What does it mean to really be free?
Written: 12-15-2012
Nikki checking out the scene at a rest stop near Moab, Utah
Nikki checking out the scene at a rest stop near Moab, Utah

I have discussed the idea of what would make me happy with Nikki multiple times over the years.  And after a lot of discussions about houses, cars, jobs, careers, bikes, races and even children – the one thing that I come to at the end of each conversation is “freedom”.

It may sound a little odd that I’m talking about not having freedom, but I think over the years, decisions have been made and priorities have been set that have lead to a life where I don’t feel I have as much freedom as I would like.

The truth is that most of my “lack of freedom” is a result of self imposed barriers, which I would like to share some thoughts on a few areas that I think about at times:

Financial Freedoms — there’s no question that I feel constrained in my choices by financial barriers.  The truth is that all of these obstacles that I find in this area are related to my own perceptions of what needs to happen and choices I’ve made.

Debt — no matter what anyone says, living with personal debt is a major barrier to living with complete freedom.  Realizing a need to have financial freedom, Nikki and I went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University in 2007, we’re still working on it with less than gazelle like intensity (which Ramsey says is necessary).

Student Loans — I was always told that I needed to get an education, at any cost.  The decision to go to college wasn’t an easy one for me, but once I got to the University of Nebraska, staying was a simple choice.  I loved learning, growing and studying.  It all came at a cost, which I mostly paid for with student loans.  It was amazing how easy money was to obtain, with no real thought on how simple it would be to pay it back.  I was fortunate to have graduate school paid for at the University of Kentucky, but easy money lead to a standard of living that I didn’t / couldn’t realistically mange while a student.  8.5 years after graduating from UK, I’m still paying for that education.

Consumer Needs or Wants — I have always prided myself for living with an anti-materialistic mindset, but what I say and what I do is not always the same.  I often find that the next new gadget will provide some happiness I don’t already possess.  It takes an incredible amount effort and energy to live free of a consumer’s mentality in our culture.  This may not seem like an issue of freedom, but in my perception, if you are constantly seeking something that is external to your own belief system, it limits your freedom.

Freedom to pursue your passions.  I talk to many people that work at a job that they don’t love, are not passionate about, nor feel empowered to change.  Whether it be economic reasons, that they don’t have the skills to change careers or they live in a geographic area that doesn’t present many options – I see and hear many individuals that feel inprisioned by their daily work.  I happen to be really fortunate in this area, because I get to work daily on something I am very passionate about.

Freedom to explore and seek experiences.  There are a couple things that Nikki and I have done in the history of our relationship that have brought a lot of happiness and feelings of “being free”.  In 2004, we took a hiking, mountain biking and back packing trip through the Daniel Boone National Forest.  Not only did I realize that I wanted to marry her, I realized that days without a shower, crappy food and hard rocky ground to sleep on could actually be quite enjoyable when you don’t feel pulled apart by million daily obligations we often commit ourselves to.

In much the same way, for two week in Dec 2011 / Jan 2012, we took a long road trip. We traveled to Chicago, Lincoln, NE, Broken Bow, NE, Laramie, Wyoming, Salt Lake City, Vail, CO, (stopped in Keystone), Denver, CO, Lawrence, KS, St. Louis, MO and back to Lexington.  It sounds like a ridiculous amount of driving, long days of boredom and road rage – but the truth is that it was just the opposite.  It was the best time Nikki and I have spent together since our wedding day.  We sought out the best cup of coffee, stopped when we wanted to, met friends along the way and even participated in a wedding.

Freedom of time.  The idea of having the ability to use your time as you want is an amazing goal.  I hear all the time that people can’t do things for themselves or things they would like to do, because they don’t feel in control of their own calendar.  Their schedule is dictated by someone else.  Even Warren Buffet is in a commercial on CNBC saying that a perfect day is one where his time is his own.  Therefore, this “freedom” is definitely not an issue of money if he can’t find this ability to control his calendar.

Those are just a few of the ideas that often come up when I start to ask myself the question, “What does it really mean to be free?”  I know there are others, I will try to capture them over time.  The resulting exercise as I thing through these ideas, is to come up with what having “complete freedom” would mean for me today.

I’ve actually never put this down, but here’s a first attempt:

– Ability to know that no one “owns” me in any capacity, whether through unpaid loans or through control of my time.
– Ability to seek opportunity without hesitation, whether it be in career decision or taking on a new adventure.
– Emotional, psychological and intellectual strength and discipline to know that my choices were made in line with my personal convictions.  Holy crap, it feels very odd to write that because I would like to believe that I have complete intellectual discipline today. But I did just buy an Iphone 5, which I do like – but not sure if it’s because I’m told I should like it or it really creates happiness?  Tough stuff.