We strive for freedom. It’s human nature.
Among people I worked with in my coaching practice, this is inevitably among the top core values that bubble up in our conversations. It’s striking that in spite of all the success we have in modern society – heck, we have autonomous cars and the Internet! – most of us are still yearning for more freedom in our lives.
We have made much progress as a society, but instead of making us freer, our progression seems to bind us tighter and tighter to lives we don’t enjoy as we should.
We are attached to our smartphones not liberated by them.
We are obsessed with climbing the corporate ladder not freed by the income it yields.
We are bound by material possessions not uplifted by their utility and beauty.
In this article, I would like to talk about freedom. What is it? Why does it matter? How can we get more of it daily life?
I’m sharing these insights because it’s how I actually thought about designing my life after leaving my corporate career. I realized that time and mobility were huge factors in my happiness. This led me to sell most of what I owned (including my car and home), move cities and change careers.
I’m not telling you what to do, I’m sharing what I actually did.
It worked for me and might work for you.
What is Freedom?
Any definition of freedom will vary depending on whom you ask. A Yogi might say “you are always free, it’s your nature”. A business person might say that freedom is having the money to buy whatever you want. A child might say that freedom is to each ice cream for breakfast and never have to go to school!
In my past, I’ve often thought about freedom in strictly monetary terms. After earning a reasonable amount of money, saving a lot and taking a semi-retirement from my corporate job, I realized first-hand that not worrying about money was only a small piece of freedom. There was more to it. Yes, the Yogi is right, “we are born free,” but that’s not all.
My personal definition of freedom includes the ability to have a choice regarding how I spend my time, the type of things I have and also where I choose to be. When I say “choose to be” I’m referring to where I choose to live, travel and spend my time.
To know what freedom is, it helps first to describe what freedom is not:
Example 1: Sam makes millions in income each year but is beholden to a company and their duties as a VP of Marketing, working 80+ hour weeks and spending 100+ days on work-related travel. Sam is struggling, striving and not particularly happy. He is not free.
Example 2: Ming makes just enough to provide for basic food and shelter needs, but must work set hours at a particular location with hardly enough income to pay for occasional travel or splurges. She is continually worried about running out of money. Ming is not free.
Example 3: Kavita makes a decent salary and has plenty of wiggle room with how she spends her time but is held captive by the things in her life. She is stressed whenever she needs to leave behind material comforts, her pets, children and normal routines. Kavita is also not free.
In all these examples, people have some elements of freedom, but not others. Money without time. Time without money. Money and time without mobility. They are all not very free ways to live.
There is a big caveat in how I am talking about freedom. If you are absolutely content and at peace with your life, regardless of circumstances, you are free. After all, freedom is, at it’s core, a way of being and a state of mind.
As Seneca mentions in Letters of a Stoic:
“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.” – Seneca
The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.” – Seneca
I know a few people who are working long hours and have little free time, but they are making it work, and it causes them no trouble whatsoever. They seem happy enough, contented and fully enjoy their lives. If that is you, congrats! You are free.
I also know someone who has little cash in the bank, but they have zero issues with it seems very happy. They have meaning, purpose, and joy in their life. If that is you, congrats! You are free.
For the rest of us, we seem to be bound up and frustrated by our lack of freedom. We appear to be missing the time, money and/or mobility that we want. If only there were a way to get more of those things. There is, but it requires a level of understanding about what each of these factors mean to you. Let’s go deeper into it.
The Freedom Formula
Let’s call this the Freedom Formula:
Freedom = Money x Time x Mobility
Money: the financial means to provide the lifestyle you want.
Time: the free time to spend on the things you care about.
Mobility: the ability to be where you want to be.
Tim Ferriss also speaks about aspects of this formula in discussing the priorities of “The New Rich” in The Four Hour Work Week.
The big question is, how much of each do we need?
The truth is that we each have a different optimal value for these variables. They are also moving targets. How much money you need to live as a single 25-year-old is different from a 50-year-old single-earning household. One free day per week can be a godsend to an overworked doctor, whereas a wanderlust fueled college-grad might yearn for an entire gap-year. Even mobility varies. I once really wanted to visit far-away places (and sometimes still do), but I’ve come to love the beauty in my own backyard here in Colorado.
How to Create More Freedom in Your Life
The point in sharing this freedom formula, that your freedom is a function of money/time/mobility, is that it touches on a few factors that can help us make subtle (or massive) shifts in the quality of our lives, toward more freedom. Most of us never think about what means to create more freedom in our life, and therefore, are continually frustrated but not sure how to get ourselves out of the mess.
One way out is to get clear on what freedom means to you, how much you care about it, and if it’s important, figure out how to create more of it in your life. Below are a few questions that can help with your inquiry:
How much money does it take to provide for your current quality of life each month and year?
What expensive habits or things could you eliminate, without impacting your quality of life?
What inexpensive (or free) things could you add to increase the quality of your life?
How much free time do you have after accounting for your job and essential duties?
What would you do with an extra half-day (or full-day) of free time per week?
How can you create at least one more hour of free time per week? How about 2, 3, 4 hours or more?
If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? Why?
What would it take for you to visit any of your top travel destinations this year?
Closer to home, how can you spend more time at the places you enjoy the most?
“It is truth that liberates, not your effort to be free.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti
The truth is that we are all free at the core of our being. Regardless of circumstances, we have the potential to gain immediate freedom through the understanding that we are more than our thoughts, our struggles, and our pains. This is the truth referenced by Krishnamurti in the quote above.
However, it’s also true that we can take practical steps to move forward towards creating an environment where freedom is more visible and apparent in daily life. To me, that means finding the right mix of money, free time and mobility.
This is the type of thinking I’ve applied to design my life. It’s worked out well so far. Perhaps it will work for you also.
Of course, if you already a walking Buddha, and feel freedom in your life right now, ignore everything I just wrote. Please continue on your enlightened way!