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A lot of people tell me they’re looking for freedom.

I completely understand, because much of my life has been a crazy courtship of the concept. I just didn’t understand the cost until recently.

After high school, I joined the military to escape a totalitarian father, which even I have to admit is funny. It’s true that, by comparison, the military was a picnic. The upperclassmen at the Air Force Academy nicknamed me Cadet Happy Camper because even when they were yelling in my face or making me do iron mikes, I couldn’t help but smile.

The military culture convinced me I was willing to die for freedom, the kind that belonged to someone else. But I struggled to take even the tiniest risks to grant me my own.

I picked a college major that would be more likely to pay the bills should I ever return to a civilian life. I accepted a car loan I couldn’t afford. I got engaged to a perfectly nice man I didn’t love because my heart had been broken by someone else and I was afraid at 25 I’d never find anyone to love me.

When I finally got the courage to leave the military and take a chance on a new career, I thought I’d finally done it. I was free! I could do anything I wanted!

But the ability to do anything was undermined by my fear of failure. Could I really make a living? Were all the doubters right? What if I never amounted to anything?

So I hedged my bets by maintaining some financial life-lines to my previous career instead fully committing to the work I really wanted to do. I wrapped my freedom up in bubble-wrap and told myself it was safer that way.

And it was safer. But it wasn’t better or happier or easier.

We tell ourselves lies about freedom all the time. We think if we just had more money or power or flexibility that we’d be free. We think freedom is a border crossing and we just need to get to the other side.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

When people say they want freedom, what they really mean is they’re not living the life they want and they think something outside of themselves is preventing them from getting it.

Neither money, nor power, nor time will magically grant you a life you love. Trust me, I’ve tried all three. It’s not circumstance that held me back. I had challenges to overcome just like anyone else of course. But the biggest challenge by far was me.

The price of freedom is pretty low, but it requires a currency few of us carry: courage. [Click to tweet]

Moreover, you don’t just buy freedom once. You have to purchase it again and again, as long as you want it.

This is good news. It means if you value freedom over everything else, you can have it.

What I wish someone had told me was that you’re not always ready for freedom. You have to work up to it. Freedom is a wild animal you have to tame.

So if you don’t have complete freedom yet, quit berating yourself or your circumstances. It’s okay. Really.

Work instead on a freedom mindset. Practice vulnerability. Inch closer to the edge and look out, not down.

You’ll fail at freedom far more times than you’ll succeed.

Give it everything you’ve got and cherish the pride that comes with trying.

It’s just as sweet.

 

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29 Responses to The Price of Freedom

    • On
    • May 28, 2013 at 11:06 am
    • Anna
    • Said...

    I couldn’t agree more! When I left my 9-5 job I thought I had gained freedom for ever, and the fact that I started my career (as a freelancer – ahah – ironic) made me thought that I was safe. Now I’m struggling to get my piece of freedom back, because over these last 3 years I haven’t fought to tame the animal. Yes, the real price of freedom is courage — and being aware that you have to conquer it every day.

    • I hadn’t even thought of the ironic nature of the word freelancer in this context. You’re right–that’s funny! I think that’s one of the biggest myths about starting a business, is that being your own boss will magically make you free. And of course, like all myths, there’s an element of truth in it, but without the courage, you get a lot of baggage with that supposed freedom. Good luck to you!

  1. Really loved this, Jen.
    We forget too often that we really are in the driver’s seat when it comes to creating freedom. We say we are “trapped,” when the things trapping us are things that we create ourselves or invite into our lives. The choices we make create our reality. If we choose to pursue a 9 to 5 job and then say we feel trapped by that job, who can we really blame other than ourselves? And then if we say that, well … I need to be able to pay my bills and live in this nice house and drive this nice car and maintain my subscriptions to the gym and Pandora and The New Yorker and Netflix … who can we blame other than ourselves?

    I’m guilty-guilty-guilty as charged. My dad is overly fond of saying, “You can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything you want.” Boy, does that saying make my blood boil … because I’m human and I want everything. But the reality is that we have to choose. Each and every day. Hundreds of times.

    We need to choose between one thing and another, and – more importantly, as you’ve pointed out, we need to choose between one mindset and another … one reaction and another … one belief and another.

    It’s a challenging thing to learn, but SO worth it once you get the hang of it. When you realize that you ALWAYS have an option, that’s true freedom. You’ll never say, “I have to” again … you’ll always say “I choose to.”

    • We are on the same wavelength, Jamie. I agree that one of the big pieces of the freedom mindset is to starting using the words, “I choose to…” It’s amazing how hard something that sounds so simple really is. And it’s funny, isn’t it, that we think of responsibility as a weight to bear, when it’s really just the opposite. Thanks, as always, for such a great input!

      • Always a pleasure, Jen.
        The trouble with choosing, of course, is that it always means NOT choosing something else. I sometimes think we’ve been over-exposed to the idea of “having it all” and have forgotten that having even one thing usually means giving up another thing.
        ;)

        Glad to be here.

