When I think of innovation, I think of the external: technology and system upgrades that make our lives better. How often do we think of internal innovation—shifting our subconscious mind, upgrading ourselves from the inside? It takes consistent effort to shift patterns, habits, and thoughts that form over countless years. Or, it takes a shock to the system: like an unexpected six-week trip to rural Vietnam.
I’d been buckling down, growing my business, and reaching goals on my own for years—my idea of ‘success.’ This all changed the day I saw an Instagram Story that read: “Looking for someone to help me with a film project in Vietnam.” I didn’t know the guy, but he looked adventurous. I didn’t know about the project either, but I replied immediately. Something deep inside was longing for change; an adventure.
Ten days later, I flew across the world to meet this stranger. You’d think living with a stranger for weeks on end would be challenging. Surprisingly, that was the easiest part. The hardest part was that every goal I strove for and every belief I had about the world drastically shifted.
We began in a small village outside the Sapa Valley, an area surrounded by mountains of rice fields. It was peaceful. The first time I really felt calm without needing to meditate or find inner peace. It happened naturally here.
We spent four days riding motorbikes through the jungle, waving at everyone we passed. We drank Vietnamese coffee that tastes like liquid chocolate. We hiked deep into the jungle passing bamboo forests, hidden waterfalls, buffalo grazing on cliff edges, and meeting locals that had no concept of age or birthdays. Every child giggled and high-fived us along our walks. Four days of pure bliss, pure calm of the mind, joy in the body.
We were invited into the homes of locals who shared everything they could with us: village traditions, handcrafted knives, clothes they spent all year making, houses they built, and, of course, the happy water (Vietnamese moonshine). It felt like we were the only two people to ever have this deep experience. My jaw hurt from smiling and laughing. The bonds found in simple human connection and deep conversation was astounding. These people live extremely fulfilling lives, their purpose bigger than themselves, and with a sense of humour and playfulness that lifted weight from my shoulders.
This trip to Sapa Valley had the most profound shift in my routine, beliefs, and enjoyment for life. My journal entry read: “The people have so little here, but they have much more of the things we humans long for: healthy traditions, community, generosity, and connection. These are the keys. Oh how we are lacking. How can I add value to the world? I don’t want to live for recognition or this idea of ‘success.’ STOP LIVING FOR YOURSELF. It isn’t the way. Four days here has brought more joy than I ever felt reaching any money goal or business milestone. Connection is the answer.”
This theme remained consistent throughout Vietnam. Generous people offering to help us, and proud of their community. An old woman tickled me on my morning run, laughing as she poked my tummy. The people here constantly smiled, waved and said hello. Could I embody this energy back home?
Another transformative shift happened when we booked an excursion in Nong Khiaw, Laos. Two days of hiking in dense jungle which, to my surprise, was filled with real danger. On day one, we passed a tree with six killer bees huddled together. Our guide demanded we run, as he took off sprinting into the trees. No one had mentioned the possibility of death on this trip. Later that day, we spent 45 minutes running to keep leeches from adhering to our ankles, pausing every 15 seconds to flick them off.
During calm portions, our guide told stories of hunting for food in the jungle every day when the markets closed due to COVID. And here I thought I had it bad being (safely) stuck in my home …. After eight hours of trekking steep hills in 60 per cent humidity and passing dangerous wildlife, we finally made it to our destination. We spent the evening along the Nam Ou River swimming and playing with local kids, watching a fisherman chase water buffalo back to their part of town, and eating dinner made from locally sourced ingredients. And more happy water! Warming by the fire under some of the brightest stars I’ve ever seen, I couldn’t breathe for a moment. Culture shock had kicked in. I was far from safety, from comfort—sleeping on old pads under a thin bug net, sharing a bathroom with one tub of water for showering and brushing our teeth, and using a hole in the ground as a toilet. This day was terrifying, exciting, uncomfortable, overwhelming, and amazing. It reset my system and made me a stronger person. I was internally innovated.
I could have said no to such a trip, staying in the comfort of my home on Vancouver Island. But that would have been a regret I carry to the end of my life, as great things truly happen with change.
Travel creates personal growth, so this is a reminder to invest in yourself. Many of us long for some form of ‘newness’ or an escape from our daily lives, when in reality we can also experience these feelings by taking a new class, exploring a new trail, or jumping in the ocean on a cold day. If we want quick internal shifts, we need new experiences; the external shifts. Look for those opportunities, and say yes.