People don’t walk in Vietnam. They drive on two wheels. Parents with two small children sandwiched between them, a dog or perhaps a freshly-cut tree are all standard to be transported on the bike. This is just how things get around in Vietnam. The only problem? The traffic is chaos. Every day millions of Vietnamese people crisscross their bike paths through one another - mostly through intersections with no lights - on their way to work or school.
The motorbike is the easiest, fastest, and most dangerous way to get somewhere (the estimated average is more than 20 traffic-related deaths a day in Vietnam). So, when I was about to step on the back of a taxi-bike, my heart was racing. I briefly wondered, ‘why did I decide on Vietnam again?’
Doing things you find scary
We all have something we would like to do but don’t dare to actually do it. Starting your own business, switching careers, or stepping on a motorbike are all examples. We procrastinate. How can we change our behavior, so we start doing what we really want?
First of all, there is always a good reason to NOT do something. Take our year abroad as an example. I had excuses enough. Scott had just emigrated to the Netherlands and settled into a decent job. We moved to a new home by a cute canal near the city center. We have a sweet cat named Bo. And let me not forget my own financial security (my company had the best revenue last year since I started it in 2013). In short, there were enough reasons to not go.
It’s safe to stay put
Psychologically this makes total sense. Our brains are wired to keep us safe. Our ancestors who stayed on the safe side of a good thing, were more likely to survive. While we all like to nod confidently at tough-guy phrases like “fortune favors the bold”, the honest truth is that the careless adrenaline junkies came out on the losing end more often than not. So, whenever a big decision comes up, your brain is well-adapted to release warning signals. Whether you are launching a new service, thinking of skydiving for the first time or thinking of getting into programming, part of your brain will start to convince you not to take the plunge.
So, how do you realize what you want?
1. Embrace and protect new ideas
For me, new ideas need space to grow. Like a baby sprout, if you overwhelm them with too much attention, they tend to struggle. Keep the idea to yourself for a bit, until it has grown stronger. For example by visualizing it. The next step is to start experimenting with the idea in small steps. For our year abroad, we visited countries in Asia the year before our move (Singapore, Thailand, Japan, and Vietnam). As you can imagine, we got super excited! And we started sharing our going-abroad-for-a-year-idea with friends who have done something similar.
2. Be realistic
It helps to be realistic about the chance that it will not happen. Big ideas can fail, so have a plan B. For us it helped to keep our brains out of the fear zone, by creating a list of necessities for the trip to happen. We kept it short, but we knew there were a few things that could single handedly make the trip a no-go. The minimum requirements that we wanted to meet to feel safe going abroad.
· We wanted a temporary, nice home for our cat Bo (Thanks to my brother!)
· A place back in the Netherlands that we could go back to after our year
· A realistic chance to make some income while being abroad
· Enough savings to travel, but also enough reserves for when we get back to the Netherlands.
3. Dare to take risks
With a checklist in hand, we started organizing. Not knowing what to expect, but with a couple of certainties, we kept taking steps. I’m not going to lie, it was stressful at times. When Scott did not get the anticipated sabbatical from work, I doubted if we would go. But finally, we dared to take the risk for a brand new adventure.
With all that in mind, what is a crazy bike ride? A bit shakily I stepped on the back, put the bright green helmet on my head and we drove off. The ride was insane for my western mind, with bikes coming at us from all angles. My driver was unfazed by it all and kept maneuvering out of everyone’s way, honking and braking, often within a half meter of the cars and bikes around us. Having arrived safely in a coffee house in Ho Chi Minh City to write this article, I can say… I’m happy I stepped on this ride - not just the bike, but for the whole year.