Being as free as a bird comes with its own responsibilities.
Biggie once said "More money more problems."

How To Handle Freedom And What To Do With It

Ruben Dominguez
Ruben Dominguez

Table of Contents

I'd like to think I still have plenty left to write until I reach self-actualization. I am indeed looking forward to the natural next step in the program after actualization. Trans-actualization. The stage where you cease to reference your standing in life as a measurement of your worth.

Until then, we scrappy people in our journey towards what we hope is the best version of ourselves, will be struck by many a bittersweet realization. Even when we've definitely been warned about them.

Freedom is one of those ideals that is heavily loaded with preconception. So much so that it's hard to tell what one is talking about when they bring it up.

I'll draw the boundaries around two types of freedom. Material freedom, and subjective freedom. You'll see why when someone says they "love freedom" they probably mean the subjective kind.

Both these freedoms can be rare, though both aren't necessarily things we end up appreciating. I'll relay my own personal experience, where I've had access to and applied freedom, to exemplify how to make sure our freedom is positive.

Influence As a Measure of Autonomy.. And Culpability

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Photo by Jackson Simmer / Unsplash

In order to properly understand what material freedom is, we have to consider that in our culture, we conflate autonomy and freedom.

In short autonomy, is something's ability or privilege to direct its own behavior. This implicitly invokes another idea, that we'll call influence.

Intro To Influence

Influence as a word in pop culture is kind of in a bad spot at the moment. I don't know how it happened, but "influencers" has become a colloquial term to describe internet scavengers who really should be called something like personality promoters.

In a technical sense, influence is a component of the larger idea of power. Or is it the other way around?

Power is often used to convey power being wielded by someone and imposed on something else.

Hence why I'm opting to use the word influence.

Influence in essence is the degree to which something effects other things. This does not necessarily mean in a "good" or "bad" way, and intentional also may not be involved.

It's hard to measure influence along various contexts, as the environment modifies influence. Also, depending on how much metaphor you can stomach, if you want to see influence of complex events, you'll probably have to compromise dealing with brainy abstractions.

For example, if we look at how chemical compounds react together such as Sodium (Na) and Water (H2O) we can easily explain the volatile reaction this combination will make.

Electrons in the Sodium combines with the Hydrogen in the water, creating a new compound Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH), releasing hydrogen gas and heat.

The influence of these electrons is very apparent.

Now if we want to ask a grand question like; What lead to the collapse of the Roman Empire? This is a much more complicated answer.

While we may of course have many reasons for what lead to the collapse of the Roman Empire, when we ask what was most instrumental, or influential variables that contributed to Romes's downfall, the debate isn't over. To this day hundreds of years later there are people that are debating the outcome.

It's complex. Point is, that influence is more about the objects and events that carry with them the ability to change other objects and events.

We can analyze something concrete and specific to a context, or we can attribute it to an emerging abstract idea.

Autonomy Is Treasured by Society

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Autonomy in relation to freedom is bridged through this idea of influence. Specifically, when something is free from influence, they are considered to be more autonomous.

So if, there are only a few things that influence your behavior, congratulations, you have autonomy.

Someone who is acting autonomously is acting with less influence from other things in their environment. It is because this lack of pressure from other things, that having autonomy has that association with freedom.

High autonomy jobs include being a doctor, lawyer, consultant– pretty much most management positions.

The decisions made by these workers, typically spearhead major aspects about how they work.

Of course, these people may be working for someone else still. They have to conform with convention, and they can't just do anything they want. Yet at the same time, a little autonomy goes a long way.

Still, if you're wanting to do pretty much anything you want, you're going to be hard pressed to do that with mere autonomy. For that you need an exorbitant amount of money.


Now's a good a time as any to introduce another term.

Well, allow me to introduce this term with another secondary term to accompany it.

F*ck you money

This term is used to describe people that can use almost any amount of money without consequence.

People with f*uck you money, due to the nature of money in society, can influence the entire world around them to fit their own whims and needs.

Money is a material stand in for value. A proxy for it if you will. We benefit a lot for this, because value can be traded within society.

So now, back to the primary term I wanted to introduce: Self-direction.

Basically, I'm hoping to illustrate how you can go a step beyond autonomy and reach self-determination. You don't need to be a billionaire to have that, it's just a sure-fire way that you can isolate yourself from negative events of the outside world.

Though maybe this is more self-determination

Self-determination DOES require you to be able to choose and control your own actions.

So for example, if you are at a job that you want to quit but can't quit for no reason other than that another better job hasn't presented itself, then that is a position of low self-determination. Even if that job pays well.

