College was fantastic and fun. But it was really long for me—almost six years of spending way too much time sitting in libraries, under fluorescent lights, in front of my computer screen. Of course, it was worthwhile. I graduated from the University of Alabama with an engineering degree. But by the time graduation came around and I was supposed to be preparing for the “real world,” I was burnt out.
I made an effort to find a “real” job, sure. But job fairs felt stifling with their forced conversations and too-tight-on-the-shoulders blazers. And staring at a blank page trying to write a cover letter just wasn’t happening. With most of my classmates focused on finding entry-level jobs, I felt compelled to run the other way. Every job that fit my skills required keeping me indoors eight hours a day and allowing me two weeks vacation. I mean seriously, who can live like that? How terrible does that sound? I just couldn’t do it. Other things called my name—photography, swimming, surfing. I have always been incredibly connected to the ocean and found so much peace there. That’s how I wanted to spend my time. That’s what would make me happy. I knew I had to taste it at least once before I dove head first into the real world.
So I planned a two-week camping trip through the Hawaiian islands with a girlfriend of mine who shared my love of the little Archipelago. I had been to Hawaii a few times before and really felt a connection to the North Shore of Oahu. I thought I’d probably end up living there eventually—but always imagined getting a “real-person” career on the mainland first. I took the trip and when I returned, that was it. I was moving to Hawaii. For how long I didn’t know. It didn’t matter. I knew where I belonged.
I spent the summer traveling to my friends and family across the United States, periodically scrolling through “Craigslist Oahu” to try to find a place. Newsflash: it is really hard to find a place to live 5,000 miles away. Being on a set budget and trying to avoid signing a year lease, we had to take a chance on a tiny studio that ended up needing some real renovations. But it didn’t matter. We were in Hawaii. And I wasn’t sitting in front of an excel spreadsheet counting down the minutes until I could leave.
From there, I was able to move into a place by myself. It’s a converted garage and has murals painted all over the floors and walls. It’s my quirky, bright, artistic, Hawaiian home. My whole wardrobe fits in three small bins and one hanging rack. Except my bikini collection, which takes up a large basket—because, come on, it’s my Hawaiian uniform. Minimal possessions mean minimal time spent taking care of those possessions. It means that you get to live a little freer, and spend time on the important things—like sunset swims and surfing. I went from driving a four-door Jeep on the mainland to a ’97 VW Golf beater. And guess what? It’s awesome. I have transportation, and a little beach mobile that’ll take me on adventures, no matter how beat up it is.
A few days a week I work at a tiny restaurant with other girls my age where I bust my butt. Normally, I’ll stop at a truck on the side of the road on my way home to buy poke with my tip money. If I feel like it, I go watch the sunset at the legendary wave, Pipeline, where the best surfers in the world are out catching amazing waves. Days off are spent surfing, hiking, and doing underwater photo shoots.I moved somewhere where I essentially knew no one. I know, it sounds terrible being a recent college graduate, living somewhere with no safety net of best friends. But it’s the most important gift you can give yourself. An adventure where you get to be the lead.
I happen to be perfectly happy spending time alone. Sure, sometimes I’m lonely. Sometimes I have to do things by myself and be that “weird” girl at the party. But you can’t be scared to be alone, and you certainly shouldn’t be scared to like it. I have had to be awkward as hell to make friends here, which is a life skill you’ll never be comfortable with unless you leave your high school/college bubble. I don’t have the same security I had at home. When my car broke down, I didn’t have my mom or best friends to give me a ride. I had to figure things out on my own. I learned a lot about being self-sufficient, very quickly. My social circle is not booming. I do not have a circle of girlfriends here who I go out with on the weekends and share clothes with.
It’s not like Sex and the City or rom-com post-grad life. It’s not what most recent college graduates would be comfortable with. My friends are from all walks of life, all ages. No one here works 9-5, so with everyone’s crazy work schedules, you just hang out when you can, usually for a surf session and some time in the sun. Nobody here chases the Neon Rainbow. You know the lifestyle I’m talking about.
Work inside all week and live for the weekend, where you go out to the bars and spend too much money. It’s fun—I certainly did it in college. There’s nothing wrong with it, but I don’t think it’s so great for your health, or your life. You may be thinking, “Yeah but I can’t just pick up and move to Hawaii. I need to use my degree.” A career is important, yes. But it is not everything. Some may say it is not “real-life” to take a non-career oriented path, but life will never be realer than when you make decisions for yourself and take a risk living the life you dream about. Yes, it is scary to feel like you may be wasting the education your family put so much into giving you. It is scarier to waste your time being unhappy.
Take a chance. If it doesn’t pan out, you will learn from it. You can shy away from risks in fear of failure and things still may not turn out right. In my opinion, it’s better be sorry, than safe. Yes, taking a different path will present unique challenges. (Weddings 5,000 miles away? Yikes.) You will figure it out. The right decision is the one you want. You are the one who has to wake up every morning and live your life. Take your time.
What’s next for me? Planning trips to even more faraway places with my best photojournalist friend. And then hopefully a full-time, entry-level engineering job. That’s right, I said full-time. After spending time doing exactly what I wanted and living in paradise, I feel ready, excited even, to get into a structured career job where I would be a part of something much bigger than myself. Maybe I’ll feel like a caged animal and quit in six months. Or maybe I will find it is my passion and really hit my stride. I’ll never really know unless I try.
But I know I will look back on this time and think of it as my “independent study”. The year I spent after college traveling and living in a faraway place. Learning about other people, cultures, and the world. Learning about how to make it on my own. But also learning about myself and how I want to live my life, which is simply focused on soaking in all life has to offer.