Let me state up front that this is meant to be a piece of writing that inspires Happiness and Independence, which is the aim of this space, The Happy Venture. I am looking at Freedom from the human perspective, not just American. These are my reflections and feelings and may or may not relate to your own experience. I’d love to hear how you related or did not so that I may become a more loving individual. Please leave any comments in the spirit of love and kindness. Thank you.
What is Freedom?
America is “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”. Our Declaration of Independence says we have the right to “Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” It can be hard to understand what that means in America today but here’s what I know. We have the right to Freedom so here’s what it means to me. I think the best place to start a philosophical discussion is by looking at the definition. I often re-read the definition and the root word definition. I’m a writer and an etymology enthusiast so bear with me.
Noun: The Power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.
Just looking at the definition above reminds me how much freedom we have in our country and within our personal sovereignty, no matter where you live. There are countries that don’t have as many liberties as the USA and there are some that have more. No matter where you live you have the freedom of your inner self and how you think. You have the freedom to feel how you want to feel. You can choose to be happy or not, no matter what the situation.
Victor Frankl, a multi-concentration camp survivor during World War II, famously wrote:
“The one thing you can’t take away from me is
the way I choose to respond to what you do to me.
The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.
This advice was given to me by a coworker when it felt like my life was going nowhere and I was frustrated every day by it. I felt powerless even though I chose the situation I was in! She told me, “You need to CHOOSE YOUR ATTITUDE.” I didn’t even realize I had an attitude problem until she said that to me. Quite the wake-up call. How much of your own suffering stems from the choice you’re making in your attitude every day?
Now the reason this excites me is because of my spiritual/Buddhist studies and the work I do as a coach. My goal as a happiness coach is to help remove your obstacles to happiness. I want you to achieve Freedom. So the first question we need to ask ourselves while looking at this definition is “Am I Free?”
Adjective: not under the control or in the power of another; able to act or be done as one wishes. Additional definitions are (3) not subject to or constrained by engagements or obligations (4)not subject to or affected by (typically something undesirable)
(1) Release from captivity, confinement, or slavery
(2) release from physical obstruction, restraint, or entanglement
(3) remove something undesirable or restrictive.
When you take a look at the verb form alone, you should realize how free you actually are, assuming you’re not incarcerated. Certain times in our life can feel restricted. As a mother, I felt this. Yesterday I went for a walk without having to think about anyone else and it was amazing! I knew my husband or visiting family would watch my daughter and I could just put on my shoes and go. After 5 years of being full-time mommy, it felt so nice to not have to think about someone else’s needs before my own. I could do some self-care on the fly and it felt very freeing.
Something so simple like going for a walk outside can help you realize how free you are. In countries where this is not an option, where there is war, for instance, this makes me thankful for how safety adds to our freedom.
I spoke to a young lady recently and we talked about the idea of feeling trapped. She said she felt like she was living in a cage. Her frustration was palpable. I could see and feel how bound she felt and I had compassion for her. She felt she had no choice in her career or whom she could marry. Her family is very traditionally Indian so their expectations of her and the societal pressures are very real. I’m writing this blog partially for her benefit to let her know I felt the way she does, but I broke free! It turns out the restriction I felt was mostly in my mind. We have more choice than we realize. It’s our life and we have to live it. If not now, when?
This is my own story of feeling trapped. In the fall of 1994, I went to college after being persuaded to go by my mom and step-dad. I didn’t feel ready to go away to school and didn’t know what I wanted to study. My dad thought it would be better for me to stay home for a year and go to a community college while I figured out which direction to take and I agreed with him. Had I known about gap years back then I would have done that. I did not feel ready at all.
When I voiced this idea to my mother and step-dad they said, “No. You’re going away to school.” Eventually, I settled on Western Michigan University. I liked the vibe of the school and they had a creative writing program I could start with. It was a direction. After 2 years I added communications and environmental studies to my degree as minors. It looked like I was headed in the “right” direction. In my heart, I was grasping at straws.
I was more interested in the art class electives I was taking than the huge volumes of literature I had to ingest every night. I didn’t know what else to do and my parents were happy I was in school, so I stuck with it in the hopes that I would figure it out.
After 3 years of going along with my parents’ plan, I decided I just couldn’t do it anymore. I felt like I was going crazy just drifting between majors. I knew in my heart this path wasn’t for me. I felt like I was wasting my time and definitely wasting my parents’ money. So I made a choice. I decided to leave college to study massage therapy. I knew I had a talent for massage and I was already practicing energy healing modalities. It was a direction, which I was desperate for, so I went for it!
How did I get the courage to do this? For years I went along with it because I didn’t know what else to do so why “suddenly” this change? It wasn’t sudden. It was a gradual realization that I wasn’t happy. My mom had told me my whole life that “All she wants is for me to be happy.” so I took courage from that. I finally recognized how much I loved myself and wanted to be happy too. I wasn’t going to let myself suffer with anxiety, stress, and depression anymore just so someone else, even my parents, could be happy. I had to choose my own happiness. I could see hope ahead of me like a bright light calling me. The “normal path” of stay in college and “just get your degree” felt dark and more of the same, which already wasn’t working, so why do more of that? Why keep living that lie. I decided to be honest with myself. For the first time in 3 years I said “No More.”
I told my parents at the end of my third year that I would not be returning in the fall. My plan was to stay in Kalamazoo, get a job and an apartment on my own, and pay my own way through massage school. My mom and step-dad were stunned. They told me that if I left school now and decided to return later, they would not pay the tuition. I’d be on my own. I surprised them even more when I said, “I’m ok with that.” They did not agree with my choice. It was a difficult conversation but I knew I had to go out on my own. It was the best decision I ever made.
Am I thankful for the “college experience”? Absolutely! I made wonderful friends and had incredible experiences I’m still grateful for today. If I hadn’t gone to college I wouldn’t have learned the independence and survival skills I needed to go confidently into the world. I wouldn’t have learned about massage therapy as a viable career if I hadn’t worked at Miller Auditorium in my second year of college. I wouldn’t have known I had a different path I could choose. Or it would have come much later after even more frustration.
I am so thankful to my parents for pushing me to go in the first place. They pushed me out into the world, whether I was ready or not because they knew I would be fine. It wasn’t easy but I learned courage and passion. I learned how to be free! For the first time, I was responsible for my own choices. I was living on my own and could decide what that was going to look like! I discovered what I loved and how to express that in the safe cocoon that is college.
Without college, I would have stayed sheltered and afraid of what was out there in the big wide world. I might not have ever recognized what my mom always told me, “I can do anything I want if I set my mind to it.” Once I realized the strength in that and exercised it I surprised everyone, including myself.
HOW TO BE FREE: PART 2 – COMING SOON!
As I was editing this I realized this needed to be a 2 part blog. Join me next week when I talk about how to get the timing right so you don’t blow up your life unnecessarily, how to have gratitude where you are right now, and how to cultivate freedom right now, no matter how stuck you feel.
If you have been inspired by this piece I hope you’ll share it with someone who could really get help from what you’ve read here. If you enjoyed it, I hope you’ll subscribe to my newsletter where you’ll get special insights right to your inbox and never miss a blog.
Thank you for reading.
~Melissa – The Happy Venture.