Escapism: the Dirty Word that Keeps Us Doing What We Loathe

This is part 1 of 5 on a series about my journey. Tomorrow stay tuned for Making the Time and Money Connection.

Escapism, motivation, proving people wrong, Spain, worldwide travel

Escapism: n. The tendency to escape from daily reality or routine by indulging in daydreaming, fantasy, or entertainment.

I received this comment on my post 8 Things:

“Traveling is good if you enjoy traveling, you might also want to consider finding a career that you enjoy doing. Then there will not be a need for such escapism. I enjoy traveling, but also enjoy my work.” (Emphasis added).

Wait. Is this guy calling my entire endeavor nothing more than escapism? In case this ever happens to you, I want to tell you exactly what to do. Look this person in the eye, and calmly say: “Yes, you are right.” Then walk away. They won’t understand anything else, because to them the rules have been set. This is a zero sum game. If you decide to not play the game at all, you’ve lost.

You see he is right, just not for the reasons he thinks– I’m taking escapism to the next level. I’m not just hanging a picture of a beach in Thailand on my cubicle wall. That’s escapism. I’m upping the ante: I’m escaping my escapism. Let me explain…

Escapism is the symptom

If you want to find a bunch of people dreaming about things that are not real, look no further than any American workplace. I should know, I was a black belt in Living in the Future. I knew if I just hung in there, worked hard, moved up, made more money, switched companies, organized my desk better, read more Harvard Business School case studies on teamwork or understood my bosses motivations better– I too would have a big old steaming hunk of the American Dream.

And I did. I got it. I ate it up, and asked for seconds.

When I finally landed that dream job, I looked around and thought, “Is this it?”

So yes, I decided to pull a Houdini and unlock the strait jack and swim out of the box. I am redesigning my life around the things that I love. Travel, writing and photography. Learning new languages, trying new food. There isn’t a job for this, I am creating one. (I searched Monster for “professional vagabond“ and they think I‘d have better luck if I broadened my search. No thanks, Monster).

Back to Reality

There is another part of escapism that is implied– the temporary nature of the relief that it provides. The unspoken concern is that you will take this flying leap of faith and promptly land on your face. You can’t run away from yourself, as they say. The problem with this type of logic is that it is very poor at predicting the future and even worse as a guiding principle. If everyone took this advice, the human race would be very boring indeed. We’d never take risks, we would never grow, and we’d be exactly where we started, year after year.

I won’t presume to equate my journey with anyone else’s, but in some ways I do hope I fail on some things. I want to find out what I love and don’t love in the world. I want to be challenged. Plus it makes for a great story:

New England Woman Moves to Spain, Promptly Bursts into Flames, Proves Everyone Right.

What do you think? Is it running away or running towards something?

35 Comments

  1. Chad @ Sentient Money

    Definitely both. However, I don’t like the phrase, running away. It is very negative and implies a failure of some sort. I would never consider it failure to want to leave corporate America. Seriously, how can anyone truely enjoy the mind numbing day to day work? I honestly feel dumber from the years of cubicle hell.

    I like the pharse, running towards, as it suggests a goal is being accomplished. The key is that it’s YOUR goal. Not “mid-level manager” Bob’s goal or Susan “I matter manager’s” goal. 80% of the population gladly accepts being told what, how, when, and the why of their lives, so they don’t generally react with real thought when they find out someone is actually taking control over their own life and working towards a concious life goal.

  2. Great post to start off my Monday!

    I’m from the school of thought that enjoying what you do and being born to do what you do are two separate things.

    I enjoy my job. No question. Was that the reason I was born???.

    So until you’re truly living your passions and what you were born to do, you will always keep reevaluating your circumstances, even if its a great job that meets all your needs and you enjoy.

    Long story short: You have to run away from what you think you should be doing and run towards what you know you need to be doing.

    Lolas last blog post..Postcard: Skip to ma loo!

  3. Christine- Great! I think that the commenter’s reaction was his own internalized fear or anxiety. I’ve met LOADS of people who say, “Well, maybe a life like yours is good for you, but I could NEVER do that.” My response to that is, “Sure you could; you just think you can’t.”

