Lessons I learned from the Islands

Each chapter of life leaves you with lessons and they usually happen during a time of challenge or exploration, two things that are ESSENTIAL for growth. Consciously or subconsciously, I am a seeker of growth which is what led me to a trip that changed my life.

The summer of 2011 I graduated college and asked myself the question: what do I want to do next? I had already worked 3 years as a personal trainer, my passion and career choice. I needed some freedom and adventure so I sold most of my items, broke my lease (whoops) and planned a trip that had no expiration date. I moved to Ahe, French Polynesia, a tiny island off of Tahiti to work on an organic pearl farm. The island had no running water, solar panels for electricity, 1 store that was essentially a hut and only 553 people on it. Culture shock. 

My family truly thought I was crazy and did not really support the idea but I didn't care. When I think back it almost seems like a blur. Like a distant dream. But I learned some of the most important lessons during that time period. Things about my fitness, nutrition and emotions (which are 3 of the most important things to me, hence my health coaching :) ) that I don't think I ever would have learned otherwise. These lessons can relate to every single person. You don't have to travel that far and go to those extremes to learn. But sometimes you do..

1. Food. I started my trip as a 105 lb vegan that was obsessed with every little thing I ate. My menstrual cycle stopped and I was fighting anorexia. I soon realized after arriving to Ahe that I had no choice of what I was eating and had to take what I could get. Our first meal was chicken and potatoes which I forced myself to eat. I got my period back the next day and trust me, I did not expect that and had to use HUGE pads I got from the tiny store hut. I started to slowly gain weight again although it was very hard for me emotionally. Living in a place where there are few options you realize that food is fuel, not a luxurious decision. You don't eat for pleasure but rather to make you strong, healthy and capable (even though the food was so fresh and healthy- the owner and "father" of the farm was an amazing chef).

*Lesson learned- food is fuel and knowing why you eat what you eat will change your life. I was eating (or not eating) to feel more confident. In other words, I thought that being thin and getting more attention was my answer to happiness. When I reflect on that time in my life, I was always obsessing about what I was eating and would miss out on delicious food because I was afraid I would gain weight. Not only that but I thought that my skinniness would lead to the type of love I have always craved. How silly is that? Genuine love is not judged by appearance. You will not receive the love you want until you TRULY love yourself. Sounds cliche but it is so true. 

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2. Fitness is not the gym. As a personal trainer, my whole idea of being fit was related to weights and a treadmill. I thought that was the only way to be healthy. That was so far from the truth. I was swimming in the ocean with sharks every day. Diving deep (or trying) to get baskets of oysters. Scrubbing and hauling huge nets across rocky beaches. Walking drunk across a skinny walkway over deep water (balance :)). Want to be fit? Make it a part of life. I try adopting that by walking, hiking, skiing and doing things outside as much as possible. We live in a society where that's not really normal. My answer to that is to stop being normal :)

*Lesson Learned- Working out 7 days a week in a gym with weights didn't work for me. Some people love it and are deadlifting 300lbs but I was craving the outdoors. I was craving climbing mountains and feeling the accomplishment. Skiing a black diamond and feeling the rush. Finishing a triathlon and pinching myself because I thought I would definitely drown during the swim part. Yes, it was WAY harder for me to exercise outside and in nature rather than in the gym where everything was set out for me. But it was so much more satisfying. 

3. True Happiness. I knew it all along which is the hardest thing to admit to myself. But I wasn't happy. I was in a relationship that did not fit me at all and there were so many red flags. I wasn't honest with myself about what I needed or wanted. And I let someone else take over that for me. When you aren't honest with yourself you are going to miss out on opportunities. Interactions. People. Growth. Beauty. Long talks. Peace. Connections. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way.

*Lesson Learned- Sometimes you need to take a step back and try to take an unbiased look at your situation. Are you living in the type of relationship you have always wanted? Do you feel comfortable receiving love or giving love the way that is true to you? You CAN find a person that fits you. Love is your right as a human being and don't stop until you find it. It's kind of weird for me to quote Rihanna but almost 2 years ago "I found love in a hopeless place". And I wouldn't have it if I didn't give up the toxicity in my life that didn't serve me. 

4. Simple living. The island wasted nothing. Our shower and drinking water came from a vat that collected rain water. We washed our dishes in salt water. Our fish came from the ocean in front of us and were caught by our friends. When we used the bathroom the fish ate our toilet paper. I had 1 backpack full of clothes. The sun powered our electricity. I could go on all day but the bottom line is we only used what we needed. It was liberating. 

*Lesson Learned- Becoming more connected with Mother Earth reminds me that we are all one. We work together. True happiness came from that connection but also the freedom of not relying on material items. 

5. Body image. I have always struggled with that. Ahe had only 1 mirror and it was permanently foggy and scratched. I had no idea what I looked like for most of the trip but I felt fat. I was always nervous about gaining weight because I had so little self confidence. Looking back at pictures, I was perfect. I always have been and I always will be. And so are you. You are perfect. Exactly as you are and it's cliche and true. My ears. My little belly. My introvertedness when I'm feeling introspective. My strong need to touch and be touched.  It's all perfect.

*Lesson Learned- The more you tear your body down with negativity, the more your body will react negatively. Instead of looking in the mirror and picking apart your qualities that aren't model perfect, thank your body for being strong and alive. 

5. Do something "wrong". I came to the island with $2500, a one way ticket, student loans kicking in and no idea of how I will get internet to talk to my family. Truthfully, I could have planned better but whatever. I learned some serious lessons like student loans are effing ridiculous, a 12 pack of beer in Ahe costs $80.00 and don't wait until the last minute to tell your grandmother that you're moving across the world. 

*Lesson Learned- I love that I was naive. Living life to the T is not natural although it may seem like it is. We weren't born with cell phone location trackers, texting and calendar reminders. Doing things on the fly that are risky is okay. Some of them may end up being the best thing you have ever done. 

My trip to Tahiti was intended for fun but ended up being a schooling in reality. An experience of a lifetime with lessons that have shaped me into who I am today. Just a reminder, "Life is not measured in the not the number of breaths you take but the moments that take our breath away." I love that and try to live by it. It's about time for a breathless moment with new people. South America?