As I sit at my computer writing this blog, Nina Simone sings knowingly in my ear...
I wish I knew how it would feel to be free. I wish I could break all the chains holding me. I wish I could say all the things that I should say. Say 'em loud, say 'em clear, for the whole round world to hear.
That's the mantra for this millennium. Today what we crave more than power, fame or money is to live free. That's why a close friend of mine quit her executive job at Disney. She gave up her VP title for the freedom to be a stay-at-home mommy. That's why we are addicted to our Facebook newsfeeds -- we like to freely share the mundane and magical events that happen in our daily lives without masking. And that's why we watch the Grammys and Oscars to catch a glimpse into the lives of our favorite celebrities. As our eyes are glued to the screen, we silently say to ourselves -- damn I wish I had the freedom to be me!
We all want to freely chart our own destiny, even if the pathway there is full of risk and uncertainty. We want to freely express our ideas, thoughts, and beliefs without unnecessary pretense and judgment. We simply want the freedom to honor our spirit in each given moment.
Although you may desire it, living free can feel like an elusive target. No matter how hard you try, you can't seem to grasp it. I've been on the road to freedom for quite awhile. While I'm certain that I haven't reached the end of my journey, I have learned a few things worth sharing. So far, here's what I know about who you must be if you want to live free.
Be Frank. This means no hemming and hawing, beating around the bush, or trying to be politically correct. We all need to be a lot more like Dr. Phil counseling a show guest, Kanye West, or your embarrassingly outspoken grandparent. When you hold stuff in, your days are full of pent-up stress and your nights - fitful and restless. Speaking your truth might make others feel uncomfortable, but it will free your soul.
Be Fearless. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Branson, or Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani girl who was nearly killed by the Taliban for her act of bravery. Don't be afraid to step way outside your comfort zone and do something that is daring, jaw-dropping, or even a bit life-threatening. Bold action doesn't come with any guarantees. But when you stop worrying about the worst possible consequences, you'll break free from your boring, black and white life and turn it into Technicolor 3D.
Be Forgiving. What might be holding you back from living free is refusing to let go of disappointments and regrets. Long ago, I forgave my uncle for that awful thing he did to me. Recently, I forgave everyone who didn't respond to my requests for help when I was really in need. Each day I forgive myself for my failures and shortcomings. Instead of wallowing in anger and resentment, I've learned to forgive and forget. Because you enslave your mind and spirit when you hold on to any negative thought or experience.
Be Foolish. You definitely won't be free if you take yourself too seriously. Don't be afraid to be laughed at, ridiculed, or rejected. Foolish people are free because they aren't self-conscious. They bring their spirits to the world like a newborn baby. Children reveal their humanity effortlessly because their souls are naked. That's why YouTube videos like this go viral. It reminds us of how we used to be.
Be Faithful. Above all, if you want to live free you have to remain faithful to one thing: your heart's yearnings. No one I know lives more freely than my only son, Eric. He never responds to bribery, peer pressure, or feels obligated to do things to make me and his dad happy. From the moment the nurse laid him on my chest, his facial expression seemed to say, "Don't get it twisted. I was born free and I'm not going to let you guys take that away from me." Each day he moves through life at his own meandering pace, unafraid of making mistakes, and while so many people are consumed by angst and worry these days, I see an impenetrable look of calm and certainty on his face. An internal compass always guides his attitude and actions. To be honest, it wasn't easy raising a child so free and fiercely independent. But now I beam with pride as I witness my 21-year-old living free from external influences.
Be Frank, Fearless, Forgiving, Foolish, and Faithful -- that's what I've learned so far about living free. Although it was a long time coming, as Maya Angelou says, "I wouldn't take nothing for my journey." This Friday, February 15th is my 50th birthday. While I'm out celebrating with friends and family, Nina's guiding voice will be with me and I'll toast this significant milestone by simply saying TGIF -- Thank God I'm Free!