“Is that letter slightly bigger than the others? This means something!” I look back at the rest of the team to see if anyone is acknowledging my brilliant idea. They don’t care. Probably for good reason as I’ve been stuck at this map for 15 minutes arbitrarily choosing things I think could be a clue, while providing shakily defended reasons why I’m totally sure I’m right this time. Everyone is busy in their own section of the room, rifling through guns, writing down every number and letter combination they can find, trying to find a way to get up to the vent on the ceiling, staring at the keypad on the wall, willing it to give away its secrets and get us the hell out of here.

The panic starts to set in. Our inevitable failure is evident and we’re wondering where it all went wrong. If other people can figure out how to get out of here, how is it that six awesome, intelligent people like us can’t? We were going to lose at the escape room and would have to hang our heads in shame on our way out the door.

Fortunately for us, our host felt sorry for our sad state of frantic attempts and quickly growing aura of defeat, and started giving us free clues. For a quick introduction to escape rooms, they are live action puzzle games, where you get locked into a themed room (like a space station, jungle ruins, or in our case, a terrorist camp) and have to figure out how to escape by solving clues that lead to an answer on how to get out. You’ll likely have a few free hints that you can get from the host by waving at the security camera, but after that they start to cost you time. We didn’t have any more time to spend. So with the clock winding down he started sending us messages through the terrorist’s computer, the intention behind the words clear: “This is really straight-forward you guys.”

Once we got the hint we went into full on “We can do it!” mode and started putting the pieces together as quickly as we could. Running from place to place, shouting across the room “June 18th! 618! Six One Eight! Tokyo! Tookkkyoo!!” we were able to input the right code into the keypad with less than a minute to spare. Slightly embarrassed but elated from what was still technically a victory, we joyfully appreciated our freedom with heads held high.

Since no time with the family is complete without some serious self reflection, I can look back and realize how nicely being stuck in a fake terrorist camp frantically trying to figure out who they’re going to attack next so you won’t end up a loser, lends itself to some helpful metaphors about life.

“Our whole life is solving puzzles.” – Erno Rubik

1. Just because you’ve been doing something for a long time doesn’t mean you need to keep doing it.

Sometimes you’re just creating busy work for yourself so you can feel like you’re making progress. Sometimes you’re just looking for distractions so you don’t have to admit you don’t know what you’re doing. I spent definitely way too much time trying to force connections where there weren’t any because I didn’t know what else to do. I needed to be doing something because I couldn’t just do nothing. It was a perfect example of the many times that we (just assuming you’re like me here) keep doing something that hasn’t gotten us anywhere, and never will get us anywhere, because it’s what we’ve decided to do and we think we can’t just stop now.

It’s so easy to get caught up in a loop that does us no good, simply because we feel committed to it. You stick with it because you’ve been sticking with it for so long, you’ve agreed to being the person who does this thing. That’s it, that’s who I am, I’m the one who does this. Most likely this is something you agreed to without even realizing it, and now you’re only still doing it for fear of looking stupid to the people who you think care. By not opening up to other possibilities, you are restricting yourself, possibly to continue working on the same problem over and over again, never finding a solution.

Don’t be afraid to move on. If you are finding yourself cycling without getting anywhere, maybe it’s time to stop. Or maybe you just need to step back and let it go for a little while, see what happens. Maybe the answer was there all along and all you had to do was be patient enough for it to be revealed.

2. The answer was there the whole time, you just didn’t know how to look.

Somewhere within the room with thousands of things that could possibly be clues, the answer is already there. You just don’t know how to find it yet. There are a lot distractions to mislead you, a lot of useless information that can take you off track, but the solution has never been somewhere else. It’s always there, in your room with you, waiting for you to discover it.

Our own answers are always there, to whatever questions we can throw out to the Universe. If we can think it, it exists. You could be staring it at this whole time and not know; how can you find it if you don’t know what you’re looking for? Whether you want to escape your current situation or your own mind, the answer has always been there, but you’re going to have to determine what is important and what is distraction in order to find the keys that make a difference. You’re not going to find it by repeating the same actions over and over again, you will have to find a new perspective and ask the right questions in order to see it. You’re going to have to be patient and stay focused, but eventually the puzzle pieces will line up to reveal the way to escape.

