Freedom is precious. And before you think I’m going to jump on the bandwagon of one U.S. presidential candidate or another, no, that’s not what this is about. Let’s get personal, not political.
It’s a complicated idea, freedom. People bat around the word, mix it with other words: freedom of religion, freedom of choice, financial freedom, and the list goes on. There’s also freedom, day to day, inside our heads. Keeping it appears to require a lifetime of dedication to the practice of awareness and decisive decision making. Life is essentially a battered checker board of choices and power exchanges. Will you take the cubicle job and the additional money instead of the bartending gig on the coast of Australia and the ability to wear sandals everyday? Will you go into debt and get a college education or teach yourself programming on the side and work your way in sideways on a startup? Do you want to be tied to the keyboard practicing Chopin three hours a day for the opportunity and freedom of performing later in the grand concert halls of the world? Will you walk away from Friday night binges and bank your cash for a trip to Ankor Wat? Or do you want to hang out with your best friends in the world and don’t need to see beyond your town, because what you have right here is just perfect?
The trades, these choices between opportunities and freedoms, you know it doesn’t come with a guarantee. You make calculated choices. You hope for the best. If you can, you have a backup plan.
Coming back to the U.S. this year, I felt like I had been given the gift of seeing my own culture and society with fresh eyes. One of the things I saw were freedom pitfalls. I’ll give you my top five, as I see it at the moment.
#1. Bigger and More Outfitted Living Spaces
A beautiful house is something to admire. I’ve certainly enjoyed watching shows like Property Brothers now and again, or House Hunters. But once you have a house and you’ve filled that house up, you’re not going anywhere quickly, at least not without a huge loss, and you’re tied to that thirty year mortgage, if you’re a typical house owner. Do we need that extra thousand feet of space? Does it fit the long terms values? Do you want to heat that space? Do you want to pay to replace that much carpet every ten years? Or paint it!
#2. College is THE way to go.
This myth is one I wish I could kick over a very high ledge and watch is fall screaming into a white water river. Not everyone needs to go to college. Not everyone should. In Chicago, you can become a police officer and make over $70k a year without a college degree. You can get a nursing education in two years from a dedicated school and skip two years of fees at a liberal arts college. Plumbing is an honorable and much needed profession. One member of my family is extremely successful utilizing a high school education and hours of self study and industry certifications in IT. There are options other than college. Unfortunately, it does appear that many communities and families are not prepared to support that and grant respect to those who choose not follow the “college road”. I am speaking as someone who has a college degree but support and work closely with many who do not have one and so respect their brains, talents and freedom from student loans. Student debt is a major freedom killer. But I shall stop ranting.
#3. You need THIS.
Whatever the “this” might be today. The new graphic T-shirt, the new iPhone, the new flatscreen TV. Seriously, do you need it? Is it worth what you’re going to have to give up? Can you buy healthy food that means you’re going to be around in thirty years to enjoy being alive? Is the four hundred dollar purse worth it? Did you decide that or was it something else? Downsizing processions and “needs” is incredible for promoting mental freedom. I’ll personally vouch for it!
#4. Everyone’s watching “It”.
I’m so guilty of this one, in my own head space. Thankfully I have so much on my goal plate these days that I can’t give in often. But the latest movie, TV show, sit-com, whatever it may be, those are hours and hours of our time. It’s really tempting to watch, just so you can join in conversation with friends and strangers and that’s part of building community, having a shared experience but if your time is slipping away into alternative realities and your own story isn’t getting played out, it may have gone to far. Your friends can switch to talking about True Blood over Walking Dead with you if you haven’t caught up.
#5. Other people’s drama.
This one requires compassion and diplomacy. You want to be a good friend. And your friend has a problem. There’s no solution but you invite him or her talk it out. Once, twice, three times….. It’s burning up the minutes on your phone and the stress rating on your blood pressure. Then another friend calls, and another and your family has an incident. But you have to be a good friend, daughter, fill in the blank. Believe me, I KNOW this one. I have seven younger siblings and stay connected to a wide range of people I adore. Shop carefully for your drama. Schedule it in. Take breathers. Don’t loose sight of the goal. I remind myself if I let someone burn me out in the short term, when things get truly ugly, I won’t have the reserves to cope and help when they really need it. Sometimes, you have to jump in with both feet and take care of something and burn up the credit card and your heart. There are legitimate reasons for this. I’ve done this, without regret. And I will do it again. But the small stuff builds up. Sometimes, you have to kindly text back, “Are you ok? I’m at work.” And move on unless someone’s in the hospital. Most of the time, people don’t mean to be a bother and it’s on us to tell someone they are being a bother, or that we have a deadline, or that you just got off the phone with your friend who’s going through a divorce and unless you’re going to pour a White Russian, you can’t take anymore. Best friends often ask. “Are you up for listening?” This is a sign of a mature, good friend. And you can put limits on it. “Yes, I have ten minutes. Tell me about it.” And then get off the phone in ten minutes.
So there’s my short list. What’s yours?
Does this bring anything in particular to mind? Does your freedom look like someone else’s freedom? Would you do it again? Is there anything you would go back and tell yourself, five, ten, fifteen, fifty years ago?
Assassin’s Creed Image: http://cdn.supersoluce.com/file/docs/docid_4f71a36e8f152f5d660125e5/elemid_4ee9f9ea0a2fe94d0e000014/assassin-s-creed-iii.jpg
Ankor Wat: http://whc.unesco.org/uploads/thumbs/site_0668_0067-750-0-20151104115852.jpg
Final photo: Owned by author.