        • Yeah, I’ve been kicking around the “having it all” idea for a while and still can’t quite wrap my mind around it. On the one hand, of course you can’t have everything. On the other hand, I do think you can have a meaningful, fulfilling, success career AND family. I think it comes down to expectation and defining success. Again. Haha!

  2. I have been following your blog for a long time. This one made me want to reply. I love how you say freedom is a mindset. Sometimes I wonder what it is I am looking for when I say ‘freedom’.

    I made choices that gave me freedom and now I am learning how it feels to be free. It is actually a little unnerving at first, I have to say. I like how you say to look forward, not down. Nice post.

    • I think getting specific on the things we want is one of the most important things we can do. Courage is necessary for freedom, but it still only works once you have clarity on what freedom (or success) means to you. And yes, it is absolutely unnerving! Thanks for the kind words on the post. I hope I keep writing posts worthy of comments. :)

    • On
    • May 28, 2013 at 12:40 pm
    • Ron
    • Said...

    Jennifer,
    I “heard” what you are saying and I have mixed feelings about it. Personally at 72 and looking back I saw that I was also trying to find that type of freedom you talk about. It was very elusive to me. I had about 35 W-2 forms before I settled down to one “job.” I married just before I turned 20 and that lasted 12 years until she broke my heart with my best friend, but leaving me with a beautify girl, Jennifer, and son, Tim. But later remarrying again, and raising my two and her two and our three, time went on. All seemed okay until two years or so ago. Our next to youngest daughter became very depressed after a fire in her apartment. She lost over 15 years of portraits (artist) and music (musician) and journals and books (writer) and research for more. She went into therapy but ended up taking her life. The impact on me and my wife and the rest of our family has been quite heavy. Why am I writing this? Well, I have read your blog on and off for some time and I sense your struggles, especially with your father. However, your final thoughts of this latest blog is probably the most correct, at least in my point of view. At this age and circumstances I wonder if I have achieved “that” freedom even yet. It definitely is a mindset to work towards. As I dabble in many little things like my websites and write, a little bit of me seems to come out. I sit back and see that I probably am enjoying the most freedom I will be enjoying on this side of the big fence. So, thanks for the reminders. I don’t plan on giving up. All my “experiences and my reactions to them” have contributed to who I am at this point. I hope for the best for you and your readers.

    • Oh Ron, my heart breaks just reading your note. As a parent, I do not think there is anything worse than not only losing a child, but by there own hand. I cannot imagine the pain. You sound like you are handling it remarkably well. In comparison, my struggle with my father seems rather small, but it has undoubtedly had a big impact on how I view the world, for better and for worse. I choose to focus on the better aspects, namely it has endowed me with a good deal of resilience and a (nearly) unfailing optimism. I count myself lucky, today and everyday, regardless of how well I’ve managed to tame my freedom. :)

      Thanks for sharing your story and being a part of this community.

  3. Hi Jen, thanks for the post, this really resonates with me. Most people delude themselves into thinking that freedom is being held away from them when the reality is they’re not ready nor willing to grab it.

    Moreover, I wonder why we treat readiness actively on our day-to-day lives. We get ready for work, get ready for a date, get ready to sleep. But when it comes to readiness for freedom, we are suddenly passive. “I’m not ready yet” and yet we rarely get ready or prepare for it. As if by waiting, we will one day miraculously just be ready.

    Just recently, I quit my job with little more than a few months’ savings, a plan, and an indomitable fire to live life on my own terms. A lot of people asked me, “Are you ready? Don’t you think you should wait?” I told them, “Yes, I am ready. I have a plan” But to them, that’s not enough. It’s as if for them to consider me to be legitimately ready, I had to be “living freedom” on the side.

    Well I don’t get ready to sleep by sleeping. If I did, then I’d be asleep, not getting ready for it!

    Similarly, I don’t get ready for freedom by being free. Because then, I’d be free, not getting ready for it.

    So yes, I AM ready for freedom. Now allow me to go purchase it again and again.

    • I love (and am saddened) by the idea of “living freedom on the side.” In fact I think that’s really insightful, because that is exactly what people (ahem, like me) think they can do. When you accept responsibility for all outcomes, you are ready. Planning is a good idea, but it’s no substitute for personal responsibility. Sounds to me like you’re very much ready. Good luck and let us know how the new venture goes!

  4. It’s so funny that in order to have freedom, we have to just allow our selves to understand that we are free already! It is all just a mindset. Life has no meaning, but the meaning we give it. The more you live in a mindset of freedom, the more freedom you will experience in your physical world. It is such a hard concept to really live by. I am trying my best every day!

    • That’s a deep thought right there, Shawn: Life has no meaning except the meaning you give it. And you have the ability to choose what meaning you give it. But yes, easier said than done. I love that we have a community to share our trials with!

