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What is Freedom?

What do you want out of life? Is it what other people want? Is it what other people have? It’s so easy to want, dream, and desire. There is a new subscription I can sign up for, if I bundle. The new song just dropped. When can I get it? The new car commercial looks like so much fun, and it's techy. I can afford it, right? What are my favorite celebrities up to today? Their last Instagram post was a few hours ago. I wonder what they’re going to do next? The questions and wants just happen and flow from one to the next, meanwhile I am stuck in the same place, doing the same things. I can’t remember the last time I purposely thought about my next steps in school, my future career, or about myself. Our minds flow into a trance-like-state that effortlessly drifts into a world of permanent desire. Who does this? The truth is that we all do. The commercials are built into our phones, web searches, social interactions, TVs, and across every billboard that we cross. It would be unrealistic to say that any of us can get away from a sea of ads because they’re conveniently placed everywhere. We live in a world of endless wants. This culture teaches us what to want. And they’re amazing teachers with unlimited resources.

We walk around unrestricted, but where are we really going? We can think what we want, but we are being taught what to want. How free are we? How much freedom do we have when we are always working, only to buy the next thing? Our decisions are our own, but we choose to wonder endlessly about other people’s lives rather than our own. The constant comparisons keep us thinking about what we don’t have, and stuck in the same place. The relentless waves of news, commercials, and flashy distractions lure us into a place of uninspired living. It seems so obvious to me now, but it was all a blur for so long. I felt a growing need to get away from it all, but didn’t know how. I felt alone somehow, but it was because of the daily dose of conformity. I put myself there, but it was the only world I knew for as far back as I could remember. I felt odd, but determined. I knew I could do more and be more, but didn’t know where to start.

I didn’t want to feel alone anymore and knew that other people must see and feel the same way I did. I made sense of it all by searching for those people. I wasn’t sure what to search for, but I started with Googling “how to be happy”. After bypassing all the ads and all the websites that tried to sell me on the same old false reality in a new package, I began to find people and perspectives that resonated with my interest in learning more about purposeful living. I was buying books, but it was for me, those closest to me, and our future. I was reading about habits, problem solving, planning skills, inner motivation, financial stability, success and controlling our fears. The frail articles at the very top of search results miss so much important details. They’re brief advice is often limited to simplistic bullet points and catchy pictures. Their points are easily forgotten and become part of a long list of flimsy attempts to answer important questions about life. I realized that the perspectives that I liked reading about came from books. They became a part of my everyday life. It was a new dose on something positive, inspiring, and filled with new ideas that I was eager to try on my own.

I had to go beyond very brief moments of inspiration and figure out how to stay driven to reach my goals. The questions I had about me and life could not be answered in a single moment. It would be nice, but I soon realized that such questions took time. Especially when one question led to another. What I really wanted to understand was where I was heading in life. What do I want my life to look like next year, or the next? How do I get there? What can I do when something or someone gets in the way? What will my career look like? What do I really need to keep me motivated? What will make me happy? Not superficially or temporarily happy, but really happy. Part of answering my questions as a way to live a purposeful life meant that I had to find a way to organize my thoughts. I became so intrigued with amazing perspectives and approaches that slowly taught me how to set and reach my goals – small ones and big ones. I became inspired, ambitious and focused on constantly looking for ways to feel happy. I’ve come across so many valuable perspectives, but the most powerful revolve around choice, confidence, and courage – they have given me a sense of freedom.

I had to learn to choose between decisions that benefit me now or later. Sometimes I had to trade. I had to learn to choose between what I want and what I need. It sounds simple, but those differences can easily become distorted by the materialistic culture that we live in. I had to choose to stay away from what is mindlessly popular or shallow. Although I could not see my choices, I could see their effect on my actions. I had to learn that my choices came from what I was exposed to and what I set my focus on. What choices led to my bad habits? How do I make better choices? How do I stick to doing them beyond a few days? The books and points of view that I was reading allowed me to answer those questions along the way. It was never about what to do or what to think, but more about how to think for myself under pressure and while being unsure in the moment. Better choosing where I spend my time and attention has been an amazing journey. Some choices are complex and scary, but that is the nature of trying new things and moving forward. I am still working on it, but I’ve learned to feel at ease with how I approach decision making.

False reality and actual reality may appear the same, but they are not. I had to learn to stay away from comparing myself to others and discover ways to value myself. This requires confidence, but I had to figure out how it all worked. I often think about small things I can do to feel proud of myself. I think that inner pride and confidence are tied together to support one another. Confidence is about trusting yourself when you are doubtful. Usually when we experience doubt, it paralyzes us into doing nothing. Then life keeps us busy enough to forget and move onto the next doubtful situation. I never thought about these thoughts in the past, which meant that I could never move upward to want better for myself. Reading led to thinking and deciding on what I wanted for myself, even if it was hard to do. We seem to want anything that is easy because there are no doubts involved, but easy is often empty. Easy can be aimless and requires minimal or no thinking, which can become a silent but vicious habit. I feel confident and proud when I conquer something difficult and worth pursuing.

Staying in my comfort zones was easy to do, but trying new things was scary. I’ve had to learn to stay calm and comfortable while feeling uncomfortable. This requires courage. I stayed away from scary thoughts and actions. We want to quietly blend in. It’s scary to contemplate your truths or weaknesses when doing it alone. Courage is about doing scary things. Courage is about expressing the real you, speaking your mind, and trying new things. Everyone has a mindless opinion and they're so judgmental. And we're taught to care about looks and status, which is actually sad. It takes courage to be the real you, while disregarding what others may think or say. I realize that choices, confidence, and courage are deeply intertwined with one another. The ability to make tough choices, the confidence to be the real you, and the courage to act are inside of us all. Somehow the superficial culture we live in seems to blur our ability to focus on this. I am no longer concerned with the lives of others who are just about false realities. I am listening and learning from people who truly represent happiness and success. They inspire me and keep me focused on my life, my goals, my family, my friends, my career, and my future. And I am learning about my weaknesses and my strengths. In the end, courage is about doing. This means doing things that may go against the norm because the norm is often about keeping our eyes glued to our screens, away from what really matters in life. The ultimate goal is to do things that make us feel happy with ourselves and the people around us who we know and love. Where I spend my time and attention has changed so much. I surround myself with inspiring things, people and experiences that keep life exciting. To me, that is freedom.

- Melody Espinoza

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