It is easy for a person who is stuck in an exhausting and unfulfilling job to envy someone who loves her job or doesn’t have to work at all. It is easy for prisoners to envy those on the other side of the barbed wire fence. But envy is a wasted emotion, and in most cases, a caged person can escape. Here’s how:
- Identify how you feel caged. People feel caged by their jobs, their relationships, their routine, their government, their bodies, their emotions, and a thousand other things. When I am feeling especially limited or constrained, I like to make a list of exactly how I feel constrained. It’s also important (and emotionally healthy) to list the ways in which I am happy and free, so that I can take stock and efficiently commit my energy to the problem at hand.
- Recognize that you can escape. This isn’t true of everyone in the world. People living in North Korea, Sudan, Somalia, and many other oppressive places in the world really can’t escape. But for most people in North America, escape is always an option. People have successfully escaped their jobs, abusive relationships, addictions, financial dependence, boredom, consumerism, low self-esteem, depression, even government. Americans have individually escaped from every kind of cage imaginable; freedom is in our cultural spirit.
- Figure out exactly what you need to do to escape. To break free, you need to draw up an escape plan. For example, if you want to escape from your job and do something more fun or less demanding, or perhaps quit working altogether, you’ll need to figure out how to make ends meet. That might involve reading about the Voluntary Simplicity movement and drastically cutting your consumption; it might involve moving to a less expensive place or a more supportive community; it might involve starting a business or getting a part-time job. However you feel bound by chains, you must figure out what routes exist for escape – and in most cases someone has written a book about it. Read books, research the Internet, and reach out to people who have achieved the freedom you seek.
- Weigh the pros and cons. Not every freedom is worth earning. Part of me would like to be a rock star. But actual rock stars (and people who are experts in their field) have spent enormous amounts of time working very, very hard, often not having any fun, to get to where they are. An expert is someone who makes a task look easy even if it is very hard. Perhaps you’d love the freedom to travel internationally, because you envy those who do, but when you actually weigh the ups with the downs (such as inconvenience, danger, expenses, the possibility of getting stuck on a broken-down Guatemalan bus with no air-conditioning or bathroom…), you might discover that it’s just not worth it. Discovering that you actually don’t want a certain freedom is as liberating as actually attaining it.
- Question the assumptions and expectations of others. Most people are caged in most ways most of the time. I live in northern Virginia, home of the top three wealthiest counties in America. You can drive through lots of wealthy neighborhoods full of McMansions with perfectly manicured lawns and Lexuses in the driveway, owned by lawyers who work 60 hours a week, have country club memberships and impressive 401(k) plans, yet endure sexless marriages, alcoholism, and a purposelessness of spirit. I don’t mean to be disrespectful but: they are clones. And they know it. After all, they’re trying to embody the expectations of others and to garner their envy; living freely and haphazardly isn’t your typical lunch conversation at Morton’s Steakhouse. You can’t expect them to guide you in your path to freedom – or even understand it.
- Do it. Once you’ve identified how to escape, and that the pros outweigh the cons, then at some point you have to just do it. But this is actually the easiest step. What holds most people back is not realizing that escape is an option. For example, people in abusive relationships often know that something is drastically wrong, and they desperately want freedom from the abuse, but the only thing holding them back is not realizing that they are in an abusive relationship and that healthy relationships are not abusive. Once they cross that line, their own pain will motivate them to escape the relationship.
Freedom, for most people, is simply a question of choices and priorities. Every choice matters. Best of luck to you.