On the Nature of Freedom

FREEDOM!! We all want it… whatever it is. People in movies will die for it. So it must be pretty good. No one dies for CARAMEL ICE CREAM, though maybe they should.

I scream for ice cream, but maybe it’s not worth dying for.

But freedom is.


Have you wondered what freedom is? Well, I have thought about it a little bit after being a nomad. Nomading around means finding a new place to stay every night. Every night, I have to make a decision. I have to make a choice. What are the risks staying here? How much will it cost me to move from here to where I want to go tomorrow? Will I need to visit my storage area, PO box, my friends, or a gym where I can take a shower? Is it legal to stay here? Will the police knock on my van? Will taggers graffiti up the van while I’m asleep?

I weigh up the pros and cons and make a decision about where to stay… mostly a different place every night. Those of you who stay in the same place every night don’t have to make this decision. Those of you who have a mortgage or rent have made a decision to remove this choice from your every day life. For you non-nomads, this one long-term decision to rent or buy a house is safe and free of consequences. There are no variables in cost, safety, access to wifi or showers, or many numerous considerations that you wouldn’t want to be bothered with.

But there is a subtle difference of thinking when you do this. When I make a choice, I’m aware of the consequences. I’m aware of when I’m in a high crime area. I’m aware of when I’ve commuted kinda far from my friends. I’m aware of many kinds of risks of having my entire home with me and possibly losing it at any time to an accident or to crime. I’ve already damaged the van a few times in my travels, but I accept that is a consequence and cost to this kind of lifestyle. I accept the consequences because I made a conscious choice which weighed those risks.

I find this in contrast to my pre-nomadic lifestyle which removed choice and decision from my life so that I could follow a pattern. A lot of self-help books and blogs write about success. And a lot of those writings suggest following a routine in order to be more efficient. Einstein and Steve Jobs famously had a closet full of the same shirt so that they wouldn’t have to think about what to wear each day. Removing this decision, this choice, allowed a little more time each day for their other activities. Every day they wear the same shirt, they have made an unconscious choice to do so. It’s still a choice. They can still choose a different shirt on any day. But mostly, they don’t because they no longer consider it a choice that can be made.

But how many of you would go as far as to have only one outfit? How many of you enjoy the small choice of something different to wear each day. How many of you enjoy eliciting compliments or showing off your personal style? That small amount of choice is freedom. And what that freedom grants us is a little bit of joy. A little bit of human connection every day. Relinquishing that freedom and sending it into the unconscious means you’re giving up on a small amount of joy in order to be efficient!

Now, what I’ve discovered after nomading around is that I had to stop many patterns of living a typical silicon valley lifestyle that had taken away the joy that I never knew existed underneath! Today, I feel more connected, present, and aware. I have far fewer patterns and thus am far less robotic. And less robotic means more human.

Freedom. It’s worth dying for because it is the same as choice. And choice is the same as joy and happiness.

But you don’t have to die for it. We all are privileged enough to live in a time and place that has an enormous capacity for personal freedom. But we constrain ourselves from ever coming close to realizing the potential freedom that our lives grant us. We are constrained by our own patterns in order to make our lives efficient and regimented and structured and safe.

But I challenge you to break those patterns every so often. Try the opposite of all of the above: Less efficient, less regimented, less structured, less safe. Going on vacation is a good break in the pattern. Make conscious choices about things that have seemingly already been decided. If you find yourself saying, “I keep doing this, but I’m not even sure I like it,” then stop. I found that was easy with video games. They have an addictive nature. But once I stopped, I didn’t feel the need to start again.

Ask yourself what percentage of your life could be reproduced by a computer program? Are you that consistent that you are running a loop that is the same from day to day? If the percentage of routine is how much of a robot you are, then the remaining percentage of non-routine is how human you are. Now, there is a purpose to the robotic regimented side of us, which is to buy more time for us when we are doing the human things in life. But, it’s easy for us to get carried away and take too much joy away from our day-to-day lives by regimenting it so strictly.

Einstein and Steve Jobs were each free to choose not to wear that same shirt on each day. Mostly, they chose not to exercise that particular freedom. What particular freedom are you choosing not to exercise today?


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