Many a working stiff dreams of a Great Escape – a way out of the daily grind and into the life he or she spends all day fantasizing and surreptitiously Googling about. But how does one bridge the gap between daydreams and reality? As in all things substantive, Shawshank has the answer.
In The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Sodomy, institutional cruelty, male bonding (unrelated to sodomy), good works, and throat-lump-inducing-old-man-suicides ensue. I refuse to give any more exposition than that because you should have seen Shawshank by now. Which is why I won’t bother with a spoiler alert before telling you that Andy escapes in the end.
And what a glorious escape it is. See, Andy had an Evil Plan. Over the course of two decades, Andy tunnels his way through his cell wall using only a tiny rock hammer. He deposits the debris from his labors in the prison yard every day and hides the hole in his wall behind posters. Using his plum position in the warden’s office, he steals bank account numbers and clothes and everything else he’ll need on the outside. When the time finally comes, Andy doesn’t hesitate – he does exactly as he’s planned, climbs through his tunnel and 500 yards of human waste and finds himself celebrating his freedom under a roaring stormy sky. Behold.
Andy’s escape is informative. Learn from him in planning your own.
1. Andy had a plan. Don’t just sell everything and head out West with the idea that you’ll figure it out when you get there. Winging it in 21st-century America is not the move. While you’ve got the security of your current job you should be doing as much homework as you can on the career you want to move into: who the players are, how they’ve gotten where they are, how people make money doing what you want to do, all that nitty-gritty stuff. Do as much work in the field as you can squeeze into your schedule to develop the skill set that will let you hit the ground running when you make the transition. If that means doing it for free (which it very well might), then so be it. And you need to network in your soon-to-be-new field. And get your money up. The point here is to have as much infrastructure in place as possible before you make the jump to minimize transition friction.
2. Andy was patient. Andy waited twenty years to make a break for it. Twenty years of hard time. Twenty. Years. Why? Because he wanted to get it right. He knew he only had once chance to get away so he took his time and put all the pieces in place so that when it came time for the actual escape all he had to do was follow through. If fictional Andy Dufresne can do twenty years in a sweaty fictional jail, patiently executing his Evil Plan, then you can handle a few months more of filling out TPS reports for Bill Lumbergh while you get some practice doing whatever your thing is. Because you don’t want to go out half-cocked and end up having to crawl back to the hamster wheel. That’s just soul-crushing. Be patient, do it right the first time, and then never again.
3. Andy was willing to get dirty. The man climbed through 500 yards of convict poop. You ever seen convict poop? All the bad cafeteria food those guys eat? Turds like muddy roadkill. I draw that simile to illustrate for you that, even with the infrastructure in place, things will probably be hard. If you’re starting a business or going back to school or carving some other new life path for yourself, it will be disruptive and difficult in ways both imagined and unforeseeable. You will have to work hard, you will have to adjust your lifestyle, and you might fail a few times. Expect to be surprised. And when you are, stay the course. You planned for it. You prepared for it. Now live it. Find the fortitude to live it. Because the truth is that what often separates the winners from the washouts is nothing more than pain threshold – who’s willing to crawl through the smelliest poop the longest.
I won’t promise you’ll get to Zihuatanejo. You can do everything right and still fall flat on your face. But if you plan well and crawl long enough, even if you do fall flat you might stand up and realize you like where you ended up.