"Taking Risks" With Lindsay McMahon

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Into the Story
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Join host Lindsay McMahon in this exciting quiz all about taking risks in life! 🌟 Test your knowledge, push your limits, and see if you have what it takes to embrace new challenges and opportunities. Are you brave enough to take the leap? πŸ’ͺ Let’s find out in "Taking Risks" with Lindsay McMahon! 🎲πŸ”₯

In Lindsay McMahon's story, what was the main reason she wanted to travel to Sa Pa, Vietnam?

Because she had been told it was a completely different world from the rest of Vietnam.
To attend the Songkran Festival, which is the Thai New Year.
To reconnect with friends from her hometown in New Hampshire.


[00:00:18] Bree: Hello, it is your host Bree. I have been helping people learn English for almost 15 years now. And I have a background in psychology.

[00:00:29] So on each episode, of Into the Story, we travel together into the life of a different person. You’ll improve your English and get practical life tips along the way. Stories transport us, they move us. They pick us up and take us to a different place. If we let them.

[00:00:55] Today’s storyteller takes us on a journey from her small town in New Hampshire and the Northeastern United States to the green Hills of Sa Pa in Northern Vietnam.

[00:01:09] Lindsay McMahon is the co-host of All Ears English, one of the top language learning podcasts in the world. Lindsay is a successful entrepreneur and business leader. She’s even being in Forbes magazine.

[00:01:27] Today, Lindsay takes us to a time when she was especially open and excited to experience this big world—she was traveling alone for the first time.

[00:01:40] Lindsay: there was some kind of freedom in the air to me, I felt it. And it was just so different. It was kind of more wild, and I liked that at the moment, but it also scared me.

[00:01:49] Bree: Lindsay tells us how taking risks, and sometimes even getting hurt, is the key to living a good life and especially important for leading a successful business.

[00:02:03] Please make sure to click the follow button on your podcast app so that you never miss a new episode of Into the Story. And as always, it’s free. 

Before we get Into the Story. It’s time to look at five words and expressions that Lindsay uses today. 

The first one is windy, a windy road. So W I N D Y. Now a windy road is a road with a lot of twists and turns and curves. For example, the road to the cabin is windy and difficult to drive, or be careful on the windy road.

[00:02:51] It can be dangerous. So, I just want to point out that this word windy is spelled the same way as windy. If something is windy, it means that there is a lot of wind. So two different adjectives, windy and windy spelled the same way, but they mean different things.

[00:03:13] And next we have a muffler. M U F F L E R. So a muffler is the tube that comes out of the back of a car, that makes it quieter. It’s the place where the exhaust from the engine comes out. For example, the mechanic replaced the muffler on my car. Or the teenager took the muffler off his motorbike to make it very loud. A muffler.

[00:03:46] And then we have to downplay something. So downplay that’s one word. If you downplay something, it means that you make it seem less important. You make it seem less serious. For example. After her basketball team lost the match, she tried to downplay the defeat by saying that it wasn’t an important game. Or even though the project faced significant challenges, she downplayed the difficulties, and focused more on the progress that they had made. To downplay something.

[00:04:32] And the next one is make shift. This is one word. M A K E S H I F T. To be makeshift. Now, this is something that’s put together quickly with whatever’s available. So let’s look at a few examples. The kids use a cardboard box as a makeshift table. So you see here, it’s an adjective. A makeshift table. Or he made a makeshift umbrella out of a plastic bag so that he wouldn’t get wet in the rain. Makeshift. 

And finally to have a win.

[00:05:20] So of course, you know what the word win means, but this is just a different way of using it. So if someone has a win, it means that they succeed, or they accomplish something that they were hoping for. And this can describe small things. For example, this week—this is a true example—I finally had a win. Normally, I procrastinate editing podcasts. But this time I finished the episode earlier than expected. Or when the student passed her math test, it was a big win. It made her feel more sure of herself. To have a win.

[00:06:02] If you would like the learning pack with the transcript, an extended vocabulary list and a listening comprehension quiz, then you can visit our website. I will leave you a link in the show notes. Okay. Let’s get Into the Story.

[00:06:16] Lindsay: So I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire. So, the funny, fun fact about my hometown is that it was the filming location of the original Jumanji. 

