Don’t Be Afraid To Kill Your ‘Babies’

Derek Perspectives 29 Comments


Quick Note: Before you want to kill me for the title of the post and the photo, please read it first. There’s no violence involved, I promise!


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?

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Comments 29

  1. Amanda

    Stephen King wrote “Murder your darlings” as his advice to budding authors. Like and your teacher, he was encouraging people to let go of ideas and ideals that, as encouraging and inspiring as they may be, may be detrimental to growth. I admit, this is probably going to be pretty hard for me. Years of growing up and imagining my travels have created a very solid opinion on what I should experience. Still, I have months left to try to get those old assumptions out of my head. Great entry!

  2. Martin

    You’ll kill me, but I gave up India last year. After two months in the North (Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, Amritsar, Pushkar, Jodhpur, etc… ) and then Mumbai, I was about to start another two months in the South, from Mumbai to Chennai including Kayakumari, Rameshwaram etc… but I couldn’t handle anymore… the touts were unbearable for me. So I end up my last two months of travelling in beautiful Thailand. But my dream was always India, whole India.. and I couldn’t.

  3. Alouise

    I just stumbled upon your blog and I know my comments a little late, but I love this expression. It’s sort of like that old adage ‘if you fail try and try again, then stop… no use being a damn fool about it.’ People get tunnel vision in life over a lot of things – I’ve stayed in crappy situations because I thought I could make it work. Killing my babies, so to speak, is actually more rewarding than keeping myself miserable. And with an experience like that in Vietnam, I’m sure next has to be better.
    .-= Alouise´s last blog ..Musings From A Road Trip To Calgary =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Alouise – Thank you so much for your comment! You couldn’t be more right. What is the point in trying and failing over and over and over again? At some moment, we just need to move away from the situation so that the constant struggle doesn’t take over our lives.

      I think a lot of people are ashamed to ‘kill their babies’ as it is sometimes associated with quitting. But when the choice comes down to being miserable or being able to regroup and gain a fresh perspective, the best option seems all too clear!

    1. Earl

      Hey Moon – Mexico has been a completely different story, this is one baby that I would never think of killing!! (although I will be leaving quite soon unfortunately)
      And I’m sure on my next visit to Vietnam, whenever that may be, things will turn out differently. It’s all a part of traveling though, things don’t always go as expected.

  4. Jennifer Barry

    I never heard the phrase “kill the babies” before but it has wisdom. 🙂 I often say that running away from your problems is underrated. You went to Laos and things got much better. Sometimes you just have to let go.

    I’ve killed a few “babies” in my time. I wanted to be a therapist for 11 years, but by the time I reached my goal, the profession had changed A LOT. It just wasn’t what I wanted anymore.

    I also achieved my dream of moving to Boston. After 9 years, I realized I had to leave. I live in Dallas now and I’m loving it, but I may move overseas some day. Boston wasn’t all bad though – I met my husband there!

    1. Earl

      Hey Jennifer – Thanks so much for your comment! I agree that running away is not something that should always be considered in negative terms. Your example is perfect. Instead of struggling with the profession that was no longer what you had hoped for, you moved on and now seem to be quite happy that you did. And the same goes for your move from Boston to Dallas. I know many people who dream of making such a move but choose to remain stuck in a place they no longer enjoy instead. And I don’t really see the point in that. So good on you for making that move, and I’m happy to hear that you at least got a husband out of your stay in Boston! I’d call that a success!

  5. Dina

    Maybe Vietnam supposed to indeed remind you not to be afraid to kill your babies 🙂

    I try to find the line between not giving up and killing the babies. It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish, which condition you are in. Even when we are in the situation of “better kill the babies”, it’s still difficult to do that. I faced that a lot when I was in my chemistry lab. It’s tough to terminate the little projects that we spent so much time and effort to nourish. Just a little bit more.. just a little bit more.. to see the magic.. but it didn’t come.. and we had to decide at some point.. needed to move on!

    Great post, Earl. Great message: don’t be afraid to kill your babies 🙂
    .-= Dina´s last blog ..Friday Photo: The Sunken Palace of Istanbul =-.

