When Tragedy Strikes

This past summer, I was privileged to attend the annual World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon. I was ecstatic to finally attend this global gathering of entrepreneurs, creatives, and digital nomads from around the world. Throughout the weekend, there were a series of speakers, and I couldn’t help but notice that many of them had incredibly heavy subject matter to discuss. Of the dozen or so speeches from the weekend, two in particular stood out above the rest: Megan Devine’s talk on how to deal with loss, and Lissa Rankin’s talk on finding your purpose (both videos are embedded at the bottom, and I highly recommend giving them a view, but do so with some tissues in hand).

I remember sitting among the other attendees, all of us either on the verge of tears or openly weeping at Megan shared her story of loss with us. I also recall at one point realizing that I was fortunate to have not experienced loss of this magnitude yet. Since that moment, however, loss has perpetrated my life in ways it never had before, and I’ve watched and rewatched those videos over and over.

Just hours after hearing Megan’s talk, I received word that my grandmother had passed away. A few months later, an inspirational member of the WDS community and personal hero of mine Scott Dinsmore died in an accident on Mount Kilimanjaro. Not long after that, my boyfriend’s former intern was struck by a car here in Seattle and killed. And most recently, an unfortunate tragedy struck my business partner in Belize when a guest Anne Swaney was strangled to death in a “random act of violence,” a half mile away from our resort. My personal contact with Anne was limited to emails we exchanged while I helped plan and organize her trip, but her sudden and tragic death has been hard to shake. The emotional surge of her loss is due to seeing raw footage of her father openly grieving, knowing the impact on my hard working and compassionate business partner Santiago, and spending a ton of extra time on correspondences as future guests call and email with safety concerns. Suddenly, death and loss have come a little too close for comfort.

So how does one effectively deal with or rationalize loss and tragedy? Here are some conclusions I’ve drawn in light of recent less than desirable circumstances.

The more you branch out, the more you stand to gain or lose.

As news of the recent tragedy in Belize have circulated, so have stories of other murders and deaths in the area. After all, Belize isn’t known to be the safest country. Perusing through these horrid stories, I read about a Canadian filmmaker who was stabbed to death in Belize just days before our own tragedy occurred. Looking into the story left me shocked as I realized I had met this man, a Canadian filmmaker, on my first trip to Belize. He had been at the local farmer’s market selling copies of his movie, Curse of the Xtabai, Belize’s very first supernatural thriller film. How weird is it that the first murders of the new year in Belize happened to two people I had randomly come into contact with?

“We’ve come to believe that uncertainty is unsafe. What if uncertainty is the gateway to possibility?” – Lissa Rankin

My best attempts at rationalizing these incidents is to realize the more you venture into uncharted territory, the more you stand to gain or lose. Sometimes, you have control over the situation, like taking the chance of connecting with an influential businessman and building a thriving business together. Other times, you’ll have to deal with setbacks that are completely out of your control, such as this tragedy that occurred right in the middle of high tourist season.

Expanding your horizons is excellent practice, but be prepared to deal with setbacks. They will always happen when you least expect them, and it’s important to know how to deal with them so that they don’t leave permanent scars.

Take the time to grieve.

A few days after the news of Anne’s death, I was set to attend a full weekend workshop on manifesting, an experience I recounted in last week’s blog post. I remember nearly canceling my enrollment, as the tragedy in Belize was still very fresh on my mind, and it didn’t seem right to spend a whole weekend talking about being positive. But in the end, I did go to the workshop and was incredibly happy that I did, because in addition to learning about positive thinking and manifesting my dreams, I also heard inspirational stories of bravery in the face of pain and difficult times. After all, you can’t have a massive success story without some setbacks and losses.

“Pain deserves acknowledgement, not repair. We need to start telling new stories about bravery in the face of pain that can’t be fixed.” – Megan Devine

One of the best ways to deal with setbacks is what Megan Devine shared in her talk: take the time to grieve. As much as we do need to eventually go on with our lives, we also need time to let ourselves fully feel all of the emotions associated with those horrible things. For me, this means charging forward with daily tasks to keep Santiago’s business going (and my own!), but also taking a moment or two throughout the day as I search for updates on the incident to let my emotional guard down and fully feel the sadness of what happened. Doing so keeps my humanity alive, without being a complete emotional mess and letting other aspects of my life spin out of control.

Always keep a positive outlook, but don’t let your guard down.

The details of this incident have been a cold reminder that even though the business in Belize is at its peak performance, we are still doing business in a risky part of the world. Government-issued ravel warnings are not a game. The risk is always real, even in places that seem perfectly safe. It’s our job to not only take care of guests and give them the best possible experience at all times, but also to not paint a rosy, uninformed picture of where they are traveling to.

Reminder to all travelers, both male and female, to always have your guard up when in a foreign country, especially when traveling alone.

Be open and transparent, especially if your business is implicated.

When news of the tragedy in Belize first broke, my mind immediately began to worry about the business implications. In the three years that I’ve been working with Santiago, we’ve never had a mishap–not even a single dissatisfied guest–and I had no idea how he would handle a situation of this magnitude. His response (the main gist of it below) left me with even more respect for him:

“We all have to do our best to make people feel comfortable and safe at our place.  Everyone who has checked in I have explained to them what happened and been totally open with them about the circumstances and offered to find another place for their holiday if so they choose.  All of them have chosen to stay.”

No coverups or ignoring the issue, and no emotional breakdowns either. Instead, a perfectly logical statement alerting guests of what had happened, what we were doing to address safety concerns, and an offer to help relocate them. The latter is particularly important in times of crisis. Acknowledge what happened, and then make clear the steps you are taking to fix the problems.


I was terrified that posting a message like this would end business. The complete opposite has happened.

I have since taken Santiago’s statement and turned it into a disclosure statement that I now issue to every new guest before they book a reservation. Choosing the route of honesty and transparency in light of something horrible is a big risk, and we did in fact receive some cancellations. But we also received genuine messages of concern and sympathy from both past guests and future guests who thanked us for our honesty and reassured us that they still wanted to stay with us despite what had happened. I’ve been truly shocked by the outpouring of sympathy and support.

In Conclusion

Last week’s post was all about maintaining a positive outlook in life, but it can’t be ignored that bad stuff happens and we all have to deal with it. Hopefully this week’s post offers some ideas on how to do so.

Megan Devine at WDS – *heavy material*

Lissa Rankin at WDS – *less heavy material*

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By | 2016-12-21T17:57:28+00:00 January 28th, 2016|2 Comments

About the Author:

Suzi Pratt is an event, food, and concert photographer based in Seattle. She started Intrepid Freelancer to inspire and teach others how to start a photography business. View her at photography portfolio, and subscribe to herYouTube channel.
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