Self-determination I suppose is the peak of self-direction and autonomy. We don't have to go that far though. For not we are just making sure that we have choices in life, not that we can just accomplish anything we want.

Self-direction is actually highly lauded as a core human value. There is no shortage of psychological studies that look into the phenomena of self-determination.

In general, self-direction is linked with greater well-being, higher creativity, and productivity. Just seems like an all-around good thing.

As it concerns freedom, self-direction seems like the holy grail. Someone who has self-determination is free. What about the other way around?

This is where having separate terms for freedom starts to become useful. Remember, material freedom and subjective freedom.

See, material freedom means that you are not subject to the influences of other things. There is a degree of reason we have to apply here as I said before. No one can do anything they want. If you try to fly, gravity will influence you into the ground eventually.

Some Think Freedom Is Overrated

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It's all these 20th century philosophers that have to ruin the party. With their angst of existence.

This of course is a joke; I do love myself some Camus and Sartre. They and their contemporaries do bring up valid points, and they started quite the trend that reaches into today.

Material freedom without self-determination is kinda a curse. Imagine being homeless. You don't have many responsibilities besides perhaps feeding and sheltering yourself. But besides that, you are free to– well, free to be homeless.

Unless you have enough influence over the world, material freedom is kind of just like a vacation where you stay home. Not that bad, but there are other downsides.

The 20th century philosophers do me one better, many of them believed that freedom comes with a price. That with the emergence of the modern era, came a responsibility onto humanity, to use their freedom intentionally and in affirmation of their own existence.

Heavy stuff, but you can see where they're coming from.

If you are at an intersection or walking in an urban area, and a homeless person asks you for money, you may feel a variety of things.

If for example you know you have $20 in pocket, some people may feel pressure to give it to them, and they might feel guilty if they don't. Not everyone has to feel guilty. Maybe it's more cognitive dissonance. It's more about that awareness, that you could do something, but you don't.

If you don't have any money on you, you just have to tell them the truth and go about your day. If you do have money, you have to wrestle with the responsibility of freedom that influence provides.

This weight of responsibility is more related to subjective freedom in a sense. Though, its source is the material freedom that money gives you. Notice how having more freedom in some cases can inconvenience you.

To wrap up this section on autonomy, freedom, influence being overrated, let's talk about motivation.

Everyone has the motivation to become a wealthy multi-millionaire. They might not act out that motive for whatever reason. Maybe they are humble and frugal. Chances are though, they have made efforts, even modestly, and have fallen short. I myself can relate.

I find that most people who become millionaires have a distinct character quality. Leadership. That is that they have a good sense of direction on what must be done.

I want to preface this by saying, there are so many different types of leaders. Even in the smallest of ways someone who has leadership tendencies can make a big difference in a project, business, and someone's life. But being a leader– all the time, is hard.

For starters, one of the biggest calling cards that establishes someone as a leader is that they don't necessarily need you to do what it is they want you to do. They can do it themselves. As leaders however, they simply prioritize their time in a different way, for the sake of leading.

Competence is what I'm getting at.

Secondly, leaders have to make tough decisions. Being a leader doesn't necessarily mean you have self-determination, it means you have autonomy, but that autonomy must be used correctly in the context that the leader is working in.

This is a trend I've noticed throughout all my life.

People want to be lead. So many times, in life I have tried to start some sort of project with people. Whether it be creative, commercial, or just something for the sake of doing something, people have no initiative. Compared to me I guess. Maybe I've just been unlucky.

Everyone loves to complain about the status quo, and they'll imply that they aren't part of the problem, but really when it gets right down to it, we don't have more leaders because we people don't want the extra responsibility. Or maybe it's just lack of awareness? I digress.

No Material Freedom Is Not Fun

So, with most things in life, it seems we are damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

If you have noticed, maybe autonomy isn't a good measure of freedom. It's just a state where you're not under the influence of other forces.

Let me just emphasize that the other end, no autonomy is not fun, and it's certainly not free. People who have fewer choices in life tend to be more unhappy. Those who can seek the stability of wage work, typically get trapped in a cycle where they use all their energy at their job, and don't have the time to spend on the things they want to.

This isn't an admonishment of anyone's character. Merely a perspective that I hope shows both sides of the isle what exactly people are sacrificing at their jobs.

Freedom As a State of Mind

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So now that we have established that material freedom carries with it a cost, we can talk about subjective freedom. A freedom you can take with you anywhere you go. Though maybe it's a double-edged sword.

"Beauty Is in The Eye of the Beholder"

I really love this proverb. The phrase has multiple meanings, but what I really like about it is that its observation is about the observers influence over their own perception.

I'll abstain from getting new age spiritual on you. It's not my thing.

