The Escape Room

April 11, 2023

by Stephen T. Messenger

Many of us, including myself, struggle to fully utilize the resources and assistance that are readily available.

For my son’s birthday, the six of us attempted our first escape room. We had exactly 60 minutes to solve a series of riddles to unlock a barricaded door.

In this room was a telephone on the wall linked to the gamemaster. Whenever the gamemaster, who was watching from a series of cameras and microphones, felt we were hopelessly lost, she would call the room and give us a hint.

Unimpressively for us, that phone was ringing off the hook. She fed us clue after clue to keep the game moving along and prevent us from becoming discouraged. After 59 minutes and about 50 seconds, we unlocked the door. The hero of the event? The gamemaster!

Afterwards, I ask the gamemaster how many teams successfully escape the room. She said only about 25%.

I was shocked! I asked how a team could not finish when she was sequentially phoning to help get them to the next clue and eventually escape. Her response:

“Most People Just Don’t Want to Listen”

This realization hit me hard. A phone rings with someone on the line who knows all the answers… and they don’t listen.

How many times do we not take the advice of someone who has “been there, done that” and wants to share their experiences? How many times do we fail to seek out wise counsel before making decisions? And how many times do we push off mentorship so we can make our own mistakes?

Harry Truman said, “I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” Laughable, but true.

The Faceplants Keep Coming!

I personally like to learn by doing. As I snowboarded for the first time this winter, the ski hill offered lessons. Instead of taking them, I just rented some gear and jumped on that hill.

The learning curve was as steep as the mountain, and I repeatedly caught the edge of the board landing on my face, back, tailbone, and places I didn’t even know could hurt. Meanwhile, a band of kids were diligently learning from the instructors at the bottom of the hill.

Lessons would have certainly helped, yet if snowboarding was an escape room, I let that phone ring and refused the gamemaster’s assistance.

Tasting Advice

Taking advice is like trying a friend’s dessert for the first time. You have no idea how it’s going to taste, and you should wade in slowly. Perhaps they made an amazing concoction, and this is your new favorite food! Or perhaps cooking isn’t their strong suit, and you should politely excuse yourself.

A Yiddish Proverb says, “Seek advice but use your own common sense.” Simply receiving advice doesn’t mean you have to take it. But gathering more information is better than less.

When there’s a decision at work, I love to go around the room and ask everyone to make a decision as if they were in charge. Invariably, I get a multitude of responses. None of them are right or wrong, just different perspectives. And every piece of advice helps shape my decision.

The Key to Escaping the Room

There are two rules for taking advice.

1. Know what you need help with. In the snowboarding example above, I’ve been snow and water skiing and have a lot of time on a wakeboard. The lessons would have helped, but they weren’t necessary. In the escape room, I needed help with almost every clue—it was just hard.

2. Know who is qualified to help you. Find the people who are experts and leverage their advice. The gamemaster literally has the answers. She would be a good person to listen to. In the real world with real problems, no one has all the answers, but many people have experiences that can inform decisions.

The Older You Get

As I age, I’m getting better at taking advice. I’m being mentored by a former Brigade Commander, asking for advice more often, and generally seeking to make collaborative decisions. I’ve also found that with many decisions, I just don’t have the personal knowledge or expertise to make them on my own.

This escape room was eye-opening for me. It’s so important to develop a circle of trusted advisors that will be on the other end of that phone to offer sound advice and guidance. Seek it out and test that advice to ensure it makes sense. Then decide. 

But don’t go it alone!

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