    • On
    • May 29, 2013 at 2:00 am
    • Razwana
    • Said...

    Jennifer – for me, it depends on what freedom means. The definition itself can say whether it is the solution or a trap.

    A lot of 9-5-ers, think entrepreneurship equals freedom as it means no boss, control over their time, all all those awesome things. But if this is an escape route from a bad boss, or a mundane job, then entrepreneurship is not the freedom it appears to be.

    Perhaps we need to be a little trapped before we know what freedom means to us?

    - Razwana

    • It’s an interesting idea. At one point I would have said yes, being a little trapped opens your mind. But having struggled with this so long, I think for me it was finally peeling away all the excuses and seeing the problem didn’t go away. There was nothing left to point the finger at but me. I once heard someone say “You can solve a psychology problem with geography.” Turns out entrepreneurship can’t solve your psychology problem either. LOL

    • On
    • May 29, 2013 at 2:11 pm
    • C.R.
    • Said...

    Freedom is interesting concept. In the army, people can fight for the freedom, but if they refuse to fight or refuse to follow the rules, they might be in trouble themselves. Same goes for the whole society.

    Is a man living in a prison free? If he is, what kind of freedom is that? There are so many things we as human beings are dependent on, like food, water and air. That’s absolute dependency. Or even gravity. Without it, we would be floating to space like balloons. What kind of life would that be?

    I think, that human freedom is about being capable to make choices no matter what, being capable to risk everything. In it’s most simple form, it means people are capable to trade their life for a chance to reach something they think is worthwhile.

    • On
    • May 29, 2013 at 2:23 pm
    • C.R.
    • Said...

    There are interesting special cases.

    Note for today: be free of your failures. Don’t let those dictate your future choices.

    • On
    • May 29, 2013 at 2:37 pm
    • Brooke.
    • Said...

    I can’t tell you how much your post gives me a sense of relief.

    “Hurry up, Hurry UP!! are we there yet???!!” is what I hear from myself over and over.

    I am preparing. And my schedule is probably not the same as anyone else’s.

    Thank you, Jen. Yet again.

    • You know I’m happy to help and always have you in mind. (wink) By the way, I finally picked up The E-Myth, maybe partly because of writing this post, and LOVE it. At least I think it was you who recommended it to me, yes? Be well and gentle with yourself!

    • On
    • May 29, 2013 at 3:58 pm
    • Esther
    • Said...

    “you don’t just buy freedom once. You have to purchase it again and again, as long as you want it”. This is a tweetable! Love it.

    • See, I don’t recognize my own tweetables! Thanks for pointing that out. :)

    • On
    • May 30, 2013 at 11:43 am
    • C.R.
    • Said...

    One short video about choice :)

    This is *exactly* aligned with the themes discussed here.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwBoMsucFDQ&t=2m3s

    My name is Daario Naharis… :)

    • On
    • May 30, 2013 at 11:48 am
    • C.R.
    • Said...

    Kids! Remember that, always!

    • On
    • June 6, 2013 at 2:08 pm
    • Ben
    • Said...

    Thanks for sharing your experience with freedom Jen! I appreciate the reminder about how through vulnerability one can find freedom. My shoulders dropped, my breath deepened and I let go a little. Thanks!

    “The price of freedom is pretty low, but it requires a currency few of us carry: courage”

    On another note I’ve been focusing a lot recently on my values and my strengths. After a lot of journaling and word associations, I’ve come to realize that courage is one of my top values next to connection. When ever I choose courage over fear I always feel energized, successful, happy, and present! It’s been a bit of a mind blowing realization for me. Now it’s a matter of using the courage muscle on a daily basis! Recognizing any impulses to talk to strangers, ask for help, help someone in need, etc. Let the courage challenge begin!

    • Yes, courage is one of my core values as well. When you don’t live according to your values, you don’t feel well–physically and emotionally, even if you can’t put a finger to why. I now encourage myself to walk into the fear. When I sense it, I move towards it instead of away. Doesn’t always work (the mind is tricky!), but what’s funny is that once I’ve done it, I don’t care about the outcome as much, because the trying was the really important part for me. Good to know I have a kindred spirit!

  5. I’m a little late to this party but had to go back to read this post because freedom is one of my favorite topics. :)

    My journey for freedom really began, as you say, as a mindset shift. I was surrounded by people – artists and entrepreneurs – who slammed day jobs as prisons. But I had a very wise mentor who reminded me that we are all in control of our choices and even if we work for someone else, we are self-employed because we chose the situation. We are agreeing to provide value to an employer in exchange for a paycheck. That was really empowering to me. (You can get technical and say people are trapped when they need the money but I didn’t focus on that.)

    I spent over ten years honing my business skills on the side and I never felt trapped or like I “had to get out” of my employment situation. Instead, I was able to do what I loved because I loved it. That’s a good kind of freedom to me.