Lately I have been thinking about the burden of freedom. What I mean by freedom is not the civil freedom of being out of jail, but an existential freedom: freedom from unfulfilled desires, from debilitating illness, from time-consuming commitments, from limiting beliefs. The kind of freedom that makes you wake up on Saturday morning, have your breakfast, come into the living room and think to yourself “no one expects anything from me today, I have the whole day to myself, to do anything I want. So, what should I do?”
It is this freedom that I have come to experience lately. The convergence of several factors contributed to this: my approaching discharge from army, which was a long 6 years commitment; completing my MBA degree, which took considerable time for the last 2 years; professional crossroads; my nice bachelor apartment which I moved to in August; decent health.
All of this made my evenings and weekends almost completely free from external commitments and dependencies. There were no more excuses to hang to, no more reasons to do anything I shouldn’t be doing. I was facing the dread of freedom.
It’s the same feeling you get when you stand on the edge of a cliff. Its not only the fear of falling that you feel, but even more so, the fear of throwing yourself over the edge. There is nothing that holds you back, no strings attached. And that’s scary.
So I have been looking for ways to cope with this freedom. Trying not to escape it, or hide from it behind a facade of meaningless activities and projects, but to cope with it. And so far I have found two approaches that seem to work for me:
- Self-exploration – the freedom I am talking about is not only freedom from the outside world, but also from yourself. Being open and flexible by nature makes it easy for you to doubt yourself. And the only way to find certainty in who you are and who you should be is by asking yourself questions, reading books, thinking about the big picture of your life and the distant corners of your personality.
- Anchors – isolation is freedom’s ugly relative. Living alone, being a knowledge worker, (which means sitting in front of computer many hours a day), its easy to feel isolated and detached from the world. So its important to find anchors – meaningful commitments that connect you to the world. And usually they are right there – there is no need to travel far to find them: its visiting parents, seeing a close friend, being friendly to a neighbor. And it doesn’t have to be a social visit per se: going to cemetery to visit your grandma’s grave, or watching national team’s football game can have the same effect. It’s about connecting: connecting to people close to you, connecting to your past, connecting to your national identity.
So as much as this freedom is frightening, it can also be enabling. If we have the courage to face the central questions of our lives, we might be rewarded with quiet confidence and peace of mind.