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The Most Profound Lessons I Learned From Life In Hawaii

Of all the places I’ve visited in my life, nothing quite compares to Hawaii.

I had been to the Aloha State once before. So this time, when I stepped back on the warm, tropical soil of O’ahu, I already had an idea of what to expect.

You’ve all heard Hawaii described as a land of paradise. And paradise we found, stretching from the quiet, pristine shores at Hanauma Bay to the more animated, aggressive waves of the North Shore.

O’ahu was our home for two weeks. Masks and adventure caps on, we walked, hiked, swam, and drove our rented Chevy convertible around the beautiful island.

While I was out there, napping on a beach towel under the rays, admiring the views from atop the mountains, sinking my teeth into piece after piece of fresh fish… I realized this trip was more than just an opportunity to relax. For me, Hawaii was also a breeding ground for reflection and epiphany.

Here’s what I learned.

You’re Allowed To Enjoy Your Life.

A lot of us come from cultures where hard work is not only respected but expected. Having grown up in an Asian household, and having studied EECS at UC Berkeley, this mentality has practically been molded into my DNA.

Life as I knew it was based on hard work. Grinding every day to earn your spot. Pushing to make every moment a productive one. Striving to outwork the crowd. You don’t want to fall behind, now do you?

Don’t get me wrong. Hard work is a virtue. There are many things in life I have now that I can attribute to being the fruits of my labor thus far.

But I would always have this irrational feeling of guilt whenever I found myself taking it “too easy” when there were “more important” things to be done. On this particular trip, I chose to not even bring my work laptop to Hawaii, and I don’t regret that decision.

I’m sitting here writing this piece now, smiling while reminiscing about all the fun I had upon letting go. For an entire morning I sat at the beach, losing myself in a book, and I loved it. I went parasailing, stand-up paddle boarding, and ziplining, and felt freer than a bird. I even shelled out my wallet at Ala Moana Center and bought a bunch of new clothes (Me? Buying clothes?), and got a kick out of that.

Life in Hawaii has helped me realize that it doesn’t have to be hard work all the time. It’s okay to sit back and enjoy your life and not feel bad about it.

You’re Allowed To Slow Down.

It fascinates me that the speed limits in Hawaii are lower than anywhere else in the world. The freeway caps you at around 45-55 mph, whereas 60+ mph is the norm across much of the US mainland.

Hawaii quite literally forces you to slow down.

I love this, because this is the antithesis of anywhere I’ve ever lived, and any lifestyle I’ve ever known. I’ve come to accept the fast-paced, “go go go” lifestyle in tech as the norm. But life in Hawaii seems to move at a slower pace. Nobody’s in any particular rush to go anywhere. It even feels like people here get coffee not so much for the caffeine rush as to just enjoy the Kona flavors. Imagine that.

If you want to practice slowing down, find yourself a view. The strong winds did not deter us from soaking in the brilliant views from Diamond Head, Makapu’u Point, and Koko Head (this was a workout and a half!). Neither did our slightly broken convertible roof (which we may or may not have broken…) stop us from stargazing with the hood down. And neither did the salty taste of the ocean at Hanauma Bay stop me from enjoying snorkeling and seeing the colorful marine life (it did get too salty for me near the end… or maybe our snorkel gear just sucked).

Bottom line? It’s okay to stop and admire the view. It’s not going anywhere, so why be in such a damn rush?

Notice And Appreciate The Little Things.

One dreary Monday, dark clouds came and covered Honolulu, bringing with them a rain storm that was particularly scary to us up in our 43rd floor Airbnb. Big winds were hitting hard from all sides, and for a moment our penthouse view of Honolulu looked starkly different from days prior.

Bad weather meant no going outside. No going outside meant there wasn’t much for me to do. My two friends had brought their work laptops with them and were working remotely for the day.

I still had my personal laptop with me, and decided to hunker down and begin working on my personal website. Yes, the one you’re reading right now!

