What Javier Taught Me
In March, I traveled to Costa Rica. The purpose of the trip was to gain a better understanding of how globalized surf culture and surf tourism impacted the country and its people. We spent a week speaking to locals and foreigners, exploring towns and villages along the Pacific coast, observing conservation efforts, meeting with community leaders, and discussing what we saw. I could write a lengthy post about everything I learned.1 But there was one event that stood out from the rest of the trip. It was a conversation with a man named Javier.
Javier grew up in a wealthy family in the capital, San José, where his life consisted of country clubs and tennis lessons. When he was 18, Javier traveled to a small coastal village of 300 people. He camped under the stars with his friends, explored the surrounding forests and mangroves, and fell in love with the place. He moved there permanently, opened a small surf shop, and taught himself how to surf, and gave mangrove tours.
“What I like about this place,” Javier told me, “is the whole town is one community of friends. If someone is getting married, we all come together and celebrate. If someone dies, we all go to the funeral.” This philosophy inspired the way he ran his business. “If somebody forgets their credit card or their money, I’ll give them their surf gear anyway. I trust people.”
For many, including members of his family, Javier’s decision to forgo the material comforts of San José was puzzling. But Javier’s philosophy was that he was happier not in spite of having less, but because of it. I didn’t have to take his word for it—I could see it with my own eyes. The man radiated positive energy. He was always smiling, and his skin seemed to glow. Although he was a week shy of 43 years old, Javier looked no older than 25. This was the first time I had ever met someone who seemed truly fulfilled.
I kept thinking about our conversation long after I left Costa Rica. Javier left his old life behind to pursue what held meaning for him. What about me? What held meaning for me, and was I pursuing it? The whole grind of college—writing papers that would only be read once by my professor and then discarded, writing code that would only be run once by my TA and then deleted, taking tests that encouraged rote memorization and regurgitation, building a resumé whose sole purpose was to get me a job where “success” is determined by prestige and money—just left me unsatisfied. Where was the real learning? Where was the impact?
I knew what I wanted. I wanted to make the world a better place, and I wanted to do it in a meaningful, impactful way. I found an essay by Paul Graham where he created a list of five commands that he keeps on top of his todo list. After reflecting for a few days, I modified them to create the five commands that I keep on top of mine:
Build things that help people2
Help others be happy
Do new things
What can Javier teach you?
1) Just a sample of the other topics I also learned about: sustainability efforts and conservation, community activism, the effects of market economics on communal societies, how to surf, “soul surfers” vs competitive surfers, local vs foreign control of land/resources/money, localism and sentiments towards foreigners, income inequality, mating habits of turtles, etc.
2) I use “build” to loosely mean anything you create. You could build a movement, or an app, or a friendship. I’m building a book.