I was planning on sharing 5 lessons that I learned abroad this summer like I did for our experience in China, but instead I decided to combine the final two since one wouldn’t have been learned without the other. (And to save you an extra novel!) I would say this is my last post of the Dominican Republic, but knowing my nostalgic and reflective self, I can’t promise you that 😉 So instead, here’s the last and final lesson I learned abroad this past summer, and to me, the most important. In fact, this lesson is the most important I learned not only this summer, but for the whole year- which is why I waited until the middle of December to share it.
Lesson #4 I learned from living abroad this summer- Emotional fulfillment comes from yourself, and yourself only.
From my observations, humans go through life trying to find what their “purpose” is, or what fulfills them. We are constantly searching for connection, adventure, fulfillment, and genuine happiness, whatever that may look like to you. If we weren’t constantly needing and looking for these things, life might feel pointless. I’ve learned over the years that some people seem to find “it” easier than others. Some people don’t ever find it and give up, while others spend their life searching for it to either be finally fulfilled or constantly let down. I know now that whatever it is we are looking for, it exists within us. And we will never find it if we are constantly looking for it elsewhere.
(Yeah I did just get that deep) If you haven’t already noticed through my posts or knowing me on a more personal level, I spent the last couple of years digging deep into myself and what I wanted out of this life. I focused on many different aspects including; learning to love and accept the type of person I am, making an effort to surround myself with people who bring genuine connection to my life, searching for the things that “light the spark” and learning to remove the things that don’t. These small practices and positive life changes brought many beautiful things for me. The year of 2018 was full of close connections with friends, family, and co workers, beautiful adventures, self love, new opportunities, and many days that I felt were the “best day” of my life. And on paper, or from the outside, my life looked “perfect.” I finally had everything I ever wanted. The problem was, something was still missing.
It wasn’t until this summer in the Dominican Republic that I realized that most of the happiness I was feeling was coming from outside sources. My purpose was coming from my dream job position that I worked so hard to achieved. My validation and connection to myself was being fulfilled by other people. My happiness was coming from the days that were filled with “happiness highs”. And my overall emotional fulfillment was coming from the things I was constantly looking forward to, and not the moment that I was presently in.I think it’s natural for most of us to get our genuine happiness, fulfillment, or purpose from outside sources. In fact, if we all knew how to do this on our own, our lives would be quite boring and lonely. The problem for me was when one of these things didn’t exist anymore, or when one of these chapters ended, I would crash. I would get extremely down, insecure, and have minor episodes of depression. And I would just look for the “next best thing” to fill the void. I didn’t really realize this was a problem, until I moved out of the country and suddenly all of those outside sources didn’t exist anymore. And boy, did I crash.
I struggled more emotionally in the Dominican Republic this summer, then I had for quite some time. I spent the first few weeks there wondering why we chose to leave our beautiful life back home, and felt frustrated that I was feeling sad when I “should have been” feeling happy. I woke up each day missing the summer of the year prior. I wasn’t spending my summer doing the things I suddenly missed-drinking too much wine, night swimming with our best friends, attending concerts, traveling with our family and loved ones. I also wasn’t working my dream job, and felt like I wasn’t fulfilling a purpose for my life anymore. I felt like I lost connections to others due to the distance, and had difficulties connecting to the strangers who surrounded me. And even though I had Derek with me, I felt more alone than I felt in a very long time.
I quickly learned that I was feeling down because I suddenly didn’t have the outside sources that were temporarily “filling my void” or “giving me purpose”. And it was then that I realized the thing that was “missing” couldn’t be filled from outside sources. It couldn’t be filled from happiness highs, connections with other people, breath taking moments, or beautiful views, because those things don’t always exist or eventually come to an end. I had to learn how to fulfill it within myself, and that is exactly what I did.
I remember going to sleep on a night at the end of May. We had been in our new home for a couple weeks and I was feeling nostalgic for our life prior to this chapter, scrolling through old photos in my camera roll. Tired of feeling sad, I decided to put my phone down and take in the surroundings that I was currently in. We didn’t have air conditioning, so our room was hot and humid, I got frustrated…tossing and turning. But then, I listened to the tropical rainstorm outside and Derek snoring next to me. Our only plan for the next day was to go to the beach for the third time that week and find a yummy new restaurant. I missed Harvey, I missed my AC, and I missed the comfort of our home and my job, but I reminded myself there was once a time when all I wanted was to live in a tropical place near the ocean, and only hoped that the boy I was in love with at 15 would be experiencing that with me…and that is exactly what I was currently doing. How lucky was I?I decided that night that I would spend the whole summer not looking forward to what’s next, not looking back with nostalgia, but consciously soaking in every single moment that I was presently in, no matter how exciting or mundane it seemed. Whether it was when I was high on adrenaline cliff jumping off waterfalls and hiking tropical green mountains, or hunched over our crappy toilet with the broken seat from morning sickness, I would enjoy every single one. Because these moments were something I once dreamed about and wished for, and even though it didn’t feel like it at the time, I knew there would eventually be a time that I would miss them. (Surprise…here I am writing about it, missing them.)
It’s quite interesting, once I decided to change my mindset and put my focus into learning to fulfill myself emotionally and enjoy every current moment, life started to test me. I started to get really sick with morning sickness, and I hardly left our apartment the last 6 weeks we were there.
There would be days that I would go without interacting with others besides Derek, who was suddenly extremely busy since I was slacking on our head teacher duties and he was picking up all of the slack for both of our work. I would spend the whole day inside, not soaking in the Caribbean sun or swimming in the ocean. I listened to everyone else talk about their adventurous weekends or the fun things they did that day, while I laid on our crappy bed with 5 ice packs on my head, hoping that the spinning would stop and that I wouldn’t throw up AGAIN.
And boy did I learn my lesson.
I learned to be okay with being alone all day since it was the only option I had. I practiced more yoga and meditation than I ever had. I found so much beautiful new music that I blasted through our walls. I enjoyed my cold showers and our crappy bed more than ever since they were the only two places that made me feel half alive. And on the days that Derek forced me out of the house, I soaked up every minute in the Caribbean sun, the ocean, and the saltwater air for as long as I possibly could before feeling sick again. I definitely didn’t feel a “happiness high” for a good 6 weeks. I felt disconnected from everyone, in the house, and even back home since I was keeping my real feelings and pregnancy a secret. I felt pointless not doing any work or helping out. I felt guilty for not being able to have an adventurous last few weeks there, but above all else, I finally felt genuinely happy. And I know it’s because I learned to to fill whatever “void” I had in the months prior, and be that way completely on my own.I am not saying that life isn’t meant to be filled with happiness highs, moments that remind us we’re alive, and genuine connections. I am the biggest believer that these things are what make life beautiful and purposeful. But this summer, I learned to accept that chapters eventually end, connections fade, and time changes just about everything. And even when these things do come to an end and life feels a little mundane or ordinary, life is just as beautiful and happiness does still exist. I know now that it is possible to lose just about “everything” (or at least feel that way) and still be happy because the only source that genuine happiness can come from, is myself. And all of those other beautiful outside sources just add to that happiness that is finally already there.
Onto the next adventure, Wren