[00:06:26] Keene, New Hampshire. And so Keene, New Hampshire, just in itself was quite isolated, it was— two hours to get to Boston, two hours to get to the Seacoast of New Hampshire. And so I, I had a happy upbringing, but I always wondered about the outside world.

[00:06:42] You know, I, we used to make trips to New York and to Boston to see shows and to get some exposure to a bigger city. But by the time I graduated high school, I said, I’m out of here. You know, I’m going to college in Virginia. And then after that, that still felt like too much of a bubble, and I said, I’m going to Japan.

[00:07:01] Bree: Lindsay wanted to get as far away as possible from her small safe town. And Japan was such a contrast—it was chaotic. She got a good job. Made nice friends. And then she wanted to go further. If Japan was organized chaos, then she was ready for something even more different.

[00:07:24] Lindsay: I was ready for something a little more raw, more real, more risky and adventurous.

[00:07:29] And I was also ready to go into my first solo travel experience. I was going to go and take my, my bonus from Japan and travel for two months in Southeast Asia. So that’s, so I booked my flight.

[00:07:43] The first thing I remember was landing in Bangkok, and again, the contrast between Japan, the Japanese airport, Narita and landing in Bangkok and stepping outside of the plane and feeling just the heaviness of the humid air just whew.

[00:07:59] It was sticky, hot and humid, but also it felt…there was some kind of freedom in the air to me, I felt it. And it was just so different.

[00:08:07] It was kind of more wild, and I liked that at the moment, but it also scared me. It intimidated me. So my highlight of that period was definitely the Songkran Festival. And

[00:08:19] I believe it’s the Thai New Year. But it is a countrywide celebration. It’s basically a big water fight, and there are varying levels of the ways in which people fight with water. Some of them have actual water guns. Some of them, which I loved, would come up to you and just drip water on your head and smile at you.

[00:08:37] The warmth was just incredible. And it actually made me relax into backpacking, staying at hostels, figuring all this out for the first time and so I was really settling into that after, you know, six or seven weeks going through Thailand and eventually through Laos.

[00:08:53] So that’s where I was at. And then I, should I go into the main part of the story now, Bree?

[00:08:58] Bree: Yeah, let’s, go to…you decide at some point to go to Sa Pa. When was the first time you had heard of Sa Pa? Was it just in a guidebook or did people just talk about it? Do you remember?

[00:09:10] Lindsay: I really don’t know how I had heard of Sa Pa, but I had heard that it was another world, that it was completely different from the rest of Vietnam. And up until this point, I had gone through the rest of Vietnam and loved it. But I was ready for kind of the mountains. I was ready for something, you know, higher elevation. I was just told you have to see it. You have to see Sa Pa: the fog and the windiness of the hills. The way the road takes you right into it and you see the rice fields. It’s just, felt like another world. 

[00:09:45] And so I was going to see Sa Pa in the right way. I was going to see it on the back of a motorbike. And so I connected with another backpacker, another solo backpacker. His name was Daisuke and he was from Japan, and so we immediately connected in that way. And we decided together to hire, motorbikes, two motorbikes and drivers to drive us through the hills of Sa Pa, for a day trip. I think it was about a hundred miles, if not more.,

[00:10:12] And I was nervous and I thought to myself I don’t know how to ride on a motorbike. I’ve never done it before. But I also knew that to really experience Sa Pa, I needed to be out in the air. Like I needed to be kind of breathing in the air and the fog, the fog in my face. So I did it. We booked it and, and so we met up on the morning of the trip with our, with our guides, with our, our drivers.

[00:10:34] So we got on our bikes and I was feeling awesome. Just, you know, lots of hands in the air. And from the first few miles as we started to climb up into the hills again, the road being super windy, my jaw was like dropped from the start. I couldn’t believe it. And I think that’s part of what really got me. I was entranced by the beauty of Sa Pa, and again, there are a lot of beautiful places in the world, but it is what I consider one of the most beautiful.

[00:11:14] And so I was so focused on how gorgeous it was and just loving life again, being nervous at the beginning of the day and then starting to relax into my seat on that motorbike feeling better. And I, we continued on and we, we were starting to get off the bikes to take photos multiple times and getting more confident with that.

