Be honest: how free do you feel right now?
Just go with whatever your intuition tells you because it's usually right in this regard.
If you still need some help, here are some questions that can be useful to help understand the signs that you're being given:
Do you owe money to anybody? Even if it's a mortgage or car payment. Credit card debt? Tuition? Other debt? If your primary source of income went away tomorrow, how fine would you be? Would you need to immediately go out and find something new? Would you need to accept a less-than-ideal situation in order to pay the bills?
Maybe you do, maybe you don't owe money but don't worry about those things as much as you might worry about things like, are you really hitting your full potential? Do you feel blocked in your career? If you have a team, do you feel like they are slowing you down or somehow preventing you from accomplishing your goals?
Are you hitting your fitness goals? How are your energy levels? Do you feel like you have control over your diet? Are you addicted to your smartphone or other screens?
When was the last time you spent more than 15 minutes outside? When was the last time you slept outside? When was the last time you skipped a meal just because you wanted to lose some body fat? When was the last time you took a long walk?
Switching gears, do you worry about the state of the world? Do you have any control over that? Do you spend a lot of time thinking about how, if "those people" would just get their heads out of their asses, your country would be on the right track again? Do you have any control over those people? Do you think it would be a good idea if you did?
I just asked a huge range of questions in order to make the point that it's tempting to treat the concept of "freedom" as an either / or state of being. As in, if you live in America, you're free. If you live in North Korea, you're not. And so on. But for those of us who live in countries like America (and elsewhere in "the first world"), I seriously wonder how free everybody feels right now. And it's not really about politics and it's also not an either / or state.
There are degrees of freedom. This is both annoying because it's harder to define but also a good thing because it gives you a place to start if you're not feeling as free as you think you should be able to. A lot of how we deal with stress and blockers is how we respond to those stressors and blockers to our goals.
I started writing this after listening to Shawn Ryan interview Yeongmi Park. I know she's controversial and that all of her story might not add up. It seems like her story is being used as propaganda here too. I'm not a fan of propaganda in any form. But that's not the main takeaway that I got from her story.
It all came down to one thing that she said, which was, the real tyranny of dictatorships is that they eventually master the ability to take away your ability to think. You don't even have the idea of having your own thoughts and you certainly don't have the ability to conceive of thoughts like "freedom." They even take away the ability to ask yourself whether you have any freedom.
So putting all the politics of this discussion aside, focus on this one point. This is the place to start again, anytime you feel trapped or you feel like you don't have as much freedom as you think you should have.
Do you have the ability to think your own thoughts? Do you have an idea in your mind of what freedom is? Can you visualize a state in your life where you have, even just a little more than you have today, more freedom?
If the answer is yes, then you already are way ahead of the game and have far more than billions of human beings have ever had throughout all of human history.
That's worth reflecting on.
One of the things I'll write more about down the road when I write about some of the bushcraft things I've learned is the idea of the Line system for your gear. The basic idea is, when you're on a trek or journeying outdoors over long periods of time, you want to pack your gear in layers called Lines.
This idea comes from the military, and it's set up this way so that if you need to move faster or run, you can drop your heavy pack with all your sleeping gear, etc. and still have your basic survival gear so you don't leave everything behind.
So Line 1 is things you carry personally on your body, Line 2 is your mission specific gear (weapons / ammo in a military setting but there are lots of applications to this outside of combat), and Line 3 is your sustainment gear (sleeping gear, food, etc.).
As I mentioned, even though this idea originates in military usage, we do the same thing as working citizens. When we go to work (or go to work in a cafe) (assuming tech workers here), we bring our laptop and bag. We have our smartphones and maybe noise-canceling headphones. Aside from the smartphone, this is all Line 2 gear.
Each layer you add gives you more comfort but it also adds more weight and, potentially, could limit your optionality in certain situations.
But the most important Line is almost always missing from this discussion: Line 0.
Line 0 is you. It's your set of mental, spiritual, energetic, relational, and physical states. And they are not discrete units, they are all connected. If you're ever feeling stuck or not as free as you think you should feel, go back to Line 0 and see what you can improve.
Why? Two reasons.
One, Line 0 is what you have the most control over. Two, if you get your Line 0 under control, it creates a cumulative effect of helping you to decide what you want to improve next.
If you're alive in 2023 and don't feel as free as you think you should feel, you're not alone. We're all feeling it. The world is getting complicated and there are adversaries everywhere. Adversary doesn't only mean "bad guy." It can also mean "opposing force." I know CEOs of multi-billion dollar corporations that feel both stuck in their role and enslaved to their career. Look to your right and left and I can guarantee that the person next to you is feeling something similar. It's a good chance to connect, even if they are one of "those people."
Some great Line 0 reset activities include:
- going for a ruck or even just a walk at your local park
- drop and do pushups or air squats to failure
- step away from your screen and go spend 30 minutes with the people you care about
- read a paper book for 20 minutes
- drink more water
- spend 10 minutes practicing box breathing
- spend 10 minutes looking at your most recent credit card bill and eliminate 3-5 recurring charges
These can really be anything, the point is to find small ways to resist the entropy of the larger picture things that are causing you to feel stuck or limited. Doing them one time can be a nice temporary reset but the real change happens when you start accumulating moments throughout the day where you do these. None of them are game-changers and they don't have to be.
Always go back to Line 0 if you feel like you need a change.