Sometimes in life you meet people who you instantly connect with, whether it be for friendship or love. You’ve never met before but you feel comfortable together, you have all kinds of things to talk about and you almost instantly respect each other’s opinions. I met a couple of these people while I was traveling in the Dominican Republic and I’m excited to keep in touch with them on a hopefully regular basis (especially Lee, Ana and Tina).
Other times, you meet people who from the first moment, rub you the wrong way. There’s no right or wrong to these situations, sometimes you just don’t see eye to eye. That doesn’t make them a bad person, nor does it make you a bad person … it just means that you are not meant to be friends. And let’s face it folks, you don’t have to be friends with everyone you meet.
*Disclaimer – These are real, true examples of experiences and feelings that I had while I was in the Dominican Republic. They involve instances where people made me feel uncomfortable and drained. If you do not like what I have to say below that’s ok, that’s your opinion and you are entitled to feel as you wish, just as I am expressing how I felt. I specifically did not name anyone as I don’t wish to start a war. I feel these experiences are worth sharing as they led to very powerful lessons learned for me while I was traveling. If you choose to read with an open mind, you may also discover something about yourself and how you treat people.
I don’t know about you, but I only have a limited number of seats on my Energy Bus and I would rather fill them with people who fill me up, rather than drain me. If you haven’t read the book The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon, I suggest you pick it up. It is a very interesting and quick read … even for someone like me who really doesn’t like to read! Ok ok … I stretch the truth just a little … I haven’t quite finished the book yet, but somehow I already feel like it has made a deep, lasting and life changing impact on me. Let me explain why …
After spending three weeks in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and hating the city, I made the decision to continue my Spanish lessons on the north coast, in a smaller, more tourist-based town called Sosua. I knew nothing about Sosua, other than that the school was close to the beach. I really didn’t have much to lose. I knew that I loved learning Spanish, I was not homesick or in any way ready to return home, but I was completely uninspired by the city of Santo Domingo.
At this point, my bus was running on empty. The intense summer heat in the city was immobilizing. I hadn’t slept comfortably for three weeks. I had been sick with traveler’s diarrhea and then a nasty cold both of which had drained my energy. I had finally come to realize that the busyness of three million people in one dirty, hot city was just not for me. It was time to take my bus on the road, push the empty tank to the limits and see if I could find gas on the north coast that would stop my bus from sputtering.
In the afternoon of Sunday, August 5th, 2012, I headed off to the Caribe Tours bus station with another girl from my school and we struggled our way through buying bus tickets to Sosua and then figuring out which of the five or six buses was the correct one for us to take. It didn’t help that I was loaded down with a way-too-heavy full-size suitcase, packed full, plus all of my professional photography gear.
We spent four, relatively uneventful hours on the bus, dozing off, chit chatting and having an interesting conversation with a local girl who wanted to ask us (Canadian and Polish) about the customs of dating in the United States. Do you see the irony in this? I guess she just assumed that all white people have the same dating customs.
We arrived at our destination in Sosua sometime around 7:30pm that night, took a taxi to the school where we would be staying and dropped off our luggage. We met our school coordinator who gave us a warm welcome and then we met up with some of the other students to head out to supper.
As we sat outside at a little Italian restaurant, we all chatted a little about where we were from, how long we were traveling for and some of our likes / dislikes. Having a multi-cultural group, covering Canada, Poland, Germany and Switzerland, the easiest common language to speak was English. Although we were all there to learn Spanish, our speaking levels varied greatly, so it didn’t make for good conversation. Luckily, everyone’s English was very good.
Quickly we all got a feel for everyone’s personalities and with first meetings in any situation I am sure each of us came to our own first impressions by the end of our supper.
I try really hard not to judge people and am always respectful of other’s opinions even if I do not share them. One thing I find particularly difficult though is when someone has strong opinions that they feel are right and they try to force them on you … sometimes without even really realizing they are doing it.
I remember this first night talking about Sosua in general. Each of the four guys who had been there for various amounts of time had very strong opinions on which beach was the best, which restaurants to go to and all of them loved their alcohol. Not in an ‘alcoholic’ kind of way. Just simply in a 25 – 29 year-old guy-on-vacation kind of way.
Pretty much immediately, even though everyone was very nice, I knew that I wasn’t going to ‘fit’ this mould. I was the oldest of the group, female and drinking alcohol is very low on my things to do to have fun list. Besides, I already felt like they were jading my view of Sosua before I had even seen it in the day light!
The bantering started that night, before any of us even knew each other. Because I chose not to have a drink on my first night in Sosua, I was deemed to be ‘boring and no fun’. These comments, I’m sure were made light heartedly and meant no harm, but as I continued to be told that I was ‘lame’ because everyone else was drinking and I was not, my bus started sputtering again. And it was continuous. I felt like I was being bullied. Like somehow magically they thought that if they called me ‘lame’ enough times that I would have a drink. And, even if I did, how did that really make a difference to them?