[00:11:36] Oh my gosh, we have to stop here. Let’s stop here, let’s hop off. And so the moment happened when I hopped off the bike at one point. To see another beautiful view. And I went to the…I jumped off the bike quickly, And I felt my, my leg hit against the motorbike, the muffler. And I felt a sssss like a sizzle. And I thought, oh my gosh, what was that noise? And then I felt the pain, and it was painful. I had burnt my leg. I had gotten what I didn’t know about at the time, but a typical motorbike burn. A muffler burn. And it blew up super red and inflamed to the size of a tennis ball, and then to the size of a softball it within the day.

[00:12:28] It just, it was big and scary, and I looked down and I couldn’t stop looking down. I thought, oh my gosh, it’s getting worse. I was in a lot of pain, but one of the things I do when I encounter pain or have historically is I try to downplay it. I try to hide it a little bit because I don’t wanna inconvenience people.

[00:12:48] I mean, Daisuke and I had just paid for a full day of exploring the hills of Sa Pa, and it was only 10 in the morning. So I wasn’t going to ruin Daisuke’s day, I wasn’t gonna ruin, I wasn’t going to mess up the job for our drivers. And so I kind of suffered through the rest of the day. And you know, Daisuke kept asking, is it okay? Is it okay? It’s fine, it’s fine. and eventually. We ended up back in the city of Sa Pa. I went to the local clinic or whatever I could find, and tried to get things bandaged up, but it became clear that, A, I wasn’t getting what I needed.

[00:13:25] Bree: And what were they saying when you went to the clinic? Were they like, Ooh, what were you like, what was the feeling that you had?

[00:13:31] Lindsay: A lot of people definitely saw it and they, and that actually is part of why I tend to hide pain when I, when I have some kind of injury, I don’t hide it. Like you can’t hide pain, but I downplay it ’cause I don’t like that reaction. I don’t like you. Are you okay? Oh my gosh, I hate that.

[00:13:46] Actually, I don’t want that. And so I got that. Again, I told Daisuke, I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine. And then all of a sudden I said, no, I have to go back to Hanoi!

[00:13:55] I am sorry. I’m going. Goodbye. And so I got on the…I went to the train station, got on the train. I believe it was a night train, if I’m remembering correctly, into the night, back to Hanoi. I think I got on the train, it was about four or five in the evening. So you know, it was kind of golden hour-ish. I remember just sitting on that train and being scared, almost shaking but also at the same time, looking at the window and realizing how gorgeous those landscapes actually were.

[00:14:22] In life, I think we can, we can sometimes find, even in the midst of pain, we can also still notice the reflection off of the rice fields. It almost pulls us into focus more, and we can notice, the water reflecting off the rice fields. And the sun come up on the rice patties, just gorgeous landscapes. People working in the fields, people walking in their towns, just going through all the many, many different towns between Sa Pa and Hanoi. 

And I eventually arrived, I think four or 5:00 AM in Hanoi. And the interesting thing about that arrival was that as soon as I got off the train, I realized I had to get back on a motorbike. That was my only option. And at that point, of course, I was terrified of getting on a motorbike. There weren’t really taxis. Um, the taxi was, the motorbike, and so

[00:15:21] I ended up in a hospital. Got off the bike, walked in. I remember pulling open the doors and kind of limping. There was definitely some limping happening, you know, with my, my pants rolled up. Some kind of a makeshift bandage around it and. I went up to the desk and of course I didn’t speak Vietnamese probably should have, and there wasn’t a lot of English coming from the people at the desk.

[00:15:45] And so we had some real challenges understanding each other. And what ended up happening was I was basically just told to sit down in the waiting room and 10 minutes goes by, 30 minutes goes by, an hour goes by, and I think to myself, am I on the list or am I just kind of over here?

[00:16:03] because they’re not sure what to do. I’ve never felt more lonely. And I thought to myself, I shouldn’t have been traveling alone. What was I thinking? You know, everything flashes back. All your decisions, your choices, come back and you start to question everything. So I had that time to bake in those thoughts for a solid couple of hours, maybe two or three hours that I was sitting there crying uncontrollably.

[00:16:27] And luckily one of the doctors walked past me, and he stopped me. He said, what’s wrong? What’s going on? What happened? He spoke English, and we understood each other right away. And he said, come on, let’s treat you now.

