One of my favorite questions to ask my clients is, “If I gave you a billion dollars right now, what would you do with your life?”
I love to ask this because it gives me meaningful insight … like, the really juicy stuff … into their dreams, their values and the limits they put on themselves and their lives.
Usually, the answers are about letting go. Letting go of something or someone. “If I had a BILLION DOLLARS! Well …
“ … I’d quit my horrible job and travel the world”
“ … I’d finally leave my miserable girlfriend and get my own place”
“ … I’d stop fighting this damn lawsuit and just move on with my life.”
“And how do you imagine you’d feel once you made this change?” I ask.
“… free. I would feel like I’m finally free”
Freedom … it’s one of our most treasured values. To have nothing holding us back from being able to do whatever we want, when we want and how we want. To be WHO we want.
We’re taught to let other people’s expectations drive our choices. In the name of respect, or tradition, or duty, or love, or niceness. In order to honor these values, you’ve been taught to limit your freedom.
So, does that make you a little angry? Bitter even? I get it! Because you’ve tasted freedom before! Remember? And it was THE BEST. Remember when you were carefree and single and in your early 20s? Your whole life ahead of you. Nobody could tell you what to do.
Or during that month-long backpacking trip across South America. Holy crap! You were SO free. You didn’t have to answer anyone … literally … “Sorry, I’ll be deep in the Amazon jungle … no cellphone service!” And it was amazing! You just want that feeling back. Where did it go?
I hear ya! In this always-on, “part-time in this industry is 40-hours a week” world we’re all living in, it’s completely natural—even healthy—to want more independence and to do whatever you want. To want to be free to just live your absolute ideal life. And to feel a bit burdened by the things holding us back from that life.
I see so many clients (I’m looking at you, millenials) who become obsessed with getting this freedom as a prerequisite to living the life they want. So much so that the freedom itself becomes the thing that holds them back. Not having it becomes the chain that anchors them to the frustrations they complain about and the dissatisfaction they feel.
“Once I get rid of [Insert personalized pain-point here] then I’ll be happy.” Does this sound familiar? What does it sound like for you … “Once I get rid of my miserable girlfriend …” or “Once I quit this god-awful job …” or “Once I move out of this one-horse town …”
So, what you’re telling yourself is that unless a particular condition is met in your world, you’ll always be frustrated, stressed and unable to live the life you want. You’re pretty much giving yourself permission to opt-out of life and put the blame on something else.
And if you do attain this “freedom” from what’s “holding you back” … who’s to say a new freedom-squasher won’t come along and send you right back to where you started?
What kind of freedom is that?
It’s a false freedom built on fear. And in my book, that’s not freedom at all. It’s escape. It’s sticking your head in the sand and saying “Oh well … nothing I can do but suffer.”
To me, real freedom comes when we decide to take complete responsibility for our life and how we experience it. When nothing and noone can throw us off our course and we can decide how we want to relate to and respond to any situation. That’s true freedom.
And to that end, you can be free right now. Amazing, right? You don’t need to wait for me to hand you a billion dollars. Your freedom is within. As Kahlil Gibran says, “What is it but fragments of your own self you would discard that you may become free?”
I don’t have a billion dollars, sooo … here’s how it’s done
But this might be easier said than done. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we do have choices, and we’re free to make the ones that are right for us.
Or, we’re waiting for verbal permission from the world, that we’re never going to get, to take the reins and make our own decisions. Reassurance that we can do this and still be good people.
So, let’s pretend right now that I’m a genie in a bottle, and I’m going to go ahead and grant your wish to be free. So …
You are free to choose which cultural narratives you adopt and which ones you don’t! Poof, done! Yep, it’s that easy.
If you were raised in a culture that tells you that you’re not successful unless you take a white-collar office job, or you were raised to believe that the man should be the primary money-maker in the household, you get to choose whether or not you live by those standards.
Maybe your mind, body and soul feel most enriched getting your hands dirty everyday cultivating and farming the earth to feed your friends and neighbors on this beautiful planet. What a lovely, noble mission. Why should someone else’s beliefs stop you from experiencing that everyday?
