Underestimating a decade

Leaving home for a while is a good reminder of how lucky I am.

In order to leave, a lot of things had to line up: my brother is staying at my place and taking care of my cat, another friend is taking care of my dog, I’m in a financially stable position, and I’m very lucky to be healthy.

Before leaving, I chatted with a lot of folks that I know who have been to Southeast Asia who gave me advice on where to visit. I also hosted a small get-together and got to catch up with some truly amazing folks who are doing truly amazing things.

Over the last decade, I’ve come to realize that networking is about making friends – about being genuinely interested in the people you meet. I never felt very good at networking – especially as an introvert – and I often wondered what networking really meant at large events like conferences. Contrasting that, I’ve always been interested in having small, genuine conversations with people and getting to know what drives them.

I’ve come to realize the truth in Bill Gates oft-quoted, ‘most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years’.

Catching up with people over the last couple of months knowing that I’d be heading out has been deeply gratifying – I realized just how many awesome people I know that are doing so many truly remarkable things. I didn’t meet all of them in a year, but instead over many years.

Part of the goal of this journey for me is setting a decade-long trajectory. I know it of course won’t work out exactly as I’m envisioning them today, though if I’m lucky and work hard enough, maybe they’ll be even better than I can envision right now.

And speaking of not underestimating what can be accomplished in a decade (or longer), we checked out the Royal Palace in Bangkok today. What an incredible complex of buildings, murals and temples. They started building this place in 1782 – exactly 200 years before I was born. I bet they couldn’t have exactly foreseen just how many people would flock to see it all these years later, though I do know that they built it with the intention for it to stay around for quite a long time.

Developing familiarity

Isn’t it interesting how quickly you can develop familiarity? Today I’m leaving a small, very well-kept hostel in Bang Rak, Bangkok after spending only a couple days here. It feels familiar already – we can navigate around the neighbourhood without GPS.

All the way on the other side of the world from where the rest of my life is.

This place was our favourite.

This woman cooked us up some delicious fried rice and chicken. All for 40 baht, or about $1.60 CAD. She had a system figured out – everything portioned out in containers, everything within reach. While she didn’t speak English (many people here do), she had a small menu book with photos of each dish ready to point at with the options pictured out below the dish. She ran the storefront with her husband and children, all of whom moved about throughout the small street and showed up when you wanted to order. We ended up visiting her for rice or noodles on multiple occasions.

I’ll miss this little neighbourhood (or big neighbourhood truthfully, if I’m comparing to my own!), though very much looking forward to exploring the next places.

Security or adventure?

Can you have both? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for a while now. Everything I’ve read on the topic suggests humans have a drive for both security and adventure – though of course the level of drive for each differs greatly by individual.

For me, I’ve unconsciously tried to balance these competing desires – I only consciously became aware of them as competing and normal drives fairly recently.

Yesterday, I arrived in Thailand after leaving a well-paying position to travel Southeast Asia for a few months. It was a plan I starting working earlier this year after reflecting on my goals. Things weren’t going quite as I envisioned, which is sometimes a blessing in disguise – it led to a lot of deep self reflection. I hired a professional coach, which has been one of the best investments I’ve made in myself in a long time.

He helped me ask questions of myself that I was scared to ask – or maybe that I didn’t know how to ask. He helped remind me that I should keep my eyes on where I’m going – just like in motorbiking. After getting my motorcycle license recently, I can attest how true that is – unless you are looking where you are going, you are going to hurt yourself or end up in the ditch (or worse).

I knew where I wanted to go, though I wasn’t yet taking full steps in that direction.

In the spring, a mentor asked me if I was ‘getting ready’ for my bold goals or ‘getting ready to get ready’. I was getting ready to get ready.

Esther Perel recently tweeted that ‘trust is an active engagement with the unknown’. I’ve literally been thinking about that for a month straight now. As a bit of a planner, I haven’t always engaged well with the unknown. I’ve leaned on pragmatism. Pragmatism is great. And as my coach helped me learn, any strength overdone can become a weakness. At times, I found myself trying to control the unknown through planning.

So I’ve decided to step a bit away from my pragmatism for a while and am trying to explore more of the free spirit way of being. I have a budget on this trip, and it took some time to ensure the details were planned so that I could leave my secure life at home in beautiful NB behind for a while. I certainly haven’t abandoned pragmatism – I’ve chosen to consciously explore the other side of the coin to ensure I keep that drive in check.

I may spend the rest of my life asking myself how to balance security and adventure. I don’t exactly know what I will learn from this particular adventure. Though I know I’m very much looking forward to the journey.

With love, from Bangkok

On vaccines and trust

Vaccines. They seem like one of the most controversial topics of our time.

