He might’ve been an engineer.

on November 17, 2014 | in Work | by

beach walking

He might’ve been an engineer — but he wasn’t.

I watched as he walked toward us across the sand, wearing a blue Hawaiian shirt and a wide-brimmed straw hat. He moved briskly and was able-bodied, I noticed, despite being — perhaps seventy years old? — I guessed. I’d have easily mistaken him for another vacationer if it weren’t for the lanyard around his neck and the stack of flyers he carried with him.

“Hi girls,” he smiled, his shirt whipping gently in the breeze. “How are you doing today? First time in Costa Rica?”

Yes, we nodded.

“Welcome,” he said, reaching out his hand to introduce himself. “I’m Tom. Have you done any activities yet? Kayaks? Horseback riding? Estuary tour?” he inquired.

“We’ve already done the river tour with the crocodiles,” I said.

“Yoga on the beach?” he asked.

He must’ve been reading my mind: after nearly nine days without my regular yoga practice, my body and mind were beginning to wilt. I’d actually been scouring the town for a nearby studio. And yoga on the beach? Even better. That’s something you certainly can’t do in Portland, Oregon.

“When’s the yoga class?” I asked.

“Right now,” he said, setting his bag down on the sand.

“Um. Ok… who’s our teacher?”

Tom swept off his straw hat and placed it on the sand as he began to unroll his mat in front of us.

“Me, of course,” he said, as if there had ever been any question. “I was once a monk in Thailand, you know? I did yoga every morning.”

I could see it, actually — the monk thing. Tom had lifted his hat to unveil a softly shaved head, and there was a depth to his blue eyes that could only have come from years of sitting meditation.

How could we say no?

And so just as the sun was about to set over the Tamarindo Playa, my sister, my mother and I began our private yoga class on the beach.

Later in the week, Tom took us on a kayak trip to explore a nearby volcanic island that was rich with piles of worn white conch shells and lively tide pools full of brittle starfish, crabs, and sea urchins. We drank fresh rainwater from smooth, concave pieces of conch shells, watching as throngs of hermit crabs scraped coconut meat from the insides of the brown mounds that he’d cracked open on a rock.

“How long have you been leading tours in Tamarindo for?” I asked.

“Five years,” he replied.

“And before that?”

“I was trained to be an engineer, but I left Argentina to travel the world when I was 27. I never came back,” he said, looking wistfully out over the horizon.

He told the story of how he’d lived as a monk in Thailand, stayed in ashrams in India, and built up his own one-man tour guide operations in Fiji, Panama, and now, Costa Rica.

“Some people say they want to travel the world, and then they’ll come back home and become more serious,” he said. “But I’m almost seventy and I never came home to get serious.”

He laughed. I laughed. We all laughed together.

“Maybe seriously living your life is more important than becoming ‘serious,’” I couldn’t help but think to myself.

This man had lived his life on beaches and in ashrams, spending his days in a waking meditation with the sun on his face and the sea at his feet. I’ll bet he makes less money working as a tour guide than he might’ve as an engineer. Maybe his family and friends thought he was crazy to leave.

But did it really matter? Tom was living Tom’s life, and he wasn’t about to stop.

His story reminded me of something important: F what anyone else thinks. This is your life — no one else’s. If you want to travel the world and never come back, do it. Want to be a monk in Thailand? Go for it. How about selling kayak tours on the beach? Do ittt. “Normal” is always relative — always. No matter what you feel called to be or to do, I’ll guarantee you there are other people who are already doing it and calling their lifestyles “normal.”

Over the past several years, I’ve been blessed to meet amazing people: people who’ve quit their jobs in cubicles to start organic urban farms. People who’ve started their lives over with nothing but $10 and a laptop. People who’ve left careers in law to live wholehearted lives in Mexico or left jobs with Google to pursue makeup artistry. People who inspire me and bring me to life every day.

A friend of mine recently moved to Paris and wrote home to tell me about a ninety year old American lady she’d met in her French class. “I always wanted to live in Paris and learn to speak French,” the lady had said. And here she was, doing it. What a great reminder that it’s never too late to become who you are.

Each of us has the ability to shape our lives each and every day — it’s all about what we decide is important and how we choose to spend the time and resources we’ve been given. Most of the time, the only person stopping us is ourselves. “The world will tell you who you are until you tell the world,” reads a quote I’ve returned to again and again over the past years.

So who are you really? Are you ready to shed what’s comfortable or expected in order to begin finding out?

Don’t be afraid to give up what you think you’re “supposed” to have, do, or be in order to embrace what actually matters to you and to become the fiercest, truest version of who you really are. Don’t be afraid to stop being so “serious” and to start seriously living, whatever that might mean for you.

Rabbi Zusya, when he was an old man, said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”

– Hasidic tale quoted in Parker J. Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak

Tom could’ve been an engineer, but he’s not.

I could’ve been an accountant, but I’m not.

You could’ve been a ________, but thirty years from now, you’d rather look back on your life and know that you ________________.

This is your life, dude. Shape it or someone else will.


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[Image by jenny downing]

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  • Bor Cobritas

    I’m glad to read you back :) Inspiring and fresh as your yet-to-come best version. Please, keep doing this!


    • Thanks, Bor. It’s good to be back! Thanks for the encouragement :)

  • No one is getting out of here alive. At least that’s what Jon Bon Jovi said. So it’s best not to live someone else’s idea of life or of success while we’re here.