Maybe I’m the only one in the world like this, but even more so than not loving alcohol, I really don’t love alcohol when I am with people who I am not comfortable with. I guess if I am going to get loaded drunk, I’d rather it be with my closest friends rather than complete strangers. I realize for most people, this may be the opposite, but this is just me. I can’t seem to force myself to drink alcohol just to ‘relax’ and get along better with people who I don’t connect with. I can’t force myself to drink something I don’t like and waste my money on it, just to ‘fit in’. I’m 33 years old, I thought peer pressure was successfully behind me.
Over the next two or three days, I continued to feel out of place. I was constantly reiterating that this trip wasn’t all vacation for me, that I was serious about school, that I had to do some work and that I just don’t like to drink that much. All of which were met with ‘lame, lame, boring, no fun and lame’. “Come on, why don’t you have a drink with us? Don’t be so lame!”
One day a couple of us went to the beach … the ‘best’ beach, so I was told. It was the smaller beach that the boys had come to love during their stay in Sosua and they were anxious to show it to us. The day was cloudy with a little bit of sun. It was hot, but bearable, unlike Santo Domingo. We hung out on the beach, went for a swim and then returned to dry off and relax.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find it relaxing at all. The others seemed to get along quite well, but somehow I just didn’t fit in. I put my towel down and sat on it, about a foot and a half from the others. I clearly remember my friend joking and saying ‘Why are you so far away? Are you anti-social?’. I responded by saying that I just thought I wouldn’t sit on top of her and give a little bit of space. I don’t know, maybe we are different in Canada, but when I sit on a beach, I don’t feel the need for my towel to be touching the one beside me. And, I didn’t really feel like I was that far away. I could still hear and participate in the conversation no problem. Hmmmm … or maybe that was the problem.
The conversation turned quickly to a serious one about life, thoughts on life, thoughts on traveling and the bigger picture of life. I don’t remember all of the details, but it was a conversation that I really just couldn’t make myself open up and get in to fully with people who I had met only a day or two before. I’ll admit that I remember the conversation being interesting, but I also remember the other two playfully arguing back and forth in disagreement of how if someone was doing something ‘so called wrong’ in their life, that you should tell them how to fix it. That it is your duty to give your opinion. After politely disagreeing with this and explaining that it is that person’s life and you can’t change it for them … you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink … I was hit over and over with ‘how can you say that? you are so wrong? I can’t believe you are so close minded.’
Oh my gosh, I think my bus just broke … hmmm … I wonder if I can even get it moving again.
I was drained. I had nothing left in me. I didn’t feel like talking. I certainly didn’t feel like arguing and I couldn’t even be bothered to listen. I just wanted to start my bus and roll on outta there!
When I started to pack up my towel and get dressed the conversation went a little something like this:
Others: Where are you going?
Me: I’m going to head back to my room now.
Me: hmmmm. I think I’m done with the beach for today.
Me: I went swimming and saw the beach, that’s all I needed.
Others: Oh, we aren’t good enough for you?
Me: Ah, no I didn’t say that, I just don’t feel like staying around for longer.
Others: Do you have something better to do?
Me: Well, maybe. I might do a little work, I’m not sure.
Others: Boring! You should stay. You don’t need to work. Come on, really, you have something better to do than hang out with us on the beach? Work is boring.’
Me (this is where I totally lost it and in a calm, but firm and annoyed voice explained): Actually, with all due respect, it is none of your business what I am going to do right now. I don’t feel like staying at the beach any longer, so I’m leaving. I’m not asking you to come with me, to walk me back or to change your plans. I am just going about my day, by myself. Maybe I want some time alone, maybe I’m not feeling well, maybe I want to do some work. Sorry, but I’ve had enough of the beach for today, so I’m taking off and I don’t really feel I need to explain any further.
And with that, my stuff was packed, so I said ‘See you later tonight’ and walked away.
And then, I felt bad. Yup, the little voice inside my head wouldn’t let me leave it alone. I kept asking myself ‘Why were you like that? What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just get along? Why can’t you just ignore the comments you don’t like?’
That little rant was so completely out of character for me. I’m much more likely to cry about something rather than spout off about it. I’m very good at hiding my opinions and my feelings about people and biting my tongue. I am usually pretty good at ‘If you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all.’ But somehow, being pestered about why I was leaving lit a fire at the end of my rope and set me off.
I walked back, the long way, took a shower and then a nap. Maybe I just needed a little down time. Day two in Sosua wasn’t shaping up to be my best day!
It was day three when I really started to listen to myself and get off the negative self talk hamster wheel. I avoided a couple of group activities and took time for myself. Finally, all of the other passengers on my bus had gotten off at their stops, the constant drone of voices all around me had stopped and I could hear myself think.
Do you want to know what I said to myself?
