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What happened when I moved to a tropical paradise

Do you need to go across the world to face your truth?

Probably the most beautiful sunset I have seen. #KohSamui

3 months gone, 3 more to go. Things are looking good in our Sabbatical in Koh Samui Thailand. I wanted to touch base with you.

Finding balance

When you step into a fantasy, you get to know yourself better. I am in a tropical paradise with my favorite people on earth: my husband and two kids. The weather is awesome, the food is awesome and the sunsets are awesome as well.

So, when I am down, I cannot blame it on my bad luck or my environment. I need to dig deeper and find my limiting thought. Face it in the eye.

I will give you an example. I caught myself fantasizing about another Sabbatical in the future. It would be even better. The kids would be going to school, and I would have more time to do creative work and coaching.

While I was fantasizing about this hypothetical Sabbatical, I stopped myself. What the hell? If what I needed was more intellectual work why couldn’t I have this now? I am free. And then, I had to face my limiting thought.

I grew up with a specific model of mother around me. The mother who sacrifices herself for the kids. The mother who would never leave the kids with someone else if she could avoid it. I had internalized this model.

I felt guilty not being with the kids if I had a choice. And yes, here in Thailand, I could be with them 24/7 if I wanted to. And I was. Most days.

Until I realized I needed more balance. In every relationship, you need some distance to appreciate each other. Kids are not meant to be raised by one person or even two. They need a village.

Most importantly, kids do not need an unhappy martyr for a parent. That is a terrible thing you can do for them. They absorb your mood. They model your behavior. Kids need happy parents to teach them how to be happy themselves.

The psychological message they need to receive is not: ‘Your needs are too much for me.’ It is ‘I enjoy being with you.’ For me to enjoy my time with my kids and be fully present, I need some hours away from them. Even if it is the next room.

We found a solution. We had to spend more money than what we had initially planned, but it is worth it. My preschooler has been going for 3 hours a day in the most fantastic nursery I have seen. She loves it. And a nanny comes in the mornings to help with the baby and the cooking.

The kids look after banana trees in my daughter’s nursery
An aeroplane. One of the many fantasy-play stations in the nursery’s huge garden
I cannot imagine a nursery in Europe starting a real fire to teach the kids about it

I have a few hours each day to do my yoga, work on my Executive Coaching Masters and coach. Since I had more time, I offered my first newsletter subscribers a free coaching session. It has been fun coaching people around the world.

How is our typical day you ask? Mornings involve work and yoga. In the afternoons we play with the kids at the pool, the beach or a playdate. During weekends we explore the island with friends from here. We have visitors from Europe from time to time.

Nurturing our relationship

We went on a date with my husband the other day. The first in 7 months. It was a breakfast date. We still do not feel comfortable to leave the baby at night. The date gained some extra points for being beachfront.

Photo from our first date in 7 months

A friend who visited noticed that we never get to finish a conversation. Or go deep on a topic. Kids will always interrupt.

Before the Sabbatical we were in survival mode. I think all parents of young kids and full-time jobs are trying hard to stay afloat. It was easy for our relationship to slide down on the priority list.

Now, we have no excuses not to nurture our marriage. We cannot blame work. We cannot blame sleepless nights. We can always have a nap in the afternoon (we just need to take turns). If we are not feeling affectionate or romantic, we need to face what is going on between us and resolve it.

Managing a household and raising kids full-time with your partner is like working on a business together. The daily friction can wear you down if you are not careful.

The good news is that even though we are most of the day together, we still enjoy each other’s company.

Thinking less and feeling more

Thanks to yoga I have become better at feeling at home in my body. I feel stronger. I feel healthy. Yoga helps me think less and be more present. I have been living in my head all my life. It is good for me to live in my body for a change.

It has not become a habit yet though. It is not easier for me to do it than not to do it. Hopefully with more time...I could not expect that I would change the inertia of years without exercise with just 3 months of yoga.

I practice yoga outdoors in a garden

Appreciating beauty

Another way to get out of the world of ideas and be more present was through Instagram. How a social medium helped me be more present? I opened an account (caterina_kostoula) and I am trying to post a photo a day. This helps me appreciate the beauty around me. Searching for beauty makes me happy.

Crystal Beach, Koh Samui


There is no joy without gratitude. I am enjoying my kids. My baby passed from the in-hands phase to the full-on-exploring phase. He just wears a nappy most of the time. We both get so much skin to skin contact! Oxytocin all around. He loves being outdoors. He is a happy fellow.

Our baby exploring the beach

I have been helping my daughter come to grips with becoming a big sister through play. She loves playing that she is a baby herself or that I am a baby and she takes care of me. She has made a lot of friends here. She also learned how to swim. Kind of.

My daughter loves a good sunset like her mom

Stuff I like and stuff I miss

Ok on a lighter side. I miss an oven. Thais do not cook in an oven. They just boil or use the wok. I miss drinking tap water. I miss online grocery shopping. I miss a dishwasher. I miss a radio that is not my phone. I miss being in a place with no mosquitos or geckos running on my walls. I miss reliable public transport.

That is what public transport looks like in Koh Samui. You just wait at any point on the main road until one passes.

Stuff that I will miss when I go back. Drinking fresh coconut at every restaurant or bar. My rice cooker (I will buy one). The nursery! Our nanny. The warm weather, the beach, the pool, the sunsets. Not having to dress up. Did I mention Thai food? Our new friends. Free time!


I am probably the happiest I have ever been. Getting to know myself better every day. Enjoying my family. Feeling. Getting stronger. Accepting what is. Appreciating beauty.

Caterina Kostoula is an Executive Coach and a Global Business Leader at Google. Follow Caterina Kostoula on Facebook, Medium, Twitter or LinkedIn.

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Caterina Kostoula

Caterina Kostoula

Executive Coach at www.theleaderpath.com. Former Google business leader. Fast Company & Thrive Global Contributor.

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