What is Freedom?

According to Webster’s dictionary, freedom is:

Freedom: noun free·dom \ˈfrē-dəm\ the quality or state of being free: such as

a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another : independence: the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous freedom from care: ease, facility spoke the language with freedom: the quality of being frank, open, or outspoken answered with freedom: improper familiarity : boldness of conception or execution : unrestricted use gave him the freedom of their home

As we can see, freedom has many meanings. Independence is probably the most accurate definition of freedom from my point of view. To be free from all cares and from everything is to be independent.

Thesaurus.com ranked the following as the highest rated synonyms to freedom:

  • independence
  • ability
  • exemption
  • flexibility
  • immunity
  • opportunity
  • power
  • privilege
  • right

So what is freedom really?

Here at Atypical Life, we strive for freedom. We strive for personal freedom, to decide where we want to be and do what we want to do when we want to do it. We are pursuing financial freedom, where we will be able to live out our days without having to worry about working anymore.

Merriam-Webster got it right saying, liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another. As a society, we have become slaves to our money. Because of this, we are also slaves to jobs we do not like and do not want. Thesaurus.com concurs with its highest ranking synonym, independence. That is what we are truly seeking.

Freedom Defined by the US Constitution

In society today, we are told that we are free. The US education system does a good job of educating us about the freedoms that we have in the United States. We have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, right to own guns, right to be represented in court, right to own property, among others. All of these freedoms make it seem like the US is the pinnacle of freedom and that we all should feel free our whole lives.

The US has many rights and freedoms. However, these rights and freedoms seem only to free the fringe of society. Why are the rest of us left to be slaves to work?

Why do we not feel free? Society strangles freedom.

The freedoms afforded by the US Constitution and its amendments are a good start, but corporate and societal culture need to transform to produce a culture more centered around personal freedom.

Too many people spend their lives with their head to the grindstone to earn a living just to get by. They buy things day in and day out that society says you mush have to be happy. They get married to a spouse that they love, but after months and years of continuing to push through work, their marriage falls apart. Oh well, that is what happens in such a cutthroat society. One day they wake up and they are 70 years old and wonder where their life went. What happened to all those years I was going to have to enjoy retirement and the American dream?

I watched a good Youtube video last night about a couple that was chiropractors in the US and they were miserable. They both worked 12 hour days non-stop and when they returned home from work, they were too tired to enjoy each other anymore. They had become slaves to work and to money. They sold everything they had in the US and moved to Costa Rica where they reignited their love for each other and began to love life again. She wrote a book Happier than a Billionaire detailing their journey to a happier life. The best quote from the video was this:

We are all miserable. It’s okay to be fat and hate your wife. Join the club. In society today, it’s what it takes to get by.

They decided that was not true and pursued an alternative.

Today, the typical middle-class American is brought up in society knowing their path in life consists of:

  • 1-2 years of preschool
  • K-12 = 13 years of primary schooling
  • 4+ years of college (5 or more is okay because you are figuring out your life, right?)
  • Now at age 22-23 start work for 40-50 years
  • Buy a house
  • Get married ($$$$$)
  • Have children (done right costs >$250,000 per child)
  • At 62 if you’re lucky probably closer to 70 RETIRE!
  • Live out the rest of your days tired because you worked your life away during your most vibrant years

For the first 15 years of schooling, we are probably going to school for free. Our parent’s taxes pay for public schooling. School teaches us the fundamentals of all kinds of academic pursuits and gives us a good basis to figure out what we enjoy. During these years, the government has decided for us what we need to know and what we do not need to know. Is that freedom? During our formative years, we probably do not have enough knowledge base to decide what we do and do not need to know. Still, it is not freedom for others to choose for us.

During our years in middle and high school, we are told that college is the way of the future. If you do not have a degree, then you will just be an unemployed bozo on the side of the street begging for money. They neglect to show us the other ways to make money to achieve freedom, so the majority of us from the middle class and above head on into college to pursue higher learning.

I was lucky enough to have chosen a highly employable bachelor’s degree in engineering, so I was able to get out of college after “only” 5 years. 1 year consisted of co-oping work, so I only really attended school for 4 years.

