What I Learned in My Bucket List Year in Costa Rica … by Leo Tolstoy
Updated: May 28
“We imagine that when we are thrown out of our usual ruts all is lost, but it is only then that what is new and good begins. While there is life there is happiness. There is much, much before us.”
We tend to pick a lane and stay in it long after it feels stale, often for a lifetime … never manifesting the precious things we vow to do “one day.” That is folly. Jodi and I have dreamt of this year abroad with kids for decades, long before we met one another. And we are showing our sons that dreams can be real if you are bold enough to make seismic, disruptive changes. Leaving Wall Street to pursue art, fearing I’d be mocked forever, remains one of my best decisions. I want my children to understand that they control their destinies, and even when they don’t, their dilemmas and “failures,” be they academic, social or internal, are fertilizer in their fields of self improvement and, eventually, inner peace.
Tolstoy, born in 1828 into an aristocratic Russian family, fought in the Tsar’s army in the hairiest winter war conditions ever. His surroundings and reference points could not have be more different than our tropical paradise. Still, his characters realize something I too gained clarity on this past year – Love grows, evolves and expands. I leaned in and loved my kids and wife hard this year, through ecstasies and agonies. And felt that love boomerang back to me. I am truly happy. Because happiness is the flower that grows from loves seed. We’ve been motivated this year not by the accumulation of wealth, prestige and visibility but the pursuit of kindness and wellness, both ours and others. This paradigm shift cannot be overstated. I found the people we encountered and befriended intriguing and exhilarating. Because, if you somehow found your way to this microdot on the map called Playa Grande, you have an interesting story to tell. One which includes a conscious choice to step off the hamster wheel, walk away from people and places rife with stress and chase your bliss. Being surrounded by productive people who chose joy as a lifestyle changed our game at a cellular level. I intend to keep it that way, wherever I go from now on.
“It is not beauty that endears, it is love that makes us see beauty.”
I’ve been with my wife fifteen years and love her more now than ever. The very first time I saw her, I thought she was cute, because she is. But today, her physical beauty is a minor ingredient in my deep and abiding admiration. The essence of my love resides in her unwavering courage and selflessness throughout our journey. She meets the daily challenges of raising our children with preternatural gentleness and patience. And she’s always game for good times and world-wide adventures. She got certified for SCUBA this year and is chomping at the bit to explore that magical universe with me and our kids. Through the prism of our time-tested bond, her physical beauty shines more each day.
“There is no greatness where simplicity, goodness and truth are absent.”
There is one road in and out of our little beachside town. It is a fine, smooth road, though unlit and a bit scary in a hard rain at night. Just last week, a beautiful yellow line was added down the center of this black road, making it far more safe and easy to navigate. I derive a surprising amount of satisfaction from this nondescript yellow stripe. It signifies security, progress and visual symmetry. More and more, cleansed by deep nature and tranquility, I see greatness and find joy in such simple things.
“He was always in a hurry to get where he was not.”
Sure, we need to herd the kids off to school each morning in a furious, last minute, “where’s my homework” rush … but in general, our pace has slowed markedly. We’ve irrevocably pivoted away from rush/grind/rinse/repeat/die to a more gentle, experiential and connective manner of filling the hours in a day. Yes, we have the financial freedom to do this, no small thing, but we each can review our relationship with money and ask ourselves if the system we are part of really serves our values of a happy, healthy, well-balanced life. If it does not, perhaps it’s time to find a new system. Most folks forget that the hamster wheel actually goes nowhere.
“Oh, how happy I am to have found it at last. Yes! It’s all vanity, it’s all an illusion, everything except that infinite sky.”
Early on in our stay here, Jodi asked me who and what I missed back home. It surprised me to realize that I missed nothing and no one. I say that with no arrogance and no judgment, for I love my friends and family with all my being. Naturalist John Muir, a kindred spirit who escaped into nature, said it best, “I am learning to live close to the lives of my friends without ever seeing them. No miles of any measurement can separate your soul from mine.” In fact, many of the folks I love most I haven’t seen in years. But that’s ok. I no longer hold any guilt around that unavoidable truth. Living a healthy lifestyle under “that infinite sky,” makes us giddy as puppies. So, we’ll see you when we see you … hopefully soon!
“Yes, I may very well be killed tomorrow.”
I lost someone I love this year. Whether you live to 54 or 94, life goes by in a nano-second. Still, most of us tend to postpone our bucket lists until the end of our lives. Let’s flip that script! If there’s one take home message I can share, it is this – Pick up your bucket right now, walk down to the ocean, and begin pouring your dreams out into reality … before that option no longer exists.
PS. To learn more about and follow this journey in photos, both past and future, visit my Instagram @stuart_sheldon