The Six Degrees of Separation: From Third World to World Wide Web

Written by on 20 Dec 2013

It all started in Vietnam.

The birth place of all great stories, right?

Noooooot so much…

More accurately, this story starts in a Vietnamese airport—a veritable wheel of ends and beginnings, goodbyes and hellos, tears and smiles.

Don’t worry. This story ends with the best of all three: beginnings, hellos, and smiles. Six degrees of beginnings, hellos, and smiles to be exact.

This is the story of how a chance encounter in a Vietnamese airport led me to Tara- the ultimate connector, Jen- the startup master, Brian- the savvy entrepreneur, Wayne- the talented brand designer, and ultimately, to tracytimm.com—this lovely website you either dedicatedly follow or randomly stumbled upon.

This is the story of how I learned two classic life lessons of personal observation— 1) you just never know who’s watching you and 2) you never know who that person knows.

The six degrees of Kevin Bacon, eat your heart out.

These are the six degrees of separation from Third World to World Wide Web.

Without this one chance encounter, not only would these words not exist (obviously) but this entire site would still be a pipedream.

So, now that we’ve set the scene, let’s pull a Tarantino and go all the way back to Vietnam… where it all started.

The first part of this story is actually a little embarrassing, but in the spirit of truth, honesty, and (hopefully) entertainment, I’m going to share it with you anyway.

Future career in politics be damned!

In February of 2013, I found myself in the airport in Ho Chi Minh City on my way to Cambodia for a three day excursion to Angkor Wat. The previous day had been my first day in Vietnam. It had also been my first night out in Vietnam. Funny how those two always go together…

Now, as a Vietnam virgin, I had no idea there was any nightlife to speak of in Vietnam, let alone the kind that might put you in a bind in an international airport the following morning. But anyone who’s visited Vietnam before will quickly tell you that the underground ex-patriot party scene is rivaled by few and replicated by none.

Except maybe Morocco. But that’s another story entirely.

Pretty much anything goes at night in Vietnam including buying beers for the equivalent of $0.75 USD and shot-gunning them in the street. And because it was our first night in town, we thought we should make the most of it. Long story short (but several beers later), the last picture I remember taking was of me leaning over a very unconscious, very uncomfortable-looking stranger’s body giving a double thumbs-up to the camera.


Needless to say, the next morning I was in real physical and emotional pain.

I was, as one of my teammates used to say, on the Struggle Bus. In fact, I was driving the Struggle Bus. And I drove that damn bus straight into a wall, which I conveniently hit the next morning while at the airport.

Here’s the thing about the Ho Chi Minh City airport. Nothing. Goes. Quickly. And, if you happen to be with a group of over 30 students and teachers from the United States, it goes even… less… quickly.

Our team leader wanted to keep everyone together in case, for some unforeseeable (seemingly impossible) reason, things started to move faster. So there I was, nursing a hangover than would make any Irishman shudder, and I couldn’t do anything about it. All I wanted to do was die. Alone. In the bathroom. Now.

So naturally I asked if I could go. And naturally, the answer was no.

Believe it or not, the embarrassing part of this story is not the hangover with which I awoke that morning. Rather, it was the complete disregard with which I treated our leader.

Whatever energy remained inside my severely dehydrated and undernourished body was being devoted to standing and breathing rather than thinking and speaking. So instead of using any emotional intelligence whatsoever to plead for a moment’s peace from the airport check-in, I threw a huge fit about being 25, and plenty old enough to go to the bathroom alone, and I would be fine, and it would only take 5 minutes, and if you would have just let me go already, I could already be back by now!

I even annoyed myself!

After what seemed like ages, she finally, and begrudgingly, allowed me to go. As I walked away I looked back and saw the face of a defeated woman. And while I was in the bathroom, I had a come-to-Jesus moment about my behavior.

I guess that’s what airport bathrooms are for…

Anyway, I realized that I had been truly awful to this poor woman whose sole mission on earth at that moment was to look out for my safety, keep me on schedule, and get me to Cambodia.

Terrible person, right?


