A Life Changing Year Ends Full-Circle
After losing her job and spiraling into debt, Abby Tegnelia found herself living in a small Costa Rica village for a year. It was the life change she needed to recharge and fall in love with her career all over again.
The logistics of how I ended up living in a small pueblo in Costa Rica for a year were a happy accident, one small step that led to another, leading me to the life change that I so desperately needed. I had been a workaholic. But that lifestyle started to wear on me, leaving me impatient and unhappy, confused as to why the magazine career I had always wanted had left me wound so tight, yet empty.
I lost my job in October 2008, and my world seemingly ended. Like so many other career-focused men and women, I had let my identity forge itself to my career. I was my title. And then it was gone.
It was a long time before I could get out of my lease and put a stop to my expensive bills in Los Angeles. I dove into debt, something I’d worked so hard to never do. Still, I did not reach out to every contact I had or pound the pavement looking for a job.
If I had, I would have restarted the same life that I so needed to pull away from. Sure, I freelanced to make money, but I also cried a lot during marathons of CSI. Then my TV broke. No one said change was easy.
The two things I’ll give myself the most credit for: even if I was too upset to articulate it, I know deep down that I did not want to go back to where I’d been. When I landed a similar job, I walked out after a month, even though I was absolutely broke. The job was simply not for me. That experience left me even emptier and more scared than before. But it was comforting, too, knowing that even if I didn’t know what I wanted, I knew what I didn’t.
The second thing is that there was no way I was going to waste a good recession. The cheapest way possible, I went whale watching in Mexico, visited a friend in Borneo for a month, and visited Italy, France and Germany with a friend. Little did I know that these travels eventually led me to a life- changing year, one that led me full-circle in a way I never expected.
My fourth post-lay-off trip was planned for Costa Rica. It was to be my last trip, my airline miles dried up. I was leaving after my lease was finally over, so I could throw everything into storage and not have an expensive rent hanging over my head. I was to stay with friends for a month and then figure out what to do next.
Those friends ended up lasting about two months in Costa Rica; by the time they left town, I had moved into a tiny one-room house in a modest Tico neighborhood on a dirt road. It was to be the happiest year of my life.
In 12 months, I learned to get good, sound sleep for the first time I could remember. I lived so frugally (my rent was $150 a month) that I was able to start my own company, using borrowed wireless from across the “street,” to pay off all of my debt and actually start to save money again. My stress melted away, after many, many nights of girl talk with my new neighbors, having no TV or even a phone for a long time, mornings waking up to howling monkeys… I etched out a fantastic life for myself, and I no longer cared about that silly career as a magazine editor that I’d always held onto so tightly.
I’d enjoyed my years in the high-paced world of publishing and then mourned when it was over. And then I’d started my next chapter, as a travel junkie/small business owner, an expat who finally slept well and had all the time in the world to study (Spanish) and hang out with her friends.
And then, just like that, that world ended, too. I was on a dream vacation in Nicaragua when I got a fateful email, with a job offer I couldn’t refuse. Within weeks, I was living in Las Vegas, my year as an expat but a happy memory.
It turns out that I needed a complete life restart, and my career break gave that to me. I needed to know that I am not my job, that life goes on even when you’re not working, that I can separate my career self from every other part of me. I date nicer guys now, and I know that my inner peace and happiness are noticeable.
My career is again the love of my life, but I no longer hold onto it so desperately. I am happy, and in awe over the fact that stripping down to the simplest lifestyle led me straight to my dream job in a very cutthroat business. I don’t understand how or why it all worked out that way.
But it did.
Abby Tegneglia chronicled her year in Costa Rica on her website, The Jungle Princess, and now updates it from life in the “Neon Jungle” of Las Vegas. You can also follow her on Twitter at @AbbyTegnelia