How I Maui’d Myself: A Lesson in Flying Solo

A breakdown at work led Catherine Avendano to a breakthrough in her personal journey


I paused at the door to my office high rise and took a deep breath to combat the palpable dread in my gut. One long deliberate exhale later, I reached for the handle and grimaced as I walked inside.

Last month I realized that I had hit a critical tipping point—I had woken up too many days in a row dreading going to a work. My old CEO once told our team to use that as a barometer for deciding to stay or leave a job. It had been a tough year: I had worked under four different bosses; I could count 30 people I had seen let go or quit with more on the way; our teams were cobbling their way through the ”are you good enough to make it” tests under the newest executive team; every process and system we’d created seemed to get undone and redone again so that when you looked back at your last 6 months you felt like you accomplished nothing.

And when you work for a startup, it is a lifestyle, not a job, so the emotional stuff really starts to seep into your skin. We were in a thick muck and I could feel it’s full weight. I was unhappy and considered whether or not it was time to stay or go. I got through 1.5 meetings that morning before our VP of Sales said, “You really are overwhelmed, aren’t you?”

Crushed that I couldn’t better mask my feelings at work, I returned to my desk and tried desperately to busy myself and not burst into tears of stress, frustration, and spiritual fatigue. “Catherine, go home. You’re not going to solve anything by working harder. Do not cry at work. Get up and walk away,” my good friend told me when I let on how I was actually feeling.

This was one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten.

The First Step is Choosing to Leave

I took a deep breath, gathered my things, and walked out the door. Rather than quit my job, I decided I would pick up and go somewhere to do a little healing and maybe re-discover myself. I had been deep into power yoga for the few months prior and my interest was only accelerating, so I decided I wanted to go on a yoga retreat. A few turns at the Google later, I realized that those cost thousands of dollars. I was already in spiritual overdraft, and now I needed to shell out $2-3K to do some downward dogging and clean eating? Who knew getting namaste’d came at such a hefty price tag!

I can figure this out, I thought. I’ll just go on a trip and create my own week-long solo retreat, do yoga, wander an island, hike, commune with nature and myself. NBD.

No big deal? Um, okay. You just went to a movie for the first time by yourself last week because you’re a social setting wimp, Catherine. You never go to bars by yourself. You’ve eaten at a restaurant solo maybe twice. Seven days and no one to socialize with or to distract you? How do you think you might you accomplish that?


Admitting + Facing Fear

Funny because, in general, I’m not that scared of things. I’ve sat in board rooms across tables full of older white men and debated, disagreed, and defended my opinions. I’ve asked millionaires for tens of thousands of dollars to support nonprofits and schools full of eager minds with few resources. I’ve spoken in front of thousands of people at rallies, workshops, and conferences. Yet the idea of getting on a plane and spending all that time alone was far more intimidating.

It was the notion of real solitude that made me anxious. The self-consciousness of being alone at a restaurant, on a beach—really anywhere—and what people would think. Getting judged. Wondering what the happy newlyweds or the group of friends laughing over a litany of drinks were thinking about the girl sitting alone. Not having anyone to laugh with or at. Not having anyone to take a picture of me by the sunrise or with the sea turtle that crawled up on the beach. No one to huddle up with if I got cold, or hold my bag while I went to the bathroom, or encourage me to keep trekking on that impossible hike with no trail just so I could see some crazy waterfall.

I was nervous that I would hit a point when I’d realize that I was alone not just on the trip… but in life. And regardless of all the badass, fearless things I had done before, I honestly had no idea if at that point I would rise or crumble.

I wasn’t sure I was ready for the answer.


flying solo

The Destination Is the Journey

Ultimately, I bit the bullet, decided to fly solo, and I Maui’d myself (Cheesy. Homophone/Pun. Intentional.)

This is what I learned:

  • No one is looking at me.
  • Selfies are not as hard to take or as self-indulgent as I used to think. I will stop judging people for them.
  • Reading books fill your spirit with inspiration and your mouth and pen with really, really good words.
  • I really enjoy talking to myself. Mostly because I am hilarious.
  • Canadians vacation in Hawaii in January, and they are extremely friendly. They encourage you to keep trekking on impossible hikes with no trail so you can see some crazy waterfall.
  • People actually ARE looking at me; I just have much more control over how it affects me than I thought. Namely, it doesn’t.
  • I’m okay with the narratives other people create about me, because I am confident in the narrative I am creating for myself.
  • Traveling by yourself is incredibly liberating. I value fully designing my own agenda.
  • I am FAR more scared of jellyfish, eels, sea turtles, kelp, hermit crabs, teenagers, camel pose, and jumping off rocks into lagoons than I am of traveling alone.
  • There are places in this world that remind you how big it is and how small you are. These places unlock your healing.
  • I hit the point of solitude, and I rose. Crumbling wasn’t even an option. It felt amazing knowing that I was enough.

Whether you have the $3,000 to spend on a planned yoga retreat or if you pick up and go somewhere away from the noise and distraction that may be impacting your everyday life, I can’t say enough to recommend biting that same solo trip bullet—annually if you can. Thirty-two years into this life, and my 7 days alone in Maui is the most powerful experience I’ve had in opening myself up to solitude and, in it… discovering the pleasant surprise of incredible company.


Catherine is a Bay Area-born educator & yogi who puts some soul into tech startups by day and teaches badass ballerinas at Avant-Barre by night. She’s creating her best life and writing about it on her blog, catfood for the soul

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