Two months without shoes. What I learned.

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I only wear flip flops. And no, not fancy Havaianas. I wear $1 flip flops. No makeup. No jewellery. T-shirts from the street market. And I love it.

It has been two months since we moved to Koh Samui with our 3-year-old and 5-month-old. We are here for a 6-month Sabbatical. Here is the update:

I thought the Sabbatical would be a growth experience because of the new beginning, the foreign culture, and the change of lifestyle. These things hardly put me out of my comfort zone. Thailand is the 7th country I live in. I do not find adapting to a new country particularly hard.

What almost brought me to my knees was parenting full time my toddler and baby without a village.

It is two of us and two of them. The little people. We constantly feed, soothe, change nappies, rock, read stories and pay attention. Oh and negotiating. A lot of negotiating. I find any day in the office more straight-forward than a day with the kids.

We thankfully found a good nanny to help for a few hours a week. We met some other families to get some psychological support. We are slowly building our village here. Raising kids alone will cost you your sanity, period.

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My daughter enjoying the beach

It was a lot easier for me to be patient with my kids when I was working full time. Our time together was so limited and precious. I wanted to make the most of it. I needed to compensate for the time apart. Shower them with love, enough to last while I was away. I do not think I ever shouted to my toddler in the first two years of her life.

And then we moved to Samui. I thought that unlimited time with us and abundant free play in nature would make my toddler insanely happy. Well, she is a happy kid like she was in London. But the whining and tantrums did not go away. They feel more. I started thinking that maybe we were doing something wrong.

What I had not realised was that when I was working full time, I was paying someone else to deal with 50% of the whining, installing good habits, and tantrums. Now, we get to endure 100% of it. And it is hard!

When my toddler whines about anything, she is just being honest. If it were socially acceptable, I would whine too when I am hungry, too hot or do not like where I am at the moment.

The fact that the sound is so annoying makes sure that we will hear her out and potentially act. It is one of the few ways toddlers can control their life with. Otherwise, they would be completely powerless to our wishes. Still, I find the whining almost unbearable.

Then, there is the crying. She has the perfect mechanism to heal herself. If I distract or disapprove I push her to suppress her negative emotions. Store them only to potentially harm her later in other ways.

Last week we went on a boat tour. Yep, don’t ask. I do not know what we were thinking. My daughter got seasick. And I was there, calm, holding her while she was vomiting. Telling her to let it all out. After she had finished, she was feeling much better and enjoyed the rest of the trip.

I need to behave with tantrums like I behaved with my daughter when she was sick. In both cases, something went wrong, and she had the perfect self-healing mechanism. All she needed to do was to let it all out and feel supported and accepted while doing so.

The fact that I know that whining, testing boundaries and tantrums are normal at that age does not make them any easier. I will keep working on accepting with grace my daughter’s negative emotions. I would love to hear your thoughts on how you do it in the comments.

Being in a tropical paradise does help, though. The other day, I have had enough. I was sleep deprived, and my patience was running short. I left the kids with my husband, stepped out of the door, walked 20 metres and had a nice long massage hearing the waves crashing. I paid $8. Came back refreshed, ready to be the loving parent and wife I want to be.

Yes, we get to experience more tantrums now. We also get to experience more songs, hugs, dancing, and infectious laughter. Bring it on.

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The view from our boat tour

My baby will stop crying the moment we step out of the door to our garden. He gets a lot of skin to skin exposure because we are not wearing a lot of clothes. His world is full of sensory stimulation. Birds and waves and breeze and trees moving.

I stopped trying to think how to entertain the kids. We just go for a swim. My toddler has no toys here. She has to make the most of the seeds, stones and sticks she finds outside.

Moms here complain about the lack of child-centered activities. I had enough of child-centered activities in London. I want more adult-centered activities that my kids will enjoy too. Pool, beach and restaurants are a win-win.

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This looks like the perfect playground to me. Choeng Mon Beach, Koh Samui

Probably the most impactful book I read while in Samui is Supercoach by Michael Neil. One of the key ideas of the book, is that there is nowhere to get to. We are just here.

This was hard for me to come to terms with. I was striving for achievement all my life. I am coaching people to help them pursue their dreams. How could it be true? That there is no need to be somewhere else? That we have arrived?

I had written about this in the past, but had not fully come to terms with the idea. In my article ‘Why success is not about wealth or fame,’ I had discussed how life is more like a dance rather than a journey. It is not about getting from A to B. It is about enjoying every moment of it.

It was only here that I started living this insight. The first month of the Sabbatical a nagging thought that I should be achieving more was bothering me. And then I managed to let it go. With yoga and mindfulness, I became more in touch with my inner peace.

I had said that this Sabbatical was not about pursuing happiness. I did not look for it, but I may have found it, anyway. It was inside me all along. No need to achieve things to access it.

Michael Neil argues that we are born happy. Indeed, my baby is happy unless he has a physical discomfort. I can be as well. So can you.

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No need to go anywhere. Pang Po Beach, Koh Samui

Stepping off the hedonic treadmill

People get used to good things unless they make an effort not to. Researchers call this phenomenon hedonic treadmill. Yesterday, I was trying to hear the waves from my room and I could not hear them for a while. I guess I got used to them.

I have to remind myself to enjoy the stunning view every morning when I open the curtains. And every time I go out in the garden I need to remember to listen to the birds and feel the sea breeze on my face.

Brene’s Brown research showed that there is no joy without gratitude. They always come together. A structured, deliberate gratitude practice is key.

Everything is fleeting. We can only enjoy it while it lasts. We only have so many days left to live. Only so many hours left with our kids, our parents, and everyone else we love.

Being somewhere for a finite amount of time, reminds me that everything is temporary. I have a ticket issued to leave Samui in 4 months. If I do not enjoy it now, I will miss it.

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The view from our garden. Notice the bird.

We are finding our way here. We are grateful for the opportunity to experience this time together as a family. We are growing and learning. And we are peeling off little by little all the unnecessary stuff: shoes, makeup, and expectations about how things should be.

Caterina Kostoula is an Executive Coach and a Global Business Leader at Google. Follow Caterina Kostoula on Medium, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Executive Coach at Former Google business leader. Fast Company & Thrive Global Contributor.

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