“It’s better than watching it on TV.” Lately I find myself saying that when friends ask how I’m doing. Three weeks into the romance of a lifetime with a gorgeous Latino, 20 years younger than me, I tell them, “It’s challenging, complicated, full of surprises and so much fun.” When you dive head first, right smack dab into the middle of life, that’s what happens. It is never predictable or easy but a real life lived is so much more rewarding than watching someone else do it.
The idea of jumping in and living life to the fullest was an integral part of my decision to move to Costa Rica. It was a promise I made to myself. I did not just want a long tropical vacation: I wanted a completely new life and I wanted to live it to the max! At fifty two I was feeling young and healthy, vital and vibrant and nowhere near ready for the rocking chair. Once my kids were grown and I was free of responsibility I decided to go for it, create the life I want to live and live the life of my dreams. Now, four years later I am gratified, elated and I thank God and my lucky stars to be able to tell you that I am doing just that. I am living life to full capacity and enjoying it all.
But it didn’t happen overnight. The plans and preparation to leave my home, friends and family; the scary move on my own; finding the right place to live and a way to make money; and developing a social life with good friends – all these important life components evolved over time, step by step. Then the most recent and deeply desired event came completely by surprise. I fell in love. None of these things would have happened if I’d stayed in my comfort zone.
And what a comfort zone I had! I’d lived for twenty years in the lovely little town of Whitefish, Montana – known as the “last best place” to live, in the USA. I owned and ran a prosperous business. I raised my kids there and had many good friends. It was a good life and I loved it. So why, you may wonder, did I want to leave?
The short answer is that I’d outgrown the place and needed to expand my life into something bigger. But I didn’t realize that at the time. At that time I was simply bored with my life and disenchanted with the prevailing consumer based society in which I lived. I knew there was a better way. I’d traveled to some third world countries: Tibet, Nepal and Mexico and seen people with “nothing” as happy as can be. I wanted my almost grown children to know that there was a whole different world out there. I wanted to show them there are other ways of life. A month in Costa Rica’s Caribbean showed me that my way of life in the United States no longer served me. Back home, after three days of angst, I decided to make the move of a lifetime and go to live in Costa Rica. Seven months later I had sold my business and my car, rented out my property, and joined the ranks of those who’d warned me.
Yes, I was warned. On my visit to Costa Rica’s Caribbean many expats cautioned me, “Years ago I came, just for a little vacation. I never left! I am still here today. Be careful,” they said, “it could happen to you.” Well it did happen to me and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Yet not so, for all the expats who warned me. Some have since retreated to North America. Some could not handle the culture shock. Some lost their shirts from investment without investigation. Some just could not find a way to get by. Moving here is only the first step. Next, one must find a way to make it work.
My greatest challenge was financial. Everything else – the new culture, the different way of doing things, the language barrier, concern about crime – was simply a gradual learning experience that everyone must go through. My advice is to hold back your judgment, be flexible, watch and learn. Living in Costa Rica will teach you patience and make you a better person. You need to have a good chunk of change in your savings when you get here and if possible a monthly income from back home. Everything takes longer and costs more than you expect it will. Expect the unexpected. After being in Costa Rica for only six weeks, the convertible top of my car was stolen, along with all my clothes and my car stereo. (You can read more about the robbery in my book, “Costa Rica Adventures: If She Can Do It, So Can I.” This took a big bite out of my meager savings and made me get much more serious about finding a way to make money.
As I said, flexibility is key. If one thing doesn’t work you try another. In the States I was an interior designer and a mural artist. In Costa Rica I started out doing art work. Then I got certified and taught English for a year. Two years ago I started a personal Costa Rica Guide Service , which has proved to be my most successful endeavor.
Regardless of what you do, there is one underlying factor necessary for everyone: the determination to succeed. I’ve run into many obstacles. One time my rented property in Montana was vacant for two months and I could not pay my mortgage or property tax. Another time my renters trashed the house. Yet every single problem has increased my determination to stay and keep trying.
Thinking “out of the box” and “going beyond your comfort zone” is challenging but that is what it takes to make a new life in a new world. Giving birth to your own new life is no different than childbirth. Both are difficult, awkward and painful but the rewards are without measure. Never, did I expect to discover I had hidden talents. Yet my new life in Costa Rica revealed that I am indeed, a very good writer. This came about simply by setting up a web site for my friends back home, so they could follow my adventures. Soon strangers were sending me emails full of compliments, urging me to write a book. My guiding clients’ grateful appreciation shows me I have a talent for helping and sharing my experience with others interested in exploring Costa Rica. One of my greatest delights since I began my new life is that my daughter decided to live here, too. She came to visit, met a boy and the rest… well you can imagine the sweet story. They are happily running a restaurant. He is a gem. And then of course, my biggest surprise was falling in love.
Now don’t get the idea that just because I am with a younger man, I came to Costa Rica and went wild. I will admit that one of the reasons I moved to Costa Rica is because here I feel like a woman again. In the States I felt old and unnoticed. In Costa Rica I can‘t walk out the door without receiving a compliment. The standards of beauty are different here. In Costa Rica you don’t have to look like a movie star to be appreciated. Latin men love women – all kinds of women of all ages and description. And I love Latin men for their passionate enthusiasm for life, but instinctively I keep them at bay. In the four years I have lived here, this man is the first one to whom I’ve given consent – my first boyfriend. And now, as I again jump head first into the unknown, I am learning copiously about myself and human nature through language barriers, cultural clash and the overwhelmingly intoxicating experience of love. You see? If you take a chance and open Pandora’s Box you never know what will come out of it!
My new life in Costa Rica has met with fear, confusion and adversity yet, as in childbirth, I can hardly remember the pain. All I know now and feel is grateful bliss for what has transpired and anxious anticipation for what is yet to come my way. Your dreams are different than mine but you too, can make your life whatever you want it to be. All you need is determination and belief in yourself. We all say we want to live life to the fullest but when we are presented with choices, we often shy away from the unfamiliar. This is your life. It belongs to you. No one can live it for you and no one has the right to judge it. If you are left lonely on the rocking chair it is no one’s fault but your own. Get up and jump in. There are always others who’ve gone before you to help show the way. Before I took my big leap, Rita Golden Gelman, author of Tales of a Female Nomad, gave me some personal advice for my new adventures in Costa Rica. She said: “Always smile, eat whatever you are offered and accept every invitation.” This advice has helped me immeasurably. Whenever I hesitate to try something new, I think of Rita’s advice, cast aside my doubts and just go for it. I’ve never been sorry. Try it and see. You never know what you’ll end up with but I guarantee you it beats watching it on TV.