After graduation, we are now expected to get a job. But wait. Most people got a degree in an unemployable field, so what is the answer to that? Let’s go to grad school and get further in debt. We should not worry about student loan debt since it is in pursuit of education which will gain us a salary for life. Many people pursue grad school because the employment opportunities were not there when they graduated, or they didn’t play the employment game correctly to land the big job. So now they are stuck in school gaining more debt and lengthening their time to freedom.

When we finally do graduate, we are expected to get that big time “real world” job. Our wonderful government in the US decides for us what retirement age is. This age is not actually the age that you are allowed to retire, but it is the age that we can start collecting on social security. Since many people are still a slave to their money at 60 they cannot retire until they can collect on full social security which now comes around 67 or higher for my generation. Myself, I do not factor social security into retirement savings projections because of the uncertainty in it. We will provide for ourselves. If social security is around for us, all the better.

By the time we have reached retirement age, we are finally free. We are no longer beholden to the man and can pursue what we want when we want. However, since we spent 40-50 years grinding our most vibrant years away we are too tired to really enjoy what the world has to offer.

Yes, we can now enjoy the company of our family and our loved ones more often. We can even enjoy the freedom to travel around and see the world. But just ponder the days, when you were 25-40. The fittest and strongest days of your life. This is the time that Atypical Life aims to be free for.

This is why we feel strangled by society. We feel that the expectations set by society have to be followed. To go against the flow of society is to be a social outcast and to not be accepted. We are taught that acceptance in society is important, so we need to follow the flow and fit it with everyone. Because too many people just accept the status quo, our personal freedom is strangled.

Personal Freedom

We have the freedom to live the life that we want to. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise!

In order to live the life you want, you have to cast away society’s feelings and decide for yourself what you want most in life. We still have to live within the laws of the world, however, it is not difficult to design a life for yourself that fulfills and surpasses your wildest dreams. If your dream is to live where you are now and do what you are doing, congrats you are already free. But if you are tired and worn out from work, do not hesitate to change. We have to make personal freedom a priority because no one else will do it on our behalf.

Here at Atypical Life, personal freedom is being location independent. We want to be able to pick up and move around whenever we want. This does not mean we will not have a house/apartment wherever it is we are located at the moment. We want to be free from the obligation to be located in a certain place because of work. We want to travel and see the world. To do that, we need the freedom of location.

Financial Freedom

In the US we often hear:

Freedom comes at a price.

I cannot agree more with this statement. It usually means a human sacrifice in war, but for financial freedom, it has a more direct meaning. The price for financial freedom is your expenses for the rest of your life. There are too many investment decisions to talk about here, but the point when your investments are able to grow and become self-sustaining is when we have financial freedom.

Financial freedom seems like a dream to most of the societal drones that go along with their heads to the grindstone. However, if we save our money and invest it wisely, we can free ourselves. The more we pursue financial freedom and actually put real effort towards it, the quicker it comes.

In the pursuit of freedom, less is more.

Financial freedom does not mean buying everything you can possibly dream of and never running out of money. It refers to being able to cover your reasonable living costs forever. At this point, we have the freedom to tell people, we don’t need your money, you don’t own me. This is the truly liberating feeling that comes with financial freedom.

Freedom

Whether we know it or not, freedom is what we all want. Innately, we all want the ability to choose for ourselves what we want, when we want, where we want. Society has thrust itself upon us trying to tell us this is not possible. We need to take it upon ourselves to make freedom a priority because no one else will. Freedom means different things to different people, but we should all strive to achieve our own version of freedom.

Here at Atypical Life, freedom is paramount.

I would love to hear your thoughts on freedom.

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freedom, what is freedom,

Minimalism: Living with Less

Minimalism is the act of living with less and the pursuit of living with the least amount reasonable in each situation. While away on vacation in Indonesia, I got a chance to relax and reflect on where I am in life and where I want to be. I read a wonderful book by Ben Night titled “Adopting the Minimalist Mindset”. Here at Atypical Life, we follow almost all of the suggestions in the book when it comes to managing money and frugality, however, we have also been overcome by possessions.

