Derek Waterman

Derek Waterman

On A Beach in Hawaii

There’s a small sticker I keep in my office that says Mālama Pono. It’s a Hawaiian saying that kind of means to take care of one’s self. Ultimately, its meaning depends on the context in which it’s used, but if you look at the words more carefully – mālama, meaning to care for, protect, preserve, support, or serve, and pono meaning righteously, carefully, morally, justly, or in a good or upright way – you’ll see that it can stand for much more than simply “take care”. To me it means that not only should I always take care of myself, but that I should protect my highest self, serve my true nature, act morally, hold myself accountable. That small sticker carries a big message, and I keep it around as a constant reminder of how I want to conduct myself, and of the beautiful Hawaiian culture, a culture near and dear to my heart.

I have family in Kailua, Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, and from my very first visit as a child I’ve been in love with that magical place. The natural beauty is simply breathtaking, the people there are some of the friendliest and welcoming you’ll ever meet, and the lessons and traditions passed down from generation to generation are rich in meaning and wisdom.  There’s an undeniable energy in Hawaii, an aloha spirit that majestically permeates all things. Whenever I go back, I try to return stateside with a new lesson or insight, and will often bring back a small memento – like that sticker – as a pleasant reminder. I recently visited my family in Hawaii and had such a stroke of insight.  This time, though, the lesson was not pleasant. In fact, it was quite the opposite, as rightly illustrated by the what I brought back with me as a reminder – a Ziploc bag full of trash. Let me explain.

During this visit, I was walking along the ala loa, or long path, that dates back to ancient Hawaii and was used as a foot trail that linked settlements from Kealakekua Bay to Kawaihae. The part of the ala loa I was walking along was a little special, as it was also believed to be a traditional route for the huaka’i pō, a nighttime procession of spirits of the deceased in the area. It’s a sacred place to the locals, and one should conduct themselves respectfully when walking there, making sure not to disturb any of the rocks along the path, being mindful of the nature in the area.
On the beautiful meandering trail surrounded by lush green on one side and lava rocks and ocean on the other, you can feel the spray of the waves as they splash on the rocks, smell the fresh sea air, and on a clear day see across the sea to Haleakala on the neighboring island of Maui. It’s also teaming with marine wildlife, and on this particular day, I was lucky enough to see lots of Honu – the green sea turtle native to Hawaii.

The Honu is the only indigenous reptile to Hawaii, and it’s been around for 150 million years, a real Hawaiian local! It’s an important part of the Hawaiian ecological story, but to the people of Hawaii it represents much more. The Honu is a symbol of wisdom and good luck, it represents the navigator and acts as the eternal link between mankind, the land, and sea. It’s honored by natives, protected by law, and downright adorable to see basking on lava rocks in the sun.

There’s a strict rule in Hawaii that forbids people from coming too close to the Honu or from touching one. Regrettably, on this particular visit, I broke that rule. I didn’t pet the Honu, or take a crazy picture pretending to ride it, or anything of that nature. I did, however, come within a few feet of one that I encountered resting peacefully along the beach. But I had good reason.

As I took a moment to rest a little from walking, to experience the mālie (the calm), I noticed a bit of tangled fishing wire on the beach beside me, so I went to pick it up. Then, I noticed a bit of blue plastic, so I picked that up. From there, some duct tape, then more plastic, an old screw, a Costco receipt, and within a few short minutes I had my hands full of trash. It was frustrating, sad, and disheartening. Every time I looked down I spotted more litter – most of it plastic of varying sizes, some pieces so tiny they blended in with the sand. And that’s when I spotted her. Minding her own business, taking a nap on the beach, a beautiful Honu, and just a few feet away from her was more bits of plastic. So, I broke that honorable Hawaiian rule, and walked up alongside her, respectfully of course, and collected as much of that plastic as I could before I left.

Honu like these, and marine life in general, are threatened by small plastics and micro-plastics, partially because the animals mistake them for the foods they eat. Once ingested, the plastics go undigested and lead to harmful health issues or death. In the case of this particular Honu, I didn’t want her thinking it was a delicious algae afternoon snack to munch on, so I did what I thought was right.  As a reminder of that day I brought some of that plastic home, it’s sitting on my desk next to me as I write this, so I won’t forget that I have a responsibility to do my part whenever I can.