[00:16:37] He took me in. He gave me a tetanus shot and whatever I needed to prepare the wound and to fix it. And it was, still super sensitive, limping around the hospital, but I was, you know…meeting him and realizing someone understands me and someone’s going to help me here was an awesome relief. It really was…it felt great, and I’m so thankful. Still thankful for that man in the hospital, that doctor. And, and I was able to go out and from there things got better. Things got better. I remember… I’ve seen photos from a few days and a few weeks after.

[00:17:12] I was still in Vietnam, doing a few more destinations along the coast. And I see the bandage on my legs still, like weeks after. Kind of still hobbling a bit, but gradually building that confidence backup. Coming back into myself. So you know, this is what it is, Bree, right? This is life. It’s a series of moving between expansion, like we’re expanding, we’re getting bigger, we’re moving into ourselves, and then something happens.

[00:17:42] Whether there’s an injury, a financial problem, a business failure, something happens and we contract expansion, contraction. But I actually think that this is part of living a good, a good life because we learn. We learn to be humble, right? We learn that yes, we can have wins, we can become in our minds, we can become this strong person, but then life is always gonna kind of bring us back down.

[00:18:10] But we can always build our, build it back up. Most importantly, we learn empathy for ourselves and for others, To have seen, you know, just be in another place, be outside our element, see another part of the world that naturally builds empathy, and it brings us more into the moment. 

And so I still have the burn, and I’m kind of proud of it. I still have the scar.

[00:18:34] So then you have this scar still, and it sounds like you, kind of, look at it, and you’re proud of it. You think of this lesson of, you know, living a good life, adventure, humility, empathy. How has it shaped, who you’ve become as a business leader and as a content creator?

[00:18:53] You are going to have in business, let’s bring it down to business. We’re going to have great years when things feel amazing: we launch courses, we build new podcasts, we hire amazing team members, and it feels like we’re just on a tear. Nothing can get to us, right? Nothing can touch us. […] But then things can happen, you know, and this year in particular, there are things that we are facing that might be really challenging for us as a company. And we’re, but we’re aware of it. 

[00:19:24] And because I’ve had experiences like that one, I know that…it actually forces me into being more present. And actually there’s a weird kind of excitement I get about these challenges when I see something as threatening parts of our, of our business or the way we do business. I get more excited and I try to get creative, and I kind of get a kick out of figuring out a way to move around it or overcome it. There’s always going to be things that are going to threaten us, but then we have to kind of put our shoulders back and keep moving forward.

[00:19:55] Bree: how do you know when what you’re doing is too risky, and how do you know when you’re just living a good life?

[00:20:02] Lindsay: I think it comes down to each person. So that was the adventure. Those were the adventures that I needed.

[00:20:08] I needed to go to South America and backpack for a year and live in Argentina. Live in Guatemala. I needed that intensity of it, but not everyone needs that kind of risk or pushing. It could be as simple as volunteering to lead a project at work, that might be our version of pushing ourselves. I do think that we have to be constantly fighting against complacency and resting on our laurels and just sitting back say, I’ve done this, I’m fine. That’s a danger. So how do we find the next challenge? You know, how do we find that next upleveling, whether it’s in business or in life? I think that’s something that we want to be looking for, for sure.

[00:20:48] Bree: Lindsay, thank you so much for coming on the podcast and sharing your story. I loved hearing it, and yeah, I hope to talk to you again soon.

[00:20:56] Lindsay: Happy to be here, Bree. Thank you for having me on.

[00:20:57] Bree: That is Lindsay McMahon, Co-host of the podcast, All Ears English. If you’re not already a listener, then I recommend that you go search for it right now. The energy and excitement that Lindsay brings to any topic makes it just fun and enjoyable to listen to. 

She invited me on her podcast, to speak about the fascinating connection between our emotions and fluency. I share three practical tips for learning a language more effectively.

[00:21:31] So if you would like to hear that episode on Lindsay’s podcast, All Ears English, then you can follow the link that I will leave you in the show notes below this episode.

[00:21:41] Okay folks, if you would like to join our community and hear me go further into the psychology side of each episode, and also speak more personally about the lessons that I learned from our storytellers. Then you can join our newsletter. Just visit IntotheStory podcast.com and click subscribe. It’s totally free. 

[00:22:03] Okay. That’s all for today. Until the next episode, I hope that you have a good time, or at least a good story to tell. 

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