I think, just like success, the definition of freedom is different for every person, depending on their background, circumstances and beliefs.
But what I can definitely say is that my own definition expanded a lot over the years.
I can remember my first conscious promise to myself of breaking free from something, was back in school. When I told myself I will never get myself into a situation again where I have to be in a place that I dreaded, full with people that I didn't like and where I still had to go to every day.
It didn't happen right after I graduated, but after my studies and apprenticeship, I started working as a freelancer.
My next step to more freedom was moving to California – away from everything I knew, starting a „new life“ without anything or anyone from my past. And for a while I really felt like I got away from the “old me”. But once I got used to this new life and things got familiar, that's when I was proven wrong.
New people and situations, same old insecurities.
Even though back then I didn't really understand all of the things that went on with me, like my moods or reactions to certain situations or people, it obviously didn't feel great. And while it didn't hit me all at once or linger around all the time, after 4 years I was still ready to start yet another new life in South Africa with my then husband.
Before I go on with my story, let me conclude what I'm saying here: You can try and escape to the other side of the world and your old burdens will still find you. Just when you start to get comfortable.
Because they are not on the outside or in the form of other people. They are inside of you. Triggered by the outside.
Of course I still gained more freedom by being in California and far away from home. Through new perspectives, people and experiencing a different way of living. And by basically being on my own in the sense of the only German surrounded by Americans. All of that broadened my horizon.
So no, it wasn't all for nothing, in fact I am unbelievably grateful that I had the chance to live there, meet people who took me in like I had always been around and for my then husband, Scott, who showed and taught me so many new things. But – I’m saying this is in hindsight. Because back then I didn't always see what I had and was eager to move on once again. To finally fill that void. Without knowing what I needed to fill it with.
But things turned out completely different.
Scott ended up going back to California after a year, while I decided to stay in South Africa. And I think that might have been rock bottom for me right there. Mentally and physically.
After a while, though, I slowly started to climb out of my hole again and it was different this time. I didn't have friends around to distract me, I was literally stuck with myself. And while that was very overwhelming at first, I started to find a sense of freedom in it. Not having to consider anyone else. I started to figure out what I might actually really want for myself and my life. Not what I thought I wanted from looking at others or what might be expected of me.
At first it was scary, because at that point my options seemed very limited: if I didn't go back to California I would spend the rest of my life in the pampa, next to my parents, growing old with way too many cats, who would end up eating me once I died.
Getting to the point though,
To deal with my mental turmoil, I got out for a bit and visited my aunt in Johannesburg, who told me I'm right where I needed to be. And to deal with my physical health I started by taking a blood test for food intolerances, which came back with a huge list, and the diagnosis of leaky gut syndrome. Further I was told I had parasites. Lovely.
That was finally enough to start acting. I changed my diet drastically - thanks to my list – and I not only got used to it, but also expanded by leaving out more and more animal products.
I started reading books and listening to podcasts. I learned about the inner child and what it has to do with our beliefs and triggers. About the subconscious and how much we are lead through our day by it. How our brain works in terms of fears and habits. How beliefs that are formed way back in our early childhood determine how we see the world and how we navigate through it. How practicing gratefulness helps you be more content and, and, and…
That's when I realized that you can change your outside circumstances all you want. Even move to different countries, where nobody knows you.
But if you don't start cleaning up your emotional and mental mess, the one that you first need to admit you're having... well you're basically doomed. No way you'll ever truly be free.
Because you’ll be held captive by your own mind and patterns. By your insecurities and worries of not being as good as someone else and of not fitting in. Of being ashamed of your weaknesses. And no matter how much you are afraid of these things, the fear of actual change and not knowing what that might bring will always hold you back more. Because your brain wants you to be safe and routine and patterns mean “safe”, no matter how damaging they are. So don’t wait until it feels more comfortable or convenient to change. Because it never will.
You will only keep maneuvering yourself into the same situations that you don't want to be in. Because they feel familiar. You’ll keep running your same old circles of behaviour, habits and worries and they will keep holding you back from getting where you want to be.
Just think about it, if it hasn't worked out yet, why would it suddenly make you happier and more fulfilled? If you're a bad basketball player, how is putting you on a professional basketball court in a fancy outfit going to make you a better player? It simply won’t happen without you putting the actual effort and practice in.
(If you want to know more about how all of this works, I will list some people who are qualified to talk about it at the end of this post, so you can jump right in!)
Wrapping this up, this is why I think these matters need attention if you ever want to break free - for good.
And I'd like to make clear that I'm well aware that changing my outside circumstances helped a lot with my own liberation of old behaviours and views. Having the opportunity to move to a different country TWICE is definitely something that helped me do and see things differently than how I was taught and working as a freelancer is a huge privilege that enabled me to invest so much time into this in the first place. And I couldn’t have done it without my family and then husband. None of them ever told me I couldn’t or shouldn’t do something and instead always had my back.
BUT – I don't think it is necessary to have your own business or move to a different country to find out what it is that’s holding you back.
Working on yourself is something that you can do anywhere and in your own time and way.
So, long story short.
Running away from your actual life, emotions and thoughts by distracting yourself with smoking, drinking, other people, Netflix and your phone won’t help to liberate yourself. And trying to live a life that you see online, by purchasing things or vacations that make it look like you are one of these seemingly happy people just won’t do it either. It’s not that easy. You need to put the work in.
And before you even get started on breaking free you have to first face these uncomfortable feelings, bad habits and routines and admit that there are things that need to change. Like quitting smoking and drinking by finding out why you do it in the first place. Eating healthy and exercising by listening to your body and its needs. Learning how to say what you think and want instead of expecting others to magically sense it. Finding out where your impatience or maybe even anger comes from. Why some things or people drive you up the wall and you seemingly have no control over it. Why you can’t fall asleep at night without the TV on. Why you feel the need to impress others by doing things that you think they are impressed by, instead of doing what you really want. Admitting to your own insecurities and seeing if they are really true or just in your head. Just to name a few…
And yes, it will hurt, it will be ugly, even unbearable at times, and sometimes you’ll feel like nothing is getting better at all.
But I can promise you that with everything you’re revealing to yourself and are becoming aware of, you’re already “levelling up”. To a more free version of yourself. Because once you see what you’re doing and understand why you’re doing it - you at least have a choice.
To go down the same old road or walk a new path.
As promised, here is a list of people that I learned a lot from, so I hope you’ll find someone who resonates with you.
A great podcast is The School of Greatness by Lewis Howes. He interviews all kinds of people in every possible field, all connected to personal development. So check out the website and just see if there are topics that sound interesting to you. And then sit back, relax and maybe bring pen and paper :) This is a “random” interview with Andrew Huberman which I found really fascinating so I want to share it: Neuroscientist EXPLAINS How To Unlock The POWER OF YOUR MIND