We throw the word around a lot.
Kids want freedom from adult authority. Parents want their kids to enjoy freedom from peer pressure.
The LGBT community wants freedom from societal expectations of sexuality and gender norms. African Americans want freedom from racial profiling. Women want freedom from chauvinism and patriarchal social structures.
In the 1800s, hundreds of thousands of African slaves fought for freedom from plantation rule in the Americas. And in the 1900s, thousands of Jews wasted away in internment camps, hoping for freedom from the Nazi.
We all want freedom.
But what is it really?
And if you knew exactly what it was, what price would you put on it?
The Millennial Definition of Freedom
These days, our generation is mostly concerned with financial freedom. We spend years in school getting degrees for jobs that will give us a financially secure future; freeing us from the limitations of poverty. And then we spend the vast majority of our lives enslaved to these jobs to prolong this false sense of freedom.
I’m not advising anyone to quit their jobs. Someone has to work. We can’t all be entrepreneurs, trust fund kids, sugar babies, and hippies. We need full time doctors, nurses, garbage collectors, and lawyers, too.
But sometimes people allow themselves to do little more than eat, sleep, work and repeat. That’s not living. That’s not freedom. That’s making it through the day.
Our species evolved past that a long time ago.
Slaving Away for Corporate
When I was a fellow cog in the wheel, working at a Third World BP outsourcing post for a Fortune 500 company, I still made time to LIVE and to enjoy the alleged freedoms my job had purchased.
Weekends were for road trips, snorkeling, trying new foods, going to the gym, running, volunteering, writing – doing anything and everything that I was passionate about, outside of work.
I clocked out at 4PM on the dot every day to go home and live what little life was left to live in the day. My supervisor hated it, but I got my work done, met every deadline on time and often ahead of others, used less overtime to do the same amount of work as everyone else, and then went home to do better and more important things.
My director made the unfortunate comment one day that I must be “unmotivated”, because I didn’t do as much overtime as everyone else. For her, being a good worker was sitting at your desk clocking hours at roughly $5 per hour ($3.25 after taxes), even when you had finished your work, finished your regular hours and had nothing else to do.
To me, that was slavery and when I quit my job, I told them so.
My exact words to the HR manager were, “With all due respect, working here has been like working on a plantation with central air conditioning.”
Ironically enough, she smiled and told me I was not the first person to tell her that. But how many of them actually did something about it? Leaving to be “enslaved” somewhere else is just exchanging one master for another.
But when I think back to true freedom, it wasn’t weekend road trips sponsored by my job that made me feel the most free. It was childhood freedom, when our needs were greater but our wants were less.
I remember when my greatest desire when I walked into a store was a colouring book and a pack of crayons, or a book to scribble in; not a new phone or a laptop.
In early 2015, I started to spend a lot of time thinking back to those days, and I started to think of how much ownership the things I owned had on me.
In January and February, I started to throw things out to declutter my apartment. Every weekend, I made a point of parting with things – old appliances, old devices, clothes… all out. By June 29 2015, I was able to fit every material thing of value to me into three suitcases and a laptop bag.
I felt weightless!
That was freedom. And when I left those suitcases with one friend, and lived out of a knapsack at another; and then went on the road for a week with just a carry-on – that was freedom for me, too.
A New Hobby
And since it felt so bloody good as a child, I also went back to colouring…
Freedom is not Free
Maybe one day, I’ll go back to being a cog in the wheel at some other company, and maybe I won’t. The unbearable fact that most of us don’t like to admit to ourselves (and which others use as an excuse), is that freedom is not free.
And even when we give up our homes and our things, savings don’t last forever, and freelancing and entrepreneurship doesn’t always pay the bills. Maybe I’ll figure it out and find a way to prolong what was originally supposed to be a 6 month adventure, and maybe I won’t.
But until then… here I am. I’m where I want to be. Are you?
If you don’t like the answer to that question, then fix it! – even if it’s only a temporary moment of blissful freedom!
Originally published in August 2015 on Alexis Chateau.