Ever since I was about 12 years old, I had this crazy goal of visiting Vietnam. Of course, I really had no idea why I was drawn to that country or what I expected to find there, but after reading about it in a book one day, I just decided that I needed to travel there at some point in my life.
And even though this goal was virtually created out of thin air, I clung to it during the rest of my youth. I would often reflect upon the life-changing experiences that I assumed were waiting for me in this country that I knew absolutely nothing about. As time passed, my desire to visit Vietnam never waned and in fact, it grew stronger every year.
Well, imagine my uncontrollable joy on the day that I finally made it. I had walked across the dusty border from Cambodia and suddenly found myself standing in the border settlement of Moc Bai, with all of Vietnam stretched out before me, just waiting to reveal its magic. I stood there for a few moments in complete triumph, ready to explore the country I had thought about for so long.
And then, from that very first moment when I entered Vietnam, everything was an…absolute disaster.
Here’s what happened:
- After being stranded at the border for seven hours waiting for a bus to take me into Saigon, I was stricken with a stomach bug as soon as I arrived into the city.
- On my first night, I was kicked out of my hotel room at 11pm due to a booking error made by the hotel.
- The next day, a rickshaw drove over my right foot as I crossed an intersection and an American expat I met in a small cafe turned violent and chased me down the street while screaming at me in Vietnamese.
- Two days later, my bus to the Mekong Delta had to return to Saigon after a barge captain rammed his barge into the only bridge leading to the Delta, causing such extensive damage that the bridge closed for three weeks.
- In the mountain town of Dalat, I lost control of my rented scooter and accidentally drove it into a baguette stand.
- A few days later, after arriving in the town of Hoi An in order to celebrate the Vietnamese New Year with some friends, I discovered that there had been a mis-communication and my friends were ten hours away in the town of Nha Trang.
Needless to say, that first week in Vietnam was not fun at all. And as I walked alone along the narrow lanes of Hoi An, completely frustrated and trying to make sense of the non-stop disappointments, I suddenly recalled the words of my wacky 9th grade English teacher.
“Don’t be afraid to kill your babies.”
KILL MY BABIES?
Before you get all up in arms, my teacher’s words do not, of course, refer to our human babies! Those kind of babies need to be hugged, burped, tickled, fed, rocked, bathed and have their diapers changed relatively often, so I’ve heard.
The babies that we should consider killing every now and then are much, much different.
These types of babies are ideas, places, beliefs, goals, dreams and even relationships with other people. Basically, they are anything we feel a strong attachment to and which we consider to be of great importance, but at the same time, and despite our noblest and most dedicated efforts, simply do not produce the results or bring us the benefits that we expected them to bring to our lives. Often times, they cause us endless frustration and disappointment.
For example, maybe we have a brilliant idea for a blog post that we spend days and days working on because we just KNOW that it is the most brilliant idea we’ve ever come up with, but we can’t find the right words to express ourselves no matter how many different approaches we take. Or perhaps we work our asses off trying to start that business we’ve always dreamed about but after a year, we discover that, despite our efforts, we’ve made no real progress at all. Or as was the case with me and Vietnam, sometimes a long sought after dream appears to come true, only to turn into a nightmare.
I’ve learned that no matter how much we try to nurture and care for our brilliant ideas, our relationships and our life-changing goals, sometimes they just keep on spitting and vomiting all over us without ever providing us with one moment of joy.
PULL OUT THE KNIFE
So, thanks to my English teacher, whenever I’m faced with such a situation these days, I just pull out a knife and start killing. Don’t worry, I’m probably one of the least violent people you’ll ever meet. (I’m actually in the middle of writing a post about why we shouldn’t kill the insects we encounter while traveling, so that should ease your mind!) Far from being violent, my form of killing, and the form that my English teacher was referring to, simply involves stopping whatever it is that isn’t working, boldly walking away and then starting to do something else in its place with a fresh state of mind.
I’m aware that some people might equate this kind of attitude with ‘giving up’, but I’m a firm believer that certain things just aren’t going to turn out the way we had hoped, and the longer we hold on to these struggling ideas and dreams, the more unhappiness and frustration they’re going to bring into our lives.
Back in Vietnam, I simply killed my long-held dream to explore every corner of that country and I detached myself from the hope of finding some hidden secret there that would alter the course of my life. Deep inside, I knew that it wasn’t going to happen, no matter how hard I tried to make it work. Sure, I could have stayed in Vietnam for the five weeks I had planned to stay and kept on plodding along in the hopes that the situation would improve…
But I just jumped on a bus and went to Laos instead.
THE RESULT OF SUCH ACTION?
As soon as I crossed the border at Lao Bao and entered the beautiful Lao People’s Democratic Republic, my struggles vanished, my frustration evaporated and I felt like a new man with a clean slate before me. My time in Laos then proved to be more than memorable as I spent five weeks exploring the country and loving every single place I visited, every person I met and every adventure I had. In the end, this is where I found my life-changing experience.
I do suspect that anyone who has traveled extensively has been through a similar situation at some point, opting to abandon a most disappointing adventure in a place one had dreamed about visiting for so long. And even if you haven’t, I’m sure that you’ve experienced this is another aspect of your life, when you’ve been left to wonder how something you were once so sure would be your greatest idea, your greatest work or your most certain path to happiness, seemed to be so impossible to achieve.
At least now, any time we find ourselves suffocated by the amount of Gerber being regurgitated onto our heads from what we consider to be one of our most precious babies, we know exactly what to do.
What do you think of my high school English teacher’s words? Have you ever chosen to ‘kill your babies’ during your travels or in life in general?