Freedom’s Most Valuable Lesson



"Freedom is only truly freeing when it is pursued with presence and courage. If not, pursuing a particular freedom will cost you your freedom in other areas."



“Freedom lies in being bold.” - Robert Frost

My first encounter with the concept of Freedom taught me a valuable lesson: it was absolutely necessary for my survival.

In school, I learned about many examples of freedom from historical events and periods in time: The American Revolution, the abolition of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, freedom of basic human rights, freedom to be one’s self. They were filled with powerful lessons that taught me about the meaning of freedom based on others’ experiences. My own experience with ‘freedom’ however, occurred long before I learned about the concept in school. I didn’t have the privilege of learning from the outside looking in, I was managing through the experience first-hand. I had no knowledge of how to lead myself through such an unfamiliar experience, especially considering I was a young child at the time.

Like many others, I grew up in an environment that felt unstable, unpredictable, and chaotic. My home felt like I was trapped in a ‘psychological prison’. When my home felt too unsafe, my room became my sanctuary. When my room felt unsafe, I fled to the outdoors. I looked for relief from the emotional and psychological pain I experienced at home, and got my first taste of freedom when playing sports out on the street with my friends in the neighborhood. When I reflect on this now with more wisdom and empathy, I notice that I was running away from one set of feelings and running towards another. At the time however, I was lost in the thoughts and emotions that came with the experience for many years to come.

I began to experience an intentional shift in what freedom meant to me as I became an adult. It felt like a value I was choosing rather than one I felt I needed to survive. Since making this shift, my understanding of what freedom can mean to a person has increased significantly and has led to what I now view as freedom’s most valuable lesson.

Here’s a short-list of what Freedom has meant to me at different times throughout my adulthood:
- Being able to further my education
- Working so that I could live on my own and support myself
- Moving to a completely new area
- Having a remote job so I wasn’t confined to an office and daily commute
- Obtaining complete financial independence with the ability to retire early (not having to work)
- Escaping the judgment of others
- Being ‘work optional’ (working but not having to work)
- Doing work that I am passionate about and enjoy
- Breaking generational cycles and creating conscious habits and traditions
- Discovering and accepting who I am

Reading through those bullet points is like jumping into a time machine. I can see myself in each period of my life. I can feel the emotions I felt. I can hear the thoughts that were driving me. Each and every time my pursuit for these freedoms had an opportunity cost that I wasn’t aware of - my peace, presence, and sense of self.

As I write this article today, I view freedom as my ability to create peace within my mind. Not too long ago, I was speaking with my therapist about how overwhelmed and anxious I had been feeling. I couldn’t seem to find a way to escape my own thoughts (self-judgment/doubt/sabotage). I felt completely powerless and hopeless; a recipe for a downward spiral I had become all too familiar with throughout my life. My therapist listened patiently and then took a long pause before asking me a question that I’ve gone back to many times since. He asked, “Are you in control of your mind or do your thoughts control your mind?” It was a moment that caught me off guard and disrupted my thought pattern. Almost like I didn’t know how to process the information. It reminded me of another saying that has resonated with me - You are not your thoughts. I was reminded that I had the power to consciously pause, observe my thoughts, and decide on which ones I would entertain, which I would accept, and which I would let go of. My thoughts were the orchestra of instruments and my mind was the conductor. This is a realization I have experienced numerous times as my journey to creating inner peace has not been a linear path of success.

I believe now that freedom has many meanings that can all exist at once. Its relevance to one’s life can change over time from person to person, community to community, and country to country from both an individual and societal perspective. The meaning of the quote mentioned at the beginning of this article by American poet Robert Frost (“Freedom lies in being bold”) has stood out to me as a common theme throughout my life’s experience. It’s what I believe is freedom’s most valuable lesson.

Freedom is only truly freeing when it is pursued with presence and courage. If not, pursuing a particular freedom will cost you your freedom in other areas. The most likely areas would include your mental well-being and possibly your identity as you currently know it. It is from my own experience as well as the experiences of others that I believe freedom is necessary for our survival as humans. Life has taught me much about freedom that is applicable to the VUCA world we live in today that I hope provides you with thought-provoking insights.

Be present. Create peace. Achieve freedom externally while experiencing freedom internally.

Take a moment to reflect on the following questions about what freedom means to you -

“What does the word Freedom bring up for me right now?"

“How has my definition of freedom changed throughout my life?”

“What areas of my life do I feel the most free? Why?”

“What does Freedom feel like in my body when I am experiencing it?”

“What is holding me back from experiencing the freedom I desire?”

“What are the thoughts or beliefs that are limiting my sense of freedom?”

“What practices (e.g., walking, mindfulness, journaling, therapy) can I incorporate to improve my mental and emotional freedom?”