Freedom. I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom lately. In North America, it’s tossed around almost to the point of trite as it’s used in a plethora of varying perspectives. Freedom is the core reason of why we work so hard, why we develop our careers, and why we just try altogether. As an Asian female, in this age, I’m eternally grateful for all the folks before me who fought, sacrificed and painstakingly paved the way so that I could enjoy my freedom in one of the richest countries on the planet. I’m indebted to my parents and grandparents who had the foresight to move from WW II China to Hong Kong, and later to Canada. Because of this, their descendants have the opportunity to pursue a life where they can enjoy good fortune beyond measure. Freedom is at the core of it.
At a more granular level, certainly the reason why I started working for myself is so that I can build my foundation to support the life I want to live. The reason why I built ITsolopreneurs is to inspire others who want to follow the path that I chose, and build a similar foundation for a future with more freedom in their own lives.
There are so many ways we can use the term ‘freedom.’ If you’re reading this post, you likely reside, or come from North America, where the vast majority of the population has the freedom and opportunity to create a life by their own design. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blind to the fact that despite the current political and economic climate, there are still people who are enslaved to their jobs, poverty, and persecution through no fault of their own. While that is very real, and very grave, it is beyond the scope my thoughts today.
What Does Freedom Look like to You?
Today I invite you to dream with me. What does freedom look like to you? To quote Dr. Robert Anthony, in of course, my favourite book of all time ‘Beyond Positive Thinking,’ ‘Freedom doesn’t mean that you’re going to sit underneath tree for the rest of your days’. As Jack Canfield said ‘Success (and therefore, freedom) is the ability to do what you want, whenever you want, as often as you want.’’ I like that. I really like that. This phrase gives me the drive to pursue all the things that I am doing right now. It’s also a journey, rather than a destination. Everyone’s definition of freedom is different. Each of our definitions of freedom has to do with where we originated and where we want to go.
The saddest thing I see is when we willingly lock ourselves in a mental box. Though we live in a country, free to speak our minds, practice religion, love whomever our heart desires, and create enterprise, the vast majority of us still willingly lock ourselves in a mental jail of the status quo. Take our jobs, for instance. Too many of us start a new job opportunity with excitement and are full of potential. Years go by and we begin to coast. We become complacent in the familiarity. Yet there is so much waiting for us through the door if we would venture to open and step through it. As time passes, we eventually start to look for the little things: the office that we’re assigned, donuts on Fridays. We start to lose sight of all that we could accomplish. We develop a fear of the unknown. We develop a fear of losing what we have at hand.
Finding Freedom Every Step of the Way
Let’s talk about the journey. Oddly enough, some of the least expected things you could possibly imagine are the very things that create freedom for you. In my short-legged life, I’ve discovered that there are a few key success factors to building the foundation for freedom, every step of the way.
Structure and Systems Create Freedom
This is a factor which you would least expect to create freedom. At face value, it seems like it would be the exact opposite of what you would expect, or even be remotely associated with freedom. But this, in fact, is one of the most important cornerstones on which to get a handle, if you want one iota of freedom.
The fact that having structure and systems around your endeavour, be it business, family or passion minimizes chaos. It reduces, and even eliminates mental clutter. Often we waste so much time and mental energy trying to figure out what we need to do next. But once we have created a structure around a process, it’s freeing. Only then can we confidently share the load among the team, or even outsource it. No book better illustrates this than Ari Meisel’s Less Doing, More Living, as I wrote in my post Ridiculously Simple Steps to Doing Less and Living More. Ari’s big idea is to Optimize, Automate, and then Outsource. In that order. Outsourcing too early merely perpetuates mess. The first step he advocates is to optimize process. That is very reason why systems and structure are required for freedom.
This one is probably less surprising. If we have any hope of doing what we want, when we want, as often as we want, we better be in good health. Yet we live in a culture that only recently values fitness. The vast majority of us lives in a reactionary world where we pop a Tylenol when we have a headache. We spend thousands of dollars on physical therapy when we have back issues. Yet so many of these conditions would never even happen if we would weight train a few times a week, and drink enough water. Simply, if you want the freedom to travel the world, play with your kids, solid health is the first thing you’ll need.
