I’ve spent the past year working as a marine naturalist for the Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) on the little patch of paradise known as Maui. It’s been an incredible year, all smooshed full of highs and lows and ups and downs and cheap wine and raging expensive rent. In my mind it started out as a transition place, some time set aside for me to do something fun and new while I made futile attempts to assemble”life plans” and face all of these so-called “problems” that are preventing me from figuring out my life purpose (drama queen). But cut me some slack, I’m just like every other twenty-something, wanting to make these years meaningful and worthwhile. Last spring, I had just returned from 9 months abroad, not quite fulfilling a yearlong position as a homeschool teacher at a home for children in South Africa – I decided I was moving in a different direction. I didn’t know that direction was thousands of miles over the Pacific Ocean, towards the most isolated island chain in the world. I got the job offer to work for PWF while frantically applying for any and every job that moved and I jumped in headfirst, so to speak, desperate to get going and out of my hometown once again. I was dealing with feelings of disappointment in myself for not fitting well with my volunteer experience abroad, but I had at least accepted it and was ready to tackle this new venture. Happy and a little mystified, I arrived on Maui last May, not even sure what exactly I would be doing as a naturalist. If anything, it would be a fun way to spend the summer while I tried to figure out what was next.
That was my plan. Three months in Maui, playing in the ocean, working on a snorkel boat, maybe going on a few wild adventures while spending evenings and days off applying for grants, jobs, internships. Because of course, the way I saw it, I had to always be applying for something, seeking the next thing, always wanting to be one step ahead and have a back-up plan. But something miraculous happened in the midst of all of my planning. I found that I was happy right where I was. And I wasn’t in any rush to leave. And the plans sort of crumbled. Cool.
I hadn’t felt this way, probably ever. For me, it’s always been go-go-go, always what’s next. I don’t know if it was the way I was brought up, or pressure I put on myself, or the environment I found myself surrounded by in college that molded my mindset. I’ve always thrived on trying new things and gaining new experiences, but my ability to follow through and commit for a certain length of time is usually lacking. Most things I’ve tried would last for a few months, max, and I generally knew that going into it. Summer internships. Trips abroad. Even student clubs. I just have trouble committing for much longer than that, because in my head, that means saying no and slamming the door in the face of a million other fun potential escapades and opportunities. There’s so many beautiful places and things to see in the world! So, I avoided this by hopping around, telling myself I do it to build my resume, see new places, meet new people.
There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve met incredible people doing what I’ve done and have been blessed with so many wonderful stories and experiences. But for the past year, I’ve had the chance and, more importantly, the drive, to stay in one place, improve at my job, sign a six-month lease and stay even longer, get a library card, buy a car and a surfboard, build relationships and strengthen old ones. I’ve hosted visitors, played tour guide, and done plenty of solo expeditions. I was able to call Maui home and really feel like it was the truth. This whole staying put thing worked wonders on my restless self, and I felt the healing warmth of community and routine seep into my skin and keep me grounded. Plus, I was surrounded by beautiful people – coworkers, roommates, friends (they truly made the experience, and I LOVE THEM SO MUCH, thank you friends!) – and an island that never stopped chucking new experiences and adventures (politely) at my face.
Now, I’m facing the relative unknown again, on the brink of leaving for the summer. I’m going to do something I know I’ll love (giving whale watches!), in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I’m ready for a change. I’m not sure if this is me transitioning out of Maui, or just taking a break. Right now, I’ll try to be content with not knowing. I’m going to embrace the mess and let life handle the hard stuff.
Maui introduced me to amazing new skills and opportunities – scuba and free diving, lifeguarding for swimmers of literally all abilities, narrating whale watches, teaching people how to snorkel and giving them tours of coral reefs, hiking to waterfalls, camping in jungles, touring Air Force observatories…the list goes on and on. I’ve grown so much this past year, both in maturity and intellect. People keep describing Maui as a place of healing. For a lot of people who move to the island, it’s a stopover on their path that allows them to recharge, reassess life goals, have some fun and not take life too seriously for a bit…some time to take a break from the “real world.”
But for others, it becomes the real world. There’s nothing fake or temporary about this place. It’s here, and always will be. You can live and build your life here, and it’s absolutely wonderful. Sometimes you might need to leave. Family. Jobs. Love. Island fever. Whatever it may be. And I guess that’s me right now – I felt the call to take that jump back over the Pacific Ocean to our beautiful mainland. But the beautiful thing is that I know I’ll return, whether it’s in four months, a year, or ten…for a visit or for a few years. This island is stamped on my soul, and I’m forever drenched in gratitude (and saltwater).