Isn’t it amazing how travel can change your perspective? This probably applies no matter where you go. Yet, I think observing the daily routines of people in another country brings unique perspective. Having a cultural benchmark can focus your thinking on what’s important in life.

Joyful lady posed for pictures with tourists

Recently, my wife and I went on a Go Eat Give educational / humanitarian group tour to Cuba. It was a truly unique and amazing experience! While there, our group had the opportunity to learn about country’s history from the Cuban perspective. We also had the opportunity to roll up our sleeves to work on several volunteer projects, including weeding at an urban organic farm, planting trees at the Metropolitan public park, and participating in a community art project.

Overcoming History

Having had this opportunity to observe work and social life, I was amazed by the incredible resilience of the Cuban people. They continue to be vibrant, despite the hardships their post-revolutionary history has brought their way. I was also struck by the degree to which meaning and fulfillment seemed to pervade work and life for so many Cubans.

Sure, it was clear that some people worked in stressful occupations. In particular, people who worked in the highly individualized production of Partagás Cigar Factory. They did not look happy, despite having one of the most prized jobs in the country! Yet, many others seemed to approach their daily routines with a sense joy and fulfillment. Musicians, performers, artists, farmers, and (yes) even some retail and service workers seemed genuinely engaged and happy in performing their work. Yet, in Cuba, nearly everyone, it seemed, found time a way to inject some fun into work!

Live Now

Still, by and large, my observations supported the view that true career and life success goes well beyond the narrow money and power measures we typically apply. In fact, if you’re like a lot of career-oriented people, you may think that success means working hard, socking away lots of money, and delaying gratification until retirement!

While retirement is the perfect time to see the world, it doesn’t have to be the only time you see the world!

According to Ralph Werner, if you don’t take the time to enjoy life now, that goal of a happy retirement is likely to be a huge disappointment. Even more so, if you haven’t figured out what would bring you the most joy! If you’re wondering what will bring you joy in retirement, here are the keys to a happy retirement. Retirement doesn’t have to be boring and bland, as these key points will show you!

So, I’d propose you turn your ideas of success on their head, and pursue that fuller, richer life now!! To that end, consider acting on these five life success lessons, drawn from my Cuban experience:

Make Your Private Enterprise Personal

Perhaps the most successful people in Cuba are the ones who are able to approach work as creative and personal expression. Certainly, this includes artists who translate their creativity into revenue. Yet, even more striking, were the owners of Cuba’s paladares, that is, privately-run restaurants that provide home made food in a personalized atmosphere with attention to guest satisfaction. Success lesson: Bring who you are to what you do, so you can give your clients a more personalized experience.

Owner of Restaurant La Casa in Havana

Enrich Your Life with Social Engagement

One of the more interesting observations we made was the nightly gathering of groups of people along the Malecón, or Avenida de Maceo. While it was easy to quip that this represented Facebook, Cuban style, it revealed the deeper and universal truth that our communities sustain us. Success lesson: Make time for daily social interaction, be it via social media or in person – or both!! And don’t think of this face time as networking, but as sharing stories and dreams that deepen your connections with others.

Actively Manage Your Whole Life

Among of the things we learned during our visit to an organic farm was that the sustainable fertility of the soil required active management, including weeding, pest control, and rotation of crops. Success lesson: Actively manage your life, including eliminating clutter, avoiding toxic people or situations, and cultivating new interests.

Practice Your Dance Steps

While in Cuba, we noticed our tour guide practicing her dance steps during short wait times. She was not the only one we noticed doing this. Clearly, becoming a better dancer takes drill. Interspersing practice into your day, as time allows, helps you improve while adding enjoyable diversion. Success lesson: Invest time daily, even in small increments, in practicing whatever it is that you enjoy and aspire to master.

Fire Up Your Curiosity and Entertain Other Points of View

Needless to say, relations between the United States and Cuba have been tense for well over fifty years, and we Americans have been treated to a relatively negative view of Cuba. Yet, every story has two sides. With a more complete picture, we arrive at different conclusions and a better mutual appreciation. Success lesson: When you take time to understand the differing views of others, you can gain fresh perspective that will enrich your life.

~ Walter Akana is a personal branding and career coach based in Atlanta, GA. Walter also serves on the Board of Directors of Go Eat Give. He and his wife went for a volunteer trip to Cuba in September 2013.