Here is a fun experiment.
Choose a few people and pose two questions.
Define the word freedom.
How have you achieved freedom in your life?
I will venture a guess that most answers from the 1st question will closely match what you might expect. Perhaps similar to results from a Google search.
The 2nd question is where things could get interesting.
Through much of my life I was fond of stating the following, “I don’t care what people think about me.”
I’ve heard this stated by many other people in my past. From people I had just met, or those from within my circle of friends and family. But was it true? For me, not really.
When it came to my family, and my friends, of course I cared what they thought about me. But there were situations when I could, and still do, care what a person thought who I had never before met. If they were angered at me because of a slight I was unaware of, I would want to know. As I became more honest with myself I began to understand something very powerful.
Our actions affect others.
Doesn’t seem like a surprising statement when I read those words. I would like to add to the sentence. Our actions affect others, sometimes creating a domino effect. Another subject for another article. I bring it up now because, even as I have achieved personal freedom, it is important to always remind myself of this.
I don’t care what other people think about me could be an answer to the 2nd question.
“Really?”, I might ask myself if I still believed this. “You don’t care how many people’s day you might have improved by acts of kindness? Or how many you might have accidentally hurt?”
Okay then, how did I achieve freedom?
Well, first of all, it was not because I suddenly became wealthy enough to have f-you money. Instead I have loads of f-you debt. As in, “screw it, I’ll pay it later.”
We all fall victim to societal convention. Yes? No? I’m often placed into a box. People are confused when learning I am not a member of the VFW or other military veteran retirement organizations. After a 20-year career in the Marine Corps, this is what is expected of me. I am supposed to have my awards and plaques on my office wall. “Wow, look at that. Jerry’s been there and done that.”
Soon after leaving the military is when I achieved my version of freedom. I became true to myself. I chose not to do those post-retirement military things because I don’t want to. It is not something I would enjoy.
Not doing those things is simple enough. I became true to myself in other, more difficult ways.
I’m no longer embarrassed by doing and feeling things men are not supposed to do or feel.
I deeply care about other people. If I have wronged someone I can’t sleep until I relieve my burden. When I’m able to help someone I am energized.
I am emotional. It is not difficult to bring me to tears.
I care about the Earth. It makes me feel better to reduce my impact. Whether I’m making a difference as a small spec on the cosmic scale is not relevant to me. I feel better doing my part.
I feel good writing about who I truly am. I feel the freedom to publish this article.
What other people think of me is none of my business.
When I help someone, whether it is holding a door open, or giving unsolicited advice, or simply lending a listening ear, it is none of my business whether they are appreciative. When I apologize, it is none of my business whether I am forgiven.
I achieved my version of freedom by being true to myself without apology. Probably later in life than others. Maybe earlier in life than some. I am free because I do the things I want to do. And I do those things as often as I possibly can.
Those who know me know my love for the mountains. I love hiking all day with a huge backpack. Setting up camp deep in the wilderness, relying only upon what I’ve carried, rubbing my sore legs after a fireside dinner, is my version of peace and happiness.
Hikers will often discuss how much to carry, how long to hike, and how fast to hike. My response is simple. Hike your own hike. Worry less about what other hikers are doing, and instead focus on ways to enjoy your own hike.
Freedom. Live your own life. Worry less about what others expect of you. Focus more on what you enjoy.
Do you enjoy helping others? Cool. Find ways to do that more often. Prefer to live an introverted life? Awesome. Stay home and watch movies more often.
This is my unsolicited advice to the reader. Stop living the way you are expected to live.
Live your own life.