[Editor’s note: Sonia Thompson is one of the very first people who signed up for the Primility email list and requested a wristband — she’s #9 right here. Recently, Sonia went on a two-month journey throughout South America. Several weeks ago, I shared an email she sent to me that explained how Primility was influencing her trip. Today, I’m ecstatic to be able to share this post, which Sonia wrote upon her return, telling stories about her trip and sharing the lessons that she learned.]
The perky dance instructor showed me the exercise and left me on my own to work on some basic techniques for tango. Instead of welcoming her warm smile and instruction on how to become a better dancer, I was making excuses.
Practice? I don’t want to practice. I look dumb. I’m not sure if I’m doing it right. Isn’t it getting late? I should be home writing. Besides, I can already officially say I danced tango in Argentina. I can safely check this box. It’s not like I’m gonna do this when I get home. So I don’t need to do this.
Those were just some of the thoughts running through my mind once the instructor turned her back. It was my fourth day in Buenos Aires, and my second tango class. My pride was working overtime, speaking to me very loudly in both ears.
Had I listened, I’d have missed out on what became a source of great joy for me. So I told those voices to beat it, humbled myself, and did the exercise.
During my two months traveling through four countries in South America, Primility moments of truth like these were at the forefront of my mind on a daily basis.
Here are a few lessons I picked up along the way as a result.
1. “No van chicos”
Raul meant well.
As he oriented me and my friend to a map of Cusco, he took great care to outline the small area deemed “safe” for tourists. “No van chicos,” he warned as he pointed to the area outside the main squares.
The next day, my friend and I left the tourist area. We had a lovely walk, as we explored other parts of the city.
There’s always going to be a safe zone — a place of comfort and familiarity. We need some of that in our lives.
But what got reinforced for me on this journey is that there’s a whole world out there beyond what I know. So much to see, experience, and dig into.
If I choose to live life within a space others have determined is best for me, then I experience the world they want me to live in, instead of exploring and discovering what my own path should be. It’s like opting to live life as a caged bird instead of one who roams free.
My soul longs to fly free.
There are plenty of people who are perfectly happy staying in the predetermined safe space. I can totally see why. There’s lots of good stuff to enjoy there. In addition, you’re able to benefit from the wisdom of many people who came before you.
For me, it’s a delicate balance. I’ve got to be humble enough to take in the counsel of others, while at the same time have enough faith to know that if I spread my wings and fly into the unknown, things will work out on the other side.
The same way things worked out that day in Cusco.
2. “Hablan Español!”
Olivia is a lovely woman I met at a tango milonga in Buenos Aires. She’s from Chicago, so it was super easy for us to slip into speaking English when chatting with each other. Well, it was … until one of our other tango friends would interrupt to remind us to “Hablan Español!”
Although my Spanish had improved leaps and bounds while in South America, it was still limited. And even though fumbling my way through conversations in Spanish was humbling, I always welcomed the reminder to shut down the English.
That’s because my goal is to live and experience life at a higher level each day. And doing that often means beating my ego into submission by intentionally putting myself in uncomfortable situations. That’s where the growth happens.
So there were many moments of intentional discomfort for me in South America, such as speaking Spanish and taking super long bus rides between countries. The rewards from choosing the less comfortable path were more than worth it.
That proved to be true with tango as well.
Watching others dance tango mesmerized me. Listening to the live music and being a part of the atmosphere was magical. But there’s something even better than watching tango.
But there came more discomfort, which included getting my butt off the sidelines and going to classes (in Spanish) and milongas two to three times a week. I suffered through some bad dances (my fault) and took instruction from those who knew better, like the perky instructor Angi.
The cool thing about putting yourself in somewhat uncomfortable situations is that they become more comfortable over time. Speaking Spanish, tango lessons, and even long bus rides all got easier.
3. “Si´se puede”
Eduardo must have sensed I was having trouble.
He knew I was thinking up some excuse to make it okay for me to stop our trek.
I was in Baños, hiking up a mountain, trying to get a peek at the nearby volcano. But the altitude was causing me to have more trouble with the hike than anticipated. That’s when he gave me the encouragement I needed to keep going. “Si´se puede, Sonia.”
