The 6 Things I Learned in San Cristóbal

On my 35th birthday, I sat top of on the mountain that centers San Cristobal. I looked out, nose full of pine, ears taking in the cheers from a far-off soccer shootout.

"What can I learn in San Cristobal?", I asked.

All that it has to teach., I wrote down. Underlined it for emphasis.

That afternoon was the last time I was well, until just before I left. But in the five weeks of sickness in between, I did indeed learn some things from this magical city.

Burnout is real.

My working definition for burnout is simple: continually expending more energy than I have. As a man who's generally brimming with enthusiasm and prone to bouts of go-go-go, it's a problem I've wrestled with for years, and largely made my peace with.

But here in San Cristobal, energy zapped by being sick, I forgot one important truth: if you have less energy to start with, you can get burned out doing stuff that's usually no problem.

That's definitely what happened here.

I am mortal. And aging.

There's an invulnerability to healthy life, a sort of willful denial that time passing affect you, a wishful belief that every cliché you've ever heard in your life about aging, death, and the shortness of life is rubbish.

Being sick and basically housebound for a month stripped me of that.

Here on the other side, I am so, so grateful. And so motivated to go make something Great with the time I get.

I am on a ball in space.

I re-watched Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey one evening.

It snapped my feet hard against the ground below me, stripped away all my stories about society, culture, career, and individuality.

In their place, it left one objective truth:

We are tiny amazing creatures living on a ball in the middle of staggering emptiness. We only get the short, amazing lives we get.

The takeaway?

I should take more risks. Everything I can risk I will lose anyway.

I mean, if you were playing a game that could end anytime, and at the end of the game, all of your money and territories were taken away, and the only thing that was left was the memory of how you played, wouldn't you play the most epic game ever?


If it's not working, cut it.

There's more I want to say here - it goes for work, relationships, hobbies, everything. But in the context of San Cristobal, the lesson really has been to trust my gut, my very first instinct, and to act on it.

I left here reasonably quickly after realizing the city and I weren't getting along, but I certainly could have left sooner.

I likely have less than 500 months left to live. Burning one waiting should never be a choice I make.

Good habits are like antidepressants.

When I left Thailand, I was in the best place I've ever been as a human being. I ate salad every morning. I ran or did parkour every day. I meditated. I had a fabulous work/life/create/explore balance, and a set of habits that maintained it.

In the travels through the U.S., many of those habits fell off. Here in San Cristobal, the rest clanked to the ground. The results are present in every moment - I'm not as clear, grounded, or capable as I was. Getting to sleep is difficult again.

The learning for me is clear - if my habits are working, keep them going! They aren't something I'll ever grow out of needing.

Leaving is still bittersweet.

I'm writing this at my favorite cafe, here in San Cristóbal - a place called Resto. They do slow coffee. It can easily take 30 minutes for your order to reach your table, but it's wonderfully worth it. The coffee is from here in Chiapas, and it's astoundingly good.

It's also one of two places I've been to enough that people are starting to recognize me. I'm greeted with a smile, and I've started to get to know some of the stories of the people who work here.

At this moment, I'm drinking my very last coffee here, and though I am so ready to be out of San Cristóbal, a tinge of sadness remains.

There are wonderful people and wonderful places everywhere in the world.

The shame is that I have only one life to meet them.

Enjoy this letter? Share it!