How Getting Lost In The Costa Rican Jungle Helped Me Find Myself

by Anna Idler

In 2012, I learned a couple things: 1) People aren’t kidding when they say college is the fastest four years of your life, and 2) the quarter-life crisis is real, even at just 22.

Graduating was this massive looming milestone, one I thought I’d been preparing for throughout my four years at Loyola Maryland. It’s the culmination of the college experience; the climatic, yet natural end to an awesome part of life.

I thought I’d take it in stride, figured I’d be mature enough to maybe shed the predictable tear or two at the ceremony, hug all my friends, take some pictures and be on my merry way. This, as you can imagine, was not how matters played out.

I was in shock during the entire graduation. There were no tears at that point, only a concerning choking sound that kept randomly emerging from my mouth, sort of like a desperate attempt at a light-hearted laugh.

Fast forward to a week later (I stayed on campus for days after graduating, clearly I couldn’t let go), and I’m barreling down I-95 toward Pennsylvania, blasting Styx’s “Come Sail Away” and semi-hyperventilating.

Post-grad life was difficult for me to navigate at first, and I think other 20-somethings can relate to this.

I felt emotionally detached and afloat from everything, and I didn’t understand why. It was a time of big life questions, interviews, cover letters and every college graduate’s nightmare: getting used to following your parents’ house rules once again.

That summer of 2012 I took a surf trip to Tamarindo, Costa Rica with my dad. The trip was my graduation present; I’d been looking forward to it for months. Right before leaving, I heard from my company that I had been hired and would start right when I got back.

Although this news was a relief and so exciting, it still made me nervous.

What will office life be like? Will my coworkers like me? Will I know what I’m doing?

So many worries were circling in my head, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to shake them.

Going to Costa Rica completely changed my perspective for the better, as I think traveling tends to help us all do. My dad and I were active the entire time; getting to the next surf spot temporarily took priority over my apprehensions at home.

This trip was crucial for me and helped me learn lessons that greatly eased my transition into the real world.

Forge your own path.

Throughout our time in Tamarindo, we met people from all around the world and a couple from the US.

One guy we met, who worked at the surf shop we rented our boards from, told us he came to Costa Rica on vacation and just never left. He was hooked on Tamarindo -- the abundant waves, the low-key lifestyle and friendliness of everyone he met.

Talking to this man made me realize that in life, there is no set path you have to follow and no rulebook that everyone is required to read and obey. There’s only one you in the entire world, so why not embrace that individuality?

We can’t be afraid to break the status quo if it means being true to ourselves and following our own unique dreams.

Going off the grid is necessary.

My dad and I had the spottiest cell service almost the whole time we were in Costa Rica, and I’ve never been so stress-free.

There was no way to constantly refresh apps to see how many “likes” I got, and I was unable to update my status or post a photo. It was so relaxing to decompress and take a break from technology, and to not be aimlessly scrolling through others’ lives, feeling like I was “missing out” on something.

Sometimes, just being in our own moment is difficult with all of the access we have to everyone else’s moments. We have to remember to keep living our lives, not just Instagramming them.

Uncertainty is exhilarating.

Even though my dad and I had this trip planned for months, we didn’t book anything in advance of going. Each day brought a new activity and schedule, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The unknown is terrifying but also extremely exciting. After college, we can become whomever we want. We have the freedom to seek out jobs and careers that interest us, and to move to a new city, a new country even.

The possibilities are endless; the future is ours to shape.

The only way to move is forward.

During our trip, my dad and I rented ATVs and had a guide take us to Tamarindo’s secluded surf spots. I thought we were completely lost multiple times.

There would be trees down in the way of the trail we were meant to take, an unexpected fork in the road and huge rainstorms that would flood the entire road in front of us. But, we’d just gun our ATVs and plunge ahead.

Many times, there’s no use in worrying because you know, sooner or later, whatever issue you’re stressing over is going to be solved. Because that’s what people do -- we move forward and figure it out.

Rain always stops, and the trees always clear.

Sometimes, it would pour rain during our trip and my dad and I would have to put plans on hold and wait it out. Sometimes, all the dirt roads looked the same and we’d have to pull over, take a second and page through our guidebook.

But, the storms would pass quickly, and the dense forests would eventually lead to a clearing with the most amazing ocean views.

It’s a lesson so simple but so important: Tough times always pass. As confusing and frustrating as post-grad life started out to be, I had to keep in mind that as time went on, life after college would get more familiar and fun.

Even after being two years out of college, I’m still finding my way in the world. But, so are a lot of people, and it helps to know we’re in it together.