We’re back in the U.S. after an inspiring six month stay in a little cabin at the foot of the mountains on the Pacific Ocean of Canada. Considering that it’s snowing in Minnesota right now, you could say we’re missing the sun and the (little) waves. It was hard to say goodbye to new friends, but it’s been great to be close to family once more.
During our time by the ocean, I learned a lot about myself and what it’s like to live someplace you’ve been dreaming about. Here are some lessons I took from the experience:
- You can’t get away until you unplug. Even in such a remote place, if you’re on Facebook, you’re plugged in. It wasn’t until I turned off my phone that I experienced the peace and stillness of the place.
- Beauty is everywhere. We lived in a stunningly beautiful place. But there were ugly things about it. One of the biggest lessons I learned is that beauty is everywhere, but our experience is determined by what we focus on. If we dwell on what we don’t like (e.g. shoveling), we miss the overwhelming beauty right in front of us (e.g. snow on tree branches).
- People are more important than place (to me). I loved living by the ocean. We were pleasantly surprised by the fun, artistic and intelligent community we found thriving in that little town. In the end, it’s the people I’ll miss the most. If I had to choose, I’d take good people over a beautiful place, but I don’t think you have to choose. I want both.
- Doing nothing is essential. I made it a point to spend time doing nothing while sitting on the water. It was hard. I didn’t do it as much as I would have liked. When I did do it, I felt centered, calm and at peace. I made better decisions, listened to others better and listened to myself better. I felt connected and happier. It wasn’t the ocean (though that didn’t hurt), it was being still on purpose. Doing nothing is important for everyone and it’s essential for introverts.
- Everything is a tradeoff. In Chicago, when I was dreaming of the ocean, it was easy to complain about the smell of poo emanating from the sewer. Have you ever lived on the water? In general, it smells bad. You get used to it, but the point is that no place is perfect. It’s about knowing what’s most important to you in a place and choosing wisely. (In short, the grass may be greener, but it may also give you a rash.)
- Less is more. We took only what we could fit into our little car when we left on our road trip. Our tiny four-room cabin made for a tight fit, but it rarely felt cramped. Instead, it forced us to be creative. Getting by on less felt good. Having less stuff to worry about, store and manage felt great.
- Moving won’t change you. We had big ideas about hiking and exploring. But we’re homebodies. We did get out of the house more, but our lifestyle didn’t change drastically just because our environment did.
It was a wild ride. And though some of the lessons I learned may be slightly depressing to those of you who’ve been dreaming of being somewhere else, I hope you take away a more inspiring message: that what matters is not what you see, but how you see it. It can be easy to get down on the place you live at times (especially when it snows in late April). What I found on the ocean was that what happens inside of us is more important than what happens around us. We tend to expect external things to make us happy, which is weird, because they rarely do. Happiness, the kind that lasts, comes from within.