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.

Tico, Costa Rica

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.

Abby TegneliaI’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

Other comments

29 Comments on "A Life Changing Year Ends Full-Circle"

  1. Michael Hodson on Mon, 25th Apr 2011 12:00 pm 

    Love hearing your story, every time I read it, Abby. And that photo of you is amazing.

  2. Emily on Mon, 25th Apr 2011 1:04 pm 

    I love this story. I so want to do the same, just throw my hands up in the air and live in a Costa Rican hut for a year or more!!!

  3. Andrew on Mon, 25th Apr 2011 2:04 pm 

    Excellent post Abby! Inspirational to many people out there unhappy with their careers or laid off and wondering what to do next with their lives.

  4. Sarah Lee on Mon, 25th Apr 2011 3:23 pm 

    What a great story Abby and hugely inspirational.
    It’s so easy to let a job define you (especially when you’re a careerist) and also easy to forget the more simple pleasures in life.
    Glad you were able to refresh, recharge and resume your career with a dream job – surely the best of both worlds!

  5. Ken Kaminesky on Mon, 25th Apr 2011 3:49 pm 

    Thanks for sharing such a personal story. It was an inspirational read and perfect for a Monday.

    I’ve added this post to my Inspirational Pages folder in my bookmarks. I’ll be back again to read it when I need a reality check.


  6. Camels & Chocolate on Mon, 25th Apr 2011 4:29 pm 

    I know this story like the back of my hand and still enjoy reading about it in different words every time! =)

  7. Abby on Mon, 25th Apr 2011 5:21 pm 

    Aw, thank you so much, everyone! Sarah, it was so great to meet you in Manchester — so happy to hear from you!

    Ken, so good to meet you — that’s such an honor, thank you so much.

    Michaela, thank you so much for letting me write for your site. What an amazing day!

  8. Craig on Mon, 25th Apr 2011 7:08 pm 

    just like Michael, it never gets old reading about your story. It really is an inspiration.

  9. Laur @ The Mad To Live on Mon, 25th Apr 2011 7:14 pm 

    Abby, you are amazing. I admire you’re ability to be open-minded enough take in all these experiences, and go from a point in your life that seemed lost in limbo to a point where you are, well, found 🙂

    I hope to follow in your footsteps as I’m building up my foundation to move abroad again in 6 months and I’m 95% sure I myself will be moving to a small pueblo in Costa Rica.

    This is my 1st time on your blog, and I’m glad to be here!
    – LAUR 😀

  10. Amber on Mon, 25th Apr 2011 7:20 pm 

    What an incredible journey you’ve had, what a liberating feeling to be at Peace with yourself no matter where your at in the world or in your life. Thank you for sharing you are such an inspiration XoXOX

  11. Kirsten on Mon, 25th Apr 2011 8:45 pm 

    Even though I too already knew this story I LOVED reading it again Abby. You are such an inspiration to me and so many others. Lots of LOVE!!!!

  12. Abbie on Mon, 25th Apr 2011 8:56 pm 

    Love this Abby! 🙂

  13. Ken Kaminesky on Mon, 25th Apr 2011 10:43 pm 

    Abby, the honour is mine. I adore reading about strong people who have the courage to live their lives in a way that inspires me to keep doing what I love. I need the reminder, it’s not always easy. So thanks again!
    Will you be in Innsbruck in August for TBUIBK? I’m doing a guided photowalk tour of the city. It would be nice to meet you if you’re going to be there.

  14. CaptainSam Molletti on Mon, 25th Apr 2011 10:47 pm 

    Abby, Never got to really know you like I wanted to…. the bario is still the bario, but much less without you. I wish you only the best in the future.. you are a bright light… carry on…


  15. Sarah Lee on Tue, 26th Apr 2011 5:24 am 

    Great to meet you too Abby – I’m even more impressed now I know your story! Hope you can make it to TBUIBK. Ken, I’m on your tour – looking forward to it!

  16. Ayngelina on Tue, 26th Apr 2011 11:25 am 

    Abby you’re such an inspiration who don’t realize setbacks are actually opportunities.

  17. JoAnna on Tue, 26th Apr 2011 5:29 pm 

    You are super inspirational, Abby! Don’t ever forget it! 🙂

  18. Michelle on Tue, 26th Apr 2011 7:30 pm 

    Great story Abby! Proof that sometimes you gotta follow your heart to find your zen.

  19. Federico on Tue, 26th Apr 2011 8:05 pm 

    It is a great story indeed, still remember when you told me about it for the interview in MaiTravelSite!

  20. Lorna - the roamantics on Wed, 27th Apr 2011 3:57 pm 

    what a great story abby! what is especially helpful to me right now is how even when things looked grim, you had the courage not to settle for more of that which you had left. i have a favorite quote- “It is a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.”(W. Somerset Maugham). seems like by not settling, you were open to getting the best…and you got it. congrats and thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  21. jade on Wed, 27th Apr 2011 6:46 pm 

    So great, Abby! love this!

  22. Erica on Wed, 27th Apr 2011 7:53 pm 

    I love hearing about this Abby. I am so happy that this brought peace to your life. 😀

  23. Meet, Plan, Go — How long-term travel helped my career on Sat, 30th Apr 2011 1:12 pm 

    […] A Life-changing Year Ends Full Circle This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. « Why I traveled 5070 miles to go to TBU […]

  24. Arina on Sat, 30th Apr 2011 3:36 pm 

    Man, this is SUCH a great story. I love it. Reinvigoration.

  25. The Weekend Escape: Self-discovery on the road « AnywhereAndHere on Sat, 30th Apr 2011 9:13 pm 

    […] On Meet, Plan, Go, The Jungle Princess blogger Abby Tegnelia talks about how quitting her high-stress job and moving to Costa Rica for a year helped her to reassess her life. […]

  26. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures on Sun, 1st May 2011 12:39 pm 

    Wow look at all of these awesome comments! You totally deserve every one of them my love. XOXO

  27. Cailin on Mon, 2nd May 2011 1:01 am 

    I love Abby! Can’t wait to hang out with her again hopefully in Austria!!! If not Vegas first 🙂

  28. Mikeachim on Thu, 5th May 2011 6:42 pm 

    Elsewhere you’ve written ‘Don’t wait – just DO IT’ as a general philosophy. And you’re absolutely a testament to the power of that approach. As your story so clearly shows.

    A real honour to know you and, finally, to have met you last month, Abby. 🙂

  29. Jacob on Thu, 9th Jun 2011 3:18 pm 

    Wow, what an incredible read. I quit my job/career and took an around the world trip for a year and upon returning have seen my whole life and identity flipped further upside down. How I feel sounds similar to how you were as debt piled up and life just didn’t make sense. Thanks for sharing your inspirational story.

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