What I Learned From Kauai

I remember a year ago, today, all I wanted to do was visit Hawaii. I would look at my phone and see influencers living their best lives in nature, eating acai bowls, being engulfed by the ocean, and running through the mountains… every day. I was a senior in high school, and every day, I was going to school and doing homework. My life didn't feel fulfilling or exciting. People's lives in Hawaii seemed to have more color in it — more life in it.

So, when I found out that my family was going to Hawaii, I was exhilarated. This was my chance to discover what it was like to live life on the other side: the side of life with color and excitement. I had this vision of Hawaii. To me, it was a utopia, where everyone felt an incredible amount of happiness and freedom, untethered by the boring obligations that can come with this life.

My experiences in Hawaii changed my perception of it.

The first expectation I had of Hawaii that fell away was my belief that it was a sanctuary of nature free from the bustling rush of civilization. When I visited Kauai, the first things I noticed were the roads and crowds. There were so many tourists and cars on the island. The traffic was almost unbearable, and even though there were lush trees that surrounded me, there were lines of beeping cars in front of mine and behind me. It was as if people from civilization were trying to get a taste of Mother Earth, and had brought the civilization with them. It reminded me of a lot of highways back at home (the highways that I was trying to take a break from).

And then, all of a sudden, I understood. I was so busy focusing on the negative, that I was forgetting to see the light. Even though I was stuck in traffic, there were still lush trees around me. I was still immersed in nature, and even though I heard the sound of beeping with my car window down, I also heard the sounds of birds chirping and felt the rush of wind on my face. I was so busy trying to see the negative in this beautiful experience, that I almost missed out on the light present.

Another expectation that I let go of was that everyone who lived on this island was happier than everyone else who wasn't living on an island. As I talked to locals, I learned that their life was anything but perfect. Their home was constantly being visited by people who would come and leave. Their home's nature was being torn down and slowing transformed into a tourist attraction. It was getting more and more expensive every day to live in Kauai.

This observation reminded me that no one has perfection in life. I thought that everyone who lived in Hawaii had such rich, beautiful, and perfect lives, yet they also had problems they had to face. I learned that being a human being means that there will be some aspects of life that aren't perfect, and that is OK. Because life can still be beautiful besides this.

Besides some of my unmet expectations of Hawaii, there were some beautiful experiences that exceeded my expectations. I spent a lot of time in nature, exploring the wilderness around me and feeling shivers of freedom within me. I swam towards a waterfall, kayaked in a river, ran through the ocean's waves, ate delicious food, and spent time with my family. All these beautiful experiences made me realize that I can enjoy life and make it more colorful by doing more things that bring me joy, even if I may not have access to a waterfall within 100 miles of me. Life is more than just going to school and doing homework.

So, when I returned home from Hawaii, I brought a piece of Hawaii with me: the energy I felt there. I learned that I didn't necessarily need to live on an island to feel free and happy on the inside. Those are qualities I can cultivate within me.