Two months ago I was in Tulum. This was my first time travelling with a close friend, and I’ve learned a few things about myself and leadership. Here are a few tips that might help you.
On the way to Tulum, I am silent.
“Do you like this place? Are you glad we didn’t go to Cuba? Do you like the hotel?” Megz asks.
“Yes,” I say.
“What’s wrong?” She says.
“I’m just tired,” I say. It’s 3am and I could’ve been playing beach volleyball back home. Somewhere in my body there is excitement about Mexico, but overall I’m craving a shower and bed.
The next day, she says: “I thought you were angry.”
“Because you were quiet.”
For better or worse, each of us is setting performance benchmarks for people around us and we can create a lot of stress for someone.
One of my mentors recently told me, being the person who pushes everyone for better performance is not a bad place to be because people will remember you as someone who challenged them. And it’s true, the piano teachers and mentors who brought me to tears made me a better pianist than I ever was.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, you can have a lot of influence and not realize it, but the sooner you figure out who you have influence over, the sooner you can do great things together.
A lady is sitting on a lawn chair outside a small dive rental shop, scrolling through her phone. The shop itself is only a bit wider than the door. She invites us inside, describing the caves and cenotes to dive in (cenotes are limestone caves with stalactites and stalagmites). “We don’t get diving like this in Russia.”
She painted people’s nails in Russia and tried to paint nails in Tulum too, but the nail and hair stuff kept sliding off from the humidity and heat. She’s wearing a lot of makeup for this heat, but then so is Megz and I’ve heard all about how things are melting on her end.
What if this is the mafia’s dive shop? But then again, all the shops are pretty run-down, with character, you know? The walls are crumbling but they have nice murals.
I wanted to go surfing but I didn’t realize that you have to watch for the right conditions. When I asked locals: “Where can we go surfing?”
Everyone said, “The waves aren’t big enough to surf in Tulum.” but I thought I would ask this woman anyway.”Do you know where we can go surfing?” She must be the tenth person I’ve asked.
She thinks for a few seconds.
“I usually go to the top of the coast where the waves are strongest. Playa Papaya.”
Bingo. When asking for help, you don’t need a whole lot of great advice. You just need one piece of advice that works for you, and you never know where you might find it.
“What time should we wake up?”
We agree on a reasonable time for someone to get ready in 30 mins and travel to the dive shop.
But I never have a problem getting out of bed. It’s literally more painful to lay there restless than to jump up and start the day. Insomniacs high five.
Anyways, the next morning, I’m up before Megz’s alarm and ready in 10 mins. She ignores three of her alarms or something, she’s making a noise between whining and crying, I can’t even tell you what it is. Like if you went camping and encountered a dying possum squirming in the dirt it could be making that sound.
For days, she’s been asking whether her sunburn looks bad, saying she doesn’t want to go out, blah blah.
“You’re an adult,” I say. “Get up, you can do it.”
It takes some coaxing and stern coaching, but we go diving in the caves like we’d planned. It reminds me of a phrase someone told me recently: If you get the job done, who cares if people are happy.
Well, Megz ignores me the next day.
“This is a private beach club,” security guy says.
“But we were here surfing yesterday,” I say.
“Who do you know here?”
“Diego,” I say. “We went surfing with him.”
“There’s a storm warning today, but let me get my manager.”
This is the only area of the coast where we know that you can rent boards and surf. I look at Megan and she’s laughing so I give her a look.
The manager comes. “Diego? Let me check.” He shouts in Spanish at a woman passing by. “His name is not Diego. It’s Al[something].”
I shrug. I think that’s the shop owner’s name. “Well, that’s what he told me.”
“There’s a storm warning,” he says. “You can’t surf today.”
But they let us in anyways and I don’t see why they gave us so much trouble.
I get my board and start surfing but the waves are so rough that I keep getting thrown off before I can stand up. There’s also another girl who’s paddleboarding and she isn’t standing very often either.
One A wave hits me off guard and causes me to lose my board. I swim upwards and I’m feeling that close to running out of oxygen. I hit my lip on the fin of the board before I resurface.
I see the surfer dude, and I smile.
“You’re hurt,” he says. He looks worried. Okay, he looks completely horrified. “Let’s go back.”
I gargle water and spit it out and it’s bloody. My mouth stings, but hey at least I caught two waves. It doesn’t look that bad. Maybe I can dig up a photo for you.
I sit on the beach for a while, then the girl who was paddle boarding sits beside me with her friend. She is an accountant in San Diego but lives in Mexico–earning in dollars and spending in pesos, she says. Her friend is a med student in Tijuana.
The surfer dude also drops by and they talk in fast spanish.
I hear vamos and cenote. “Are you going somewhere?” I say.
“I think we’re going to a cenote,” she says. “Want to go?”
“Yes,” I say. “But how are we getting there?” I thought cenotes were these grand limestone caves.
“We can rent bikes,” she says.
“Oh,” I say. “My friend can’t bike. I think I’ll stay here.”
“There are other ways to get there,” she says. “Maybe taxi. Come with us!”
We taxi there and the cenote turns out to be an open, naturally forming limestone pool. A cenote doesn’t have to be a cave, just a series of connected holes formed in the ground with limestone walls. It’s charming and I wonder what we’d find if we went deeper into the cenote, but it’s blocked off.
We’re the only ones at the cenote, and paddleboard girl and I start jumping off the tall rickety structure of poles with a plank tied to the end.
Between jumps, she catches me: “We’re very similar,” she says.
“Do you think so?”
“You try things to see if you can do it, and you don’t care what people think.”
I think for a second. “That’s true,” I say.
I was thinking about how free and open and athletic this girl is I admire people like that. She seems like she can be at home in the ocean and forest.
The word is genuine, I think. I admire people who are genuine and true to themselves, under the roughest, most extreme circumstances.
Mexico doesn’t fix my problems.
This thought bubbles up as I walk to the sushi restaurant to read a book. I’d just gotten off the flight home and my family is away and my friends are probably busy.
I can’t point out what’s missing, and I can’t say for certain that something IS missing, but whatever it is, but my Mexican vacation didn’t make it better or worse.
I just know, with a hundred percent certainty now, that I need to work on something inside myself, because being by the ocean and sun cannot be the only time I am perfectly happy. I have to learn to be satisfied living in a big city.