Our Innovations

Head Above Water

By Bill McCool

Being an entrepreneur isn’t just about starting your own business. It’s about starting the business that’s right for you.

14 Min Read Time

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Carol woke to the sound of the ocean hitting the shore, a far cry from the day before in Pukalani. She had been upcountry at a retreat with her business partner, Judy, who had convinced her that they needed this. Their company needed this. Their nerves needed this. After a year of helping brides and grooms make it down the aisle, they’d built a successful business, but it had come with wrinkles, grey hairs, stress and quite a bit of bickering. Mostly, Judy had said, she needed a real breakthrough. Carol had tried her best to be a good sport about it.

Carol had believed that once in Hawaii, she would be surrounded by ocean on all sides. As it turned out, there were portions of inland Hawaii that looked very much like her West Texas hometown, just a bit greener.

The retreat was set on a few acres of land, and there were several shipping containers converted into bunkhouses, with precariously hung hammocks and ornately knitted blankets, which most of the guests had taken to draping around their shoulders in the 80-degree weather.

“This is a glorified trailer, Judy,”Carol had said.

The land was owned by a self-proclaimed shaman, Paul, who was from Cleveland. He had made a fortune selling artisanal candles but had decided to cash out and move to Hawaii.

“Colombia changed me,” Paul had told them. “I was searching for new ingredients for my South American line, and instead I found the best ingredient of all. Me.”

Carol wished she had actually researched the retreat before they arrived. She’d thought there would be the usual team-building exercises followed by soothing strolls around the countryside, but when she’d reviewed the schedule of events, she’d been curious as to the significance of a daily event called the “hour of wrath.” It was to be followed by refreshments and meditation.

At the first hour of wrath, she had been shocked to find that they were attending a scream-therapy session. Carol and Judy had tried to suppress their laughter as guests hurled insults at one another through tears and clenched fists.

But on the fifth day, Judy, unprompted, had painfully torn into Carol during the hour of wrath. The target, Paul had said, was to be receptive and remain silent, but 10 minutes in Carol had lost focus on her perceived shortcomings and had chosen instead to focus on the spittle forming around the edges of Judy’s mouth.

That is, until Judy had mentioned she’d used their corporate card to pay for their trip. Carol had been furious.

She’d silently returned to their trailer and booked an oceanfront room at the Wailea Beach Resort — Marriott, Maui.

Throwing her knit blanket to the ground, she’d fled that evening.

There was one thing that had gnawed at Carol during the wrath, and Judy was not quite wrong.

“You just don’t care about what we created anymore.”

Carol was tired of the wedding industry, from the 18-hour days to the incessant reminder messages from Judy.

hiyeeee don’t forget GF DF meal for Mike and Cynthia Weller k thnx byeeeeeeeee.

While the business was split down the middle, Carol had always felt more like Judy’s assistant. They were doing well, very well, actually, and Carol thought it was misguided to complain her way out of her own job. So while she was deeply unhappy, she ultimately decided to keep it from Judy.

Carol rolled over in bed and booked a massage at the Marriott’s Mandara Spa. She stared out at the ocean and watched the waves gently roll in. They reminded her of summers in college, when she’d spend mornings paddling out before heading to class. It had all been so easy then.

During her first week at UCLA, she’d found herself going to the beach with several girls from her dorm, each trying so hard to be liked by the rest of the group. Once they’d gotten to San Clemente, Carol had seen a sign for a surf school. One of the instructors had a cancellation, and Carol had been on top of a board an hour later, genuinely shocked at how easily it came to her. She had never been the most graceful or nimble, but on top of the board she’d felt an immediate connection to the ocean, could feel her limbs undulating with the waves. She’d bought her first surfboard that day.

She wished she had her board with her now and made a point to ask the concierge if she could rent one for the day. For the moment, she marvelled at the overwhelming feeling of peace she experienced as she took in the exotic beauty of the property, how everything at the hotel felt connected to the water.

Her cell phone rang. It was Judy. There had been texts of apology (oh, how there had been texts), but still she did not answer the phone. It stopped and then rang again. Carol walked through the sliding doors facing the ocean, stepped onto the grass and lay down. Eventually her phone stopped ringing.

Carol headed to the Whale’s Tale, the hotel’s beach bar just feet away from the ocean, and ordered coffee. She was starving, but she didn’t want to fill up before her massage.

Carol sat down in the sand, dug her toes in and watched guests wander around the beach as she sipped her coffee. The spa offered couples massages, and Carol wished she had someone with her so she wouldn’t feel so alone.

Just yesterday, Judy had told her she was incapable of doing anything by herself. Carol had brushed it off as Judy being overcritical.

“Don’t you know how to set a table?” Judy complained as they set tableware for a photo shoot. “All those knife teeth need to face the plate. Think of it as an alligator getting ready to eat his supper.”

