Summertime often means long-awaited vacations and holiday excursions to take us away from the real world and give us a chance to relax and unwind.  It has been no different for me.  Recently I took a vacation to sunny Tampa, Florida, and I found myself in situations of which I would never dream.  I learned some valuable life lessons that I can use, not just on vacation, but also to my life beyond the sandy beach.  Below are six life lessons my vacation taught me.  Don’t go anywhere until you read them first.

Life Lesson 1: Make the best of a difficult situation.

My life lessons started before I flew to Tampa with my mother-in-law for 12 days.

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My mother-in-law, Nana Jean, and me.

My uncle Jimmy had many plans and excursions set up for us.  One day before leaving for Tampa, we received the devastating news that Uncle Jimmy was sick and his desire to be a hospitable host exceeded his capacity.

Firstly, I was upset that Uncle Jimmy’s health had deteriorated.  Secondly, I was disappointed we would not be able to do anything except sit around the house and vegetate all day.  I knew I would feel panicked and trapped,  and my anxiety would thrive.  So my mother-in-law and I were left with the dilemma whether to go to Tampa for the planned 12 days or just cancel the trip.

We decided to make the best of a difficult situation and rent a car in Tampa so I could still visit Uncle Jimmy, but also go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted so my anxiety might be placated.  As a result, I learned a valuable lesson about being flexible and making the best of a difficult situation.  I’m glad I did because my visit turned into a great vacation with cruises, museums, bicycle tours, and more.

Life Lesson 2:  Take a risk.  Do what scares you.

Since Uncle Jimmy was in no shape to go touring, and my mother-in-law is 84, neither of them could do all the things in which I was interested.  So I took a risk and went on some excursions by myself.

First, I was so scared to drive anywhere in the unfamiliar city of Tampa, but I soon learned it was pretty much the Autobahn, an anything-goes interstate, and I was able to blend in with traffic.  I soon adjusted to the traffic (after all, I am from Atlanta) and started enjoying darting around cars and trying to break the sound barrier.  It scared me at first, but driving in Tampa soon became a highlight.

Secondly, I had scheduled a “Tampa by Bike” tour by myself.  My family wasn’t able to manipulate a bicycle, so I had to go alone.  Finding the location was difficult and the unfamiliar place scared me, but I persevered and made it to my destination.

Well, little did I know that the other family on the bike tour canceled, so it was just me and my tour guide Todd.  I was so apprehensive and anxious about going on a three-hour tour of Tampa with only me and Todd.  But I took a risk and went on the bike tour anyway.

Taking those risks, driving into the city and going on the bike tour, were actually the most enjoyable times of my trip, and I would have missed out if I had not taken a risk.

Tampa by Bike with Todd

My tour guide Todd and me.

Life Lesson 3: Experiment. Play. Try new things.

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My smile hides my many tingling nerves

I am not one who likes change or trying new things.  It scares me, and I’ll typically avoid the situation. So when Uncle Jimmy felt well enough to take us out on an airboat-river ride, I was not too thrilled.  I don’t necessarily mind being on boats, but our captain had a reputation for fast rides and swift turns.  He was also known for sneaking up on alligators sunning on the bank or peering sneakily above the water.  The captain said an alligator could jump two feet, indicating one could jump into our airboat.  I don’t know if he was serious, but I wasn’t ready to find out. Regardless, I wanted the experience, so I went on the boat anyway.  

The lesson?  I tried something new, and I actually enjoyed myself more than I thought I might.  Don’t get me wrong.  I was happy to be back on land and kissing the ground, but experimenting and trying new things ultimately made me feel confident and strong.  

Will I ever plan another airboat trip?  Doubtful.  

But I played, I tried something new, I experimented, and that made all the difference.

Life Lesson 4: Respect and admire diversity.

I am very inclusive in whom I consider my friends. Everyone, no matter background, customs, race, culture, etc I consider my friend.  I try to be like my late mom who never met a stranger and had the gift of gab. So when I saw a different culture, seemingly Asian, on the beach, replete with full coverage and conical hats, I watched in admiration. I observed the good time they were having, which enhanced the good time I was having.

Culture on the beach

They played in the water, danced on the sand, and took pictures. They enjoyed themselves so much that it seemed as if they had never seen a beach before. I loved watching them.  I respect their humanity. They simply wanted what I wanted: a good time on the beach. And that same love for the beach is what drew me to them.

Never judge, and always respect diversity.  People are always just people. The wrapper might be different, but we are all the same inside.

Life Lesson 5: Be vulnerable.  

During my Tampa vacation, I took a weekend trip up to Tallahassee so I could visit my late mom’s sisters (my aunts).  My aunt Libbie’s husband, Uncle L.J., is the kindest man I know.

Uncle L.J. and me

One morning he decided to make us pancakes for breakfast.  As he left for the grocery store, he asked if I wanted anything.  I asked him to please by some ReddiWip in the can.

As we sat down to breakfast, I decided to be vulnerable and disclose to my aunt and uncle that the ReddiWhip Uncle L.J. bought for me was for my Littles, my young dissociative headmates and how they liked happy faces on their pancakes.

Happy face pancakes for my Littles.

My aunt and uncle were very understanding and thought this was cute.  When my Uncle L.J.  prepared my second pancake, he put the smiley face for my Littles on himself.  Being vulnerable by sharing why I wanted the whipped cream made me feel less crazy, more understood, and closer to my aunt and uncle.

Life Lesson 6: It’s okay to be uncomfortable.  Get out of your safe zone.

This whole trip to Tampa and Tallahassee ended up being more about personal growth than seeing a fever of stingrays, going on sunset cruises, visiting museums, taking airboat-river rides, adoring botanical gardens, or eating at seedy restaurants with delicious devil crab.

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A beautiful fever of stingrays.

 

I learned a valuable lesson that amazing things can result from being uncomfortable, taking calculated risks, and stepping out of the safety zone.

Lastly, I grew up on this trip; I started to realize my potential.  What I thought I could never do on my own, I did by myself and even enjoyed it.

Where there once was a lack of self-confidence, there is now strong determination.  Where there once was hiding on the sidelines, there is a desire to get in the game.

I walked away from my vacation with something better than a souvenir t-shirt or a kitchen magnet.  I took with me six wonderful life lessons from a trip that might never have happened.

How about you?  Do you have a vacation planned?  Where are you going?  Do you have a life lesson about your trip?  Please comment below!