“You’re Doing it Wrong” (Wiser Next Week: On Mistakes and Failures)

"You're Doing it Wrong" (Wiser Next Week: On Mistakes and Failures)

About the Wiser Next Week Series: These entries will involve posting my book, Wiser Next Week, chapter by chapter, freely available to the public. Additionally, I’ll be recounting a story about something I’ve learned based on the chapter’s topic since the months that have past when the book was published in December 2018.


I remember last April the traffic in Vietnam was crazy. I was on a bus traveling from Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest city. Looking out the window was a sight to beholden.

Motorbikes, bumper to bumper jammed in close proximity closer then you could imagine. Not just that, some of these guys were balancing cargo with one arm, had a bunch of other stuff sticking out of the moped on all sides, and were still navigating this insanely packed urban density like a champ. Some were even driving on the wrong side of the road.

The other western tourists were staring outside the window too, on one hand awed by the expert maneuvering and on the other wondering if we were going to get run over.

Keep in mind we had just come from Phnom Pen, Cambodia which had hectic traffic that was no pushover. And at this point I’ve already visited/lived in East Asian mega cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Bangkok. I thought I knew what I was doing.

Until I was told off. After enjoying my time exploring the rich military history (I love history) of Saigon, I headed north to the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi.

An old American Huey from the Vietnam War that got abandoned after the Fall of Saigon. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (April 2019)

I made it there in one piece and was never run over by any motorbikes. I thought I had this Vietnamese traffic in hand when I got to Hanoi.

While in the capital city, I was a bit disappointed about the lack of military history compared to it’s southern counterpart. Nonetheless there were free walking tours offered up by local uni students looking to practice their English. I love free so I jumped on it.

One such tour was nighttime food tour and I was assigned a college girl, Rose, to show me around her city. During one of our street crossings with oncoming mopeds, I crossed at a brisk manner making the on the spot calculation that based on my walking pace and the speed of the incoming motorbike, I could make it.

I was mildly surprised when I saw Rose didn’t cross with me. After we had both made it across safely. She told me in a stern voice that I shouldn’t have crossed like that.

I was surprised, I’ve been doing this in Vietnam this whole time. Plus I had picked up expert J-Walking skills from my mother growing up in San Francisco.

This is Rose from Hanoi, I never got to know her well but she seemed like a nice girl. Hanoi, Vietnam (April 2019)

How to Survive Vietnamese Traffic

Without being too lengthy, the way Vietnamese traffic worked was that you

  1. make eye contact with drivers when crossing,
  2. you cross slowly,
  3. you make frequent stops between lanes (basically you would be standing in the middle of the road with cars/motorbikes zipping in front and behind you)
  4. and if you were leading a large group of bumbling tourists like myself, you raise your hand to further assert your desire to cross.

In my sweet innocence I had been blissfully unaware of this and had been asking for death. I made a mistake, one of many after inserting myself in so many different cultures. I never felt I was going to get run over as I have young legs and can bolt if there was sudden danger.

Here’s the traffic I sprinted across. Don’t tell my momma

How to Fail Forward

As I’m clueless so many times in these foreign countries, I have a tendency to just do what I think is right and figure it out along the way. Which falls in line with the finding right method described by Edward Burger & Michael Starbird in The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking:

  1. Create the mistake.
  2. Exploit the mistake:
  • Making the error overt makes the needed corrections overt as well. Think of it as a first draft; you must put something on paper first before you can make corrections. Each draft makes the next attempt closer to right.
  • Understand that you may not know how to do things right, but you can certainly do them wrong.
  • Generating useful mistakes involves tackling the issue at hand and quickly constructing the best solution you can.

  3. After making the mistake:

  • Ask whether the mistake is a correct answer to a different question. 
  • Let the mistake lead you to a better attempt.

Besides the reckless endangerment part, I more or less implemented this method during my d̶o̶d̶g̶e̶b̶a̶l̶l̶ dodgecar games in Vietnam.

  1. I needed to cross alot of streets, so I just went for it.
  2. I sometimes ran/fast walked across, which made it obvious I didn’t know what I was doing.
  3. Whenever I’m with or talking with locals, I ask if I’m doing it right.

From border crossings in Thailand, to crossing the streets in Vietnam and riding the bus in Mexico, I take Nike’s philosophy of “Just Do It” and implement it into my own life with the faith that everything is “figureoutable.” And the only way to cut an angle to get what you want is to get your hands dirty by making mistakes.


All of life's obstacles are figuroutable Kingston S. Lim

Here is the “On Mistakes and Failures” chapter of Wiser Next Week. Take it and implement it into your own life.

Previous Chapters

“I Didn’t Know How to Do Laundry” Wiser Next Week Intro

“The Spray & Pray Teacher” Wiser Next Week: On Emotions

“Show Them Your Greatness” Wiser Next Week: On Fear

“Psychological Ownership” Wiser Next Week: On Loyalty

“Strategically Smile to Get What You Want” (Wiser Next Week: On Happiness)

“Your Body is a Car” (Wiser Next Week: On Health)

“The Gift of Time and Age”(Wiser Next Week: On Aging & Death)

“Project Your Life 5 Years Ahead” (Wiser Next Week: On Regrets)


11 thoughts on ““You’re Doing it Wrong” (Wiser Next Week: On Mistakes and Failures)

  1. Very entertaining, well-written, and informative. You seem to be a master of taking calculated risks. I am glad you survived your misadventures!

    Fear of making mistakes can paralyze you and prevent you from taking appropriate action in a timely manner. Not making mistakes can also mean missing learning opportunities.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Holy cow, I cringed seeing those scooters with three people plus luggage on the seat, and the ones with little kids sitting fore and aft of the driver. (No seat belt! No helmet, no baby carrier! I just can’t see that happening in the US’ safety-conscious culture.) I suppose if that’s your primary means of transportation you adapt, but I think I’d stick to walking or taking a bus, if one was available. 🙂

    I do like the lesson you took from learning to cross the streets in Hanoi. Cursed with being a perfectionist, I don’t like making mistakes, even when I’m just learning a new skill.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think so many of us become perfectionists because of the school system we were brought up in. We were expected to get good grades and if we didn’t we would be punished. Of course this mentality doesn’t translate well into the real world when it is often a matter of trying and failing

      Like

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