We generally speak of freedom in its broader sense – national freedom, freedom from slavery, freedom from abuse and oppression, freedom to believe as we choose, to partake of whatever religion we choose (or not), and the list is endless. What about the freedom to be who we are? I know – you’re thinking, what a silly question, but when you really think about it, one of our greatest challenges is to live our lives outside the rules forced on us by our loved ones, families, religious upbringing, gender expectations, even society as a whole. Often unspoken, these rules become a part of us – play into our choices, even direct major life decisions before we even realize we have become imprisoned by them. In fact, if we are not careful, we find ourselves in our 40’s or 50’s wondering how the hell we got into the mess we’re in.
Despite a master’s degree in psychology and years of experience as a therapist in mental health, substance abuse, and college/career counseling, my realization did not come until well into adulthood as I listened to my clients– a reoccurring theme - nearly every decision most adults make is influenced by the values and expectations of our parents. I would add friends to that list of influences, but actually, even these choices are often influenced by parents. As an introverted, artsy youngest child, I managed to escape a great deal of assimilation, but over time I came to realize that some of the stifling, freedom-sapping values and fears of my loved ones had managed to imprint themselves despite my individuality and apparent lack of concern for what others thought.
Although some of us have a special place in our hearts for “bad girls” or “bad boys,” we cannot deny the innate desire to have our parents’ approval even in this very personal arena. Beliefs about who we are, what we are capable of accomplishing, and what constitutes success in our lives is too often determined by life influences over which we had no control. We did not choose our family members, and a large part of establishing real independence and freedom only comes when we reevaluate beliefs and make conscious choices about what we value, and develop our own definition of personal happiness and success.
So my challenge to you this Independence Day is to reevaluate your life choices, make sure they’re yours and no one else’s, and develop a list of new goals uniquely you. Your list can be as long or as short as you like, but your goals should be set within the next year. Doesn’t mean you have to complete the goal within the year, but get started – take the necessary steps to reach the goal as soon as possible. They can be big or small, but they must originate with you. Take control over the influencers in your life. That is, choose mentors and friends who support you and your dreams. There is no greater gift you can give yourself than spending some time getting to know and love yourself more, surrounding yourself with more positive energy, and planting your feet on the path to personal happiness. This is freedom. It’s a personal thing. Happy Independence Day!