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Passport to Learning: What I learned about failure from being burglarized


When I first landed in Thailand, I spent 3 weeks earning my TESOL certification to become eligible to teach English. Meanwhile, one of the worst floods in the past 50 years hit the center of Thailand and submerged the town where I acquired a teaching job. The bad news was homes and businesses were flooded and the start of the school year was pushed back until water receded and the damage was surveyed. Thankfully, I had saved enough money to travel without working so I explored Thailand for 2 months. While island hopping, trekking, and beaching around the south of the country, I was living my best life. As each day passed, the concept of teaching became gradually obscure.

Weekly, I received an email from the school stating that the start date would be pushed back another week. Ultimately, I would be fine if unable to teach. However, frustration stemmed from not having a clear answer on whether I would still have a job that year. Meanwhile, I was unable to plan too far in advance waiting for this answer. As week 8 approached, I remained close to the town where I got a job without getting caught in the flood waters. My new employers could call any day now and say, “you start school tomorrow” so I needed to be nearby. This led me on a trip to Kanchanaburi, Thailand.

Burglarized in My Hotel Room

You can read the full story of my hotel room burglary (while I was inside sleeping) here, but for the sake of time I’ll offer a brief overview of the burglary.

Our laid-back guesthouse in Kanchanaburi was set along the picturesque River Kwai, with a lush green, courtyard filled with hammocks and shade. After a late night, my friends and I settled into our room where I woke up to a chilly breeze passing over me a few hours later. Shutting the door that was wide open to the courtyard, I scanned the room for my purse which I usually drop next to my bed. My bag was nowhere to be found so I ventured into the courtyard to see if I could find my belongings strewn about. After scouring the premises, I concluded that someone or people entered our room during the wee hours of the morning and stole my purse with my identification, digital camera, cash, and all forms of extracting cash. They also grabbed my friend’s passport and all her money.

View of the courtyard from our room at the Jolly Frog in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.

Working with the Thai police to file a report, the language barrier, canceling bank cards when our time zones are opposite, dealing with insurance companies, and attempting to travel back to the US Embassy in Bangkok without money or identification to replace passports was enough to throw my hands in the air and say, “I quit!” It’s been fun Thailand, but I think I’ll go home now!

Rewriting my experience from today’s perspective, feels like I’m scripting a scene from Brokedown Palace. The previous 8 weeks had been a carefree adventure of a lifetime. In a few hours, I found myself in an extremely difficult situation that ensued to insurmountable helplessness.

Lesson Learned

After figuring out the basic necessities to get my life back on track, I began questioning my purpose in traveling and in life. Not only did I lose materialistic items, but my sense of safety and security disappeared like a rabbit in a magician’s hat. I left the comfort of my home to travel on the other side of the world and uncover my meaning on this planet. With no clear direction, I felt myself sinking and came to a point where I had to decide if this is where my journey ends and appreciate the experiences, friends, and adventures I’d had up to that point or head back home. With much consideration of my original goal, I decided I had not achieved my objective for setting out on this adventure in the first place and returning to the US now would leave me back at square one. The burglary was an unfortunate event but it was an eye-opening experience forcing me to realign myself with my mission.

Happier times in Kanchanaburi with the last memories of my purse and camera.

Realignment to the Mission

One of the most difficult decisions in life is knowing when to give up or continue powering through when faced with challenges. From one perspective, grit and perseverance are fundamental to achieving success in most things in life. Whether learning a skill, starting a business, or overcoming relationship adversities, “sticking with it” is a vital characteristic to exhibit. From another perspective, the phrase “never give up” is not always the best approach. Successful people fail all the time. The skill lies in knowing when to cut your losses or when this supposed failure is life redirecting you toward a new path. How do you know when to give up or when to power through?

When faced with difficult decisions, failures, or challenges, we must refer to the mission at hand. Whether your driver is your personal, team, or company mission, hardships and opportunities can be more confidently answered if you lead with your mission at the forefront of personal or business decisions. It doesn’t mean that the choice will be easy, but it ensures that you are on track to reaching your goal.

Southwest Airlines purpose statement is “To connect people to what's important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.” When Southwest is presented with features that may add value to the airline, they always go back to their purpose, mission, and what they stand for to make decisions. If adding a new service line will no longer allow them to be considered the low-cost air travel provider then their answer is easy. It makes appealing options more navigable.

Being robbed and thinking it was the end of my journey was actually a turning point. My mission of uncovering my life purpose had not been met, so making the difficult decision to stay and continue my journey wasn’t easy but worth it. I can’t imagine all that I would have missed out on if I returned home at that point. When we align our behaviors and decisions on our clearly defined personal mission statement, we create an effective, empowering perspective through which we can view the world.

What is a personal mission statement?

A personal mission statement is “an articulation of what you’re all about and what success looks like to you,” according to author Michael Goodman. It helps people identify their core values and beliefs and serves as a personal constitution.

Why have a personal mission statement?

It creates a foundation for making key, life-changing or trivial decisions, especially during situations and emotions that affect our lives.

How does one create a mission statement?

Stephen Covey’s 2nd Habit is “begin with the end in mind.” To be an effective human, you should act based on principles and constantly review your mission statement to ensure alignment with the outcome you want to achieve. Developing your mission statement takes time, deep introspection, and thoughtful consideration to your unique values and beliefs.

Here are 3 suggestions to keep in mind when creating your mission:

  1. Consider all your current roles. Are you satisfied with your performance or dedication to these roles in your life?

  2. Collect notes, quotes, and ideas you may use as resources in writing your mission. Think about thought leaders you admire.

  3. Identify a project or decision you are or will be facing and write down the outcomes you aspire to achieve and the steps that will lead to those results.

Developing a personal mission statement will help you navigate through the ups and downs of life and keep you approaching a positive goal.

Kanchanaburi waterfalls and happy times pre-burglary.

View of the River Kwai from the courtyard at the Jolly Frog which was the scene of the crime.