Dan Kang

Lessons from a Fire Escape

Window in SF

Look at the picture above. What do you see?

For the entire first month living in my apartment, I saw a window, a latch, and a view of the street below. When a friend in the building mentioned that he climbs up to the roof occasionally, I told him I wanted to try it but didn’t see how I could. It was only after this conversation that I noticed something out the window I hadn’t seen before: a fire escape.

It was strange, seeing something that I could’ve sworn had not been there the past hundred times that I had glanced out my window. Of course, the metal deck and railing had not appeared overnight; I had just simply overlooked it. I’m not surprised I did, because I had no immediate need for a fire escape and could have easily continued using my living space normally without noticing it.

These days, I climb out my window and up the fire escape onto the roof every day. It’s absolutely exhilarating to stand next to the edge and overlook the city. Sometimes I go up to tan, sometimes I go up to think, sometimes I go up just because I can. Here’s a quick photo I snapped earlier:

View from roof

It’s interesting to think about what would’ve happened if I had never found out about the possibility of climbing up to the roof or if I had never noticed the fire escape. I obviously wouldn’t know what I’d be missing, but that doesn’t change the fact that I truly would be missing out on a fantastic experience.

A lot of opportunities in life are the same way. I only started to entertain the idea of taking a year off from Princeton after I talked to someone who had already gone through the experience. It was at that point that I looked up more about it, found out that Princeton has an extremely lenient policy in letting students take time off, and decided to take the leap. I’ve already benefitted immensely from this decision, but it was an opportunity that wasn’t obvious to me when I was attending school. I honestly believe that a lot more students should seriously consider if the option of taking a year off could be right for them; most people don’t give it a second’s worth of thought because doing anything other than finishing school in four years would be off the beaten path.

By doing things the “normal” way, we’re susceptible to overlooking opportunities that have the potential to change our lives in an immense way. My experience with the fire escape has made me aware of my unawareness, and I’m putting more conscious effort into not overlooking rewarding opportunities. Training oneself to be more aware is quite difficult though – I just may need someone to bop me on the head and tell me that climbing up the fire escape is a great idea.