Freedom is a funny thing.
Societally, individually, we struggle for it. Fight for it.
But when we get it, we often find we don’t like it all that much.
As freedom goes up, so do feelings of anxiety, restlessness, and insignificance. While freedom can be experienced as an exhilarating thrill, it can also be experienced as a panic-inducing threat.
In fact, faced with a sensation of disorienting weightlessness, many, as the sociologist Erich Fromm famously put it, seek to escape from freedom.
Recent graduates go right from college to law school. Parents have another child as soon as their current youngest is out of diapers. A young man starts seriously dating again right after ending a five-year relationship.
These moves might be great ones, the right ones.
But done reflexively, only to relieve the anxiety of freedom, such decisions can simply swap one set of problems for another, and be temporary solutions at best. Law school ends; babies grow up; another relationship dissolves. And you’re right back where you started.
Do you really want to get a graduate degree, or are you unsettled by the idea of not returning to school for the first time in two decades?
Do you really want another kid, or do you feel adrift without the urgent sense of purpose caring for a tyke confers?
Do you really want to be in a relationship with someone or have you simply lost the ability to be alone?
When the freedom from constraints has you feeling unmoored, take some time to appreciate your freedom to pursue a new aim. Rather than defaulting to something because you don’t know what else to do with yourself, choose a direction you truly want to go.
It takes strength to fight for freedom. As it turns out, it takes strength to sit with it too.