So I dumped my excuses, and kept climbing. A little while later, we made it to the top.
A few weeks later, I had to remind myself of Eduardo’s words.
It was during the hike up to Machu Picchu, which sits high in the Andes mountains, more than 2,400 meters above sea level. With more than 1,100 meters left to hike, I was stru-guh-ling. I couldn’t seem to get enough air.
The group I was with was no longer in sight. People were passing me left and right from behind.
And I had already envisioned a scene where either my heart stopped working, or my lungs exploded. In either case, the vision ended with me dropping dead somewhere on that trail, without anyone knowing what had happened to me.
That’s when I snapped myself out of my downward spiral to Nowheresville and encouraged myself to keep going.
Yes you can Sonia. You can do this. One step at a time. Take as many breaks as you need to. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. Just take it one step at a time.
It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I kept going. I did not die. Eventually, I made it to the top of Machu Picchu. And the view was absolutely worth it.
When you step outside the safe zone and intentionally put yourself in uncomfortable situations, sometimes you’re gonna want to quit.
Living an extraordinary life is hard. Really hard. And when the going gets tough, your mind (and sometimes your body) will plead with you to stop the madness. It will beg you to abort the growth process, and turn around and go back.
But if you want to fly higher, you’ve got to resist those urges. You’ve got to tell yourself you can do it. And then you’ve got to keep going.
Along the way, I also had to release the unhealthy thoughts that were making my load heavier. I had to stop thinking about how long my journey was taking, who was no longer with me, and what my group would think about how long it took me to complete the hike. I had to get over the disappointment in myself for having such trouble.
And I totally had to get rid of thoughts of going back and riding the bus to the top.
Once I did, I was free to focus on climbing my mountain … on doing what I needed to do to get where I wanted to go … on taking one step, and then another, and then another.
4. “Cierra los ojos”
Leo caught me.
As we were dancing tango, he noticed I was looking around instead of being fully present in the dance with him. “Cierra los ojos,” he told me, then he put his hand over my eyes so I would shut everything else out.
With my eyes closed, I was free to just feel — feel the music, feel where he was leading me. Once I started feeling, the dance instantly changed for the better.
Too often I live inside my head. I think way too much about any and everything. So the biggest and most important lesson South America taught me was how to feel — how to turn my mind off and suspend the need to analyze, plan, and be rational; how to enjoy the experience of flying. Especially after having worked so hard to do so.
The results? Pretty amazing.
When I thought too much, I sucked at tango. When I felt my way through dances, they were magical.
When I thought about what I wanted to say in Spanish, I bumbled all over the place. When I just let the conversation flow without thinking, I amazed myself at how well I was able to communicate.
When I cracked open a good book or lost myself in the beautiful landscapes, bus rides became enjoyable.
When I started to feel, nothing else mattered.
Every time I closed my eyes and lost myself, I found myself. I found myself living … and soaring … and fully being present. And enjoying every moment.
Mi vida es la aventura
It was close to two on a Thursday night.
The band was in the middle of a beautiful set, and a few people had gotten up to dance. I leaned over to one of the others at the table and asked, “Is this even real?” I wanted to pinch myself, to be sure I wasn’t dreaming.
Turns out, I wasn’t. I was living a dream. And I felt incredibly blessed.
Now, as I reflect on my adventure through South America, there are many feelings and experiences I want to hold on to and savor.
But instead of lingering on the memories, I’ve decided to take what I learned and experienced and make my everyday life one where I want to pinch myself to make sure it’s real.
After all, the only limits that exist are the ones I put on myself. My soul desires to fly. And there’s no door on the cage.
As long as I’m willing to apply the lessons learned on this adventure, I’ll be able to make my whole life a grand and pinch-worthy adventure.
Instead of something I do just two months a year.
We all have the power to create the lives we want. We can achieve anything we love and are capable of. And we do that intentionally one day at a time, one step at a time, one moment of truth at a time.
There’s no door on your cage either. Where will you choose to fly?