Are you really free?

Freedom is defined as: The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants.

In the United States of America Independence day is celebrated on the 4th of July. This is a very important holiday for me. You see, I was born and raised in Cuba. My growing up years were restricted by a communist society that did not tolerate any of the freedoms we are so used to having here. As a result, I cherish freedom! When I had the opportunity to leave Cuba in 1970 through Spain, I took it gladly, even though in meant to leave behind everything I knew and everyone I loved. I could now experience freedom! Or so I though. . .

As the years past and I received an education in psychology, systems thinking, and leadership development I discover that in the "free" world, many people in families and in the workplace were feeling very similarly to the way I felt in Cuba. That's when I started to understand that freedom is not something externally bestowed on you. It is an internal thing, a thing of the spirit. It's the presence of something in a person, not the absence of constraint from without. 

Contrary to what you might think, in 2014 the United States ranked 21st worldwide in personal freedom. The Legatum Institute in London calculated personal freedom based on protection of civil liberties. This ranking for the USA has dropped significantly from ninth place in 2010. But there are many other countries where personal freedom is way worst. Therefore, if we look externally,  we might say freedom is becoming more elusive. 

Yet, the real meaning of personal freedom has more to do with where you focus your attention. If you are all the time preoccupied with yourself, your comfort, your desires, your selfish motives, and other's opinions of yourself, you are in a perpetual prison of your own making, and wholly without personal freedom. 

In inner freedom of the spirit, instead of turning inwards, you turn outwards. When you are free, you give of yourself spontaneously. "He who loses his life will find it, just as he who seeks to save his life will lose it." Christ summed up in that aphorism the whole of human and divine wisdom about personal freedom and personal enslavement. Personal enslavement, preoccupation with self, reaches its climax in hatred, which is aggression in its extreme form. And the supreme expression of inner freedom is love—the natural and spontaneous embodying of one's self in the service to others.

How does all this manifest in everyday life? How do you know you are really free? What do we need to learn about freedom. Here are some lessons about freedom I have collected from my life and work experiences. I have also incorporated ideas from Chad Renando as he reflected on Nelson Mandela's book Long Walk to Freedom.

1. Losing freedom can be a gradual process

It is our own narrative that can limit self-belief. What you think you can or can't do follows a process that tends to continue until radical action is needed.

2. Regaining freedom can require planned radical action

You may need to take intentional action to realize your own personal freedoms.  This can often come in the form for a “crisis”, as you throw off the limitations you have placed upon yourself or a need to re-establish boundaries in your life. The response can seem like a radical change, but radical does not mean a personal fight for freedom is not planned. Care needs to be taken to consider the impact on others as boundaries are clarified.

3. Freedom comes with having a purpose

When your life has purpose, when you have found a cause, or a work, or a mission to give yourself wholly to for the benefit of others, you are freed from self-doubt, feelings of inferiority, or constant preoccupation with how you look to others. You can let go of shame and feel the sense of accomplishment that comes from being your best self and not succumbing to the fears that you may place on yourself. 

4. Freedom requires both knowledge and action

Education should lead to thinking for yourself. Yet, education is only effective when there is action. You need to be aware of the reasons behind your beliefs and those of others. But that awareness has little value if it's not supported by your action. If you don't act on your beliefs, you are not truly free.

 5. Freedom requires a fight

Most personal growth requires a level of discomfort.  This can be at odds with a society that caters for our comfort and complacency. Many people I work with want to make changes that will result in more personal freedom. Few want to go to the discomfort of personal growth. If personal freedom has value, then it is worth being uncomfortable; it is worth fighting for.

6. Freedom requires discipline and consistency

Discipline and consistency appears to be a theme common to great leaders. If you want consistency in reaching goals in personal freedom, one way may be to learn discipline in seemingly non-related areas of your life. It can be through the sacrifice that is required from personal discipline that freedom is found.

You need discipline to limit your use of electronic devices while interacting with people. Discipline to control and resolve your negative emotions instead of flaring out and offending people. Discipline to leave work at work and enjoy your family. Discipline to think before speaking. Discipline to listen to those around you. Discipline to act authentically instead of as you think others want you to act.

7. Finding freedom is about finding who you are and deciding to show up as yourself

Totalitarian regimes not only rob you of your freedom, it attempts to take away your humanity and your identity. People who struggle with personal freedom often say they don't know who they are anymore. They feel they can't choose their lot in life. The prisons we create for ourselves can take away our identity, reducing us to a caricature of ourselves.

Reclaiming your freedom has to do with learning who you are and deciding to let the real you show up, without masks. When other's perceive that you are acting out of your authentic self, they will respect and trust you more.

A few questions for reflection:

Over the weekend, as you think of people gaining freedom, take a bit of time to reflect on the following questions:

  1. Have I given up my freedom in any way? If so, what would it mean to take it back?
  2. What small, consistent steps can I put in place to regain those freedoms?
  3. Do I feel constrained, like I am in a prison of my own choosing? Or is my approach to personal freedom allowing me to be who I know I can be?
  4. What sacrifices and disciplines am I willing to make in order to regain my freedoms?

As you reflect on the extent of your own personal freedom, remember to be kind to yourself. Let go of your mistakes and enslavement of the past and plan how to be free today and going forward.

Your turn:

One way to reclaim your freedom is to give yourself the gift of executive coaching to help you in your path to regain your freedoms. If you are interested, contact me for a free call to explore where you are and what you can do in your way to more freedom.