Before I left for Havana nearly a month ago, I tried to write this very piece on my way home after a 14-hour day. I'd worked my day job at BuzzFeed and then pumped out nine articles in two days at my part-time travel writing gig. As I rode in my Uber at 10 pm, I was so tired I wanted to cry, but in my mind, working myself to the bone was what I needed to do set the foundation for me to justify taking a week off to give myself a well-deserved mental break.
Even as I reminded myself that I deserved this trip, I just wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do, not because of the money (though that was still a thought in the back of my mind as a freelance creator) but mainly because I was afraid I was going to miss my big break. Aside from my writing, video producing, and entrepreneurial ventures — I am an actor too. I've had a little trouble owning that part of my creative self because my bookings haven't been consistent, but this year has been pretty good for me with me booking my first national commercial.
But, even with that success, I wasn't satisfied. I wanted more, and it was a desire that almost led me to cancel my trip to Havana because as soon as I booked out (let my agents know I would be unavailable to audition), I got two SAG auditions after not being called in for almost a month and a half, which is an eternity in our world.
The reality was, I was obsessed with my career, and it was taking a toll on me in ways I hadn't realized.
I was always in an indifferent mood. I never found gratitude in the opportunities I was given. No matter what good things came my way, I was only thinking about what was next. I even found myself feeling jealous of the beautiful people around me who were getting the opportunities I wasn't getting, which was a new emotion for me. I've never been the jealous type.
With a push and reality check from two people that have seen me through the ups and downs of my life here in Los Angeles, I packed my suitcase, caught the Flyaway, and took my flight to Havana. As I was in the air on my way to Havana, I was still working until the internet on the plane lost its connection because we were out of range of the US.
I spent a week with limited access to the Internet, I didn't open my computer once, and I just allowed myself to break.
Since there was no internet, I spent a lot of the time that I wasn't exploring the city in complete silence with only books and The Science of Happiness podcast to keep me company. When I was out touring the city, I was in the moment. I was actively listening and learning from the people around me. Listening to the stories of young Cubans gave me perspective. I realized how self-absorbed and ungrateful I was. Here I was complaining about all of the opportunity and freedom to pursue whatever my heart desired, even if that meant things didn't go just how I wanted them to all of the time.
I also realized I worked way too much, and too much of my identity was wrapped up in what I did and what I accomplished.
My time in Cuba taught me that there is so much more to life than what I do. As cliché as it sounds, we have to give ourselves more time to smell the roses even if that means missing out on what we might perceive as our "big break."
Instead of work, I...
Learned to salsa.
Snorkeled nearly four miles round trip to see a shipwreck. (Well, I almost made it but had an anxiety attack when I realized how far we were from the shore and swam back. That's me with the life jacket and orange buoy — I was over it.)
Saw some beautiful coral reefs and fish — and got fresh coconut water afterward.
I have heard this saying a lot this year: "What is for you won't pass you by."
For the first time in my life, I genuinely believe that. I will no longer obsess over my work or the opportunities that aren't coming my way. Instead, I will do my best at each of the opportunities that do come my way and take a little time to be thankful for each one.
Havana helped me face my fears in many ways since it was my first international trip as a solo traveler, and it also gave me memories and a newfound perspective that no amount of money or type of work opportunity could have given me.
If you need a break, take it. I promise you won't regret it.
All images via Bianca Lambert.
xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published on December 18, 2018