unexpected moments when I am awash in a feeling of absolute and total contentment. When every molecule in my being recognizes that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. All my usual cares fall away (money, job security). I am overflowing with gratitude, thankful for every single thing spread out before me.
These moments also remind me that no matter what current challenges I’m facing, pushing through and carrying on is worth it. After all, the grass may seem greener back in civilization – where hair and makeup look good all damn day, sweating is only something that happens at the gym, and making your favorite recipe involves no substitutions whatsoever – but it usually isn’t.
So why am I telling you all this? Because everyone deserves to have these moments of pure, unadulterated bliss in their lives. Maybe you already do. In which case, grab those moments and keep savoring them. You’re doing it right, my lovely!
But if you aren’t yet in a place where you experience those moving moments of complete contentment? Then the universe is giving you a different kind of gift – the one of recognition. Recognition that something in your life needs to change. Maybe it’s your work. Perhaps it is your relationship. Possibly it is where you live. (For me, it was all three. Eek!)
The beauty of life is that any change is possible. Not necessarily easy or painless. Nor will I promise you that there won’t be scary moments of self-doubt or – gasp – even short bursts of regret. But if you’re serious about living a life you love, then you have to be willing to step into the abyss. To trust that you are strong enough to handle the unknown. Because you are, despite what you might be telling yourself.
You also need to stop worrying about what other people think. Because the truth is that people will think things about you no matter what you do. You can’t win. And 100% of the time their thoughts, judgments, and comments are rooted in their own issues and have zero to do with you anyway. So why let what someone else thinks control your destiny? Forget about them.
Trust in and follow your instincts. Your gut will never lead you astray. Well, except when it convinces you that ordering the five-star spicy Chinese dish is a good idea.
And what happens if you ignore the universe’s warning signs that change is needed? Unsatisfying things, that’s what. Maintaining the status quo, when it is leaving you unfulfilled and devoid of happiness, only gives you more of what you already don’t like. That sounds rather unpleasant, especially in the long run.
Now, I hear some of you saying, “But change is not possible. I have x,y, and z to think about.” All I can ask you in return is whether x, y, and z are really just excuses to avoid the tough stuff, the hard work that change requires. In some cases, maybe your concerns are legit (a sick parent, a child who still needs raising, that sort of thing). But I’ll wager that for most people, what is keeping them stuck in an unfulfilling life is one thing – fear. Nothing more, nothing less.
Let me reiterate – change will be hard. Damn hard. There will be tears (not of joy). Moments when your inner voice shouts “What the hell have you done?!” Judgmental people who will exit your life, quietly or with a final roar of disapproval. You will be scared along the way. Really scared. You might also be dead broke. Or at least living with financial means well below what you were used to in your old, unsatisfying life.
I’ve experienced all these things, so I know of what I speak. But you know what? I’m still here, alive and kicking. While my life now looks very different from my days of living someone else’s idea of the perfect life in Seattle, that is sort of the point. I’m living a really authentic life now, and I’m pretty damn happy with it, too. The ups. The downs. The in-betweens.
I am living proof that if you persevere in making the changes you deserve, you too can be driving along with the wind blowing through the open window of your beat up island ride, favorite tunes blasting through the speakers, sun gently setting over the tranquil Caribbean Sea, feeling that moment of pure zen, too. You’ll realize that all the sacrifice, all the lost relationships, all the uncertainty – they were all worth it. Absolutely worth it. You’ll also know, with zero ambiguity, that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
And that feeling is truly priceless, my friends.
Got questions? Comments? Want to know more about island life? Thinking about making a big life change? I’d love to hear from you.