I arrived in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic with a significant amount of travel experience under my belt. In addition to numerous shorter trips, I had spent the last 2 years of my degree “studying” in the Czech Republic and South Africa (a.k.a. backpacking across Eastern Europe and basking on the beaches of Cape Town).
My travel experience was what brought me to the Dominican Republic as a new employee for a travel organization – my dream job. Or so I thought.
After a few days of meeting my coworkers, settling into my massive (and totally free!) apartment, relaxing on beautiful beaches, and taking on Punta Cana’s vibrant (and seemingly never-ending) nightlife, it was time to buckle down and begin employee training. Up until my arrival, the job description had been pretty vague; I had only a very faint idea where the office was and what my role entailed. All I knew was that I was ready to share my passion for travelling with others through an official travel company. My first day provided a lot of clarity, however, as I walked into a brightly coloured office filled with my young coworkers wearing headsets and sitting at computers.
My first thought was “Wow, now this is my kind of office!” Everyone dressed casually in tank tops and shoes were piled under desks. The windows flaunted views of massive palm trees and tropical plants, and – the best part – there was air conditioning. I had seriously scored and was eager to begin working in paradise.
My first week flew by as I learned about the company history and structure. I spent my days consuming information and dreaming about how this job would further me towards my goal of working with young travellers. I couldn’t wait to take off my headset and actually meet people! I spent evenings socializing with other expats, sampling Caribbean rum, and playing ukulele on the balcony of my apartment. I felt like I needed to pinch myself every few minutes, because it all seemed too good to be true.
By my second week, however, I realized that I wasn’t living in the paradise I had imagined. My role in the company was to be a Call Centre Representative, which consisted solely of answering customer questions, processing payments, and resolving complaints and/or issues. In addition, I was expected to prioritize defending unethical company policies. More than anything, that weighed on me and started tainting my perspective on not only my job but also my location. Me being there. I spent less time with my coworkers and more time with my ukulele. I drank less and wrote more. I started asking myself questions and reevaluating my so-called tropical paradise: What was my goal in taking this opportunity? Now that I’m here and aware of what I will be doing, am I going to be able to fulfill that goal?
I flew into this tropical paradise with the notion that I would be helping young people create a memorable travel experience through exploration and community involvement. Two weeks later, after learning the purpose of my position, I had a gut-wrenching feeling that this simply wasn’t the opportunity I had expected it to be.
The next day I flew out of what seemed to be a very different place. I left the Dominican Republic in the heart of Canadian winter, returning to the frigid prairies feeling defeated, sunburned, and very, very cold. Within the week, I packed most of what I owned into my car and headed to the west coast. Feelings of defeat subsided with each passing checkpoint, as I grew proud of myself for following my intuition. I was onto a new chapter – a new opportunity to create my own paradise.
Instead of spending my winter basking on beaches in 30°C weather and swimming in the Caribbean Sea, I went hiking in 5°C weather and camped along the much-colder Pacific Ocean. One night, as I was discussing my Dominican experience with a new friend, I looked up from our blazing campfire into the billions of stars lighting up the night sky; I had found my definition of paradise.
Today marks the day my 6-month contract would have ended if I’d stayed.
Looking back, I still don’t know whether the job was sold to me differently in the interview or if I chose to paint it with only the colours I wanted to see. Either way, I have no regrets about listening to my gut.
That said, I’ll always be grateful for what those two weeks of all-inclusive living taught me: my “paradise” is not a destination but a way of life I create for myself. Paradise is being present in a moment and not wanting to be anywhere else, and, for me, a tent under an entire galaxy of stars beats a 5-star resort every time.
Melissa Steginus is an advocate for empowerment through health and a lover of the outdoors. She’s also a newly-certified yoga instructor, so she’s always ready to help move people forward (and sideways and upside-down!).