If you have read my 2017 goals for the year, then you will remember that I used to spend $600 per month on things or shopping. This budget over the past 4.5 years has ballooned our possessions to the point that we have lots of things and many that are just sitting around.

Minimalism is all about spending your time with the most valuable people and objects in your life. ~Ben Night

Ben pointed out what we already know. Pursuing the atypical life of freedom, we know that the time for experiences and the time for family and friends far outweighs the benefits of many possessions.

Because of our many possessions, I get to spend much of my time each week on maintenance and upkeep of all of these possessions. The main takeaway from Ben’s book for us was the below point:

Find something in your house each day and trash it, donate it, or give it away.

His book detailed lots of ways to declutter your house and had sections on each area of the house and how to declutter your life. I was struck by the above quote because, in general, instead of throwing things out or getting rid of things when we no longer use them, we stick them in the drawer or in the back of the closet in the distant chance that we may one day use them… You never know, right?

This hoarding habit has created a stockpile of stuff in our apartment here in China. Luckily, we had the chance when we moved here to donate a huge load of possessions to Goodwill. Not everyone gets this chance. Moving is a great opportunity to remove unneeded things. We were able to remove old kitchen appliances, sofas, beds, tables, kitchen cookware, clothes and many other things in the move.

Somehow we still ended up with junk boxed up by the movers and delivered halfway around the world to China!

If you have possessions that have been in the box for 3 months and you haven’t needed or used them, do you really need to keep them or should you just trash them?

I say make the atypical choice and get rid of them. The choice is up to you which method to use to liberate yourself from possessions.

  • Donate it
  • Trash it
  • Give it away

I have started going through our belongings each weekend and enjoying the process of getting rid of things. My first foray this year into freedom of possessions was to go through my clothing. I was able to donate nearly 30 lbs of clothing and free up space in my dresser and closet. I had been holding on to clothes that I didn’t like, weren’t comfortable, or didn’t fit, just because I paid for them. Maybe I thought I could wear them later and they would magically be better?

I have been cycling for nearly 15 years and acquiring clothing for nearly that long as well. I still have some clothing from my early days of riding, but it rarely if ever gets used anymore. It feels liberating to remove this old stuff and get rid of it. The goal for me now is to remove items and not to replace them.

This past weekend I spent some time going through our junk drawers. We all have these. It’s where we throw all of our small trinkets and whatchamacallits. We have 2 gigantic 4 drawer office filing cabinets full of files and junk. I went through most of these and was able to get rid of more old things that will never be used again. It truly is amazing how much stuff you accumulate over time.

Why do we keep all of this junk?

Its hard to understand the psychology behind hoarding, even in small doses. All of us have some small emotional attachment to our possessions. This small attachment makes us feel that we cannot possibly throw whatever it is out.

Maybe the attachment is rooted in the fact that we paid for it.

“Aunt Rosie” bought it for us, and even though we don’t like it, we can’t possibly get rid of it. She might notice!

I don’t use it now, but maybe, just maybe, in the future, I can find some use for it.

I was raised going to Boy Scouts. I love all of the experiences that Boy Scouts gave to me and the morals it instilled. The Boy Scout motto is:

Be Prepared.

The Boy Scout motto definitely influenced me. I try to always be prepared for anything that can happen, or any activity I want to participate in. I do my research and acquire the gear needed, even if it could be rented. The outrageous prices that vendors charge for renting gear, steers me to buying and bringing my own. Personal gear can be just the right size and suited just for you. Because of the my desire to be prepared, I have certainly accumulated quite the collection of outdoors gear. It also stops me from getting rid of it because I feel I may one day need it again even if I have already upgraded to better.

In Conclusion

I have started to free myself from my belongings. The atypical life of freedom not only applies to freedom of the man at work and financial freedom, but freedom from belongings. It is okay to maintain belongings and be prepared for whatever may come your way, but there is a time when it is time to let go.

I have just started this process. Ben Night suggested to get rid of one thing each day, and after a year or 2, you will be down to a reasonable amount of things. This journey is just beginning for me, but I already feel better knowing that I am releasing the stranglehold my belongings have over me.