    What puzzles me about people like the commenter is why they feel that their reality has to be your reality. That’s wonderful that the guy loves his job and loves to travel and has achieved what appears to be a perfect balance for him. For some of us, though, that’s not enough, and that’s ok, too.

    So many people believe that when we step into professional vagabond lifestyles (I call myself a professional dilettante, by the way), we somehow no longer work or no longer need to. I work more now than I ever have, but the line between work and the rest of life becomes increasingly blurred, which is good. I love it all.

    Ok. This could easily turn into an article-long rant, so I’ll stop. Francisco, by the way, said “She has a great sense of humor” when I read this out loud.

    Julies last blog post..Guys’ Guide to the Perfect Cigar

  4. I think you’re right in your advice just to walk away, end the conversation. Some people will never understand, and is arguing with them what you really want to do? Probably not. In the end, I think that we each just get one life (so far as we know) and we should do what we can to make that life the best it can be. What that means is different for each person, but instead of judging people’s lifestyle choices, we should strive harder to make sure at the end of the line, we can each look back and say that personally we did it the way we wanted to.

    Theresas last blog post..Nature? Nurture? Neither?

  5. In my new found love for writing non-sense, I wrote something regarding why I’m leaving and how even if I don’t fully understand why I’m doing what I’m doing, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m doing it, even if others question my motives or reasons for leaving for “such a long time”. (Ahem, its nine weeks, not nine years). Your not indulging in a fantasy. A fantasy is something that isn’t real. I think Madrid is very real. Why, I’ve been there three times. I think whatever reason your doing your trip should only matter to you.

    @ Julie: I get told the same thing. “Maybe that is good for you, not me.” Ok, keep pumping that mortgage! Ahhh, being young and single is soooooo nice haha.

    Anthonys last blog post..Awaiting an answer from Miami

  6. Travel, writing, and photography. Learning new languages and trying new foods. We might be the same person…vagabond twins separated at birth, if you will. :)

    My husband and I are also saving up for a RTW trip. We’ll be leaving in a year, year and a half! I can’t wait!

    But, I also don’t think it’s escapism, but I’m not escaping from anything. I really love the life I have now, but I also know I’ll love traveling.

    Kyles last blog post..Do I Really Speak Fluent Spanish?

  7. That’s AWESOME. Perfect Monday post, I agree.

    I once attended a seminar where the lead speaker portrayed the typical worker as a hamster on a wheel. Every once in a while -DING!- he’d get to ring the bell when the weekend came. Or maybe -DING!DING!- a weeklong vacation somewhere nice. And then right back to running in the wheel. The visual of that guy trotting on stage impersonating a hamster has really stayed with me.

    I guess maybe it’s good that there are enough “Mid-level Manager Bob” types out there to keep that Big Ol’ Amerkin Dream machine [hamster wheel] running so those of us with a bit more creativity can get out and do what we really want. What kind of chaos and anarchy might ensue if everyone led the life of their dreams??? 😉

  8. I couldn’t agree with the article more! Although my trip won’t be for another year and half to two. For me, I want to travel the world because I love traveling, photography, different cultures, foods, and I would love to fulfilled this dream I have since I was a kid!

  9. Christine

    Hey everyone! Thanks for all the great comments! I’m off now to read everyone’s latest blog posts….

  10. Hurrah! Good for you for taking the reigns of your life! It is so brilliant of you to escape escapism.

    As my friend Mona commented to someone before she left for the Peace Corps “I’m not running away from anything, I’m running to something.”

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  13. First off, you’re a terrific writer. Very engaging. For as long as you continue writing, you can be sure I will be reading. :)

    Running away? From what? Your “responsibility” to society? Yeah, whatever. What’s that supposed to really mean? There are no real steadfast rules in life, just the ones corporations and the government make up for their own benefit. If you want to move to the top of a mountain and hum for the rest of your life, so be it. If you feel like spending your best years advancing your “career” and “making something of yourself”, knock yer socks off. Your never going to justify this to the people that don’t understand, so why bother.

