A Practical Definition of Freedom

If I had to summarize my struggles over the last couple of years under one label, I would probably choose the term “freedom.” Everything I do seems to come back to that one single notion: Striving to attain more personal freedom. At times when I was making progress with that, I usually felt happy; and when it wasn’t happening for me, I tended to be on the miserable side of things.

I’m not alone in this. Of all the values people claim to adhere to, freedom might be the one that is the most often cited. At the same time, though, it is also probably the most ill-defined one. For most people (especially Americans), it is a vague positive feeling without actual meaning. It just has been trumpeted around so much that people keep stolidly repeating it.

In fact, most normal people are as restricted as it gets, despite their lip services to the opposite. It occurred to me the other day by just turning upside down what most “normal” people do most of their time, you can come up with a practical definition of freedom rather quickly, one that actually has practical MEANING.

So for shits and giggles, let’s do just that!

Health

The Conventional Way:
Eat the food that is cheapest, i.e. grain based food. Eat the food that is the tastiest, i.e. fast food and sweet stuff. Avoid working out, and if you do, make sure it’s cardio. Average 6 hours of sleep per night during the week. Start to get fat around 30, continually becoming less agile and mobile, feeling more tired and worn out by the year. That alone will diminish the amount of physical freedom you have significantly. If you get “unlucky” on top of that, you might also have to deal with major sicknesses, nailing you down even more.

The Unconventional Way:
Eat the more expensive food: vegetables, high quality fish and meat. Become proficient at working out. As a by-product, sleep a lot. Keep getting stronger as you pass the age of 30. Be free to do whatever, because you are healthy, which is at the core of freedom. Without health, you are as stuck as a fish on land.

Location

The Conventional Way:
Stay in one place for several years, possibly even for a whole lifetime. If American, obsess over buying a house by your late-twenties, then over buying the next one. If European, only move if you have to, because of a new job.

The Unconventional Way:
Travel the world. Stay in a place if you like it, but don’t become stuck when the novelty wears off. Experience the WHOLE world, not just as a tourist 2 weeks per year. This is your playground; you only have ONE attempt at exploring it before it’s game over.

Job

The Conventional Way:
If you are European: Go to uni and study, then get a 9-5 job in the exact same field and try to climb that specific career ladder. Either get stuck somewhere halfway through, realizing it’s not worth it, redirecting your energies towards family and hobbies. Alternatively, become a workaholic.
If you are American: Change your job more often than your European counterpart (possibly because you get bored more quickly?). Then, hate your job anyway.

The Unconventional Way:
Avoid 9-5 like the plague. Find a job that can be done just about anywhere, ideally online. Best case scenario, make your job about something you would be doing even if you were not paid for it (like me writing this blog and not being paid for it, oh my…).

Relationships

The Conventional Way:
Get in a monogamous relationship in your mid-twenties to early thirties. Get married. Have 1-2 kids. Worry about if your partner is cheating on you (after 5-10 years of marriage, he/she probably is). Get divorced and repeat the whole process all over again.

The Unconventional Way:
Don’t get stuck in a classical relationship. Understand that you can never “own” a person, in neither an emotional nor a sexual sense. Grow the self-confidence to understand that your partner(s) might love you despite the freedom you give them or even exactly because of it.

See, what we just did? By reversing what is “normal,” we came up with practical definition of what true freedom means – not just some wishy-washy emotion reserved for Independence Day, but a type of freedom that AFFECTS YOUR LIFE.

And still, the sad fact remains that people shy away from this type of freedom like the devil. Why is that? Because thinking and dreaming about this concrete type of freedom is very nice and fine – but inevitably, once you ATTAIN this kind of freedom for the first time, it always comes like a shock. And I mean that literally, like physical shock – it’s not a nice feeling. You feel ill. Confronted with sudden unexpected increases of freedom in the past, I have thrown up.

It’s a paradox: Most of us constantly dream about more freedom, at least in one or two areas of their lives. However, when freedom actually strikes, you feel lost, extremely uncomfortable and you just want the damn thing to go away as quickly as possible again. Very few people have the endurance to weather this initial lack of comfort (I sure didn’t, the first few times…); most people try once, then give up forever.

However, you CAN get better at this. And so, with practice, you can risk more and more freedom getting to a point where the initial negative effects are completely overthrown by the positive ones. And boy, what that feels like… PRACTICAL, concrete freedom, as defined earlier, is one of the most happiness inducing things in the world. Everyone who has pushed past that point knows what I’m talking about. It’s almost indescribable: It feels like turning the movie that is your life from monochrome into technicolor. It feels like finally living.

Risk it.