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On Being A Trailblazer

What being a trailblazer really means.

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My daughter likes to tuck her pants into her socks. It may have started lackadaisically — not caring enough to fix her socks after putting them on after her pants — but has grown into a style.

She was recently going around with her pants proudly tucked into her socks when another little girl approached her.

“I also like wearing my socks over my pants,” she said, “but my mom won’t let me.”

“My daddy says that too,” Petra responded, “but I don’t have to listen because he also tells me that I should be a trailblazer, and this is what being a trailblazer is like.”

That is what a trailblazer is like — almost by definition.

Last year whenever I was in Xiamen I would walk Petra to school in the morning and pick her up in the afternoon. There were no other distractions and this gave us the opportunity to talk. She would ask me to teach her things, so I’d tell her all about the ways of axles and plants and how buildings are made. It also gave her the opportunity to talk about the challenges that she’s facing.

One day, she told me how all the Chinese kids would hang out all together and how she would sometimes feel a little left out. She told me about ho the other kids didn’t want to do what she wanted to do and how she felt as if she had to do what they were doing to be included. It was then that I told her about being a trailblazer.

“If you go out and do what you want to do without caring if the other kids like it there is a good chance that they will follow you.”

She thought about this for a moment but didn’t quite grasp the concept. She brought it up again repeatedly over the following months, citing various examples and asking if that was being a trailblazer or not. They usually weren’t. But the result was that that word “trailblazer” took on perhaps undue prominence, as she seemed to take it as one of the core virtues to shoot for.

But as time went on and her understanding of language became more complex, the concept of being a trailblazer seemed to wear itself into her little psyche.

Petra does what Petra wants to do, she likes what she likes. She plays by herself in the sandbox in the rain because that’s just what she likes to do.

The result:

“You shouldn’t have told me to be a trailblazer, dada,” she said to me yesterday in Warsaw with a laugh, “because it’s led to a lot more not-listenings.”


“Momma, I’m going to wear what I think is nice because I’m a trailblazer and you can’t stop me from doing that.”

I guess she got it.

Filed under: China, Petra Hendele Adara Shepard, Travel Diary, Travel With Family

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3704 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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