An insane thought came to me the other day.
I sat alone with this thought for a while and wondered how valid my ideas truly were.
I concluded that far too many of us are living a pattern of escapism.
Where did this idea come from?
The idea that far too many of us are hiding away from the bigger issues that we need to confront derived mainly from my own usage of social media and how I hear others consume content.
Specifically, I think our love of Instagram sparked this idea.
Social media in general, and Instagram in particular, has become an unfortunate hub of comparison — mainly in a negative manner.
Scroll for several minutes on Instagram and the majority of the posts you’ll see involve someone traveling and/or posing near an exotic destination.
If you were to ask any of these people posting on Instagram why they travel so much, they’d immediately reply by saying they’re broadening their horizons or something similar (at least, that’s the response I generally get).
They’re becoming more “worldy” and cultured by learning about other people, other places, and other cultures.
However, I’d find myself always getting curious by these statements. While this is somewhat anecdotal, when I briefly lived in Japan, my entire perception of reality shifted.
Living with the Japanese and practicing what they believed in within their culture began to shift my perspectives on how I, as an American, view the world and how I go through each day.
To give some brief insight into my experiences, for about a month or so, I lived in several places in Japan.
For a few weeks, I lived in an Aikido dojo and experienced life as what’s called an Uchi-Deshi.
I served as an apprentice, trained daily, practiced living as the Japanese lived (to the extent that to this day I still habitually step lightly, still remembering a general exercise we’d practice), and cleaned around the dojo.
I say this because my trip to Japan was less about pleasure, photos, or showcasing where I’ve been.
It was a chance for personal development.
But why do I bring this up?
Well, the other day I posted a status on Facebook that I was almost certain would get responses.
[As a side note, it’s always interesting to see how certain types of posts such as personal development posts, positivity, and motivation only receive a small handful of reactions and comments. However, post something that challenges a belief or post something negative like politics or controversy and prepare to get flooded with comments]
I gently challenged the idea of traveling. I questioned if it was the best type of experience one should have in life.
Since college, I would often hear that traveling is the best thing that anyone could do for their lives.
Frequently, I see posts and statuses from people explaining why everyone should travel and see the world.
They dive into the reasons that traveling makes you a better person.
They explain that you’ll become a more interesting person with a new viewpoint of the world.
However, I challenge that notion entirely.
It is said that actions speak louder than words.
And typically, I find that the actions of those that travel frequently don’t reflect the actions of one that has been introspective or has had a shift in viewpoints and philosophies.
Sure, it could be that these new ideas just aren’t being expressed aloud.
However, I doubt that’s the case.
I think more often than not, many of the people that advocate heavily for travel remain the same.
Why do they stay the same? I’ll share my thoughts on that a bit later in this article.
[I do want to make it clear that I think traveling is great when he/she that is traveling does so with an open mind and is willing to learn even if it makes them uncomfortable. I certainly don’t believe that hopping on a plane somewhere or taking a road trip automatically provides you with new insights. I consider it the same as walking from your street to a street you’ve never been to. The act of going to a new neighborhood means nothing. However, if you were to talk to the people on that street or neighborhood and invest time into understanding who they are, you’ll likely discover you’ve gained new insights that you’ve never had before.]
I overall believe that for the majority of people in 2020, there are two reasons that cause most people to travel:
1. They seek validation
2. They seek pleasure
Neither of these things are bad by any means.
As humans, I believe we all seek validation and all deserve to have validation (when validation is earned).
The same idea applies to the concept of pleasure.
I believe we all deserve moments of pleasure in our lives (when earned).
However, excessive traveling, an excessive need for validation, and an excessive desire for pleasure (being hedonistic) causes me to believe something more unfavorable is taking place as an underlying issue.
My belief: if you have an extreme desire to excessively travel, you might be an escapist. Of course, escapism in itself, much like anything and everything we do, isn’t bad when applied in moderation.
However, when taken to excess, it creates a problem. Now, I don’t think travel is the only form of escapism.
Playing video games excessively, seeking validation every day from the opposite gender, binge-watching television, etc.
These are all forms of escapism in my opinion. These are distractions that pull us away from any challenges we need to face or issues we need to confront.
Consider this scenario, you work a 9–5 job from Monday to Friday.
The moment 5pm on Friday comes, you’re rushing out to prepare for the bars.
You’re doing drugs.
You’re buying the newest video games.
You’re using several days to escape from the reality that you don’t particularly enjoy your job (because if you like something, you typically don’t want to escape from it).
Or perhaps you have kids and you’re overwhelmed.
You toil day in and day out but you feel as though you’re missing out.
So you escape.
You escape to happy hour.
You escape to Italy for a week while your parents or spouse or babysitter watches your kids.
You’re escaping your realty and your problems.
The core of this article isn’t to attack traveling, having kids, jobs, or anything like that.
At its core, I consider this article to be a call to action.
We all have issues that we know we need to deal with. However, we choose not to do so because it’s difficult.
I believe we’re afraid of the response that may come with our actions.
But it is with a lack of action that we continue to feel unfulfilled.
Our inability to act leaves us unhappy and unsatisfied.
Everything I’ve mentioned so far stems mainly from experiences I’ve personally had regarding attempts to escape reality and not confront my problems.
When I was a Junior in college, I had bouts of what I believe to be depression.
I was never clinically diagnosed so I typically use the word depression loosely.
However, there were many days where I often felt negative, unhappy, and preferred to camp alone in my room, sometimes missing classes and skipping meals because I didn’t have enough energy to interact with anyone.
