Why I Quit the Best Job in the World

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
Maya Angelou.

Kim Steutermann Rogers
Kim Steutermann Rogers

The first time I heard the words, “You have the best job in the world,” I was on Hawaii (Big) Island. That great orb of light and energy had just greeted the water again for the night. It was large, the sun, and now that I think about it—almost six years later—I wonder why it seems the sun always looks so much bigger from the Kona Coast?

I was on a dive boat the first time my choice of employment was dubbed as superlative, chatting with a group of women from the Midwest.

“Where in the Midwest?” I asked, as I wiggled one leg into a wetsuit. We were gearing up to dive with manta rays, one of my first feature stories as writer/editor of OutriggerHawaii.com, a website from Outrigger Hotels and Resorts created to provide visitors with deeper stories about Hawaii.

One of the things I love about writing is it’s a good excuse to traipse through rainforests with ornithologists and ask them about an endemic forest bird found in the upper reaches of Haleakala. It’s why I chased down an 86-year-old master boat builder amidst flying dust and buzzing saws. Why I will camp on Kalaupapa Peninsula on the north side of Molokai with biologists striving to stop the possible extinction of Hawaii’s own seal, the second most endangered marine mammal in the world.

Ornithologists and boat builders and biologists will answer your 3,271 questions if it’s for a story you’re writing. Otherwise, you’re just a nuisance. And they won’t respond to your 589 emails, either.

Writing, then, is a way to sate one’s curiosities.

Too, writing is a way to live a life of no regrets. Hence, why I assigned myself the manta ray story. I’d always wanted to dive with manta rays.

St. Louis, those four women, all members of a choir, sang as we geared up.

“Where in St. Louis?” I asked, tugging my wetsuit above my hips, adding a little hop or two to give myself plenty of fabric leeway to get my arms in the thing.

Webster Groves, they said.

“My best friend from college lives in Webster Groves,” I said. “She was the maid of honor in my wedding.”

I shouldered my BCD while these women stared at me, their mouths open, their eyes wide.

This is not an uncommon conversation I have with people in Hawaii. I call it two degrees of separation—vs. the more common refrain of six degrees. That is, I can make a connection with almost every person I meet in Hawaii through a single other person. In this case, it turned out one of the women was a cousin of a friend in Webster Groves, Missouri. This phenomenon happens whether I am meeting a visitor from St. Louis or a kama`aina from Kailua-Kona, it seems. In fact, it’s protocol in Hawaii to follow up with “Do you know so-and-so?” after finding out where they live. I’ve always said it’s the modern version of what ancient Hawaiians did when they traveled from district to district, island to island. They’d greet each other with long genealogical chants. We are social animals, after all. We make connections with other people through other people.

But, now, as we women bobbed in the ocean, getting ready to descend to the ocean floor and watch an otherworldly ballet of giant manta rays as they danced inches above our heads and scooped plankton into their open maws, the women wanted to know my history, in particular, how I ended up in Hawaii and what I did here, which, of course, led to what is a refrain I’ve heard too numerous times to count: You have the best job in the world.

It’s true. I do.

Or, rather, I did.

Nearly six years into the job as writer/editor of OutriggerHawaii.com—as a paid travel writer; a paid travel writer with an expense account; a paid travel writer with a regular paycheck and benefits—I quit.

You may think I’m crazy. Sometimes, I do. And I’m sure my husband, as supportive as he’s been, thinks so, too.

I started this blog with several blog posts from the now-defunct Hawaii Writers Conference. Leading up to it, I wrote a profile of one of the conference’s success stories—author Patricia Wood. Since meeting her—under the beam of a streetlamp at Nawiliwili Harbor after she’d sailed from Oahu to Kauai—I’ve hardly made a trip to Oahu without stopping to visit on her sailboat at the Ala Wai Harbor—where we drink wine and watch the Friday night fireworks in Waikiki.

Last week, I planted native trees in the upper reaches of Waimea Valley on Oahu’s North Shore with Laurent Pool. I met Laurent and his wife Polly on a backpacking service trip with Friends of Haleakala. They, then, joined us on Kauai to kayak Napali Coast last summer. He’s the one who safely guided the rest of us to shore as a sizeable swell broke onto Polihale Beach.

I’ve written about Jerry Ongies on these pages before. A secret smile escapes my heart whenever I think of that 86-year-old boat-builder with the ever-present tape measure clipped to his waistband.

I knew Sabra Kauka long before I started writing for Outrigger. But this job gave me a good excuse to get to know her and her culture a little bit better. She’s also the one who invited me to spend five days at the remote Nualolo Kai on Kauai’s Napali Coast a couple summers ago. I can always count on Sabra for a hearty smile and willingness to share her mana`o.

So, yes, I’ve spent days backpacking inside Haleakala Crater. I’ve rocketed down the coast of Hawaii (Big) Island in a boat before dawn to hear the crackle of lava as it dripped into the sea. I’ve kayaked Napali Coast and gallivanted up and down Kalalau Valley, checking out each and every waterfall pool. And I’ve been diving with manta rays—twice.

But what’s even more amazing to me than all the crazy, amazing, rewarding things I’ve experienced and the places I’ve seen in Hawaii are the people I’ve met.

Maya Angelou is credited with saying, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” And that’s the best explanation to give for my decision to leave a steady paycheck behind.

In a podcast I listened to recently, screenwriter Brian Koppelman (Rounders, Ocean Thirteen) explained the concept this way. “When you’re somebody who has this burning secret desire to do some kind of creative work, if you don’t, you turn toxic. And that toxicity is not just damaging to you but everybody around you.”

As many of you who have been reading this blog may remember, I turned a “Big O” birthday last year. We all know that as we age, time seems to speed up. Is it really April? When did it turn 2014? For that matter, what happened to the first decade of the new millennium? But getting older also made me think about time differently. As in, I only have so much more time left.

I have three book projects in some stage of incompleteness right now. And before I get any older—and any crankier—I want to see them come to fruition. So, I will be spending the foreseeable future doing nothing new–I will still be writing. Only I will be writing on some book-length projects that I’ve been ignoring for a few years. Now is their time.

For my loyal readers out there, I invite you to follow me in this new endeavor at my personal website—www.kimsrogers.com—which, like the books, has been ignored for a while and needs a face-lift. I’ll be working on that, too.

Thank you for reading all these years. I’ll miss this space. I’ll miss my friends at Outrigger. But I gotta get these untold stories out of me, and the only way to do so is to sit and write them.

 

This essay originally published at OutriggerHawaii.

 

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