For the last few years, I’ve been coming to the Big Island Hawaii for many reasons. The largest of which is something about Hawaii – the land, the people, the ocean, the traditions – that “vibrates at a different frequency” in a such a way to recharge and focus me from my core. It’s hard to explain precisely what this is, but I experience it every time I visit. Throughout my time here, I’ve learned that Hawaii is not just a collection of islands, traditions, or a people. Hawaii is a way of life and a way of thinking.

As I write this in the shadow of the mighty Mauna Loa on top of the vast fields of brown and black volcanic rock that shape this bay, I wanted to share four Hawaiian words I’ve tried to incorporate into my daily life. Language matters and the Hawaiian language has a beautiful, poetic way of capturing complex, meaningful concepts.

1. ULU: Growth

The Hawaiians provide a bounty of lessons in the word they use to describe growth – ulu. Ulu means not only to grow, increase, or spread but equally carries the meaning of being possessed by a god, inspired by a spirit, god, ideal, or person. For the Hawaiians, the intricate concept of growth is inherently tied to the inspiration from which the growth comes from.

This connection is illustrated in the ancient prayer chant to Laka asking for inspiration, “E ulu, e ulu kini o ke akua, ulu Kāne me Kanaloa.” The lyrics translate as, “Inspire, o inspire us up host of gods, inspire us, o Kāne and Kanaloa.” Growth and inspiration are interchangeable ideas in Hawaiian culture. When we attempt to grow, whether in our businesses, our relationships, or our lives; we must also take time to consider the genesis of inspiration from which the growth will ultimately come. This inspiration acts as an anchor when we experience resistance during our journey. Ulu reminds us how linked growth and inspiration really are.

2. OHANA: Family

The word Ohana originates from the highly revered taro plant, oha. The meaning of ohana centers on the root of the oha – the concept that all ohana come from the same root. No matter how distantly ancient Hawaiians were related, they recognized that they all came from the same root and thus were all part of the same family. Although seemingly simple, Ohana provides a much more profound insight below the surface.

Ohana isn’t just an adjective used to describe things as they are, it is also a verb to describes an active choice to recognize and accept others into the fold of family. In this way, ohana is used to describe any group of people with a common bond. The people of Hawaii have multiple ohana – a community ohana, a friend ohana, a work ohana, etc. Recognizing the connective fibers bonding a group of people together is a powerful lesson. The more we can honor those bonds, the stronger they become.

3. KALA: There are no limits

Kala is the second principle of the Hawaiian wisdom Huna (or "secret"). Huna, in its purest form, is ancient knowledge enabling a person to connect to his or her highest wisdom within. Understanding and utilizing the seven principles of Huna is intended to bring about healing and harmony. Kala illustrates our limits – our fears, hesitations, and boundaries – exist only in our mind. In the modern lexicon of self-help and pop psychology, there is a similar phrase often used to describe these types of limits, our “comfort zone.”

When people describe growth experiences they often use the phrase, “outside of my comfort zone.” The concept of Kala provides an important insight here. The “zone” is simply a construction of our experiences, environment, and beliefs. Growth doesn’t happen “outside” of our fears, hesitations, or boundaries but instead happens in spite of them. Kala reminds us that for growth to take hold it’s not about experiencing things outside of our comfort zone but instead about expanding our comfort zones beyond their self-constructed limits.

4. HULA: Dance

Beyond the word Aloha, Hula is probably one of the most famous Hawaiian words in the world. To Hawaiians, Hula is not a type of dance, it literally means to dance. The origin of the word is linked to a number of legends including gods and humans. Some legends claim that Hi`iaka’s friend Hopoe was the first dancer. Others call Kapo’ulakina’u the first divine patron of hula. Others offer the beautiful story of Keaomelemele as the foundation myth of dance. The many tales trying to locate the origins of Hula demonstrate its importance in Hawaiian culture. Hula and its chants kept the history, genealogy, mythology and culture alive through centuries of history prior to the creation of a written language.

Hula is an extremely intricate artform incorporating all aspects of the body. The hand movements alone can signify aspects of nature, such as the swaying of a tree in the breeze or a wave in the ocean, or a feeling or emotion, such as fondness or yearning, or simply describe a direction or location. As a concept, Hula provides an important insight into our bodies as communication tools. The body and the mind are intrinsically linked. When we communicate, we communicate with much more than our words, logic, and language. We communicate with our body. For centuries researchers have believed the body follows the mind. Recent findings, centered around the use of Botox, have started to create a growing body of evidence suggesting the pathway between body and mind is actually bimodal. In simpler terms, the positioning of our bodies can actually influence our minds. Hula reaffirms the power of the body. The famous Hawaiian saying captures the concept well, “A’a i ka hula, waiho i ka maka’u i ka hale” translates as, “Dare to dance, leave shame at home.”

Bonus: Hemingway’s “A Room on the Garden Side”

Historically speaking, Hemingway did visit Hawaii prior to World War II, but he his life is much more associated with Havana than Hawaii. Nevertheless, Hemingway is a personal literary model to me and I couldn’t allow this news to go pass. For the first time since his after his suicide in 1961 a new Hemingway short story is being published. “A Room on the Garden Side,” is about a 2,100-word story set in a garden-view room at the Ritz just after Allied soldiers liberated Paris from the Nazis in August 1944. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m looking forward to it.


The Friday Four. Every Friday I publish four top of mind thoughts from the experiences of the previous week. Themes include growth, coaching, startups, innovation, family, fatherhood, travel, food, or any other top of mind topic.

The rules are simple:

  1. Publish every Friday.

  2. Four thoughts (as long or as short as necessary).

  3. No content calendar. No SEO hacks. No marketing bullshit.