What freedom really looks like. Hint: It has little to do with money.
Everything I do is filtered through a simple, unambiguous question: “Will this bring me closer to freedom or push it further away?” If I'm honest, it's been a consistent thread throughout my life – even before I knew it.
But what is freedom, exactly, and why is it important?
Let me tell you about last Wednesday. Unlike most people who were still drooling and farting in bed at 5:30 am, I was already up and stationed at my dinner table. After greeting the pre-dawn light out in our backyard for the briefest of moments (it was 1.1 degrees Celsius), I parked my arse in front of my laptop and got straight to work.
Why would I do that? Well, now that I'm 50, I've finally realised something.
In my twenties and thirties, my idea of freedom was flitting around the world in a private jet and bathing in a tub full of money. It was waking when the sun hit the bedroom window (about midday) and doing whatever the hell popped into my head that day.
But I discovered that after a few breaks from work (and doing whatever the hell I wanted), I soon felt aimless and unsettled. Sure, the first couple of days were novel, but the novelty wore off sooner than I expected.
I discovered that doing meaningful work – something that impacted other people – was far more satisfying than loafing about like a trust fund baby.
My wife feels the same, too. Granted, we've been closet workaholics our whole lives, but we've also learned that ‘usefulness' beats an unstructured life hands down.
So despite the cold start, those first rays of sunlight were tantalisingly warm – perfect in fact, for a drive in the countryside. And after knocking over my number one task for the day (a key benefit of starting early), I decided I'd do exactly that.
After walking my son to school (another tremendous benefit of working from home), I threw my laptop in the car, peeled back the roof and headed off to a lake about half an hour from home.
On the way, I'd thought about a forthcoming meeting and I extracted all my ideas to my phone's voice recorder app so I could prepare myself ahead of time. I've done this for many years, and it's incredible what you can achieve when you can think freely and document ideas on the fly. So even while I was wafting through the countryside, I was just as productive as someone stuck inside a city office. More so, I'd expect.
The spot I'd chosen tends to be dead in the middle of the week, so I soon found a shaded picnic table in front of the lake, extracted my laptop and got right back to work.
As I tapped away on my laptop, I basked in the music of the local wildlife – the hundreds of ducks on the lake below and a lone magpie chortling overhead. I looked up to drink in the view, and I remembered a conversation I'd had with a friend a few months back.
His family had done well over the years, and his father was contemplating the purchase of a luxury sports car – perhaps a Ferrari or Maserati. But as we sat in a restaurant at a delightful Yarra Valley vineyard, he turned to me and said, “You know, my dad could never do this. He'd be too stressed about what's happening back at the factory or out on the job sites. This; what we're doing here – this is true wealth – not a bloody Ferrari.”
He was right, of course. All the money in the world won't make you happy if you don't have agency over your time. Likewise, a Ferrari won't bring you joy if your life is so complicated you can't go out for lunch on a Tuesday without feeling guilty about it.
This, I believe, is the ultimate expression of freedom. It isn't wealth – at least not when it's packaged with fears and worries, and a knawing lump of anxiety. Freedom is being useful – on your terms – and having the final say over what goes onto your schedule. Because your schedule is your life – metered out one day at a time.
Until you design your daily practices around how you want to live, you'll never be truly free.
After knocking over my work in that beautiful autumn sunshine, I returned to my home office, satisfied that I'd lived another day exactly as I pleased. This simple decision had ticked all the boxes of a person living deliberately. It didn't cost me anything, and I hadn't forsaken my responsibilities just to satisfy a selfish personal whim. Indeed, deciding where and how to work that day had amplified my creative abilities. I created better quality work.
In my view, you can't be any richer. This, dear reader, is what real freedom looks like, and it's what I wish for you as you learn to master your midlife.
Now, what about you? What would your ideal work situation look like? Would you still go to an office each day (maybe you love the interaction)? Would you prefer to work out of your den or a special place somewhere in your home? Or does the idea of working at a park bench or local coffee shop appeal? Leave a comment below and let me know.
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