Finding Your Way In the Dark

March 13, 2019

Tom and I recently returned from a week-long vacation in Costa Rica, one of our most favorite places to go to unwind and unplug. We spent our days walking the beach, lounging in the pool, hiking, snorkeling, and practicing our Spanish with the locals.


One late afternoon, we decided to venture off in our little rented Suzuki 4x4 to try and find the treehouse pizza place we had stumbled upon a few years ago when we were visiting that same area. When we inquired about it at our hotel, none of the locals knew about it. We did an internet search and thought we found it in a town which was about a 45-minute drive south of us.


Most of the roads in Costa Rica are unpaved. They’re bumpy, windy, and have sheer drops off the side to accommodate the runoff during their rainy season. To make driving there even more interesting, there are often groups of people and lots of stray dogs walking on the side of the already-narrow road since there aren’t any sidewalks. To say that driving in CR is an adventure is an understatement.


We ventured off to find the pizza treehouse and followed the narrow dirt road along the mountainous coast, winding our way around sharp turns. We had daylight in our favor and to our delight, finally found the restaurant in a tree!


It’s owned and operated by an Italian man who lives half-time in Italy and the other half in Costa Rica, making delicious pizzas in his large, wood-fired oven. We arrived just as the sun was beginning to set, and we got a good look at the group of howler monkeys in the tree just across from ours. It was a perfect dinner, an amazing view, and such a unique and fun way to enjoy the evening.


When it was time to head home, the sky was dark – pitch black, in fact, except for the amazing array of stars which we rarely see at home. In those areas of Costa Rica there are no street lights. Anywhere.  


Tom took the wheel and we headed back to our hotel, bellies full. About 15 minutes into the drive we were flagged down by an American with a flashlight, standing in the middle of the road. We stopped, and he told us that a large truck ahead (which probably shouldn’t have been on that road in the first place) tried to make a hair-pinned turn too fast and jack-knifed blocking the one-lane bridge. There was no room to pass around him, and it was unlikely that the truck was going to be pulled out of there anytime soon.


So, we had to turn around and try to find a way back. The long way.

Fortunately, Tom’s phone had a GPS that worked, but the roads in CR aren’t mapped as well as they are in the U.S. That, coupled with our “general” paper map from the rental car company would have to get us back.


We looked at the map and the GPS, made our best plan, and started the long trek back. This new road we were on was even more bumpy than the one we had come in on, and there were three different rivers we had to cross along the way. Fortunately, February is their dry season, so the rivers weren’t very full, but there are crocs in CR, and I had my eyes peeled for them in the headlights of our car. All I could think about was us getting stuck in the river, having to get out and push the car out, and one of us getting our legs chewed off by a croc. That would have been Tom, of course, because I definitely was not getting out of that car!


The other danger was the possibility of blowing out a tire and having to change it on the side of the road in the pitch-black darkness of the dense Costa Rican forest.


About an hour into the drive, we came to an intersection and had to decide which way to go. My dual-navigation efforts consisted of simultaneously shining my phone’s flashlight on the barely-helpful printed map and looking at Tom’s phone with GPS with the little arrow as it slowly moved along on the road. Our goal at this point was to get to the next highway and make our way to one of the larger towns, then work our way back on more familiar roads to our hotel. In order to do that we’d have to go well out of our way, but we figured it would be worth it to get on that smoother and safer highway.


It looked as though we needed to take a left at the dark and dusty intersection, but when we did, that little GPS arrow started pointing the wrong way. I told Tom to stop so we could get our bearings and change directions, but looking out the window for help was futile. There were no lights to point to a clue that it might be the right direction to go, no signs pointing to the town we were looking for, and just darkness all around. I remember feeling anxious about which direction to go and wishing someone would just turn the lights on and point us in the right direction already!


We finally turned in the other direction and the little GPS arrow seemed to be back on track. Soon, we found our way to a major highway which was well-paved, guided by reflectors all along the road, clear signs pointing the way to our destination, and only a few random walkers on the road. It ended up taking us 2.5 hours to get home, but we made it safe and sound, all limbs intact.


We breathed a sigh of relief when we pulled into our little beach hotel, feeling euphoric for having mastered the task at hand. It even made us feel like we could tackle anything that came our way on the remainder of our trip. We felt invincible…and grateful.  


Here I sit a couple of weeks after returning home to Colorado, and I got to thinking about how that Costa Rican adventure relates to our lives and our businesses in many ways. I know in my own journey, there are many “highs” like the amazing sunset dinner in the treehouse. There are also those times when I’m having to navigate bumpy roads, in the dark, with no signs pointing me in the right direction, and the threat of something biting off a limb! OK, that sounds dramatic, but there’s a parallel here, don’t you think?


The thing we have to remember is that we need a way to turn the lights on and use the tools we have to help us on the journey. We do this by occasionally taking a step back, looking at the bigger picture, making plans and then forging ahead. I coach business owners who’ve faced similar obstacles where they feel like they’re operating in the dark and just need to take a step back and get clear and refocused on the objective so they can move forward.


Most of the time, that’s easier said than done, but when you create space for yourself to make a plan, you have something to follow – even when the going gets difficult. And it will. The challenge is to just keep navigating your way through, making adjustments along the way, and keep heading in the direction you’re intending to reach. Maybe you’ll have to change a tire in the pitch-black darkness, and maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll encounter a crocodile, and maybe you won’t.


The fact is, as you go through difficulties and overcome challenges, you’ll likely experience that same sense of euphoria that we felt when we arrived back at our hotel. It all starts with a plan. And, even though your map might not be perfect and you may be surrounded by darkness, when you keep moving forward, you’ll be on your way to your destination and conquering your big, hairy, audacious goals!    


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