I’ve never quite understood the deep mistrust of vaccines – I studied biology over a decade ago now, and was lucky enough to spend most of that time studying microbiology. We studied the various types (live, attenuated, dead), how they work (helping your body produce antibodies to the specific pathogen of interest), and celebrating the successes of vaccines – like Jonas Salk, the scientist who happened through a mixture of luck and preparation, to develop one of the first successful vaccines for polio. He’s also famously remembered for deciding not to patent it and when questioned about this, responded with the question, ‘would you patent the sun?’.

I’m pretty thankful for Dr. Salk’s work because my great aunt was infected with polio, and it seriously affected her quality of life. My memory of her was that she was always smiling, generous and never complained, though I also know she spent her childhood in treatments and had many complications from these – leading to functional blindness and the inability to bear children. Large-scale vaccinations against polio meant that, unlike my beautiful great aunt, I never had to worry about contracting it – in a generation, the disease was almost eradicated. I find that remarkable. It makes me sad to think that within another generation, we might be reversing that trend.

I’ve been preparing to go on some extended travel to southeast Asia and getting fully vaccine’d up. I was struck by a few things when visiting the local travel clinic and then later a physician.

My experience at the travel clinic left much to be desired. I had done some homework before going and read all of the health advisories for the region I will be visiting on the Government of Canada website. When I arrived, the nurse was on her phone and seemed mildly annoyed at my knock. She reviewed some good information with me, though seemed irritated by my many questions – I believe questions are the key to understanding. I left with a folder containing tons of great info, a recommendation of what to ask for from my physician, and a general malaise about the risks I would be exposing myself to because I didn’t feel like I yet had a solid understanding.

I then booked an appointment with my physician, who happened to be away – a young physician was covering for her. I really enjoyed my conversation with him because it was very honest and direct, he answered all of my question (and allowed me the space to ask them) and then prescribed the vaccines that I would need.

He then left and the nurse came in to give me my influenza vaccine. This was a little strange for me because she arrived with an open, unlabelled needle and gave me the injection – I left thinking about how this indicated how much trust the medical system was asking from me. I wasn’t shown any packaging indicating what it was, I wasn’t shown that this needle was new – I was asked to believe that this was all done. I think a lot about trust – and more specifically, about improving trust. While I do believe that the nurse took all necessary precautions, the questions I’m left with is: how much does this lack of verification contribute to the building anti-vaccination movement? How can we turn this into an opportunity to build trust?

We hear a lot about the influenza vaccine – I know so many people who say, ‘well I got the vaccine and I still got sick’. Yes, it’s most certainly true that the influenza vaccine doesn’t give you 100% immunity against the flu. But it does significantly boost your immunity and reduces your risk of getting it, which matters a lot when you live in a community. Building community-level immunity helps ensure that people who we are living alongside with immune systems that are less able to fight off something like the flu are less likely to get it.

You have to weigh your own risks against a larger risk. Without adequate information and an ability to ask questions so that you’re comfortable with your level of risk, it’s fairly difficult to make an informed decision – so I can understand why it’s easier at times to just opt out.

In talking about vaccines with people I know, I find I generally hear one of two points of view – yes, let’s make sure people continue to get vaccines, or, no, I don’t believe in vaccines because I or someone I know got sick from one. It deeply sucks that people have fallen ill from vaccines – everything from a flu to much more serious complications. And we can’t pretend that this doesn’t happen, because it does. I believe the opportunity here is to engage – in understanding why people have such a deep mistrust of vaccines so that we can start there in working to build up that trust.

Through my recent experience preparing for travel, I also learned that you can get your titres tested for FREE where I live – this will tell me the amount of antibodies in my bloodstream for anything that I’m considering getting a vaccine / booster for. I find this amazing because it helps me make informed decisions based on my own personal, internal chemistry.

In weighing my own risks, I decided not to take Dukoral – a vaccine that helps prevent traveller’s diarrhea – because I have an allergy to formaldehyde, and I couldn’t be sure that I wouldn’t have a severe reaction. I now have to mitigate my risk with added caution in choosing where and what to eat, which seemed like a better decision and one that I made in consultation with a pharmacist.

Disengaging and walking away from the systems that make our lives tick is one answer. There is of course, another answer – one that is much more difficult, though I believe much more important. For those of us who believe deeply in vaccines, we can choose to engage and listen to those who mistrust vaccinations so that we can better know how to develop more robust, human-centred systems to build that trust. I think it also speaks to the importance of helping everyone develop a deeper understanding of statistics – on how people can make their own informed choices on the risks associated with vaccines, both for themselves and the loved ones that they live beside.