OK,” Carol sighed.

“When you grab the knife with your right hand,” Judy pantomimed the motion, “You’re ready to dissect because it’s already facing the plate.”

“What if you’re a left-handed knife-slinger? You would reach over with your left hand and the knife wouldn’t be facing the right way. Think of all the effort it would take to turn the knife around in your hands.”

“No one cuts their food with their left hand.”

“Are you messing with me?”

After her massage Carol went to eat at the Humble Market Kitchin in the hotel. She looked over the menu longingly. The entire week had been spent eating macrobiotic foods, having alfalfa sprouts and burdock root chips forced upon her at every meal.

“These burdock root chips are like ‘Earth Pringles,'” said Paul.

She felt comfortably dizzy from the rubdown, but hunger had also taken hold of her. Before the waiter could introduce himself, she eagerly started to order. “Please,” she nearly begged, “I need a beer. And a dozen oysters. After that you can bring out the Duroc Pork Belly, the Yamaguchi Style Ramen and the U-10 scallops. Just surround me with food.”

“No problem,” the waiter smiled.

She couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten alone. Carol was keenly aware of her solitude within the crowded restaurant, and she hated herself for needing someone, anyone, at that moment. As the waiter delivered the oysters and beer, she thought maybe Judy was right about her inability to go it alone.

She knew she had to let Judy buy her out. It wasn’t fair to Judy to keep going along when she had lost all passion for their company years ago.

She cradled one of the oysters, slurped the briny juice swimming in the shell and eased the slimy wonder down her throat. “

Excuse me?”

Carol looked up and found a frazzled looking woman in her forties. A preteen girl stood behind her, thumbing through a marble notebook.

“Can you watch my stepdaughter?” the woman asked. “I left my blood pressure medication in the room.”

“Sure?” Carol stammered. “She’s just gonna sit there and write, promise. Lilly, this lady — what’s your name?”

“Carol.”

“Carol’s going to watch you for five minutes while your father tries to not fall off that silly paddleboard.”

Lilly didn’t bother to look up as her stepmom scurried away to their room. Carol sized the girl up. She seemed quiet, but her studious disposition made Carol feel envious. In a way Lilly reminded her of Judy, how she could narrowly focus on any given task.

“Whatcha doing?” asked Carol.

“I’m writing to my brother in Delaware,” Lilly said. “My half brother.”

“Seems like a lot of effort. You could just text him.”

“I write a letter every day.”

“To whom?”

“I don’t know. Anyone.”

Lilly frowned, and Carol realized she may have been asking too many questions. She did the same thing to Judy all the time, but Judy usually paid her no mind. This time it was different; she could actually hear herself doing it.

“Sorry,” Carol apologized. “You seem like you’re pretty together with everything. I’ve been in the boonies eating twigs while my friend screamed at me for an hour straight because it felt freeing for her. So I escaped. I don’t even think I’m going back to California, truth be told. Why not be in a permanent state of transition? Seems ideal to me, though I’m pretty sure my parents will think I’ve lost my marbles. I sound crazy, don’t I?”

Seemingly hoping that Carol would just fall out of her orbit, Lilly focused on her letter. Carol finished the last of her oysters, and trying to break up the quiet, pressed again.

“What’s your letter about?”

“Hawaii stuff,” Lilly said.

“Like what?”

“You don’t have to keep me company.” “No, but I really want to hear.”

“Hawaii’s the most geographically isolated place in the world. It’s just stuck there in the middle of the ocean with no one around for miles and miles.”

“What else?” Lilly’s voice rose nervously but excitedly. “There’s an underwater island here, and no one has ever seen it. It’s being formed right now. This second. But it won’t rise up from the ocean for another 250,000 years. Can you imagine?”

“Yeah,” Carol said quietly. “Seems like you shouldn’t have to wait 250,000 years for anything. You should just be an island if you want to be an island,” Lilly said as she drew waves under her letter.

“That’s a very nice thought.”

She listened intently as Lilly spouted off more facts about Hawaii.

Carol asked, “What have you always wanted to do?”

“Surf,” Lilly said.

“I know how to surf.”

At that moment Lilly’s stepmother returned to the table and thanked Carol profusely.

“Hey,” Carol piped up to Lilly’s stepmother, “You know, I’m a surf instructor …”

She wasn’t. Not really. Carol had been a teacher at a summer camp for girls, had even been certified. But it suddenly all made sense. Her new business could start now, right in the ocean that inspired her all those years ago.

“OK,” Lilly’s stepmother said. “I’m only bringing it up because Lilly said she wanted to try. I can give her a lesson. I’m pretty reasonable, rate-wise.”

“Well,” Lilly’s stepmother asked, “Do you want to go surfing today?”

“Yeah,” said Lilly.


Wailea Beach Resort — Marriott, Maui

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