Do you feel like everyone is making demands on you or that your life is dictated to by others? Maybe you never have a free moment to yourself or fear your future is in the hands of your boss, raises and the vagaries of fate. Don’t despair. Many of us are living free and happy lives after clawing our way out of captivity. Here are 5 secrets on how we did it and what it takes to live life on your terms, not someone else’s.
Own Your Life
But first, what is personal freedom? Why are people so desperate for more peace, happiness and personal time? It’s because we seemingly have less and less agency in our lives. Personal freedom is about living the life you script and direct – having control over your own life and decisions, with outcomes that drive you forward rather than hold you back, constrict you, or suck the life right out of you.
These days many people feel weighed down. Each day is just another one served in a prison or personal hell where little feels in their control and where they seemingly have little say in how their day or life will go. It’s being unable to pursue your dreams.
Instead, you’re working or studying while hating every minute of it, getting paid barely enough to break even, and coming home so tired you just want to vegetate before the TV. If you’re lucky, you get to do so but most people have family obligations or other constraints on their time on top of everything else. Meanwhile worries are piling up about how you’re going to make it through another day, let alone what remains of your so-called life. You expected more and this is what you got?
If you feel like you’re living in a cage or that you can barely breathe with all the demands on you, know that you deserve better and there is a way out. We can all gain more personal freedom and love our lives again with the same exuberance and joy of a kid during summer vacation. It’s not always easy but its emotional and mental rewards in terms of personal well-being are priceless. Here are 5 secrets those of us who are free know and use.
Secret #1 – Respect Time
Everyone gets 24 hours in a day no matter how rich or poor. The manager and the employee all live with that 24 hour constraint. Everyone does. Why does this matter? Most people don’t treat time like the currency and resource it is. Like with money, we all need to know how to save, spend and use time. If we don’t, the finite amount we’re born with will evaporate without us enjoying the time we had.
This is a key concept to understand. It isn’t just that time is money. Time is your life. It measures your every moment. All of us get 24 hours in a day but none of us know how many days we will get. When you realize this on a visceral level, you start making decisions about who and what is worth your time and how to spend and schedule the time you have.
Secret #2 – Dump the Dead Weight
Once you realize time is precious, it narrows your focus. One of the most liberating realizations is that not everyone is worth you time. People will make demands left and right but it’s up to us to accept or decline these demands. This can be demands to do something like help them on their own projects or as tedious as listening to them endlessly complain. Those of us who are kind, accommodating and poor at setting boundaries will suffer increasing demands on us from bosses, colleagues, friends, families and even strangers who will impose themselves knowingly or unknowingly upon us.
Being free means saying no to obligations, demands, requests, and hindrances on our time. Once I realized most people would get over me turning them down and that I had a right to my privacy and personal time even if they didn’t, life became so much easier and free. Not just that, I learned how to stop or walk away from tedious or time-wasting conversations or activities. It wasn’t that I stopped being a nice or polite person, one who liked to help people. It was that I started being nicer to myself more and more, especially upon realizing how valuable my time was. With that freedom, I earned mental and emotional calm and peace as a byproduct. I was then better equipped and energized to handle matters that meant the most to me.
The same will happen to you when you start limiting who you spend time with, the projects and commitments you undertake, and the people you support or help. Being lonely or wanting to be liked isn’t a good enough reason to give your time to others while being miserable all the while. If they’re draining you, not building you up, not giving you energy, and not supportive of your dreams and goals, cut them out of your life.
That may seem harsh but you can be nice about turning people down. Everyone understands when someone says they are busy and simply don’t have time. Learn reasonable excuses and use them. People might throw a stink at first – especially those close to you who have become reliant on you – but they’ll adjust. Most people will just go with the flow and understand you have other commitments. Better, you’ll be freeing up your time for more meaningful relationships, activities and dreams.
Secret #3 – Make Appointments With Yourself
If you want more personal time and freedom, you have to attach the same worth, if not more, to your free time as you do to time spent in other ways. Make appointments for yourself and guard them jealously. When people ask for moments of my time, many times I say I am busy. Sometimes that busy time is working on making my goals and dreams a reality, i.e. productive time. Sometimes it is laying on the couch doing absolutely nothing. In either case that’s how I wanted to spend my time. It doesn’t matter how I want to spend it or how people view it in terms of being “free” to help them or do other tasks. Each was an appointment to myself and I’m going to keep them.
Do the same in your life. Schedule that nap or binge-watching your favorite show. Cross out that time on your mental schedule. You aren’t free at that time. You’re doing something, who cares how other people view it?
At the same time, if we don’t block off that time for ourselves, when else will we be able to work on our goals and dreams? We’re living OUR life and if we don’t make time for our dreams and goals and what it takes to achieve them, we will rarely find ourselves living a life we enjoy. Time is like money: it gets spent easily. Decide how you want to spend it. Otherwise it’ll get robbed.
Make appointments to yourself and decline others that take from your life. At the end of the day, the appointments we make for ourselves – whether they are for personal time or to spend it with others and on projects we love – are the most important ones.
