Living Life Without Escape Routes

The sun had, finally, completely disappeared, taking my last hope of making it to the campsite in daylight with it. I pulled my bike over to the side of the road as I tried to not totally freak out. An occasional car passed me but the road was mostly clear. The weather was unquestionably perfect, a clear, star speckled sky above me, and the strong winds from earlier had died down. I had lights, crappy ones that had a questionable amount of charge, but still lights. I’d been forced to spontaneously reroute twice already, but I was familiar with the roads and according to my phone I had less than 7 miles to go. Still, even with all these things going for me, the loudest thought in my head was “Call someone. Quit. This is just too dangerous, too dumb, you’re too unprepared.” I knew calling someone meant game over, I’d be bailing out. The idea tempted me until I realized the closest person I could call was still nearly a 2-hour drive away. I had basically one option: keep riding, finish what I had started. I was on my own

I had always labeled myself as ‘independent’ but as I rode on in the dark I began to question the authenticity of that claim. My situation was far from dire, but my instinct, the second things got uncomfortable and I was forced to rely on myself, was to look for the closest escape route. For someone who seemed so confident in their self-proclaimed independence, I felt unnerved by how easily I became disconcerted and untrusting in my own capabilities. I’d been planning to visit a friend abroad where I’d be primarily traveling alone in a country I’d never been to, and also toying with the idea of hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail, never once questioning whether I was independent enough to handle the challenges those experiences might present. This, here on my bike, miles from home, miles from help, with everything I needed precariously tied on to my bike with bungee cords, I realized, felt like the first time I’d done something where I really didn’t have an escape route. There was no one else to count on, no one else to blame, no one else to come bail me out. This whole time, I hadn’t really been independent, I had just gotten really good at planning escape routes

Independence is taking responsibility for yourself. But, escape routes are expecting someone or something else to take over that responsibility. Escape routes can be found in all areas of our lives. It’s not just calling someone to come get you or bail you out when a solo adventure gets unexpectedly difficult. It’s letting yourself off the hook because things got uncomfortable. It’s using other people to avoid confronting your own problems. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve explained away a mistake at work by blaming it on a difficult customer, or excused a bad grade because “I just had SO much going on.” I’ve sent texts to friends complaining about how bad my day was going, expecting them to be the ones to put in the effort to cheer me up. These are all escape routes. They block us from taking chances and learning from mistakes, from taking responsibility for ourselves, from being truly independent.

Being independent isn’t the same thing as being self-reliant. It’s being confident in your ability to be self-reliant, but also knowing when to ask for help — and knowing you’ll still be ok if the answer is ‘no’. It’s putting yourself in new environments and being prepared to handle whatever things (inevitably) go wrong. It’s owning up to mistakes, to emotions, and being able to look at situations and understand how you played a role in the outcome. Sometimes, we still have to bail or are forced to call it quits, and sometimes it really is someone else’s fault. But escape routes are planning for that outcome and using it to free yourself of any liability. Indepence is being honest with ourselves and facing our reality.

I did eventually make it to my campsite. Alive, exhausted, and exhilarated. Fear and uneasiness stayed lodged firmly inside me for most of the night, but my new found confidence kept me moving forward. The discomfort I felt, being in this strange and new situation, didn’t even come close to the discomfort of realizing I hadn’t really been living something I considered to be one of my core values. So I made a promise to myself, one I hope you’ll make to yourself as well, to look for what escape routes I’d carefully constructed in my life, for what goals I’d dismissed
because they didn’t have an easy out, and to reclaim responsibility for myself.

To live a life without escape routes.