Six Keys for Growth That I Learned from Living on an Island.
Each chapter of life leaves you with lessons, and they usually happen during a time of challenge or exploration — two things that are essential for growth.
Consciously or subconsciously, I seek to grow, which is what led me to a serious period of growth.
The summer of 2011, I graduated college and asked myself the question: What do I want to do next? I had already worked three years as a personal trainer, my passion and career choice. I needed some freedom and adventure, so my then boyfriend, his brother and I sold most of our items, broke our lease, and planned a trip that had no expiration date.
I moved to Ahe, French Polynesia, a tiny island off of Tahiti to work on an organic pearl farm. The island had no running water, solar panels for electricity, one store that was essentially a hut, and only 553 people on it. Culture shock.
My family truly thought I was crazy and did not really support the idea, but I didn’t care. When I think back, it almost seems like a blur. Like a distant dream. But I learned some of the most important lessons during that time period. Things about my fitness, nutrition and emotions (three of the most important things to me, hence my health coaching) that I don’t think I ever would have learned otherwise.
These lessons can relate to every single person. You don’t have to travel that far and go to those extremes to learn. But sometimes you do.
1. Food. I started my trip as a 105 lb vegan who was obsessed with every little thing I ate. My menstrual cycle stopped and I was fighting anorexia. I soon realized after arriving to Ahe that I had no choice in what I was eating, and had to take what I could get. Our first meal was chicken and potatoes, which I forced myself to eat.
I got my period back the next day, and trust me, I did not expect that, and had to use huge pads I got from the tiny store hut. I started to slowly gain weight again, although it was very hard for me emotionally. Living in a place where there are few options, you realize that food is fuel, not a luxurious decision. You don’t eat for pleasure, rather to make you strong, healthy and capable.
*Lesson learned: Food is fuel, and knowing why you eat what you eat will change your life. I was eating (or not eating) to feel more confident. In other words, I thought that being thin and getting more attention was my answer to happiness.
When I reflect on that time in my life, I was always obsessing about what I was eating and would miss out on delicious food because I was afraid I would gain weight. Not only that, I thought my skinniness would lead to the type of love I have always craved. How silly is that? Genuine love is not judged by appearance. You will not receive the love you want until you truly love yourself. Sounds cliche, but it is so true.
2. Fitness is not tied to the gym. As a personal trainer, pretty much my whole idea of being fit was related to weights and a treadmill. I thought that was the only way to be healthy. Holy God, is that so far from the truth!
I was swimming in the ocean with sharks every day. Diving deep (or trying) to get baskets of oysters. Scrubbing and hauling huge nets across rocky beaches. Walking drunk across a skinny walkway over deep water. Want to be fit? Make it a part of life. I try adopting that by walking, hiking, skiing and doing things outside as much as possible.
We live in a society where that’s not really normal. My answer to that is, stop being normal.
*Lesson learned: Working out seven days a week in a gym with weights didn’t work for me. Some people love it, and are deadlifting 300lbs, but I was craving the outdoors. I was craving climbing mountains and feeling the accomplishment. Skiing a black diamond and feeling the rush. Finishing a triathlon and pinching myself because I thought I would definitely drown during the swim part.
Yes, it was way harder for me to exercise outside and in nature rather than in the gym where everything was set out for me. But it was so much more satisfying.
3. True happiness. I knew it all along, which is the hardest thing to admit to myself, but I wasn’t happy. I was in a relationship that did not fit me at all, and there were so many red flags. I wasn’t honest to myself about what I needed or wanted. And I let someone else take that over for me.
When you aren’t honest with yourself, you are going to miss out on opportunities. Interactions. People. Growth. Beauty. Long talks. Peace. Connections. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way.
*Lesson learned: Sometimes you need to take a step back and try to take an unbiased look at your situation. Are you living in the type of relationship you have always wanted? Do you feel comfortable receiving love or giving love the way that is true to you? You can find a person who fits your needs. Love is your right as a human being, so don’t stop until you find it.
It’s kind of weird for me to quote Rihanna, but almost two years ago, “I found love in a hopeless place.” And I wouldn’t have had I not given up the toxicity in my life that didn’t serve me.
4. Simple living. The island wasted nothing. Our shower and drinking water came from a vat that collected rainwater. We washed our dishes in salt water. Our fish came from the ocean in front of us, and were caught by our friends. When we used the bathroom, the fish ate our toilet paper. I had one backpack full of clothes. The sun powered our electricity.
I could go on all day, but the bottom line is, we only used what we needed. It was liberating.
*Lesson learned: Becoming more connected with Mother Earth reminds me that we are all one. We work together. True happiness came from that connection, and also the freedom of not relying on material items.
5. Body image. I have always struggled with that. Ahe had only one mirror, and it was permanently foggy and scratched. I had no idea what I looked like for most of the trip, but I felt fat. I was always nervous about gaining weight because I had so little self-confidence.
*Lesson learned: Looking back at pictures, I was perfect. I always have been, and I always will be. And so are you. You are perfect. Exactly as you are, and it’s cliche and true. My ears. My little belly. My introverted nature when I’m feeling introspective. My strong need to touch and be touched. It’s all perfect.
6. Do something “wrong”. I came to the island with $2500, a one-way ticket, student loans kicking in, and no idea of how I will get internet to talk to my family. Truthfully, I could have planned better. But I learned some serious lessons, like student loans are ridiculous, a 12-pack of beer in Ahe costs $80, and don’t wait until the last minute to tell your grandmother that you’re moving across the world.
*Lesson learned: I love that I was naive. Living life to the T is not natural, although it may seem like it is. We weren’t born with cell phone location trackers, texting and calendar reminders. Doing things on the fly that are risky is okay. Some of them may end up being the best things you have ever done.
The trip was intended for fun, but ended up being a schooling in reality. An experience of a lifetime.
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
Andrea Rodgers is a holistic health coach and personal trainer in Boulder, CO. Her journey to health has brought her from depression, to eating disorder, to skinny, to strong. She is now the strongest, fittest, most confident and sexiest she has ever been in her life, both inside and out. Her passion is to share her story and knowledge with the world. Andrea coaches her clients to find the perfect balance between fuel, exercise and emotional well-being. Discover more about Andrea and her coaching at her website.