Even in Paradise

33 Days of Truth: Day 6

Even in Paradise

Aloha! I’m on Day 6 of the personal growth challenge I’m doing for my 33rd birthday: 33 Days of Truth. The goal is to share something authentic and vulnerable about myself every day. Today, I’m diving into my experience of living on an island, with particular emphasis on why I’ll soon not be living on one.

I have been on the Hawaiian island of Maui for the last year and a half. It doesn’t sound like much time, but it has felt a lot longer. In some ways that’s a good thing, in many, it’s not. 

Later this month, I’ll be flying off with my tabby cat in tow, returning to the place from whence we came, golden California. I’m excited. It’s been calling me back for a while. Maui was an experiment, an exploration to see what kind of life might unfold on its shores. The island has its virtues; it is a beautiful and in many ways unique, special place, however when all is said and done, my heart did not take root here and it’s time to follow it home.

The most common question posed to and among us haoles (non-native Hawaiians), aside from “Where are you from?” is the question, “Why did you move here?” It must get very annoying for those who look like they came from elsewhere but actually grew up here. For the rest of us, it’s a link in our shared experience of ending up on a rock in the middle of the Pacific, despite our many different reasons for doing so.

As the news has gotten out of my impending departure, I’ve been trying to summarize to folks the reasons behind the move, since that is the first thing people want to know when they find out you’re not staying forever. The new question becomes, “Why are you leaving?” There is a subtle connotation of incredulity to that. You’re leaving paradise? Why? Why live anywhere else? 

There is a kind of mythos around island life, that with all the sunshine and rainbows, the warm ocean, vibrant flowers and palm trees, the usual struggles of ordinary existence don’t happen here. Obviously, that’s a misconception. Everyone knows it, but we kind of perpetuate it anyway. We dismiss our troubles with, “At the end of the day, we live in paradise…”

The lush tropical environment certainly does not suck, but life on island is a far cry from perfect. The residency turnaround here is pretty fast and frequent. For a myriad of reasons both positive and negative, people come and go all the time. Some folks fall in love with it and can’t imagine calling anywhere else home. For those long-timers who originated in other parts of the world, I think it’s kind of a source of pride that this place stuck for them.

We “talk story” almost mystically here about the special, magical energy of the island, how you are either embraced by it, or else you’re booted off. If you have a hard time adjusting and making it work here, and end up bouncing out in less than ideal circumstances, some say it is because you weren’t a match for Mama Maui and she is deliberately sending you on your way. If it does work out, you can feel comfortable knowing that she has welcomed you in, and you’re granted permission to keep foot on the ‘Aina, the land. (Of course there are plenty of native Hawaiians who would disagree that Maui ever embraces haoles and would opt to oust every single one off if possible. Kinda aggro, but given the history of white takeover, it’s kinda hard to blame them.) 

I’m fortunate to have been one of those to receive of the island’s gracious blessing. I arrived with a strong, clear intention: to arrange my whole life here to make paying off student loan debt my #1 priority. Maui, it seemed, supported that.

Without having anything previously lined up, within my first couple weeks of landing here I had two job opportunities and a great place to live. Since I needed to maximize income and reduce expenses for my goal, I moved in with a family on the west side of the island, with the agreement that I would nanny their two kids in trade for rent. Long time residents were amazed at my all around luck. Not very many people experience such a smooth, quick transition when they get here; even when the island does give them the O-K. 😉

It is often a challenge to find an affordable living situation on the west side, as it is very expensive (all of Maui is, which I was warned about before and after moving here, as if I wasn’t already aware!). Many west side workers rent on the “other” side (central Maui… and the rest of the island) and just deal with the commute. Geographically, the west stands apart from the body of the island, connected by a narrow neck of land. Consequently, it is about an hour drive from any major facility, such as the hospital, airport, Target or Costco. There is just one strip of two-lane highway looping around the West Maui mountains (in some sections, one lane), a dark gray ribbon winding between the mauka (mountain) side and makai (ocean) side, with lots of beachfront resorts clustered along the westernmost stretch. To most islanders, west side is essentially a tourist trap. 

I would have much preferred to live upcountry, or else near the north shore with all the quirky hippie types, however I didn’t want to get my own car right away and incur those related expenses; and a car is rather critical most places on island, as things are fairly spread apart. With that in mind, I opted instead for the west side, which provides the most condensed access to public transportation and work opportunities (my original plan was to find work at one of the resorts, since I have hospitality experience). I rode the bus initially, but as my nanny family turned out to have an extra car I was able to use that to shuttle the kids to school and myself to work.

