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With the 4th of July just around the corner, I have been thinking… What does freedom mean to me?
Grateful to be an American
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out how fortunate I am to live in the United States every day. This is the country that gave my Norwegian great grandparents the opportunity to pursue their dreams and build a prosperous life here.
This country also provided my wife’s parents a home upon fleeing an oppressive regime to pursue their dreams. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like had it not been for the freedoms and promise that the US offered. I can’t imagine I would have met my wife if both of our families hadn’t chosen to immigrate to this great country.
This is one of the many reasons that I am honored to work for our government and provide my talents and skills as a way to thank the United States for its generosity towards our families.
Right now, the media tends to highlight the animosity among different people, when in fact, most of us are pursuing similar milestones. When it comes down to it, we are all humans. We all have unique gifts and talents, and we all undergo good and difficult experiences.
As I described in my gratitude post, at times, we can have false expectations. Society sometimes seeks to define what our lives should look like, whether it’s getting top grades and going to the best college, ways to become more attractive, or the type of house we really need.
To me, most of these messages are useless lies.
I’m getting a bit tired of society telling me what I do and don’t need, or what I should or shouldn’t do. I bet if you took a poll today, that you would find that most people admire or try to emulate the lifestyle of the Kardashians. Society has conditioned us to think that this is what happiness looks like. This couldn’t be further from the truth. But there is a reason that these celebrities have over a hundred million followers. People are captivated and fascinated by their lavish lifestyles and the way they flaunt their wealth. If there was a filter on Google or Yahoo that could block me from ever having to hear about these famously obnoxious people again, I’d be all too happy to use it.
Making Our Own Decisions
We, as individuals, have the freedom to decide which messages we will take to heart and which we will reject. While media and society are both very convincing at times, we should use our autonomy to say yes and no to exactly what aligns with our personal convictions.
So think about what freedom means to you. How does it impact your dreams and desires? More importantly, what is holding you back from reaching these dreams?
I hope your dreams and desires do not include accumulating more stuff.
According to IBISworld, our society spent $32.7 billion on self-storage in 2016. That figure is expected to grow at an annual rate of 3.5% over the next five years. That means in the next 5 years, our society will spend almost $40 billion on self-storage in order for us to make room to buy more stuff.
But as you know, stuff doesn’t always make us happy.
An Expensive Hobby
I had a friend tell me that he picked up an expensive baseball card collecting hobby because the thrill of the buy was a high that he couldn’t get elsewhere. He started out spending small amounts of money. But when his collection grew, he had to spend more in order to continue to feel the thrill and gain more valuable cards.
This, in turn, also caused him to fall into deep credit card debt.
One day, early on his collecting career, I asked him why he would go into debt for these baseball cards. He responded with something along the lines of, “I want them now, and I work hard. It’s no big deal. I’ll pay off the debt later.”
Unfortunately, that mentality is all too common. In my opinion though, debt is a slippery slope.
That was two years ago. He recently confessed to me that things have gotten a little out of hand. Now he is five figures into credit card debt due to his hobby.
According to the figures, my friend is not alone. The latest American family with credit card debt has accumulated balances over $16,000.
Discontent at Work
My friend doesn’t even like the job that he has. But, this isn’t surprising since 2/3 of Americans are actively disengaged at work.
Yes, 67% of people at work really don’t want to be there.
At work, when people use to complain about an assigned, mundane task, an old boss of mine would respond with, “It’s just work. Suck it up.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m not content with the response, “suck it up”. I know I’m not alone.
So if 67% of people despise their jobs but can’t leave because of debt and other expenses, why can’t we create another outcome and improve our lives?
Let’s flip the script. Instead of society telling us how to prioritize, let’s conduct an audit of our lives.
Freedom from Stuff
First, why don’t we go through and sell all of our junk? Today. Don’t wait because the longer we do, the more we justify that we really need our excess stuff. I firmly believe that too much stuff can cause us to feel trapped instead of light and free.
In her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Marie Kondo says,
“Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.”
So, I challenge you to go around the house with two differently colored post-it note pads. Then start to identify your excess possessions. Stick everything that you think has value that can be sold with one color. With the other colored post-it note, stick everything that you can trash or donate.
It may be easy to sit back and relax after you determine the categorization for each item. But don’t wait. Continue on!
Start donating and selling. Put some effort into it. Utilize eBay and Craigslist. My wife even recently bought a shipping scale so that she doesn’t have to walk into a post office anymore. It’s way too easy not to sell using eBay or other online marketplaces now.
Here’s another important part. After you sell the stuff, avoid the temptation to buy new stuff with the newly acquired cash. Instead, start paying off your debt.
Change Your Mindset
In order to work less at a jobs we dislike, we need to spend less on things that don’t actually bring us joy.
Right now, most of us our caught in an endless loop.
We wake up, go to a job we hate, come home, buy stuff that we think will make us happy, and then we rinse and repeat this cycle.
It’s time that this cycle ends.
We need to wake up, go to the job we hate, come home, figure out how to leave the job we hate, and rinse and repeat until we have found a beneficial alternative to the current job.
Pursuing a New Goal
For me personally, it’s become more and more evident that my top desire is to provide financial coaching. I want to build people up and equip them to be financially savvy.
I’ve shared before that I am an extreme introvert. While I have to speak publicly at work, I don’t look forward to it. I have to practice a ton in order to feel comfortable.
On the other hand, when I’m asked about money matters, I become an extrovert. Even though my current job has nothing to do with personal finance, I always look for opportunities to share my financial knowledge and encourage others at work.
For a long time, I struggled with my purpose in life. But now, I have finally found it. I’m running towards FIRE so that I can be a financial coach to help as many people as I can.
I’m diligently cutting down on my expenses because everyday that I am not living my passion is another day that feels less than optimal.
What does freedom mean to me?
First off, it means avoiding debt. Debt can be cruel, crippling bondage.
Freedom also means not listening to the messages that bombard me and deciding what’s best for myself.
It means eliminating things in my life that don’t bring me joy and looking for opportunities to break free from monotonous jobs.
It means having the courage to say “no” to the herd mentality. Instead of seeking a lavish lifestyle, I’ll choose my own life path. The best part is, all of these pursuits of freedom can be achieved in the great United States. We live in an amazing country!