I’ve been thinking about freedom today for a number of reasons – it was just Independence Day in the US, I recently visited my 101-year-old grandmother who still lives independently, and I had a two-week road trip with my family while still coaching the members of FLOW365.
I want to share what I thought freedom was, what I have come to learn it to be – and how I practice making choices on a daily basis to experience freedom.
For a long time, I thought freedom meant buying whatever I wanted, doing what I wanted when I wanted, and eating everything in sight. Sometimes it felt good, but more often than not my desires were based on other people’s agendas. I needed to reconsider freedom.
I started paying really close attention to all the people in my life over the past few years — guests I interview here, coaches I have hired, colleagues I respect, my grandmother, Oprah, Brene Brown — I am so curious how each person finds their version of freedom.
I want to pass on some of my biggest lessons about freedom today. I don’t have all the answers. I come from many years of bad habits and limiting beliefs, so these are all things I experiment with and practice on a daily basis.
Freedom is saying no to foods and substances that don’t serve me. Who knew? I get asked all the time if I feel left out at parties when a cake comes out in its full dairy and gluten glory. (For those of you who are new to my world, I have chosen not to eat those things.) The truth is that it may have been hard at first, but 10 years in, I choose the energy, good-health, and waistline that come with eating what I know serves me. I never knew in my 20s that I had the freedom and choice to feel well all the time.
My latest “no” has been to alcohol. A few months ago, I realized that even though I was not consuming that much alcohol, I would grab a glass of wine at the end of the day so I could feel fun in a moment when I was feeling exhausted. I realized that I had stripped myself of the freedom to be fun or admit I needed to go to bed. This change has not been easy — trips, weddings, holidays all draw me towards wine bottles, but it has been a really important experiment in finding “my fun.” And I have to say, a mere 90 days in, it feels so freeing knowing that I can be fun all on my own.
Freedom is deciding, making a plan and sticking to it. Not everyone gets this point because it seems counter-intuitive. Eating junk food every day is notfreedom, because though it is fine today (after a little tummy ache maybe), it may catch up with you later.
The same is true about exercise, sleep, and water. If any of these things aren’t optimal for a day, it’s not a huge deal. But put that on repeat and you have a problem. After too little sleep for a week, a month, 3 months, you will not have your best ideas and you are more likely to get the cold your kid brings home. On the other side, FLOW365ers continually report the freedom they experience from meal planning – the time saved, the worry averted, the kids who eat more variety than ever, how easy the kitchen becomes.
Planning does not mean you are rigid and never do anything on a whim. It means you have set great boundaries, so you know when to say yes and no, and when you say yes to something out of the ordinary it feels great. When I don’t plan, there are many yeses that feel bad. I think it is the uncertainty of really knowing whether I have the time and space to do that thing and live into my ideal life at the same time. If I slip into not planning or not following through with my plans, I turn into martyr mom. I carefully planned my last trip with my family down to New Orleans. I included time to spend with my grandmother, time to spend with family and friends, time to visit our favorite eating spots. My grandmother landed in the hospital, but because I had decided what work I would do on vacation, made a plan, and communicated it to my husband, I was still able to show up from the hospital for our weekly FLOW call. That is freedom to me!
My grandmother is 101. She does not have dementia, but her mind is getting a bit more childlike. In her world, independent living means she can still administer her own vitamins and medications. So how does she spend many of her waking hours? Looking at her calendar, getting organized about her sets of colored pills, and creating systems to remember. Her calendar is literally her freedom.
Freedom is being of service. It took me a while to understand this one. I heard it from inspirational coaches, public figures and self-help books. But I always “helped” and felt bad. What I have learned is that real service is intentional. It feels good. You are leaving the world a better place than you found it. You are not leaving the world a better place when you always say yes to driving kids around and act grumpy to your family the rest of the night. You are not being of service by always saying yes at work and staying up all night to finish the things you committed to the detriment of your body.
My grandmother felt a strong alignment to her church, healthcare, and art. Her sons might report that she did not do too much around the house. But at 101, she can say she helped build a health center in a very underserved area of New Orleans. She can say she helped in the War with wounded soldiers. She can recollect a few stories about her childhood and parenthood, but mostly she recalls the things that are her legacy.
Freedom is not having all the stuff. I have been totally fascinated by the minimalism and essentialism movements. I have noticed loved ones around me dying with attics full of stuff not noticed for many years. I have experienced (as someone who keeps things pretty simple) a basement that fills up with kids’ stuff bought with love and quickly outgrown. I have also experienced a year on the road with three kids during my book tour. I experienced the freedom of less — fewer clothes, less variety in food, less stuff. Wash did not feel like a chore. Dinner took less thought. We were bored less.
This is the second secret, I believe, to my grandmother’s longevity. She decided to give away all her stuff to her kids and grandkids, who would love it in her lifetime. She kept a few things but downsized pretty dramatically, keeping only what she loved and working a few new things into the mix. Over the years, when her health has a “bleep” she downsizes apartments and keeps chugging along. For 20 years, I have been able to send her photos of festive meals around the table that used to be in her dining room. She has the joy of the “stuff” without the stuff itself, and I have something we use regularly.
Freedom is finding your people. I remember getting to design school at age 20. I had “dropped out” of Georgetown after admitting to depression. When I arrived at RISD, after years of very traditional schooling, I realized I had found my people. The 3 years I spent there were the most rigorous years of education, but I got through it with a tribe a of like-minded people.
My grandmother did the same thing when she downsized. Yes, she got rid of stuff, but she moved into a building with her oldest friends and two sisters, so she had community. They shared meals and formed an art club.
One of the things that come up again and again in FLOW365 is the people, the support of the group, how important it is to have accountability and people who “get it” as you work through a big change. When you find your people, you stop trying to do things you think you “should” because people around you are doing it. Instead, you can focus on what feels right to you.
I guess my big lesson in recent years has been that freedom calls for structure. As I fold different aspects of life in my freedom plan, I see this over and over. After 10 years, I know it with food, but I am still learning this lesson with alcohol, and I am working hard on applying it to business and money (check out my episode with Sandra from Smart Cookies).
Looking for more freedom in your life?
Freedom takes vision.
Freedom takes personal responsibility.
Freedom is not a quick fix.
Freedom can feel like a hard journey.
When we create structure, we experience little bits of freedom and understand its magic.
You are free to thrive.
Remember, your freedom plan comes from within you. It is your recipe. The media does not have your recipe, and neither do your parents, your community, your own limiting belief, or me for that matter.
I believe there is magic is writing things down. It is why I write 3 pages every morning in my journal and why I created the FLOW planner.
So let’s get into action. Let’s journal. (I give you my answers on the podcast, so listen in…)
- Write down 3 people who embody freedom for you. What qualities of their life give you that feeling?
- What is one area of your life that feels hard for you right now? Does it feel hard because it is taking away your freedom or giving you freedom?
- Where in your life do you feel freedom? Describe everything about your experience of that freedom. Can you see how these areas of your life might inform others?