What I learned from a week in Costa Rica

Dylan Wheeler
Apr 23, 2018 · 6 min read

“Investment in travel is an investment in yourself.” — Matthew Karsten

When I filled out my Startup Island Spring Break application, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. One of my friends had mentioned he applied in passing, so I took a mental note since the concept seemed cool: a week-long trip abroad to Costa Rica (although the locations change every year) with other entrepreneurs for a fun, relaxing, and invigorating experience. Until this trip, I had only ever traveled outside of the United States once, and that was to Montréal, Québec for a music festival.

I was blown away.

We settled in the Leaves and Lizards Arenal Volcano Cabin Retreat located in La Fortuna, Costa Rica after a three-hour bus ride from the airport in San José. I met my roommates for the week, and we headed to dinner. I was greeted by a tranquil infinity pool surrounded by exotic jungle, a tiki hut, and a homey dining area. For the next six jam-packed days, I embarked on the Startup Island journey of self-discovery, goal identification, and networking with the other travelers.

I found the Costa Rican environment to be highly conducive to my growth. Not only were the relaxing properties of the volcanic hot springs, jungle, and swimming pool enough to facilitate my character development, but the horseback riding and cultural exchange forced me outside of my comfort zone, allowing me to grow. To this end, my favorite story about growth from the trip is about a lobster.

“The stimulus for a lobster to be able to grow is that it feels uncomfortable.” — Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski

A lobster is a soft and mushy animal that lives inside a rigid shell. Since the shell cannot expand, how can the lobster grow? ​As the lobster grows, its shell becomes very confining, and the lobster feels uncomfortable from the pressure. It then goes under a rock formation to protect itself from predatory fish, ditches its old shell, and produces a new one. As the lobster continues to grow, the new shell becomes very uncomfortable, so it goes back under the rocks and repeats the cycle. The stimulus for the lobster to be able to grow is that it feels uncomfortable.

If lobsters had doctors, they would never grow! As soon as the lobster feels uncomfortable, it would go to the doctor and would get a valium or a Percocet. It would feel fine and never cast off its shell. Times of stress are signals for growth. If we can use adversity properly, we can grow through adversity.

Everyone can be (and should be) an entrepreneur.

Being entrepreneurial is often associated with the business world. If you are an entrepreneur, you are quitting your conventional job, sacrificing your salary, and starting your own company. While this is true in principle, this trip taught me that it is possible to think of entrepreneurship in a broader sense of the word.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you are the CEO of your own life. You have decided to take control over your life and are held responsible to creating your own destiny. In this way, the only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be. Throughout this trip, I was constantly reminded that I am in control of my own life, and it is up to me to decide what is important and what to spend my time doing. So, I thought about what I would like to change about my life and how I was going to do that. Through working with my coach, I realized that to have the most optimal chance of achieving my goals, I need to schedule them into my day, even if it’s only 10 minutes at first.

  1. I want to be even more present in all my relationships.
  2. I want to incorporate a yoga practice into my life for the sake of improving my flexibility and bodily awareness.
  3. I want to meditate daily to enhance my mental awareness.
  4. I want to pick up my guitar again and work towards mastering the instrument to provide musical expression and to bring joy to others through the music I play.

How did I do? I am writing this article approximately one month after my spring break trip. I wanted to reflect on my experience with a level-headed mind, and I can comfortably say that I am still reaping the rejuvenating Costa Rican air.

My new perspective on life and entrepreneurship has stuck with me. With every choice I make — every event I schedule into my calendar — I understand that I am choosing how to spend my time because I am the CEO of my own life. Your mindset and attitude shape your reality, so having a healthy one goes a long way. Make sure that your biggest enemy doesn’t live between your ears.

My mediation practice has also stuck with me. While not necessarily daily, I am mediating multiple times per week: sometimes for as little as 2 minutes or for as long as half an hour. I am using the Headspace app for this journey, and I couldn’t be happier with my performance. I already notice that I am more mindful and have better control over my domain of emotions.

I have been working a little extra hard on cultivating the relationships I have with people. I am finding that it can be extremely difficult to manage screen time when I am sitting in class taking notes or working on assignments at home. It is very easy to get swept away in the endless barrage of emails, social media updates, assignment deadlines, articles, and videos. I’ve been working to improve this by micro-managing my day, ensuring that I am scheduling time for all my priorities and understanding when I need to take a break from working.

To my dismay, I have only practiced yoga three times since ending my daily practice in Costa Rica and haven’t even picked up my guitar once. While frustrating, I am always remembering that I’m in the driver’s seat of my own life. If yoga and guitar are truly things I desire, I shall make time for them. Being “busy” is never an excuse, for that only means I have merely decided that other things are more worth my time.

“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” — Zen Proverb

In closing, I would like to emphasize the importance of travel and reflection. My eyes have only recently been opened to the immense size and scale of the world, and I cannot get enough of it. I want to travel the world and meet as many people as I can, while I can. Reflection is also key to steering yourself in the right direction. While I always advocate for not dwelling on the past, it is always important to analyze past choices, reflect on them, re-orient your direction based on what you’ve learned, and advance to the next objective.

Now go do something you’ve never done before, for there is no better time than the present.

Dylan Wheeler

Written by

Software designer, programmer, and web developer with deep and wide-ranging IT experience. Enjoys cultivating deep relationships and adventuring.

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