From all appearances, I had it going pretty dang good. And for a while, I felt that way too. I lived on a beautiful piece of land on a hill looking out at the island of Molokai, with ocean sunset views and wild pigs running around the macadamia nut trees at night. The folks I moved in with are some of the nicest, most accommodating and easy going people I have ever known, and I have since become like another member of the family. I held two fairly mellow, decent paying jobs, one working at a coffee shop exactly a mile down the hill from the property and the other at an office in town, a mere block from the kids’ school. I started going to a salsa dance class every week, and my social circle grew.

On my time off (which notably wasn’t much), I would go do things that visitors to the island did on their vacation, like camping in the Hana jungle, swimming under waterfalls in crystal clear pools, or snorkeling with sea turtles in the gorgeous blue ocean.

I had intended to progress on my goal of debt repayment, and I did. Going from zero to big payments each month (upwards of two grand at times), I was able to make somewhat of a dent in the proverbial mountain. That part was satisfying, however the continuous effort of it derailed my overall enjoyment of island life.

Eventually the spare family car broke down and I succumbed to getting my own car, one that I could take freely anywhere on the island. That improved my social life, having my own personal wheels, but it definitely undermined my debt goals; in addition to the usual costs of owning a car, I had to dump a chunk of change on repairs, which contributed to the beginning of the end in terms of my time here.

Ultimately, the setup worked, until it didn’t. I just did too much for too long, working the two jobs six days per week plus the nannying every weekday afternoon. I got burnt out and in a rut, doing the same things over and over, day in and day out. I didn’t have enough down time or do enough socializing, in the end. Dating opportunities fell through because of my busy schedule and out-of-the-way location. The relative remoteness of my spot the west side started to feel like more and more of a setback. My energy waned, and I had less steam available for fun activities, as I slipped into conserving mental and emotional energy to keep slogging through the daily grind. It wore my spirits down. Who would’ve guessed, even in paradise, it is quite possible to be unhappy and to need change. 

As soon as I noticed myself flat-lining, I should have made a change then and there. But the logistics of my circumstances were air tight, and it seemed that adjusting any piece of it would send the whole thing caving in. So I sat on my indecision of what to do while the feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness mounted.

One takeaway from all this is to pay better attention to my feelings when they start telling me things aren’t working. Throughout my life, I have gotten myself into situations that seemed great at first, forgetting that they may not stay great forever, and then I end up in a rut, feeling trapped, and forgetting (or ignoring) that the power to fix it is in my hands.

I’ve been telling people that mainland family is my primary reason for moving back. And it’s true. I’ve really missed them. But it’s also rolled up into everything else I’ve mentioned, which has involved months of feeling downright miserable and grappling with the internal debate of what to do about it.

It’s such a relief to have made a decision and to be moving forward once more.

I’ve missed living in California. I’m thrilled to be going back. In truth my heart never left. When I moved away, I was very much in love with the the central coast. I loved the town I was in, the surrounding area, my lifestyle, social scene, and housing situation; pretty much all of it except my office job (which I daresay improved significantly when I cut back to 4 rather than 5 days per week in the last few months before leaving. With it taking up less time and mental bandwidth, I could have kept doing that quite happily. Then again, maybe it was easier because I saw an end in sight!).

How long I will stay at home this round, I’m not sure. Other adventures beckon me. But it will be good to return and touch down with my deeper roots for a while.

I should point out that despite loving California and feeling conflicted about leaving it in the first place, I didn’t want to bail on the plan to move to Maui with my mom and sister. We had it coming down the line for years prior, and I knew I had to follow through, if only to show myself what else was possible. I’m glad I took the risk. If I stayed behind, I would have missed the chance to discover if good could become great. It was worth trying out, regardless of the outcome.

The upcoming chapter will be a short respite from my intensive debt repayment efforts, allow a little leeway in mixing things up and a chance to reset my trajectory. I feel like the island gave me tremendous clarity and resolve in terms of what kind of life I want to be living. It’s not here, but I’m grateful for the learning and growth.

Mahalo nui loa, Mama Maui!

2 comments on “Even in Paradise

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *