My roommates revealed to me one day that they talk about the day that they will have to retrieve me from the woods.
I was confused. Why was I going to the woods?
My roommates told me that they had a theory that one day I was going to disappear in to the woods for seven years and that one day they were going to have to come find me and bring me back to civilization. They had even discussed my disheveled appearance and ragged but immense beardly creation extruding from my face. It comes up nearly once a week as “The Day We Lose Dylan To The Woods”.
The fact that my personality gives shape to the idea of a man who thrusts off the cloak of society and spends quality time working on his facial hair prowess in the wooded north is, perhaps, less concerning to me than it should be. I do, to be honest, fantasize about escape. But don’t we all? Of the very roommates who prognosticated my Thoreauish departure, two I have had to talk down from escaping their lives. One comes to me regularly with determinations to quit her job and get lost in Europe for a while or “just drive” through the U.S. and see what happens. Another I had to convince less than a year ago not to move back to Texas. Texas. No one wants to move to Texas. That’s like leaving the Bahama’s to summer in Satan’s asshole, it’s just poor planning.
We, humans, almost habitually long to escape. But why? The old cliche of the grass always being greener on the other side encapsulates but doesn’t explain this urge. The urge the that you very may take hold when you’re driving alone late at night and see your exit rapidly approaching; that urge to not flip on your signal, not merge right, not drive the same road to the same home and the same life that you have. The urge to… escape.
What does escape mean to us? Where are we escaping to? What horrors have driven us to flee?
That answer depends on you. There is no universal language to escape fantasies. Although you might be able to find some hints within the structure of your planned escape. Katherine Everitt-Newton of Cognitus UK writes:
I have a Coach friend who tells me that in the early days of setting up her practice her escape fantasy was to become a Teacher. So what does that tell us about the pain points in her life? Teachers have regular hours, steady pay checks, long holidays and a planned routine. As a new business owner all these things were missing from her life.
If you fantasize about going back home, you may miss the security and safety of not having to scramble and stress about money, career and life. Dream of blowing past that exit sign and pedaling to the metal out into the great beyond, you probably feel stuck in your job or relationship and that you aren’t gaining any momentum or have options for change. Do you dream of rubbing butter on John McCain’s face and then slowly licking it off? Then you probably should drink less.
I can try to read the tea leaves of your mind, but in truth only you know why the idea of ditching your life for another feels so good. Even if you do decipher the coded mind-message, what are you suppose to do about it? If you secretly crave security do you run home? Work endlessly? Find a sugar momma/daddy to provide for you? Sell you self on the street?
Maybe. Yes. No. Maybe. I’m actually not great at providing any answers and one of the problems with trying to restructure your life is that you can never really be sure until you try. I’m not telling you to start selling yourself right away to “see how it goes”, but there’s only so much you can theorize about. Honestly, the answer might be to just sit it out and wait. Sometimes stress comes in waves and if this insatiable escape urge flared up due to a recent project or event… chill. It may pass as quickly as your current stress point. However, if your urge to run away is chronic and strong, it may be time to take stock of the situation.
Remember: it’s OK to indulge in these escape fantasies in tiny ways. After all, what is a movie but a little two hour break from your life to go play in someone else’s. If making sure you can chill out on your lunch break and watch a mini-marathon of robots punching each other will make you happy, be sure to make time for these things.
Just be careful that you don’t let movies or TV or books or terrible celebrity magazines become a binge addiction that sates but doesn’t solve the problem. According to ratings gathered by the Nielsen Company, Americans on average watch about 34 hours a week of television. That’s a second job. I’ll try not to step too heavily on the soapbox of denouncing entertainment, but if we are dedicating as much time to Family Guy as our careers then I fear we, as a society, aren’t great at being happy with our lives. That’s my heavily biased opinion, though. Perhaps the average American works over 40 hours a week for the pure luxury of watching Real Housewives of Alabama for another thirty. Yet, if you’ve identified with this article, you’re still having escape fantasies despite the How I Met Your Mother marathons.
So what can be done? Well if waiting and mini-escapes aren’t dissuading the escape fantasy, you might consider quitting. Just quit.
This runs somewhat counter to the old Vince Lombardi cliche of “winners never quit and quitters never win” that has so heavily saturated our collective psyche, but sometimes it’s best to throw in the towel if you dislike what you’re doing. There’s a definite upside to quitting, elegantly put forth in this Freakonomics podcast. It’s true that success is primarily a product of hard work and dedication, but that doesn’t mean you need to keep dedicating yourself to the thing you’re doing. The truth is: People have a really hard time quitting things. The “sunk cost fallacy” is a common problem humans have of dealing with resources lost. You can see this with people who have bought a non-refundable movie ticket and then later decide they don’t really want to see the movie. Often, people will go even though they have zero desire to watch the movie because otherwise they would be “wasting that money”. The problem is: if the movie will be hateful, they are really tacking on a waste of time and the cost of their enjoyment to the sunk costs of the ticket.
We make these excuses for careers and relationships as well. It’s hard to change course when you’ve already spent years of time, money and effort doing what you’ve been doing. It feels like if you do quit, all of those expended resources will be lost forever. The reason it’s called a fallacy is that those things are lost whether you stay on the current course or not. It’s the time and effort you spend moving forward that is important. If you look down the road and don’t like the destination or the road very much. Quit.
I can’t tell you if quitting in the best option. Perhaps it is a nightly regimen of celebrity magazines and chardonnay (or in my case, a wheel of cheese and rubbing myself vigorously with cocoa butter). The point is to remember you have options. If you’re dreaming of escape, you feel trapped in your life. What will give you a sense of freedom again? There’s nothing wrong with running, but just make sure you’re running towards a solution as opposed to running away from a problem.
If you don’t find a better solution, you can always meet me in the woods and we can have a beard growing contest.