3. You’re probably thinking too much.

The solution is likely easier than you think. After eventually discovering the way to actually read the board I had been diligently working at, it became clear that I had been wasting far too much time over-analyzing the possibilities instead of just waiting for a simple answer, one that ended up making much more sense.

Overthinking things is one of my great challenges, somewhere along the line I got it in my head that if I think about something enough the solution will come, but I’ve found that if you’re not thinking the right thoughts, all you will experience is a cluttered space with no way out. Questions don’t require 100 different thoughts in order to find the answer, but when you get down to the simplest form of what you’re trying to discover, you will find that’s all that you needed in the first place.

“A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts. So, he loses touch with reality and lives in a world of illusions.” – Alan Watts

If you’re thinking too many thoughts, you’re not letting the right one make its way to you, to enable you to wield the power of focus. It can be a useful practice to just stop thinking all together, when you suddenly find that you’re doing too much of it. Or ask a question instead. The answer is likely far less complicated than you think.

4. Focus on what you’re good at.

While everyone was discovering and putting into action the clues we found in the first part of the room (we were much better at this part, leading us to a false sense of our abilities in the second half) I sat back with helpful “Yeah, that looks good” and “Nice job”s and offering little of any real assistance into solving anything. But when a tunnel was revealed I knew it was my time to shine. No one else would want to crawl through there, but I could do it. The feeling of getting through the darkness and opening the door to let everyone else in probably made me a little more euphoric than it should have, but there’s nothing like knowing you were able to help your team.

Surround yourself with people who have different strengths and discover ways to let them shine. Discover yours and put it to good use. In this situation my strength might have only been “be small and not too claustrophobic” but no matter how insignificant your role may seem, you can always find a way to contribute something.  And it’s always better to do a fantastic job at your one little thing, than it is to do nothing at all.

“Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person. ” – R. Buckminster Fuller

5. You can’t force things.

“Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force.” – Lao Tzu

How many times are you going to try to force open the cabinet that says “Don’t force me open” on it? We knew the answer wasn’t to pull on it, it said so right there. And yet sometimes it’s too tempting to try to force something, when what you really need to do is just find the right key.

If you’re trying to get into some dark cabinet in your soul, forcefulness, stress, and repeatedly trying something that hasn’t worked yet, can somehow feel like the right way to approach it. Frustration lends itself to such unhelpful actions. Don’t push yourself too hard. If you’re feeling stuck, try looking for another way in. It can be vitally helpful to shift your perspective, to look from another angle, to consider that there could be a far different solution than any you’ve ever thought of before.

The world doesn’t function with force, it functions with flow. Anything that puts a strain on the way that energy is flowing constricts its power and ability. Your strength comes from moving with ease and using your focus on the right keys, instead of trying to force the wrong one into where it doesn’t fit.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

We all admitted that we needed the extra help in order to shift us from our useless cycle of trying way too hard and thinking way too much, to focus on the simple solutions that were there the whole time. But even with assistance, we still had to pull together quickly in order to win in time, and the thrill of doing so felt pretty sweet. It was definitely better to receive help and win, rather than refuse it and lose.

Since we each have our own abilities, asking for help can be necessary in order to take every one further together. Put the help to good use, and realize that it doesn’t make you less because you accepted it, but that you can honor it by using it to become more. Be grateful, and know that the helper wants to do it because they want to do something good for you. Receive with grace and gratitude, express positive energy, waves of joy and appreciation, and you will allow the cycle of giving to continue through you.

7. The point is to have fun.

We’re all stuck in our own rooms trying to solve our own crazy puzzles, and ultimately we’re in a game where nobody comes out alive. So why not have the most fun you can, even when things don’t seem to be working out? Even when you’re starting to feel like an idiot and sure you’re going to lose, and when you realize that you missed something right in front of your face this whole time, be happy that you’re even here to be playing this ridiculous game.

Always be willing to laugh at yourself and let go of your mistakes. Don’t take it too seriously, get stuck, or worry that you’re never going to get out. It’s all a game, with rules that you have to continue to learn your whole life in order to discover the best way to play it. There are always clues, but sometimes they’re not where you think they are, or where you’ve been looking.

Treat your life with the light-heartedness of someone who knows that they’re a player in a game, and that what seems real is only a well constructed illusion that has been designed with everything you need in order to set yourself free.

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