Learnings from the Escape Room

I was not familiar with an escape room experience but having just survived one, I figured I’d enlighten my readers so that you can be forearmed in case someone convinces you to take part. When someone on my employee activities committee suggested we go to an escape room, I was hesitant. It didn’t sound very appealing. Why be locked up in a room with some co-workers to try and solve puzzles for an hour while hoping to outsmart the puzzles? Perhaps I overthought it. It turns out it was fun. And in the process, some hidden talents of my co-workers were uncovered.

Here is the Wikipedia definition of an escape room: “An escape room is a physical adventure game in which players solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues, hints and strategy to complete the objectives at hand. Players are given a set time limit to unveil the secret plot which is hidden within the rooms. Games are set in a variety of fictional locations, such as prison cells, dungeons and space stations, and usually the various puzzles and riddles themselves follow the theme of the room. Escape rooms are great activities for families, friends, students, and even businesses because they rely on team building exercises.”


Apparently, these escape rooms are cropping up all over the country. I mean, if they have one in lil’ ole Goldsboro, North Carolina, they must have them everywhere. So, before you turn up your nose at the experience, let me share some of my learning.

  • Think outside the box. When the six of us were given the instructions before entering our room, “The Heist” escape room, our guide told us to think outside the box when we were trying to puzzle our way out. This was really important advice. While pursuing our escape, we had a bunch of pieces to what seemed to be a picture frame. My immediate impulse was to make a rectangle (er…a box). It turns out that if we followed some color-coding, we actually extrapolated some numbers instead of the form of a box. I had a really hard time not just making a rectangle in my head, instead of seeing the numbers. This prompted a reconsideration on my part. Are we all just assuming that what we see is accurate or that following the status quo is the only correct path? It might stretch you and be uncomfortable, but think outside the box.


  • Pay attention to details.  We were in a room full of art pieces and paintings. We were instructed to count up all the rowboats as part of our escape solutions. I remember one or two of my coworkers kept wanting to count every boat, which included sailboats and canoes. The important detail was that there were only a few actual rowboats with oars. We could not move ahead in the puzzle until we counted the rowboats instead of every boat (and no, we could not use our cell phones). It’s important to know the difference, and if you don’t, then maybe you need to figure out someone in the group who does. There were several times when we burned minutes by ignoring the details and not really looking for the answer. Make sure you look at the details.


  • Take risks. One of my co-workers is a huge risk taker. She has always taken matters into her own hands and tested things out. I mention this only because it was a huge advantage for us as a team in our escape from our escape room. There were two puzzles that I can think of that she single-handedly figured out. She didn’t ask for affirmation from us for solving the puzzle. She just charged ahead. Here’s a perfect example: at one point we had a blow dryer and, well, wow. I saw no reason for a blow dryer; and honestly, I didn’t see the light going on for anyone else. I figured it was a joke of some sort. The blow dryer solution ended up catapulting us forward because she took a risk with the interpretation. This taught me to remain open to the reality that those around us are looking for solutions and finding them; I need to remain open and risk. Are you taking any risks, remaining open to interpretations, or playing it safe?


  • Sometimes you don’t need everything. If someone gives you a puzzle challenge and you are given ten puzzle pieces, you would want to use them all, right? There were several times during the hour-long escape that we didn’t need all of the objects placed in front of us. Sometimes just eight pieces, or six, or even two would work. Just because you are given something, doesn’t mean you will even use it. Getting wrapped up in using everything in front of you can bog down the process. Remind yourself of this.


  • Take the clues as you go. We had the option of getting three clues during the hour-long game. I had it in my head that we should get one every 15 minutes or so, and it ended up being one of the best ideas. So, we would try to figure out a few puzzles and locks and then request a clue. We would go for fifteen more minutes and then request another clue. The puzzles sort of build on each other, so if you had all the clues at the start, it wouldn’t be as helpful. By taking them over time, they were of the most benefit. So, don’t wait for the last minute for help and don’t ask for all the help up front. Assess and use it over time.


We did not escape in the time allotted. Our guide told us we were about 75% complete. That’s really good since it was the first escape room experience for all six of us. I think the biggest takeaway is that I now know my team’s strongest attributes. I got to witness a process that they each go through. So, whether a risk taker, willing to get down on the ground or someone patiently trying a padlock for 10 minutes; we could never have done it alone. Together we had terrific progress and learned wonderful things about each other.

Straining to Be

You’re ten minutes late for the conference and you are stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. You merge left, then right, and end up five cars farther behind. You check the mail for the important document from the bank and it’s still not there. You sigh in disgust. You’re hoping your co-worker is finally going to step up on the project, but he left all the details from your input out the project. Left out again. You are straining to just be.


The photo above is the inspiration for this post. I saw it in the town of Wilmington, North Carolina a few months back. I identified with that dog. Straining forward. Putting all the effort in moving with very little reward. I think of a negotiation I’ve been in the middle of recently, and equate it with, “You can’t push a rope.” In fact, all that straining to push forward is exhausting. An energy drain. I can feel the potential in that dog, but feel its futility as well.


How can we let go of straining to be?  Here are some thoughts:

  • Decide not to decide. My dear friend Janine told me this several months back. She gave me some examples of how not deciding had changed the course of events in her life. This is difficult for someone as tenacious and impatient as myself. I want to push things and be done with them. There is a difference between “not deciding” versus “indecision.” One is inactive and the other is active. Indecision creates stress and a constant waffling between options. “Not deciding” is being OK with what is now and not trying to change the course of events. Not deciding is where your power is.


  • Quit lugging the weight. Dragging things down the road is nothing, but expending energy when it’s not necessary. When I walk my dog Baci, she will try to pull and tug and strain when she sees the top of the driveway, closing in on home at end of our walk. She tries to lug me with all her might to get into the house. It makes no difference in our progress, as we head towards the sacred water bowl. It frustrates the both of us, and can damage our relationship. I find that my coachees, who have Responsibility as one of their strengths, can feel responsible for everyone on their team’s work (re: weight). They metaphorically end up carrying the weight of the team. When you strain against others, it can hurt your relationship.


  • Second can be just as good. They say that the athlete who is most disappointed is the one who wins the silver. Seems crazy. The woman who won bronze is just happy to make the podium and the guy who won gold is beaming with pride at the top. The silver medalist is so full of regret that they didn’t make gold. But they are on the podium! I used to have a Labrador and a Siberian Husky. The husky always wanted to lead. She would never be happy in second place. The lab didn’t care. He knew that he was going for a walk and would just happy to be there. Be accepting of second place. At least you are on the podium or the walk.


  • Are we there yet? Straining forward focuses on the future. You remember when you were eight years old and headed out on a ten-hour drive to a vacation spot. You were focused on getting to the vacation spot, never the present moment. You never thought you would arrive and so, you miss out on the joke your brother just told or the elusive “Hawaii” license plate trying to attain all fifty states. Be present right now. And now. And now. You have arrived at right now.


  • Be grateful.  Acknowledge what you have accomplished. I did this yesterday with my coach, Tammi Wheeler. When you reflect back from where you have come, it is really gratifying. Having a coach is a great way to reflect on your accomplishments and to be grateful. Keeping track of what has gone right and having a positive mindset creates possibilities. Take stock in what you are grateful for.


All this can be difficult because of our negativity bias. We are hardwired to look for what is wrong. It’s a slow meticulous process but letting go of the straining forward and learning to just be is freeing. How do you let go of straining to be?