That brings me back to mālama pono. In general, I do not believe humankind to be evil or that we consciously pollute our world, but I do believe we’re not always holding ourselves to our highest standard. The fact that such a sacred path, home to such honored animals, could be so full of trash is hard proof of that (I know for a fact Honu don’t shop at Costco).  And, the irony of the symbology of the Honu as the link between us and nature surrounded by harmful plastic is not lost – it’s a powerful lesson in present circumstances.  I DO believe, however, that at the heart of mankind, we mean well, and once aware of something we will do our best to help if we can. We don’t mean harm, but we can be careless, and that carelessness can be destructive. We’re all responsible for the trash on that beach, for the well-being of the Honu in Hawaii, and for the well-being of our natural environments at large. I’m not asking you to organize beach clean-ups, or to completely eliminate plastic from your life – as awesome as that would be – I’m just asking you to be aware. Let’s start there.

Mālama pono – to care for, protect, preserve, or serve, righteously, carefully, morally, in a good or upright way. What I’m really asking you to do, GoodTraveler, is remember this saying, to take care of yourself in this manner, but also to extend your pono to the rest of world so that no matter where you go, good goes with you.

Travel Well,


Two Life-Changing Things

I’ve just returned home to San Francisco after traveling abroad for the past month.  To be clear, this isn’t a normal thing for me. In fact, this is the longest trip I’ve ever been on, and the only trip I’ve ever done largely solo with no real road map.  Why? I’ve heard it said that travel changes you.  For a long time now, I’ve surrounded myself with people who could attest to that fact with firsthand experience.  Me, not so much.  I spent the last thirteen years or so grinding it out in the startup world.  Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change that – I’ve learned a lot, I’ve grown a lot, I’ve got the entrepreneur spirit entrenched deep within me and I dig it. But, I’ve also got a sincere wish to expand outside my realm of experience, to improve in new ways, and for a long time now distant lands have been calling to me.  So, a few months ago I decided to take a sabbatical from the world of business, to finally answer that resilient call.  And I couldn’t be more elated that I did, because I learned two life-changing things.

Life-changing thing one.  Your understanding of what’s possible for you in this world, and in this life for that matter, is largely comprised of your experience in it. Sure, you can learn from books, the internet, TV, stories from your buddies, but passive learning isn’t as impactful as experience itself, not by any measure. Being fully immersed in something, seeing it with your own eyes, tasting it, feeling it, hearing it, that’s when the real magic happens.  If you really want to expand as a human, expand your circle of influence.  I cannot think of a better way of doing this than visiting a place you’ve never been, preferably where they don’t speak your native tongue, and allowing that place to become a part of you. It takes faith to do something like that, some courage to be certain, and a great deal of confidence.  If nothing else (and I hope you take away much more) you’ll learn that you’re far more capable than you realized.  But you’ll also learn something else…

Life-changing thing two.  Life-changing thing two has me riding on a cloud still, full of life, and amped up to be a human.  Because, lesson two, you see, is a lesson on the human experience itself.  It’s something so innate, and so obvious, yet so hidden in plain sight if you’ve never sought it out.  It goes like this: no matter where you venture in this world, you are bound to meet amazing people. People who are full of life and love, who would like for nothing more than to share some of their stories and spirit with you, likely over a beer, wine, or pisco.  People who will cook a meal for you.  People who will literally get off a train with you when you’re off track to walk you to the right platform.  Angels.  You’ll meet beautiful people – inside and out – who will make you happy just by knowing you’re sharing this planet with them.  You’ll come to quickly find out that a smile is a smile in any country, and laughter in any language translates the same.  You’ll forge friendships that will last a lifetime with people from near and far.  You’ll learn to speak the language of the world.  Most importantly, you’ll walk away understanding that we’re all connected, the human soul isn’t captive to you, it’s in every one of us, in every single town and city around the world, and to access it all you have to do is be bold enough to smile and say hello.

One of these days, when your travel calls to you, in whatever way it chooses to do so, in whatever form it takes, I hope you answer.  I hope you seek out these two life-changing things for yourself.  I hope you embrace this world fully, because it has things to teach you if you’re willing.  And, by the way, I was wrong, travel doesn’t change you at all – it shines a light on the best parts of you, and helps you see yourself more clearly as the person you’ve always been.