How did I react, I’d play video games endlessly.
When I could muster up the energy to interact with people, I’d play games in the pool hall I worked at while on the job.
And when I wasn’t there, I’d play games alone in my dorm room, hoping someone might call or text me and want to spend time with me (because at the time, I was also extremely lonely).
I was escaping.
I was unsatisfied.
However, rather than ask questions and figure out what could be wrong, I blamed others for my feelings.
I blamed my friends for not calling me or not knowing of more fun activities to do.
When I did poorly in classes, I blamed others for making me late or causing me to not going, rather than taking ownership and realizing I chose not to go.
When girls rejected me or saw me as strange or creepy, I blamed them for not realizing I was a good guy, rather than owning up to the fact that I didn’t understand women and simply sucked when it came to social skills.
I was escaping my problems and relying on small dopamine boosts when I should’ve confronted my issues head on and found productive ways to deal with them.
Now, I’ve gone deep into my ideas on escapism.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a big fan of it when taken to excess, which I think most Americans are guilty of.
Escapism can be great to temporarily raise your mood and shift into a positive state.
If you’re having an awful day due to circumstances that weren’t necessarily in your control, watching a TV show or two to get back into a positive mindset is amazing.
Making a habit of watching TV every single day, watching the same shows and episodes on repeat for years is not.
Drinking with a friend occasionally or celebrating a big event that happened is fine and acts as a great way to highlight situations that rarely occur. However, drinking or doing drugs every single weekend or every single day isn’t very productive and is likely doing far more harm than good.
It would be unreasonable to criticize something without providing some form of a solution.
So here are my two solutions that I think will allow you to move away from extreme escapism:
1. Take Immense Accountability and have Extreme Ownership of your actions
2. Challenge yourself
How to Be Accountable
Personal accountability and extreme ownership is a powerful thing. We often blame others for our problems without ever considering that we might be the cause of our issues (or at least a major contributor).
We blame our partners for never listening without considering that we might simply be ineffective communicators.
We blame our parents for any hardships we have in life without facing the reality that we were in charge of our lives and could have taken action regardless of their suggestions.
We criticize the government nonstop.
“Obama didn’t help us”.
“Trump isn’t helping us”.
We don’t take into consideration that we could simply help ourselves.
And, while I'm on the topic, how often do we help others?
It’s important to be accountable and to own our decisions — and understand that everything we do is a decision.
It all starts with being honest of your flaws and proceeding from there.
Of course, noticing the flaws you might have can be difficult.
How do we remedy this issue?
Seek brutal honesty from friends.
I’m sure we all have a friend that speaks their mind (in a reasonably objective manner).
Find that person, or people if you know of more than one, and ask for their feedback. Don’t necessarily ask a very close friend or a relative since they might be more interested in protecting your emotions.
Seek a very brutal and honest opinion.
How to Challenge Yourself
Once you discover your flaws and weaknesses, you need to work backward and figure out how to fix them.
This is done by consistent challenges to push your comfort zone and get you to the place where you want to be.
Don’t make excuses when it comes to these challenges.
Simply do the challenges frequently until you begin to see an objective change.
As an example, back in college I was extremely shy and lacked an insane level of confidence in myself.
I found it very difficult to speak authoritatively and maintain eye contact with anyone.
How did I challenge myself?
While working at a gas station in college, I’d make a challenge to maintain eye contact with people whenever they approached the counter for as long as I could.
Initially, I could only maintain eye-contact for a moment.
Later, I could increase it to 5 seconds.
And then I’d try to maintain eye contact with people far more intimidating than myself.
Then the challenge became to find women I thought were very attractive and maintain eye contact with them whenever I interacted with them.
Over time, the challenges were tweaked but I’m sure you understand the point.
Make challenges to fix your flaws and tweak them appropriately.
Much like working out at the gym, it all comes to reps and sets.
You won’t be great initially but you can get better over time.
I truly think challenges are extremely underrated.
I find that many people enjoy comfort to an insanely high degree (which leads to escapism).
We resist when a challenge is placed before us.
We tell ourselves that we could do it if we wanted.
Like I said before, actions speak louder than words.
Don’t say you can do something and validate yourself.
Show what you can do and then let the completion of the act speak for itself.
Challenges bring fulfillment and happiness in my opinion.
An excessively hedonistic lifestyle leads to a lack of true fulfillment.
This is much like the drug dealer or alcoholic that needs his/her fix consistently.
When they’re not drunk or high, something feels missing.
Once they get that “hit” or that dopamine rush, they feel satisfied.
But the feeling is temporary.
Eventually, they return to their baseline and desire that next fix.
An addict may justify or minimize the severity of their addictions.
However, at the end of the day, they know that deep down, they need that rush because without it, they’re forced to confront the other issues they have, whatever those issues might be.
My overall objective in writing this article hopefully allows anyone reading this to think more critically about their lives.
Some of you reading this might think that I’m attacking your beliefs, values, or activities you enjoy.
That is not my intent by any means.
I often think far too many of us (and I was once guilty of this myself) simply act without purpose.
We blindly follow the guidance of our family or peers or do whatever we’re told without question.
Due to all of the perspectives and suggestions we take in and follow unconsciously, we set off on a journey to nowhere.
I challenge you to shift your perspective if you find yourself negatively thinking about reality and the world around you.
Don’t feel as though you need to escape.
Live in the present and confront the issues you have with yourself and with others.