She didn’t have anything to do with the fact that I’d personally carved a tiny hole in my liver and potentially taken at least six months off of my lifespan the night before. And she certainly didn’t deserve to bear the brunt of my hanger and fatigue.

(Hanger= hunger + anger. I know you already know it. Just spread it.)

So when I got back to the group, I went straight up to her, put down my pride and self-loathing, and apologized.

Apparently all she had wanted that day was another person to commiserate, because she unloaded an entire day’s worth of anxiety on me like I was a personal therapist. Turns out, she had never intended to lead the group and had been asked that very morning to fill in. She was frazzled to the point of exhaustion and my little 5-year-old bathroom tantrum hadn’t helped.

But surprisingly enough, my apology did.

The stress melted from her face, and she smiled for the first time all day. I hadn’t completely eradicated the necessity for worry or the effects of my actions, but I had shown her that she wasn’t alone and that it might just all work out.

By the end of the trip, she and I recognized that we were actually kindred spirits, and we remain good friends to this day.

Now, I told you that story, to tell you this one. Someone had been watching this entire interaction, from beginning to end, all the while taking note of my actions. She had seen me progress from petulant child to penitent adult in the span of ten minutes (and luckily disregarded the hangover). And while you might think she was disgusted or even ambivalent, I’m happy to tell you the opposite.

She was impressed.

Two days later, in the middle of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, this woman told me that she had seen my antics in the airport. While I had guessed that would be the natural end of our conversation, it was just the beginning. She surprised me by explaining how impressed she was with my actions. In her eyes I was someone who could fall down but get up, screw up but apologize, and never forget to treat people like people—that was a girl she wanted to talk to!

More importantly for me, that was a girl she wanted to work with.

Sometimes in life, all it takes is one person to notice one action. And that one observation is enough to set amazing things into motion.

My observer, Topy, happened to be the former senior editor of the LA Times and current curator for the British Museum. She is an accomplished writer with a collection of friends around the world and a penchant for connecting them to promising young professionals. She is the only person who has ever been able to articulate my passion for creating positive change, my belief in the dignity and agency of all people, and my need to share and spread ideas even before I could define them for myself. She is the real reason this website came to be.

And I almost ruined our relationship before it even began. All because of a hangover.

She and I worked together for the next few months to figure out just how I would go about chasing my goal of impacting the world in a positive way. Her diligence and her willingness to make connections on my behalf made this website, my pipedream and item number four on my bucket list, a reality.

From there, six degrees of connections and conversations connected Vietnam and the tracytimm.com.

See if you can count them all.

My Vietnam observer Topy introduced me to her close personal friend in New York City. Tara, the ultimate connector, set up three separate lunches for us while I was in Manhattan. During one of those meals, I met a young woman named Jen who works for a tech start-up that facilitates classes in technology, business, and design. She invited me to a workshop on business development taught by Brian, a savvy entrepreneur who also turned out to be an all-around nice and helpful guy. He encouraged me to share my ideas in the form of a blog, and introduced me to Wayne, a talented brand designer who saw my vision and helped me get started. That introduction happened the same day I purchased my domain name and tracytimm.com was born.

Thus, the six degrees of me!

And it all started way back in that airport in Vietnam, with one action, one observation, one conversation—and the rest is history.

I guess now I have a reason to be thankful for hangovers.


Where does your story start? More importantly, who does it start with?

I believe that every greatness we enjoy right now can be traced back to one person, conversation, or observation that provided a turning point in our lives. I’d love to hear if you believe this, too.

Did this story resonate with you? Or did it make you think of a story of your own? Share your story in the comments below.

Because sharing stories an instinctual, powerful way to touch the hearts of others and change the world around us.

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  1. topy fiske   On   27 Dec 2015 at 5:18 am

    Well, well, how nice to see you are on your way. I did not know about the web site until a former Lifelong Learner turned me onto it. What are you up to?

    xoxo Topy

    • tracy   On   30 Dec 2015 at 12:44 am

      TOPY! Oh… my… goodness! I’ve been thinking about you so much lately! Can’t believe it’s taken 2 years… I should have sent this to you right away! I’ll email you, and we can catch up. All my love! -TT

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