I spent the day struggling to think of a good domain name, bothering friends about suggestions for said domain name, thinking about hosting, looking at WordPress template layouts…

I didn’t get my beach fix. We didn’t do any special activities. We all just stayed in. But what would seem like a wasted day in Hawaii was actually still a really darn good one.

For example, I fondly remember us messing around on Spotify and my friend’s insane ability to name any pop song from the last 20 years after hearing just the first two notes. I remember all the cheesy puns we thought of when considering a domain name (Yuniverse, WhatYuDoin? were a couple candidates). And I even remember seeing the magical double rainbow make an appearance over Honolulu.

I have practiced meditation for a while in an effort to become more present and appreciative of the little things. But I think being in Hawaii made that especially easy.

Hawaii, the land of paradise! The most relaxing getaway in the world. The place everyone wants to be, and I’m the lucky one who is here for real? And not only that, I’m in a penthouse Airbnb with a view of the city? Without even having to worry about work for two weeks?

Perhaps I should even thank Hawaii for the storm because it gave birth to this website. Even when things don’t to be going your way, there’s always something going for you. Notice them and appreciate them.

Passions Are Paramount.

It’s no surprise that Hawaii is consistently the happiest state in the US. The annual Gallup survey takes into account factors like career, social life, financial security, community, and physical health.

Surveys aren’t always the most accurate, and it’s tough measuring something like happiness. But it’s clear that beyond the gorgeous scenery and delicious food, there are other things making Hawaiians happy.

One thing that did surprise me was how high Hawaii ranked in the career life/purpose category (the career category was formerly known as purpose). I found it difficult to wrap my head around what kind of lucrative career options there were.

But then I saw the effusive hospitality of the waitress at Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin (so good, by the way, that we had it three, four times?). I saw the cheery look on our instructor’s face as he taught us newbies how to stand-up paddleboard. And the carefree, adventurous spirits of our young guides as they showed us how to zipline upside down (Literally upside down with legs in the air. They call this Spread Aloha).

I can’t imagine most people here making a fortune in these professions, but money isn’t the answer here anyways. People here seem committed to doing things that give themselves purpose. They redefine success accordingly, making it less about the size of their paycheck and more about whether what they do makes them smile.

Being in Hawaii made me reconsider whether I was carving enough time out in my life to explore my passions. People there have reminded me that passions are paramount. It seems an easy correlation: do things you like, feel good about it, repeat. But often we don’t live in alignment with our values and passions, and it’s worth fixing that.

Good Things Do Come To An End.

After we finished ziplining, our final planned activity on the trip, our time in Hawaii was coming to an end.

I had mixed feelings on that Sunday return flight from Honolulu back to Seattle. I was leaving behind some of my best days, back to work and reality (I was also going on-call the very next day). And going from comfortable 25°C weather to close to freezing was not going to be fun.

But surely, it’s good that all good things come to an end. The very fact that our time in Hawaii was finite gave additional value to each momfaceent. It reminds us even more to live presently and cherish what we have before we may lose it in the future.


What a trip. But before wrapping this up, some closing thoughts: I had some serious reservations about taking this trip.

After all, we’re still living in the COVID-19 era. Was I being irresponsible by possibly contributing to its spread? I frequently found myself weighing the selfish benefits of chilling at a beach versus possibly getting myself or someone else sick.

Ultimately, I chose to be selfish. And honestly, I don’t regret it one bit, because I think I seldom give myself the leeway to enjoy my life like this. I needed this. Life in Hawaii is more than just lying on a picturesque beach. There are profound lessons to be uncovered, and the ones I picked up were priceless.

Of course, I do not want to come across as downplaying the pandemic. Throughout the trip, we were smart, informed travelers, and did our absolute best to protect ourselves and others. We were always masked up and socially distanced (we also all entered O’ahu with confirmed negative results). Needless to say, if you are sick, or don’t want to abide by the slightly stricter COVID-19 mandates in Hawaii, do not travel there.

Hawaii has been a transformative experience for me, more so than any previous trip I’ve taken in my life. I think anyone in need of a break or some soul-searching should visit the islands sometime. And when you do, I’d recommend leave your work behind if you can, for best results.

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