This should be a no-brainer. If you want to do what you want, when you want, however often you want, you have to have some good coin to pay for it. Guess what? It’s not an overnight thing. And it’s not efficient to strictly earn income. Trading time for money is the easiest possible way to earn money. But it’s also the worst way. Sooner or later, you’re going to run out of time to trade. We need to have multiple streams of income. This is the epitome of safety and security. Most professionals, regardless the field, only know to increase their wealth one way: chasing a higher salary, and putting some savings in a company retirement savings program. This is the best way for organizations to tie down their employees. I have some friends who started in government with me. They’re still there, 20 years later. When asked why they stay, it’s the enticement of the retirement pension to which they’re entitled. Sure, it sounds cushy: 75% – 90% of the average of your last five years’ salary. But they have to stay for another 15 years! Do you have any idea how much money we can make compound in 15 years? The key to creating financial freedom is to have a combination of building wealth through your earnings and having investments. And by investments, I mean those outside of your retirement savings plan. There is so much I can say on this subject. It’ll be a whole other post one day.
Time and freedom are paradoxical. You would think that planning and scheduling out your time limits your freedom. But it has the opposite effect. Scheduling your time allows you to maximize your time and minimize waste. Of all the non-renewable resources in this universe the one resource that is the most valuable to you is your time. They ain’t making anymore of it for you. So protect it at all costs.
I shared a short comic strip recently on Facebook that illustrated several strangely true things that grown-ups enjoy. Having plans cancel is one of them! It’s like getting a little surprise gift. It’s lovely. I’m constantly trying to cancel plans that I make! (Now you know.)
I was listening to Lewis Howes’ episode recently where he talked about the 8 Keys Powerful Leaders Use to Achieve Greatness. It’s irrelevant whether you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 organization, or a stay at home parent. If you’re alive, you’ve got the potential to be a leader. If you’re alive, you’ve got the potential for freedom.
So many of us, though we won the birth lottery being born in North America in this day and age, lock ourselves in a mental box of limiting beliefs. You’re only as free as your mind believes you are. Think about the great Nelson Mandela. Incarcerated for a third of his life, he recited this poem to other prisoners. It was kept him focused on his own self-mastery:
Out of the night which covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
— William Ernest Henley, 1875
I get choked up even I read it to myself. We are the master of our fates; we are the captain of our souls. This is exhibited everywhere in our lives.
Recently, at my client, a new guy joined our team. His desk was located two floors down, and made it very cumbersome to come upstairs every time he had a question, or to go through something with me. There were a few empty desks close by where the team sits. So I suggested for him to squat in one of the empty desks, for the sake of productivity and convenience. He was timid to do so without permission. That is the opposite of the way I work. My philosophy is that it’s easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission. I would have just squatted there until someone booted me out. As it stands, the PM cleared the path for him, and he’s now close to us. I get that this is a pretty benign example of creating your own fate. If we apply this to our lives, where else are we timid to move forward because we haven’t yet got the endorsement of someone else? Here’s a question… why do we need it? And if we need it, what all can we accomplish before we get it?
When we talk about the pursuit of freedom, we pursue. It’s a verb. A very important verb. Freedom without its pursuit is only an ideal. Execution is what matters. Whether you’ve always wanted to branch off on your own, or apply for a role in a new industry, you still need to put rubber to road and make it happen.
Ideas don’t count. The only thing that counts is the tangible action of making it happen. Even if you have health, money, time, and mindset, no ground is covered if you haven’t brought your idea from your head to physical reality.
If I can inspire you do one thing today, it’s to consider in detail what freedom means to you? Does it mean having the time and money to raise your kids, rather than dropping off at daycare before rushing off to work? Does it mean taking 6 weeks out of the office to embark on a transatlantic cruise with your loved ones? Does it mean having enough money to build a tech school for girls in a developing nation and then visiting it yearly? If we let our minds roam free for even just a little bit, we start see the beauty of being alive. We see how freedom is at the root of it all. Most importantly, we see that it is and always has been absolutely possible.
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