Summer vacay has officially begun for my twin ten year olds. We were about 1 hour into the day when the first strains of boredom were played by one of the two; he shall remain nameless. I made a few suggestions, then visibly shrugged when he dismissed them all as inadequate. “Sorry, kid. You’re on your own.” And they are. The three of us decided we are going to have a meeting today so we can lay out some basic parameters and expectations (so I don’t have to take heat EVERY time I ask for a chore or ask for presence at meal times), to give a little structure (very little) to our days together, and to keep this from becoming Mom’s maid service, but the truth is that they are now going to face the hard part of the freedom they’ve been anticipating for so long.
In my last post I discussed the deliciousness of the anticipation of freedom and the importance of seeing possibility, how that helps our creativity and our ability to come up with great ideas, great art, great everything. Using our freedom can be a whole different ball game, and it often trips people, not just my son, up.
I remember my mother, who had just finished her graduate degree at the age of 48 telling me: “You can be anything.” She was offering that take in wonder, having grown up in a time when careers for women were discouraged and limited to just a few options if they were absolutely necessary. She was reminding me how much had changed. And I remember exactly how I heard it.
Something in me recoiled at the size of that decision. “If I can be anything, how will I ever pick? How will I know? What will I ever do? What if I change my mind? What if I pick the wrong thing? What if I’m actually not good at that choice that is now open to me?” I did a number on myself. In college, I took several classes to “keep my options open” that were unnecessarily torturous and awful for me. My sense of the possibilities was unrestricted even by my own preferences. The vastness of the freedom that was presented to me terrified me.
Now, let me say something. I acknowledge the privilege in that statement. This is not a woe is me tale about the fact that I had a parent who believed I could be anybody I wanted to be. I realize that is a good thing. What I’m interested in is this dynamic that seems to play out when we sense freedom, if we’re lucky enough to even get to that point. “I’m free to do what I want, any old time… so I’m going to just keep doing what I’m doing because THAT is scary and a lot of work and I don’t really want to figure it out, besides I might fail, and then what? I’m fine. Really, it’s just a mood. I get restless sometimes, but I should be grateful.” Ever done that to yourself? Sensed a moment when you could make a big, bold choice that might actually make you happier, more successful, more FREE, and you shy away from it because you’re scared, or tired, or uncertain?
For most of us, there is a big gap between seeing that greater freedom, or sensing possibility, and actually taking steps to do anything about it. Taking those first steps can feel SO difficult. We talk ourselves out of it, using our very best strategies and arguments. We find fault in our own ability to be satisfied. We take on a gratitude practice (which can be great sometimes) so we can recognize what’s good even if we’re miserable. We do A LOT to avoid taking a step toward something that feels like a buzz in our chests and occasionally wakes us up extra early. We say a LOT about what’s realistic and what’s not. We prevent ourselves from moving forward because it just seems too hard.
But we have a perfect model for how moving towards freedom can go, right? We’ve done this before; we’ve faced the fear of the first steps towards freedom. They are wobbly; they are uncertain. They often end abruptly and with a thud, maybe even a few tears, but that end is not an END. The baby who is learning to walk doesn’t shy away from the freedom. The baby learning to walk tries once and then tries again and again, and it is in the trying, in the repeated pulling up and falling down that leg muscles develop enough to make the walking steady, faster, less prone to ending with a loud thump.
The road to greater freedom has bumps, and we see them. We have stories about bumps in the road that deter us. We have stories about our ability to do difficult things that stop us. But what we forget is that we don’t have to know how to do it all; we don’t have to have the strength to do it well. We just have to be ready to take the first steps that will build our muscles and teach us how to walk that road.
If you have a sense of greater freedom, a little whiff of possibility in the breeze, but can’t seem to get yourself walking, I’d love to help.