The Thinker: How I Escaped My Prison
This is not just another read to make you think about life. It’s the story of how I liberated myself and a playbook that will make you a better thinker.
The problem was that I was trapped in my own thinking. Growing up, I was just another normal kid that enjoyed playing outside, building tree houses and racing with my friends. Then came my teenage years, and suddenly my life was turned upside down. Bullied, ridiculed and segregated. “Your clothes are old,” they said, “Your parents are not from this country,” they taunted me. I became an outsider in my world, misunderstood and not belonging anywhere. That was my new reality.
As a coping mechanism, I built my own prison to protect myself from the world. In that world thinking became my best friend. While finishing school, I began to reimagine a new life. Every day at night with no distractions from the world, I would retreat to my room and hatch out a plan to escape my world. If only I could begin a new life somewhere else. I was thinking about pursuing my dreams in America. But how would I make it happen without resources, connections and with broken English?
This is the story of my great escape and the lessons I learned along the way. It’s also a practical book that will show how you can liberate yourself.
Element #1 Fight The Old Guard
Collect the negative clues that lead toward awareness
“Those who are unaware they are walking in darkness will never seek the light.” — Bruce Lee, legendary martial arts fighter
“It is in vain, sir,… there is no peace,” he shouted standing upright, one hand in an elevated position. “The war is actually begun!” Patrick Henry, American attorney and orator for the American Revolution, was enraged. “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” Henry was aware that infringement on liberty was intolerable and that a different future was necessary.
Over the past decade colonists attempted to repair the relationship with their mother country. At every turn, they lost an ounce of liberty as the British Crown extracted more from its colony. For a long time the collective level of pain amongst colonists wasn’t high enough to challenge the status quo. The process of awareness toward what was happening was gradual. The colonies were doing well economically. Initially colonists believed in evolution and co-operation. As the Crown extracted more from its colonies and liberty began to erode colonists began to come together collectively to challenge the status quo.
When the British granted a monopoly to the East India Company over American tea trade, infuriated Patriots in Massachusetts dumped tea worth thousands of pounds into the Boston Harbor. To punish colonists for their defiance, the British Crown passed a series of punitive laws known as the Intolerable Acts of 1774. “We must fight,” Henry encouraged his fellow men one year after the Boston incident, “I repeat, sir, we must fight!” In a call to protect liberty, he exclaimed, “I know not what course others may take, “but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!”
One day I looked through old family photos. As I flipped through the photo album, I looked at my old self: energetic and joyful for life. Now I had little energy, little joy for life. I had lost living in the present moment and was trapped in the past or future — a past that was full of regrets and a future where I didn’t see possibilities. I was shocked. How did I let this happen? It felt as if I was looking at two different people. I had stopped being myself. To protect myself from the world, I had built my own prison. But being trapped in my own thinking, I also became a prisoner of my own mind. At least, through a lot of pain I had slowly become aware of my situation. It was time for change.
The first step in changing yourself is awareness. Without realizing that the status quo needs to be challenged, nothing will happen. Collect the negative clues of what is not working in your life, of where you find the pain. A frog that is put into boiling water will jump out right away, but if you put the same frog into cold water that is slowly heated the frog will remain oblivious to the danger and die. Don’t be the frog and become aware about changes when it’s too late.
Element #2 Start A Revolution
Always embrace change
“Change is the only constant.” — Heraclitus, pioneering Greek philosopher
A s recently as 1800, China was on equal footing with the Western world. In fact for 18 of the last 20 centuries, China’s GDP was the largest in the world. And then it changed. From 1800 onwards China’s economy began to stagnate and decline. After dozens of decades of decline, China’s fortune changed yet again. In the 1970s, Chinese revolutionary and statesman Deng Xiaoping unleashed economic reforms and reverted China’s trajectory. Since then China has been climbing to the top, challenging the United States as a global superpower. In the history of the world change is the only constant. Things never stay the same. Empires rise and fall. Generations come and go. The only thing that we know for sure is that things are going to change.
As I approached finishing school my life was still the same. I hadn’t changed as much I wanted. I was aware that I needed to change my life, but I wasn’t quite sure how. If I had changed in the past, I thought, I could change again. I began embracing change. Slowly my spirit returned and although my outside situation didn’t immediately, I began working toward a new future. My dream of going to America slowly took shape, and with every step I became more optimistic toward the future. When I began to see results, even when they came in slowly, I learned first-hand how change was possible. After trials and errors, I set out on a journey that would re-shape my entire life.
Understanding that life always changes is an obvious but important aspect of living a more empowered and emboldened life. Everything around you is changing all the time. It is an encouraging thought that you have the power to change any situation. It keeps you humble when things are going well and hopeful when things are not going your way.
Element #3 Adjust The Sail
Have a realistic look at yourself and the world
“How one lives is so far distant from how one ought to live, that he who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation.” — Niccolò Machiavelli, Italian Renaissance political philosopher and author of The Prince
When Niccolò Machiavelli lived in exile, he was working on his political treatise that he hoped would land him a position within the Florentine government. Every evening, he sat down to write, inspired by his own experiences and ideas from from ancient philosophers. In his book The Prince, he wrote down his impressions of how the world actually worked. “Since my intention is to say something that will prove of practical use to the inquirer, I have thought it proper to represent things as they are in real truth, rather than as they are imagined,” he introduced his readers, “Many have dreamed up republics and principalities which have never in truth been known to exist.” Machiavelli understood through the study of ancient political thought and his observation of his contemporaries. He understood that you need to adjust the sail before you can change something.
A s I embarked on my journey to move to America, I had to have a realistic look at my situation. First, I had to do military service which was mandatory at the time. I couldn’t just go to America as work visas require college degrees. That meant I needed to find a way to go to college and make it affordable. If I had ignored all the constraints and the situation I was in, I doubt I would have changed my life at all.
You need to understand where you are at and where the world is at. You need to have an honest and realistic look at yourself and the world. Come to terms with your current situation. Find the balance between optimism and pessimism, but always lean towards optimism.
Element #4 Build Your Spacecraft
Kindle your imagination
“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” — Thomas Paine, revolutionary, founding father and author of Common Sense
World War II destroyed Europe. Indeed for most of its history, Europe was in a state of war. After the war ended, European statesmen came together to reimagine a new kind of Europe, one that would promote peace and stability. The foundation that was built wasn’t perfect, but it was a step into imagining a new future that deviated from Europe’s previous history. Despite its flaws that are prone to happen with any new foundation, over 60 years later despite current turmoil that puts the European project into question it is still standing and has brought peace to the European continent as it was never before possible. It would have been impossible without imagination.
When I planned to move to the United States to pursue my dreams, I used my imagination to get there. In light of the lack of resources, I focused on relying on my imagination, rather than be constrained by reality. I used my childhood memories to re-imagine my life, imagining what I could become. If I had extrapolated from the last few years of high school, I doubt I would have changed my life at all. Imagination combined with sweat and courage is what made it happen.