Or maybe you’re in a heterosexual relationship in which the woman has a great 9-5 and the man has the opportunity to stay home with the kids. If that works well for your family, as it does for so many, why not fully embrace it! There’s no reason to let outdated ideas prevent you from setting up the best possible life for you and your loved ones.
And the power to pursue either of the scenarios above lies completely within you. You just have to make that internal shift in your beliefs, to take responsibility for your own happiness and make the best of your present situation.
Here’s another wish granted …
You are free to choose the people you spend your time with. Now you do occasionally have to deal with people you’d rather not. This genie can’t make your irritating cubicle mate or the rude kid behind the coffee counter disappear. But you can make a choice about what kind of people you spend the majority of your time with. That influence your life and how you feel about it everyday. Like your partner or your friends.
If you are staying in a relationship with someone that makes you miserable because you’re too afraid to be single because you’re a “certain age” or because your mother tells you your too picky … well, I’m here to call B.S. on that nonsense.
What an incredible waste of your one perfect chance at life. The pain and suffering caused by an abusive partner, or just the wrong match, does not in any way compensate for your perceived (and I won’t lie, possibly realistic) belief that people are judging you for being single.
You need to shift the mindset that other people’s opinions about your life are more important than your own. Pain, loneliness and unhappiness can be found within a relationship as much as it can be found without one. And true and complete happiness can be found being on your own just as easily as it can be found in a beautiful loving relationship. It’s about what is right for you. Being true to yourself and your needs is the secret to feeling your most “free.”
So, shift your attention from what others think about you to what you think about you. Be brave and determined to find those people that feed your soul. And you can start by feeding it yourself. When you do and you become the strong, self-possessed you you’re meant to be, you’ll attract into your life the very people that will support and love you most.
You are free to prioritize what matters most. This last one really sets you up for living free successfully in every other area of your life, including the examples above. Because when you set your own priorities and put what really matters most to you first, you live without bitterness and frustration.
Many times, when we let other people set our priorities, we feel neglected. Then we feel unable to control our own destiny and a victim mentality sets in.
But when we take responsibility for our relationship to our experience, we’re giving ourselves permission to set and work towards our own goals. We now have choices!
But first, you need to take some time to sift through all of the things that are taking up your time and energy and find the ones that really get you to the life that will make you happiest.
So, if you have a dream to own your own veterinary practice … you just want to surround yourself with and care for animals … then you have things to do! You need to go to school, you need to spend time volunteering at the ASPCA … because you can’t go a day without hugging a puppy. You need to save up your money and learn how to run a business.
But let’s say you meet someone along the way and you really care about them. Over time, they want you to spend more and more of your time with them, doing the hobbies and activities they love. Then they decide they want to get married and have kids, and they think that you going to school is a waste, because it’s too time consuming and doesn’t fit their vision of the future. And you slowly see your dreams fade away.
You have a choice here ….
If you reset your priorities back on opening your vet practice, it just means that you’re taking responsibility for your own destiny. You can make the choice to schedule your volunteer time at the kennel and feed your soul, or you can go do what your partner wants and silently resent him or her. You can sign up for another class, knowing it needs to be done to get your dream job, or you can resign yourself to making sure someone else lives out their dreams.
And maybe both your partner and your vet practice are equal priorities in your life. Then, you have the option to sit down with your partner and work out a way to create a balance that works for you both. The point is, it’s your choice and you are free to make it.
It doesn’t mean you don’t care about your partner if you set your own priorities. If they choose to leave, then they are following their own path. You should feel free to follow yours.
So, starting today, let your mantra be this: “I take 100% responsibility to my relationship with my experience.”
Do the work to make those internal shifts in your mindset about what it means to be successful, how relationships should work, what your priorities should be, whatever is holding you back … and you will see a whole world of choices open up that will allow you to make the best of what is in your world now. You will be the one who decides your own happiness. And that is true and lasting freedom.
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