    1. Earl

      Thanks Dina! It sure is difficult to kill projects, or anything in life, when we believe that only a little more effort is all we need. But eventually, there comes a point where we’ve spent some time putting in that ‘little more effort’ over and over again and we still haven’t made any progress (or keep on blowing up the chemistry lab!). And that is when I realize it’s time to just let it go and start afresh…

    1. Earl

      That’s funny, I actually didn’t even think about that…it’s entertaining enough reading the adsense ads that pop up next to this post.

  6. Andi

    Ay Dios mio, pobrecito!!! Sounds like you went through hell, but you know what it makes for great travels stories now, huh? 😉

    I really resonated with your post. Sometimes life just isn’t worth fighting with. And instead of looking at it as defeat, I just look at it as a change of direction, something us travelers are quite good at!

    You definitely should return to Vietnam one day though. I’m sure you’d have a different experience now. I hope you write about your life-changing experience in Laos though…

    1. Earl

      Hey Andi – Change of directions are vital for any traveler interested in maintaining their sanity! And I’ll definitely return to Vietnam one day. It’s not that I hold anything against that country at all, just didn’t work out the first time.

      And more on Laos will certainly be on the way…

  7. Liz

    Your Vietnam story reminded me of my India story, where pretty much everything went wrong! (sorry, I do know how much you love India)… well, I did not considerate “killing that baby”, I guess I was too proud to accept the fact that for the first time in my life, everything could go wrong. I was counting the days to leave the country and guess what? When finally the day arrived, I missed my flight and I had to sleep at the airport a few more nights lol. Next time something like that happens, I know exactly what I am going to do MUAHAHAHA! =)

    1. Earl

      Hey Liz – Don’t worry, I don’t take any offense! And even though you didn’t abandon your trip to India, you still benefited from learning the lesson that things can go wrong. So there’s always positive aspects of every situation. But I’m sure you were one happy person when your flight finally took off!

  8. rose

    Good post!
    I’ve killed a lot of babies over the years, changed my plans overnight, left situations that were unhealthy or that weren’t leading anywhere I wanted to go, and I think that there is a lot to be said for just walking away, for constantly re-defining your life. In my experience, though, the hardest part is not the decision itself but rather to properly grieve each and every one of them as you let them go, so as to really move on to a fresh start!

    (Then there is also the question – how do you know when your baby just needs some extra nurturing to get through tough times?)

    1. Earl

      Hey Rose – You brought up an interesting point -the grieving process. I’m not really sure myself, as I try to practice detachment as much as possible, so that the things that come and go in my life don’t affect me as much and I can let them go more easily.

      And I think that the good part of ‘killing your babies’ is that you can always bring them back from the dead if you decide to and if you don’t kill them today, you’ll still have a chance to do so later on down the road. No decision is permanent, so you can test out some extra nurturing first and see if that’s all that was needed!

    1. Earl

      Hey Nisha – That’s good to hear, I didn’t want to be the only person who’s been killing my babies! Thanks for leaving a commment!

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  10. Carlos

    I think people should strive for a balance between holding on / fighting for things versus letting go. These “things” can be jobs, relationships, dreams.. They can come in many forms.

    I can’t count the number of friends I’ve had that remain in toxic relationships, or those that stay in jobs that they absolutely detest. Imagine having a dream of being an attorney or a doctor and after finally getting started (after years of education) you realize it isn’t all that you thought it would be. When do you move on?

    I think you’re so right Earl. Don’t get locked-in into thinking one way about a place, a job or a dream. Give it a shot, for sure, but know when to move on..

    1. Earl

      Hey Carlos – I think it comes down to accepting the fact that sometimes we just need to walk away, although that is much easier to say than to put into practice. But acceptance is key. When is a good time to move on? I think it depends on every situation and person. Sure, sometimes we need to keep on fighting for something that we truly want, but other times, we just know inside that we’re headed down the wrong path, yet we still cling to that job, dream, goal or relationship. Those are the situations we must free ourselves from…and if we realize later that it was a mistake, there’s nothing stopping us from returning to what we were doing!

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