    Besides, exactly who IS taking score? Your peers? Your parents? Are they angry and incredulous? Most people don’t much like it when you decide you don’t want to play the game laid out for you anymore. They get all pouty and nasty. They go through the 5 stages of grief and normally get stuck in the depression stage.

    Plus, you’re also inadvertently saying to them that you know what life’s all about and they don’t. And really, between me and you … you DO know. You get it on a higher level than they do. Sure, there a few people who love their jobs, but the operative word is ‘few’. Most people might like the people they hang with on the job, but the job itself? Making money for a corporation or working for the government? Blah. If you’re doing things that change the world, don’t get me wrong – that might be a cool job, but very, very rare.

    Travel, writing, languages, photography, food … very cool & noble pursuits. I personally like adventures – cool, crazy things that happen because you took the road less traveled that become the stories that make up my life. My kids will remember out adventures forever.

    Alfred Lord Tennyson – best poet and poem (snippet) ever:

    I am a part of all that I have met;
    Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
    Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
    For ever and for ever when I move.
    How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
    To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
    As tho’ to breathe were life. Life piled on life
    Were all too little, and of one to me
    Little remains: but every hour is saved
    From that eternal silence, something more,
    A bringer of new things; and vile it were
    For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
    And this gray spirit yearning in desire
    To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
    Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

    http://home.att.net/~tennysonpoetry/uly.htm

  14. I’m escaping my escapism <— quite true! Let’s all indulge in a little bit of that

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  20. Love this…my sentiments exactly. Finally, I’ve found a circle who mirrors my secret ambitions…the execution is the challenge but the dreaming is so easy…

  21. There was an expression on the cruise ship I worked on in 1994: “Everyone here is running to something, or running away from something.” We seem to have a difficult time accepting an alternate lifestyle choice simple because it feels right to us. Anyone who doesn’t sign on for a lifetime of misery is suspect; after all, if others can actually be happy, what’s wrong with us? It’s easier to criticize someone’s decision than to wish them well and hope we someday have the courage to take a chance.

    I quit my soul-draining middle manager job this year to freelance. This seemed to terrify many people at that organization. “You’re quitting? In this economy?” and “What about benefits?” and my favorite “Don’t you have a house?” Didn’t hear many “Good for you!” wishes, but I did hear a veiled version of that with “I would love to leave, but I can’t.” I asked a few people why they couldn’t, but the answers made me so depressed, I stopped asking. It’s amazing the lame reasons we rely on to make sure we stay miserable. One coworker actually said it was because her boyfriend needed dental work, so she had to continue to work. Yikes. That’s the relationship equivalent of “the dog ate my homework.”

    After weeks of explaining my decision, I went the way you did: I simply refused to engage any longer. As Pico Iyer said to those who said his life must be nice: “Yes, it is. I’m very happy.”

    mb

  22. Great post! For me, escapism is a state of mind, not a state of being, or place. When I’m at home too long, stuck in a rut, I start living in the “someday”s and “if only”s–become a black belt in living in the future, as you put it. When I’m traveling, I’m immersed in the present, cannot escape the immediacy of where I am and what I’m doing.

    Most of the people I hear talking about travel as escapism are people that don’t travel. They don’t have that unexplainable passion, that incurable drive, those forever-itchy feet—so maybe for them, traveling would be escapism. But for me, and for those who’ve been bitten by the bug, it’s the time I feel most alive.

    Thanks again for this.

  23. great article…

    “When I finally landed that dream job, I looked around and thought, “Is this it?”

    this is exactly what i felt and triggered me to left my last job and traveled…
    .-= flip´s last blog ..Flip’s New Year’s Resolution =-.

  24. I’m a bit slow to find your blog, but I’m so pleased I have.

    This article is such a wonderful articulation of what I’ve been experiencing at the moment. Everyone seems to have a really tough time getting their minds around the idea that I don’t see ‘settling down’ as an option. They can’t quite grasp the idea that my main motivator in my life choices is to be happy. They’re all very uncomfortable with the idea of not having a house/family/pension fund.