Essentially perception is like a projection– a test that our brains create to shape our mind and behavior.

It is the sum of our expectations about the world, and our assessments about it. Predictions and attitudes, that are meant to guide behavior.

returning to what the proverb implies: That the perception of the individual is the deciding factor in what one considers beautiful.

In case you didn't realize not everything about your perception is quite under your control.

The Cage Of Perception

Even to the extent that we can change our perception of the world it typically takes deliberate effort and acknowledgement of our current perception of the world.

For example, your expectations are very much out of your control.

When you're waiting for a train or bus, it's out of our control when it will arrive. If we have to go to work and we know that if the train is on time we will have 5 minutes to spare to get to work, then we perceive the situation with less apprehension.

Now if we have experienced the train being 15 minutes late consistently, our expectations are different. In this case you expect, and pretty much tell yourself that you're definitely going to be at least 10 minutes late.

Something we can influence to a great degree is our attitude.

Our attitudes of the world if we aren't aware of them and consciously keeping them in check, can influence our perspective to greatly.

You may feel like your evening or day is ruined when you find out you will have be around a family member, or acquaintance you don't like. Maybe they're annoying or have betrayed you in the past.

You'll begin thinking about whatever it is they've done in the past, or what nonsensical shenanigans you'll have to put up with.

It is at this point where it is of great value to ask ourselves, "why do I have to feel this particular way?"

Of course if being around them will make us have thoughts and feelings we don't want to examine, that's a high level of discomfort we will be subjected to. Even if it's not that bad, it's almost like you're making a commitment to tolerate something you would rather avoid.

Still the question of why you feel this way is unanswered. The answer is, because you're perception is there to help you.

You sense a threat, large or small in the near future. Those prior experiences you had with that disagreeable person have formed attitudes about them and situations where they are involved. Hence you expect another negative experience.

This is why after a negative experience, you want to really reflect on what happened. I'm not saying you have to process everything, all at once. It's more about realizing how you were before and after an event, and understanding why what happened, happened.

If this person is crossing and violating social and physical boundaries, what follows may not entirely apply, but this line of questioning for yourself may still be useful to examine how you react to situations like this. Even if it doesn't "fix" you the way so many traumatized people pine after, it adds to your wisdom and creates a stoic affect that is way less pressure than just not examining your thoughts.

So your perception is there to help, they mean well, but sometimes they can be a little out of control.

All we have to ask, is "how is this response to the situation helping me?" That is a damn fine question to ask.

Well in the situation above, you might hold attitudes about a person, which effects your expectations, which prior to the event gives you an aversive feeling. Asking yourself how those feelings are helping you right now, is a moment where you can reevaluate those attitudes and maybe recalibrate yourself to react more appropriately.

When such events you're worried about may have a more long-term impact on your life, it can be harder to do this, because the further into the future your affected, it's harder to be certain about just how far consequences will reach.

Imagination can be cruel sometimes.

If you're just going to a dinner party with your mother-in-law, it's probably not a big deal. You just have to realize that you have to tolerate her for a couple hours, and that you may feel personally attacked.

Just re-frame. What am I worried about? A person at the dinner party. Is this person childish? How do I react to childish people? Don't enable/reward their behavior.

This process of "calibrating" your attitudes is something that you should regularly do in my opinion, particularly after negative experiences. As I said you cannot really control your expectations, just how you react to them. Once you react in a certain way to them, that is when they begin to change.

Too Much Of A Good Thing

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Have you ever been in such a good mood, very relaxed and laid back, and then of course, as sure as the rising sun, something bad happens that maybe you could've avoided if you were on edge?

It's quite the shame really. But was the cause optimism, or was it just a sense of uncritical satisfaction, complacency?

I know for me this has been an issue before, and I get the sense that this is the cause of lots of pessimism and bitterness in the world.

We change our attitudes all the time actually, we just aren't conscious that we're doing it. Of course we want the world to be a place where we can relax in it. However, it's safe to say that we can overdo it.

To move to a less serious topic, say we're playing a game of billiards. Pool.

If I'm super concerned with how the game will turn out, maybe I'll readjust myself. Perhaps I'll make it a point to just have fun, or to challenge myself as a player and not care about the outcome of the game. Maybe I don't even care about how I play; I'm just concerned with chatting it up with whom I'm playing with.

These are things that I can take pride in doing. My goal is to approach the world in a way that affirms my value and protects me from negative outcomes. I have to think the process of doing this.

If we however approach the world from a perspective of "My goal is to relax". What does that even mean?

