The Hidden Bonds of Freedom

Heather Markel, Writer, Photographer, Speaker, Globetrotter, Business Strategist

29 November 2018

An innocent question from a new aquaintance got me thinking.

While in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, I had the pleasure of meeting Kris and Lili from Hungary. As seems usual during conversations with new friends, we discussed my current life choices and trajectory. Lili asked me a simple question, “Do you feel free?

Kris and Lilli from Hungary. (Check out my Cool People page to see all the great people I’ve been meeting!)

Photograph by Heather Markel, Copyright 2018

My brain interpreted the question at face value. The word that quickly escaped my mouth was”yes,” but as I took in her question, I realized it was a lot deeper than I understood. I saw that, in fact, my freedom has boundaries which I hadn’t even thought about.

“Choice is our ultimate freedom.”

My freedom, in fact, is constricted by my limitations and fears. For example, I’ve decided many times not to drink or stay out late since I’m a female solo traveler. I have no desire to jump out an airplane. I don’t like super spicy food. I don’t indulge in 5-star hotels and fancy meals every night. Am I free to do all these things? Yes. However I choose not to because I want to feel safe, stay alive, and make money last as long as possible. So, I restrict my own freedom.

Ziplining in Costa Rica – testing my limits and sliding outside my comfort zone!

I also feel the pressure of responsibility. I’ve chosen to come home to see my family for certain holidays. I chose to come home to pack up my apartment. I’m looking for various paid work opportunities as I travel. These are all things of my own choosing, but they definitely take away from a feeling of complete freedom as I travel because that need for money feels like the opposite of being free. It could be that I constrict my freedom by believing I need money. Or, perhaps the reframe is that I am free to travel and live my life as I choose, and within that choice I opt to also have a sense of duty and loyalty. After all, it is me making all my own choices.

I find this question of freedom fascinating. On the one hand, I am “living the life” and feel undulating freedom – doing what I want, how I want, where I want. On the other hand, I naturally bind my freedom because friends, family and responsibility are important to me. My perception of responsibility is of my own making. If I chose, I could opt to run away forever, release all my possessions and exchange work for food and lodging. So, I suppose what this question makes me realize is that I do feel entirely free to choose what I want. Sometimes my choices are about the desire for connection and to give to those who have been giving to me. Sometimes my choices are entirely for myself. True freedom, I think, lies in understanding that we are always free to choose. If we choose for duty, loyalty, or someone else, it’s still our choice.

I think about my ex-marriage and my time in corporate and remember feeling like I was making most of my choices for someone else. Those choices made me deeply unhappy and trapped. The irony is that I thought the caged feeling of my existence was someone else’s fault. Now I see that I simply forgot my own freedom to choose an experience that would make me happier. And seeing that, I am amazed at my own courage to make the tough choices (divorce, quitting, giving up my home) that now allow me to own the power of my own choices which really is quite freeing.

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