In Hawaii, Taking A Chance to Reset

I left corporate success and a distracted life to freelance write, run an Airbnb and slow down, in hope of a more conscious future.

Rainbows show themselves in the morning rain; the view from the Zen tree house main lanai (porch), with Pearl Harbor in the distance. PHOTO BY BETH SHEA PALMER.

AIEA, HI— I live where bravery and foolishness blur.

The coordinates, a Zen tree house in Hawaii.

A week ago, I left Chicago indefinitely for an island and place I knew only through pictures from the friend renting this retreat to me.

With a few deep breaths on the lanai (porch), mainland fears about quitting a high-paying corporate job for the uncertain romantic world of introspection, freelance writing and running an Airbnb in paradise evaporated into surrounding ocean views, lush treetops, ancient temple ruins and cool cross-breeze. My pulse slowed.

At 31, having never taken time to deeply process my year-ago divorce, coupled with a life-long dream of a simple island life and the recent drive to direct my brainpower from a company’s pursuits to my own, the right place for these goals became available at the right time.

Yes, this is Eat Pray Love Under The Tuscan Sun, and you can follow along on this blog.

Julia Roberts, Diane Lane and I (we brunch) aren’t the first or last to make this jettison. There’s the woman featured in Cosmopolitan who’s happier working on an ice cream truck in the Caribbean than at her $90K NYC reporter position. Or, as The New York Times reports, the man who left his position as a fashion world rising star to live in a VW van across the country then build “bro-topia” in Washington State while honing a lifestyle brand image. I even have a college friend also in Oahu, also here to carve an entrepreneurial path.

The impetus is common: responding to some emotional pull, reclaiming the majority of your life’s time and energy via livelihood on your own terms, pushing your wits to rise to the occasion. Do it all now, in a gorgeous environment, not post traditional retirement. Being unattached helps.

The risks and fears double as crushing and exhilarating. Unknowns enhance the future. What-ifs haunt the past. Lack of a secure structure beyond your own backbone forces you to face the present.

Every day I’m in a rushing river, swimming breathlessly against a current of doubt. I left +$75K, 401K, health benefits. I left an expertise in the burgeoning field of digital personalization for a global leader, Nike, a wealth of smart colleagues, challenging projects and rich company culture at Nike and at my Portland, Ore.-based parent agency, eROI. I recently purchased a two-flat in Chicago with my brother. I had become a weekend craft cocktail bartender at an acclaimed new French-American restaurant near my home, where I worked closely with friends. I loved my blue-collar, diverse neighborhood. I loved my life close to parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends in my hometown. I didn’t hate my corporate job.

But it all led up to this, to being in a position of savings, confidence, health and thoughtfulness to say yes when a representation of my desires stood in front of me with outstretched hand, only fear tugging on my back. So I come up for air and let go and float with the tide, for longer and longer each passing day. I feel grateful to have such a chance to leap to and will do my best to make the most of it. I believe I will be a better person to my immediate circle and the world as a result.

And if you’re going to do it, why not here. Not just anywhere and not just in Hawaii. This place is unique — the Zen tree house — it’s what made the decision.

The chaise lounge on the lanai outside the master bedroom. Sitting here, a breeze travels down from temple ruins, through the ridge, to wash over you while you write. PHOTO BY BETH SHEA PALMER.

At a dead end, two and a half miles above the closest town of Aiea and 10 miles from Honolulu, it juts over a ridge. Lanais and views on three sides, the airy and rustic three-bedroom, two-bath unit features traditional Hawaiian and Asian architecture elements, indicative of the demographics in this area. Dried leis drape a statue of Buddha, left ceremonially by each visitor.

Visitors drape their leis on the main lanai Buddha. PHOTO BY BETH SHEA PALMER.

Over the past six months, I felt its beauty, inspiration and peace through photos and stories from the main tenant, my friend Raphael Hickman, a musician and writer who works based in Chicago. He spends time each month here, including this past week. He welcomed me with a lei, we discussed our plans for listing the house on Airbnb soon, and he showed me hikes, viewpoints, beaches, surf-SUP-and-snorkel spots, shrimp trucks, diners, bars, flea and farmers markets, and a plethora of stunning and unique sunsets, all over Oahu.

Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck in the North Shore; get the shrimp scampi with the signature hot sauce on the side; garlic, hot pepper, butter will leave a lasting impression. PHOTO BY BETH SHEA PALMER.

Since he left for Chicago, I’m intentionally in solitude, taking time to do the emotional introspection I came here to do. It’s difficult to face yourself honestly, but each day I do I feel stronger and as if I shed a skin.

Soon the house will liven with friends and Airbnb guests.

Raphael furnished the house with a mix of artifacts collected all over the globe by his mother, grandmother and himself, as well as necessities that fit the Asian-eclectic aesthetic, some brought in from Chicago, some adeptly scavenged from a nearby Goodwill in Aiea kept plentiful by the constant rotation of military families and other folks moving back to the mainland.

I can’t help but wonder if and when I’ll be downsizing at Goodwill and under what circumstances.

But if this decision I’m living is a gamble, the island already paid out.

Where I heard conference calls and Outlook calendar reminders and alerts my email inbox could be full any moment now, I hear a constant choir of birds’ tropical tweets and trills, the hearkening rooster reminding us of his presence, and wild pigs scavenging for roots on the ridge.

Evenings formerly spent creating Powerpoint presentations, filling time sheets and organizing project next steps, now spent peacefully stand-up paddle boarding up a still river, each oar stroke in rhythm with slowed calm breath, lit only by the planetarium above as honu (sea turtles) rise to the surface nearby, audibly gasping in the night air then silkily swimming away. (And if you could bottle the way that makes you feel, I think it would outsell Xanax.)

I determine the fate of the remaining pay out. Whether bravery or foolishness emerges victorious.