It is through achieving goals that we think are valuable that we get the sense of relaxation. People that make their goal something abstract and immaterial are asking for anxiety, because such a goal has no return on investment besides good feelings. Furthermore, every time we are reminded we are not having a good time, we essentially punish ourselves for something mostly out of our control.

When we quiet our thoughts by making the world out to be a place where chaotic things don't happen to be undermined by our intuition and feelings, we might be able to fool ourselves for a bit, but eventually reality will snap back and put us in our place.

Unattainable Standards

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Subjective freedom has its limits. Well, practically speaking.

You can't be a Buddhist monk with no worries in the world. You have been born and bred in society to survive within it, and to want things.

Remember this is practically speaking. It's not practical to be homeless in America, especially if you have other responsibilities. But putting that aside, what is stopping you from deciding to be homeless besides your own ingrained sensibilities.

What's stopping you from moving to a Zen temple and forfeiting your material desires.

A lot of things. That's why it's not practical.

The structure of our society brings a lot of benefits that we may not want to trade for anything else.

Just like being uncritically optimistic about the world has hedonistic benefits, the benefit of observing the world critically has benefits that can be a source of pride.

Perhaps the only exception is in situations you know you cannot escape. You can be a free spirit in even the worst of situations, and that is when such a mentality is most valuable.

When we cannot escape our situation, we are beholden to realize that we are always in control of our reaction to things.

True Self-Determination; A Paradox

So we have enough to material freedom and subjective freedom. We are the masters of our perception and even if we cannot use money to instantly solve our problems, with enough time and dedication we can make anything happen.

We develop strategies to deal with the cost of freedom, the responsibility of influence and we get a sense of what it means to lead ourselves.

What now?

Awareness That You Are Still You

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This is the true "final boss" of self-determination. It's funny how went through so much text to get to this point, yet most content online wants to jump straight to self-discipline.

Have you ever seen anyone change overnight? Just a complete transformation?

Probably not, but if you did, there was probably some bootcamp involved, or some other intervening force. Someone who just changes their life over the course of a week is pretty badass, and rare.

We're all human, to my knowledge, and that brings with it the reality that we adapt to something when we're doing something, and when we stop doing that, we forget. Some exceptions if you're young.

Being "free" doesn't automatically mean that you can do what you want. It has consequences and perhaps can be seen as a currency. You chose to spend your freedom at a job for example. This exchanges that freedom for money.

I wouldn't say that this gives you more freedom, it's just a process that you and your employer facilitated. The return on investment (assuming you are paid fairly) is zero, at least until you spend that money on something with an actual return on investment.

So I suppose the next natural question is what should we spend our freedom on?

Let me start by saying everyone's life is different. You shouldn't just mimic someone else's life because they seem to be happy and have things you have.

This of course leads to the root attribute that many people will say you should have: Self-discipline. Unhelpful.

Self-discipline comes in response to the human tendency to be inconsistent with new tasks. This phenomena comes from what I mentioned already that the brain adapts to what it is doing. It takes time to adapt.

Self-discipline is one of those concepts that to me don't mean.

How did you practice drawing for a year?


How did you teach yourself how to program?


I'm here to save you from this hell. The only skill you need to learn that will help you in all other realms is Time Management.

There isn't really a hard definition I want to put forth, but I want to say that all that matters is that you set a goal for what you want to do with a specific amount of time that you'll do it.

Thinking in terms of time that you are trying to reach a quota on has been very helpful for me personally, but it's a flexible idea that you can practice doing things every day.

There's so much information online about habit formation so I won't get so much into that.

What's important is that you recognize that you only have so much energy in a day and that things may take time before you really take away any valuable knowledge from doing so. So, with that we'll get into the following.

Baseline Advantages & Disadvantages

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This is something that you want to really hammer home as soon as you can.

What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are your behavioral biases, and how do you cope with those? Very subjective.

Once you get that out of the way, realize that leading a life with subjectively free mindset can be its own challenge with benefits and shortcomings. As I've reiterated several times, adding material freedom to the equation may complicate this even more, because now you have responsibility.

To take it to the extreme, say you are someone who has basically decided that you don't value money and are of the mind that the best things in life are free.

How are you supposed to convince yourself to do certain things?

Well, what are you really sacrificing when you decide to learn something? To write a couple pages of a book?

If you aren't going to spend that time and energy in that way, what will you instead occupy with that time and energy?

It's important that you refrain from doing this with the things you actually aspire to do. Why? Well, when you're already in a place where you are subjectively free, you're essentially detached from many influences.

Once you understand the incentives of doing the things you want to do, it'll have dampening affect of motivation. This is why we do such examination only on things that are obstacles.

If the situation where examining things you want to do presents itself, then by all means definitely do it. For example, if what you want to do carries lots of risks with it.