    Here in the UK, adventure isn’t encouraged. There is the accepted path (university – career -marriage – kids – retirement – death) which we are brainwashed into believing is the only option out there. Taking an alternative route requires strengh of character and conviction in your beliefs. Having other bloggers out there, like you, who feel the same is invaluable in reassuring me that the ‘alternative lifestlye’ is a possbility not just a dream.
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..A little poetry on a Friday – Working the 9-5 and TGIF =-.

  25. Indeed. My life-mantra has always been:

    “This surely ain’t a dress rehearsal folks!”

    Thus… waaaaay back in the mid 80’s I opted to quit my corporate climb up the quintessential career ladder (despite loving my job, my boss, my coworkers) – and start my own little business guiding small group trips to Belize (a lovely land that few had even HEARD of back then, and furthermore – if you believed the nightly news – was verily set amid a civil war complete w/ machine-gun-toting contras – uh, can you spell U-T-T-E-R N-O-N-S-E-N-SE?)

    Fast-forward 20+ years, and… as a retired sexagenarian, I’m STILL happily backpacking the globe.
    .-= Global Granny´s last blog ..Bhutan Blasphemy! =-.

  26. What’s actually wrong with escaping from something that’s killing you?

  27. Just stumbled upon this site and I am in love. Exactly what I needed to read at the moment.

    I’ve long held the belief that many of us are so unhappy with our lives that we’re subconsciously killing ourselves through over-eating, lack of sleep, using drugs and alcohol as escapism, and generally wearing ourselves too thin (financially or schedule-wise). We spend so much of our time numbing the feelings we don’t like or over-doing it in things that will kill us, that we’re not even really living.

    What you’re doing is not killing you. It’s making you feel more alive. I applaud you for that.

    It often feels like the majority of people I know don’t see the world the way I do. That makes me feel crazy sometimes, like I’m not pursuing the “right” things. Thanks for creating an environment where like-minded people can connect and be inspired and encouraged.

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  29. If you’re still on the fence: grab your favorite earphones, head down to a Best Buy and ask to plug them into a Zune then an iPod and see which one sounds better to you, and which interface makes you smile more. Then you’ll know which is right for you. Webmaster of the php framework

  30. Excellent, excellent post!

    No matter what anybody says, you did the right thing. It is so great to read about someone else who was willing to give up everything they had, in the pursuit of true happiness.

    People no doubt think you’re crazy, but really, who’s the crazy one? Too many of us go around living the lives we think we’re supposed to. For some reason we ignore what it is that makes us truly happy.

    The world needs more people with your outlook on life. We all know life is precious. We only get one chance, so we might as well enjoy it.

    Thank you very much for this post and for everything that you have done, are doing and will do. Good luck with all your future travels!

  31. Haha, I LOVE that your advice is just to nod and walk away. Ok, so maybe I love it because it’s what I tend to do to my more conventional friends and acquaintances when they don’t understand. First, I try to explain my reasoning, but if they don’t get it, I just agree and walk away. I’m still going to do what I think is best. Not everyone needs to approve.

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  34. While I sit here, reading the blog as well as the equally inspiring comments followed. I think to myself, “I am really glad I stumbled here in my search.”

    I am not a blogger myself, nor a writer. For some time I liked considering myself like that of a writer. I also had growing thoughts of writing a book on how misunderstood psychology is and how bias nearly all perspectives are in that regard. However, aside from my schooling, it wasn’t really what I wanted. No matter how many social arguments I engaged at random to help understand the circumstances given at the time and explain morality of things… Nothing got across.

    All I managed to help with, was allowing those I engaged with to lash out at me making them feel better about themselves. In the same process claiming that I know very little and was merely blabbering to make me sound smart (which was nearly always that very response from others in the midst of any debate beginning to go sour on a personal level). So I thought, why even bother writing a book on a similar sense of mind-set. This isn’t what I want. I also don’t want to work mindlessly while my youth is sucked away to the benefit of those I work for, for what? A pay grade barely viable to live by? ha…

    Thank you all for this courageous reminisce as to why I’m so stressed on figuring out what to live my life by, and how to seek happiness through such.

    I hope sooner than later, I can figure out a passion which suits me best to my hearts content. =]

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