I said ‘I have someone I need to kick off my energy bus!’ And, when I realized it, I immediately posted it on Facebook to declare it to the world. It was such a grand realization and change in my thought process that I wanted to share it with my friends.
And that, was that. At that moment, I let myself off the hook. Oh what a relief. I realized in that moment that I was on vacation / work / studying Spanish and that I wanted to enjoy my trip. There was no way that I should be letting someone else make me feel bad and since I couldn’t change them, I would have to change me!
As quick as you can turn the windshield wipers on to wipe the rain away, I stopped feeling bad that I didn’t want to be friends with everyone that I had met. I stopped wondering what I was doing wrong. I stopped caring if they thought I was lame. I stopped being bothered by the fact that I didn’t want to drink alcohol every night. I stopped beating myself up for being myself and I realized that I’m perfectly fine the way I am … I just needed to lighten the load on my energy bus so that I could perk back up and be me!
Over the next few days I purposely avoided hanging out with people who I felt were draining me and looking for people who I had more in common with. I skipped out on beach time and lunches with fellow students and I went exploring on my own, had a couple of siestas in the afternoon, made friends with a couple of locals and then joined back up with the group for special excursions or suppers.
By the end of my first week, I was glad to be heading to Tubagua Plantation Eco Lodge for a weekend away. I wasn’t really sure if I liked Sosua yet or not because I was still getting settled, but I did love my teacher and learning Spanish. So, I had signed up for an extra week of classes.
Amazingly, when I returned from my weekend in Tubagua, the entire group dynamic had changed. Some students had left, new students had arrived and I was relaxed, rejuvenated and even a little inspired!
Heading in to week two in Sosua, I already felt like I had new adventures in my near future and was looking forward to my renewed energy. Not surprisingly, being more comfortable with the people around me, I had more energy, even felt like having a couple of drinks here and there and couldn’t wait to go dancing in Cabarete on Thursday for Latin night.
Four important things led to my revitalization and to the thorough enjoyment of the remainder of my trip:
1. I took a break. I let my bus cool off and rest.
Literally – I went to a cooler location (Santo Domingo to Sosua). I also made the choice not to fill every single day with activities. Sometimes we can try to pack so much in to our vacation (our day or our life) that we don’t have time to breathe.
2. Everyone got off my bus and I took time to enjoy the peace and quiet.
I took time to myself on the beach and in my room to just let my brain have a break. I consciously chose not to attend all of the school activities and excursions. When I felt sick, I cancelled plans rather than forcing my way through something that I wouldn’t be happy doing. Internet wasn’t working very well and my travel pack had run out on my Canadian cell phone, so I even lost touch with the internet world and my friends for these couple of weeks.
3. I stopped beating myself up with my own thoughts.
When I finally realized what I was saying to myself, I made a conscious effort to stop being negative in my own head which led to a positive outcome!
4. I started letting people back on my bus, but I was careful of how long they could stay if they weren’t a positive influence.
Over the next couple of weeks, students, teachers and locals came and went from my life. Having had all of these realizations in my first week, I was very aware of who I connected with and who I did not. If I felt comfortable with someone, I tried to spend more time with them. If I was uncomfortable, I got out of the situation. Really, I’m half way across the world, trying to enjoy my vacation, why should I stay in any situation that I am uncomfortable with. In fact, that goes for life in general. If something makes you uncomfortable, fix it, or move on! If this meant leaving the group after supper and not going to a bar to drink, I was ok with that. If it meant not going out to supper with the group because we were an hour late leaving and I was starving … I knew that I would be happier for making my own decision rather than just trying to be part of the group.
What I think of myself is much more important that what others think of me. Maybe this will be my new mantra.
Looking back at my seven weeks in the Dominican this summer, all of the biggest lessons I learned stemmed from these situations. So, thank you to all of my new friends who encouraged me and thank you to those who annoyed me and picked on me, because now I know that I am strong enough to move forward. I learned how to refuel my bus and the importance of kicking people off my bus.
Back in Canada now, I think on a regular basis of who I want to have on my Energy Bus and who I do not. It has led me to make some changes in my life and make an effort to stay connected with those who are most important to me, while letting those who are not important in my life drift away. This means calling my friends more often rather than just texting. It means cleaning out my Facebook friends so I’m not bogged down with all of the news from everyone and I can concentrate on the news of those who are important to me. It means planning my days and weekends a little differently so that I can find time to rejuvenate myself and spend time with people whose energy invigorates me. Here’s looking forward to a more balanced and fulfilled life moving forward!
A big thanks to:
Author Jon Gordon for his book The Energy Bus
My sister, Anita Hovey of Twirp Communications for letting me borrow the book for so long
Annette Murphy of Keller Williams who gave the book away (to my sister) as a prize at a talk at platform space this Spring. Thank you all for passing along positive energy. I hope it comes full circle for each and every one of you!