Secret #4 – Understand the Relationship of Money & Lifestyle
One of the biggest agency-killing areas in our lives revolves around our jobs and our incomes. Some jobs feel like prisons and too many people live paycheck to paycheck. That’s not a recipe for personal freedom, being stuck in a job you don’t enjoy and possibly hate, all for money that doesn’t get you far or just helps you tread water. Worse, you’re trading the best part of your waking hours, i.e. you life, for this! When can you hope to have time for people you love and your own pursuits and dreams?
This is why understanding money, personal finance and how they intersect with lifestyle is so important. If we don’t educate ourselves on money and personal finance, a well-paying job won’t keep us out of debt or prevent us from being shackled to a job we hate out of need for the paycheck. We’ll spend beyond our means and take on too much debt. When an emergency hits, we’ll be SOL. And if we don’t understand money and personal finance, too many low income people won’t learn the secrets of money and will stay in low-wage servitude. See my articles What Our Parents Should Have Taught Us About Money But Didn’t with the Book of the Month: Rich Dad, Poor Dad.
If you want to be free and live life on your terms, learning this secret about the relationship of money and lifestyle is a great place to start. Financial freedom is something we should all aspire to because it helps us be sovereign of ourselves. See my articles Did You Know Building Wealth Had These 7 Rules?, 5 Signs You’re In the Rat Race & Don’t Know It and 5 Steps to Leave the Rat Race for Good.
Secret #5 – Ignore the Joneses
If you want more freedom in your life, stop drinking the cultural Koolaid. What do I mean? Society force feeds us fantasy lives at every turn. TV shows, movies, commercials, music and everything around us blare that to be happy and successful we must be consumers of, well, everything. To be more, we must have more. It’s definitely become more than keeping up with the Joneses. To stay free, you must ignore the cultural marketing that tells you that your happiness and self-worth depend on your outer trappings, possessions and societal achievements.
All of this marketing is expensive monetarily but we fail to realize how expensive it is time-wise, let alone in terms of emotional, mental, physical energy and personal freedom. Our time is precious! Yet we’re supposed to:
- Be super parents who put our kids in expensive schools, enroll them in expensive extracurriculars, and provide them with an aggrandized childhood no one can actually maintain short of being Bill Gates.
- Be go-getters at work, spending the best part of every day at the expense of our own dreams fulfilling the goals of a company who will fire us on a whim or when they need to downsize. Often we’ll take the work home with us too, sacrificing precious personal time we would rather spend on loved ones, hobbies, and our dreams.
- Be charitable in our giving in terms of time and money, spending lavishly on our family or friends, or volunteering on committees or for causes whether personal or professional. And we should be donating money to causes left and right.
- Be a super spouse or partner or daughter or son who gives what free time and energy we have to everyone but ourselves. Yet we’re expected to take care of ourselves too.
- Have a certain car, house, clothes or expensive hobbies and go on exotic vacations.
- Have tech like the latest pricey phone, gadget, household device, computer or gaming system.
And if we aren’t achieving all this, we feel poor or like we’re missing out. Since much of our culture’s sense of self-worth revolves around money, we’ll also feel worthless and unsuccessful if we aren’t achieving or capable of these things. Yet it’s all too much and inhuman, if not inhumane, to expect! And that’s what all these are: expectations. Most of them are impossible when you sit and think about them. Remember fundamental Secret #1? We only have 24 hours a day to live and we have to sleep for part of it. We can’t have and be everything under those time constraints. Worse, we’ve tied our self-worth to our outer trappings, possessions and social accolades. There’s no freedom in that.
Bottom line: We live in a consumer society and we’re being marketed to spend on every level. Ignore the Joneses. They’re on a treadmill that takes their money, energy and time, all of which are precious. Instead, focus on what’s important to you and gives back a sense of agency over your time and freedom. Your sense of well-being will soar even without being as rich as Bill Gates or as extravagant as the Kardashians.
Take Back Your Life
We can all claw back more time for ourselves and take back more control over the direction of our lives. It’s not always easy but in the end we can all be happier with the way our life is going. Remember these 5 secrets to help you break free:
- Secret #1 Respect Time – we only get 24 hours in a day and we have to sleep for part of it, limiting how much we can do.
- Secret #2 Dump the Dead Weight – not everyone or everything is worth your time.
- Secret #3 – Make Appointments With Yourself – schedule time for yourself and value it highly, spending it on the people, projects and dreams most important to you. Decline or walk away from other commitments and time-wasters.
- Secret #4 – Understand the Relationship of Money & Lifestyle – personal finance and money smarts are key to personal freedom whether you’re making minimum wage or raking in millions.
- Secret #5 – Ignore the Joneses – we’re being marketed to spend our time, money and energy on an increasing number of goals, possessions, and roles that imprison us in false ideas of self-worth. Stop buying what’s being marketed to you.
If you practice these secrets, your emotional well-being will increase as the drains on your time and energy subside. Your vitality levels will also rise because you are pursuing that which has the most meaning for you. That is as energizing as it is liberating. Put these secrets to work in your life and start realizing immediate change for the better.
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