  • Jen

    This is just what I needed to read this morning. Just a little reminder to keep going your own way.

  • I loved this post! Thanks, Therese!

  • Trish Schwenkler

    This post made me cry. I really love it

  • Cierra

    Believe it or not, I’m literally working to become Tom.

    Once I graduate, I will be stuck and trapped on multiple levels: I need to go to grad school for m career, but family situations and lack of car has left me with absolutely nothing for a resume. Still no car, and I live in a very bad neighborhood. I don’t know if I’ll get ANY job anytime soon in this situation, and it makes me feel worthless.

    What makes it worse is knowing NOTHING will change unless I make the change. I NEED to, cause things are spiraling down for my family.

    That’s why I applied for the Fulbright application to teach English in South Korea. I shouldn’t, and don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket, but I can’t afford to put my eggs in any other basket. I work 4 hours a week on minimum wage and am saving my money to buy a passport and visa when the time comes… I won’t find out if I’m a finalist until January, and if I got it until March-June.

    I’ll also have to fight my family. That’ll be the biggest stressor and hell-raiser EVER. But I can’t live with myself if I pass it up for what? To sit at home another eight years and watch our family flounder? And have it trickle down to me? Cause I can’t pay off loans and still need mommy and daddy to pick me up and drop me off? This is stunting my growth majorly… I’m 23 and feel like a middle schooler; my life needs to drastically change.

    • Best of luck, Cierra. We’re rooting for ya!

  • This reminds me of the quote, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” (Oscar Wilde) Sometimes it means taking risks, huge risks, which can be scary as hell but ultimately so rewarding in one way or another.

  • Ajnxp

    Almost everyone in this world runs after one thing: MONEY. It is like a magnet that attracts everything towards it. It can repel you if you get too greedy or attract you strongly if you are in need. It is like an un-polarized attraction that everyone has towards it. But there are a select few in this world who look beyond it and see their true selves.

    We show our true selves to the world when we are kids as we don’t have anything to fear or worry about in the world. But as we grow older, we get burdened with more responsibilities and worries. These duties keep piling up on us for the rest of our life. It is a never ending process.

    In the midst of all this, we tend to forget what we really want to do in our life. We forget what we really were as kids, what dreams we had in school, and what was our true goal in our life. We curb our dreams and modify our goals in life to adapt to the changing world. We all cloud our minds with a plethora of things that blocks out our true self from ever surfacing out in the open.

    The only way to change this way of life is CHANGE itself. There was a quote on a diary that said, “If you go after results, you’ll never change. But if you go after change, you’ll get results.”

    This quote is kind of symbolic of everyone’s life. We all go after results (money) and hence we never change. But the ones who go after change will get results (happiness, satisfaction, and of course money). This is the dividing factor that separates out the select few from the rest of the world.

    Money can buy you luxuries and comfort but it can never buy you happiness and satisfaction. Money is like an ocean. No matter how much you can see it with your eyes, you’ll always want more of it. But true happiness is like a pearl at the bottom of the ocean. Just one look and you will never forget it for the rest of your life.

    There are many things that we all plan to do when we are students, but most of the times end up doing something else when we do a job. Everyone has to do a job to earn money, that’s a given fact. But doing something that you don’t like all your life is like living a different life altogether.

    Hence, we ask should take a step back and look ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves just one question: “What am I really doing in my life? “. You will find an answer if you give it some thought. It won’t be easy to digest the truth but after a while, you will start believing it yourself.

    This is what happened with me after I started following this website. I discovered a new found meaning in my life that I had never imagined before. I realized what I was doing in my life was not right and it needed to be fixed. This gave me a new inspiration to do something that I always wanted to do. I suddenly felt like I have the freedom to choose my own destiny.

    I cannot thank you enough Therese, for all these inspirational posts and articles that you make available for the world to read. This gives a new purpose to those who are not sure of what they should do and it sparks a new hope among those who are lost on their path. Living a life that you choose for yourself is the most difficult thing. You’ll have step outside of your comfort zone and be ready to take the high road. But it will give a new meaning and add a new dimension to your life.

    Finally, I want to end my post by saying that you, Therese, are among one of the select few in this world. Keep posting and keep inspiring!

    • I’m so glad you’re beginning to find your own path and choose your own destiny. Thanks for reading! :)

  • Russell Mariani

    “Maybe seriously living your life is more important than becoming ‘serious,’” I couldn’t help but think to myself. Very well said Therese. This is a very insightful post. Living an authentic life by discovering what nourishes us best…by discovering our “bliss” …is step one. Following our bliss is the best way to have a happy, adventurous, satisfying life. It ain’t easy…it’s definitely the road less traveled…but it is the best “way” of life for sure. Thank you for sharing your adventure with Tom in Costa Rica! Russell Mariani

  • Yuseffuhler

    I love the idea of doing this. Had a few things not happened, I honestly might have done something similar. I was a drifter for almost a year and absolutely loved it. I could have seen myself doing it for much longer, but when I stopped by home for a while I met someone. One thing led to another and we moved in together. We had a suprise pregnancy, and I enlisted so that they would have insurance. I’ve been in the military since, and I don’t regret it. I’m still very much my own person… I’m tied down, but Im tied down to people I love. I don’t have the luxury of pursuing my dream job or going off to visit the world right now. And that’s ok. My kids make my life better, and I enjoy what I do.

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