As a kid, one could have reasonably concluded I was either lazy or didn’t like reading, because every year that my school assigned mandatory Summer reading, I refused to crack any of the books on the list. If you know me, you know that lazy isn’t an attribute that particularly applies to me. And as for not liking reading, my work as a nationally competitive debater in high school, a philosophy major in college, and a successful law student and practicing attorney – well that’s a whole lotta reading for someone who doesn’t like to read.
So why did I refuse to partake in mandatory Summer reading? Why did I set myself up for teacher and parental disappointment, and a virtually guaranteed poor grade or two (or three) on the first quizzes and book reports of the new school year?
Principle, my dear. Principle. Isn’t Summer supposed to be about being FREE from schoolwork, homework, teachers? Isn’t Summer supposed to be about frolicking, daydreaming, playing? How dare they try to infiltrate my Summer carefree fun with mandatory schoolwork? I remember one Summer being particularly interested in one of the books on the reading list, yet my stubbornness prevailed, and even then I refused to read it out of PRINCIPLE. It was all in the name of FREEDOM. And it’s still all about that for me.
Without the freedom to be who I am, read what I want, speak my truth, practice my religion, then what am I? Why am I here? Is my responsibility in this life not to be TRUE TO MYSELF? Honor my authentic life purpose?
In many a high school debate round, on subjects from space exploration to national health care policy, from US-China relations to Ayn Rand’s theories of objectivism, we debate nerds often found a way to boil the entire round down to an argument over what is more paramount, what value most deserves defending – life at the expense of liberty, or liberty, even if it means bloodshed.
Of course this is a nuanced question, and one that continues to plague world leaders today around the globe. And not one I plan to tackle here. But it is one I have always connected with. What are we if we are not free to be you and me?
We all have our own freedom compass. Our own appetite or tolerance for just how much of an imposition we can withstand on our individual freedom before our sense of freedom is offended and we must resist.
My question for you is where is your freedom to be your most authentic self being stifled, and what are you going to do to break free? For many of us, it is very subtle. For some, it might be that our family members’ expectations of us keep us in a sexless marriage, or even keep us in the closet. It might be that our fear of letting a loved one down keeps us in a passionless career. For many it is our own fear of failure that keeps us playing small and keeps us off the life stage pursuing our true passions in a meaningful way.
Where in your life are you allowing perceived expectations as to what you SHOULD be doing/thinking/saying/eating/reading steer the ship? What can YOU do to get out of your own way? To be FREE? Free to pursue your true authentic passion? Free to honor your own desires? Free to take a risk, or even to fail? Free to THRIVE.
We do our best work when we are free. Freedom is so interconnected with authenticity because it is necessary to feel free in order for our authentic selves to lead the way. How can a gay man live an authentic life when he’s hiding in the closet behind the shackles of others’ expectations? How can he thrive when fear is in charge.
If I let fear of letting others down guide my way, I would still be practicing law, I would have had a full-time nanny taking care of my little man starting at 3 months old (something I was certainly not ready for), I would have had friends and family in my home to witness a circumcision of my newborn baby in the name of Jewish tradition, and may have even ended up marrying the wrong guy. That’s not to say I haven’t made mistakes. I’ve made many. But they’re mine. I own them. Because I demand my birthright to be true to myself. In the name of freedom. I would be so grateful to hear from you in the comments below how you’ve done the same. Or how you plan to reassert your freedom to be true to yourself. To own your power. If we don’t, someone else will.