This isn't to say that you should blindly seek out your aspirations. Most goals that people have, there is an obvious reason for why one might want to achieve that. It's the why to the why we want to achieve this that we don't want to question.

Sometimes you'll just want to do something because you want to do something. What is wrong with that? Well, it's a little demotivating, especially if you aren't already in the habit of doing things anyways.

Mindlessness Leads to Mindlessness

We should really avoid is doing things mindlessly. There is a time for mindlessness, but only if you've decided that is the time.

If the idea is that we are directing ourselves through life, then we have to do things intentionally. Remember the price of freedom that we are paying.

Think of it like taking on the identity of a scientist or a investigator.

Not in a British Broadcast Sherlock Holmes sociopathic manner where disregard everyone else. Doing something intentional with friends is also nice.

This works with time management. The idea is that if you have an intention in the things you, then if they don't work out the way you want them to, you have a basis for why. You have a dialogue with yourself before and after the key events and you take something from it.

This is really hard to do all the time. Leadership quality and all.

Natural Gravitation Towards Interests

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In all your glorious freedom you will likely come likely come about into a whole slew of possibilities.

For starters you'll probably reevaluate all the things you wanted in times when you were less free.

Maybe you had things on your mind for a long time, and now you want to try it out.

I think this whole thing about really figuring out what you're interested in is a process. Often I've found is that people will go full circle into things that they thought they abandoned. It's strange really.

For me I don't see any problem with this, it's just about what YOU want out of the experience. Maybe it's not something you want to do forever, maybe just for a while. Who says everything has to be permanent?

What Should We Spend Our Freedom On?

Finally, the main event.

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Photo by Jason Hogan / Unsplash

I think that as it stands right now, if you have subjective freedom, and a enough material freedom to grant you enough hours in the day, then we can pretty much do anything with enough time.

What matters is life satisfaction and being excited about what you are doing.

When you have less choices in this regard, say that you know very deeply on a topic you don't care for for the sake of your job, this knowledge greatly surpasses the knowledge you have about something you actually identify with and are interested in.

Get out of this situation as soon as you can. So long as you have the means and support to survive, get out today. Spend your freedom on getting out as soon as you can. It is dehumanizing.

From there, what then? Well falling in line with my previous sentiment about being a scientist/investigator, I think that you should spend time cultivating curiosity and knowledge related to the things you're interested in.

The big problem here is that you might become fatigued in such matters. Already talked about this above, but if you know that you are interested in such things, just take some time off.

However I have devised a sort of model for kinda putting into perspective how to remain interested nonetheless.

The four distinct categories of understanding: meaning, clarity, randomness, and chaos.

Our understanding of the world can be divided into four distinct categories.

Meaning: is information that we have internalized. When something is meaningful, it's because it makes sense to us in a particular way, we usually do not have questions regarding meaningful events. It is mediated by our disposition to the world and our reasoning processes.

Clarity: is when we can comprehend something. It is not necessarily something we have a holistic understanding of. You are clear on what and how, perhaps not why. Often times, particularly at the edge of our understanding, we get clarification from a methodological approach to attaining information.

Randomness: The epistemic fiends of you might get angry and say this does not exist. This merely is to refer to things that we are unable to predict. We are operating based on assumptions at this point. The best we can do here is refine our models.

Chaos: At this point we cannot hope to ascertain what will happen in a given situation. It would take a near omniscience to determine information. Outside controlled experiments we are at the whim of our models to deal with randomness, except now we are trying to account for even more variables.

I originally created this model to really give me a sense what I was doing while I was learning things.

So, this would indicate is that I am taking from the "random" and trying to integrate that into what to me is meaningful. Almost like I'm trying to expand a circle of my own personal knowledge into the external world.

So, it would follow that I am looking at something that to me looks chaotic or random, and I take it down a layer, to clarity. After that, I will eventually make it meaningful, and it becomes something that just intuitively makes sense to me.

TO GET BACK ON TOPIC: I find that when we are feeling tired of what we are doing, it is because we have already created a sense that that thing is meaningful. Maybe then it is time to turn our attention to different matters at this point.

Go to the edge of your understanding and become entranced in the chaos of the world.

A little excesice. Go to your favorite search engine and go to images and look up freedom. This ostensibly, is the sum representation of freedom. I think you'll see a whole bunch of people frolicking about and just hanging out, in a field with the setting sun or something.

It is with this approach to life, that I feel like that representation is truly even possible. If you live a life where you don't have freedoms, and you can't really see yourself just enjoying the moment with yourself and the environment, I'd take a look at what the point of everything you're doing is for.

Don't forget to write it down.