Join me on our pursuit of freedom. Can you get rid of something everyday? Once per week? Let me know in the comments.

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The Real World Manifesto

Growing up we are all told that school is preparing us for “the real world”. Starting from elementary school, we are told that we need to study cursive hand writing to prepare us for the real world of middle school and high school where we will be required to write in this particular style. From that perspective they were preparing us for “the real world” of middle school. Upon arriving to middle school, one can only imagine our surprise when we were told that the teachers did not care if we wrote in print or cursive. I, of course, was one of the weird kids that continued on in life writing in cursive. Maybe it was just to see if others could read it or not, or maybe, it was because they taught me what “the real world” was going to be like and I listened to it, even when the real world caught up and it didn’t matter. In high school, my teachers seemed to take great pleasure in assigning as much homework as possible to prepare us for the real world of college.

College

I was all too pleasantly surprised, when I entered college to learn that this is not necessarily true. Yes the homework load in college is higher, but it is only assigned once or twice per week for someone in chemical engineering. I was able to manage my homework with my much lower load of classes (18 credit hours) compared to 7 hrs per day 5 days per week in high school, to allow for much greater free time to learn how to live. Maybe the real world started in college, but according to most people I have talked with, it does not. College is where you learn to live on your own (kind of, since the parents usually help out with money), you learn that laundry needs to be done, cooking or dining is not a given anymore, cars need maintenance, insurance needs paying, and any myriad of other needs that have to be taken care of that your parents did in exceptional fashion while you were growing up at home. College is your first taste of the real world, but it is only a taste before you get to grow up and feast upon the real world that is work life.

I was able to taste the real world several times in college when I got to do a co-op job with a large multinational chemical company. The first co-op was for the fall semester, so I was only out in the real world for ~4 months before I got my 5 week winter break and then went back to school. The whole time, I knew that this was only a temporary job, so I had winter break and going back to school to look forward to. This helped me through the time in the real world and made it better. When I was tired of the real world, it was time to go back to school, and when I was tired of school it was time to go back to the real world.

After I finished my co-op jobs and my junior year in college I traveled to Europe for the summer and got a taste of the real world outside of the United States. I spent 2 months is Europe, hanging out with friends and riding bikes in Switzerland, racing bikes in Belgium, and going to school in Denmark. This time gave me a view into what the real world is in Europe. The real world seems different in Europe than in the US where life is less focused on work and more focused on family, friends and fun. They have much more vacation time and their time at the office for the day doesn’t seem quite so rigid and inflexible. My Italian friend once told me, “the work day starts at 9am. You work for 3 hours and then have a 2 hour lunch break before you come back for about 3 hours and go home by 5pm.” This amounts to 6 hours per day of work. The European real world seems like a friendlier version of the real world when compared with the US.

Work Life

I returned to the US and to college for my senior year before entrance to the real world. Upon graduation of college, you “know for certain” that you are now entering the real world of work life. This is what you have been told for years and years now and it is a deeply held belief. Now the real world gets to have a stranglehold on your educated mind for the next 40 years as you work and work and work. Nevertheless, when I entered the real world, and started working 40 hours per week at a medium-sized multinational chemical company, I was told by my parents I still was not in the real world. I lived by myself in a 1500 sq. ft. house that I rented for $325 / month, I furnished this house with my own things, including buying almost all the appliances from a local “American Pickers” style shop. I learned about the real world of insurance (health, renters/home, auto, etc.), I learned about setting up utilities by yourself, and I learned the real world never sleeps. The real world is going 100% of the time, it always wants to be able to contact you, it expects you to always be available and it demands an inordinate amount of your time. During my first job, I managed to work a schedule so I could work just 8 hours per day and leave work at 2:30-3:00pm every day and head out on a nice bike ride in the daylight. This alone, is why I was told I was not in the real world. My life was not sucked totally away by the real world leaving me time to enjoy myself.

While working my first job out of college, I reconnected with a classmate from college, fell in love and got married. Is this the real world? Certainly not! The euphoria you feel on your wedding day is second to none knowing you get to spend the rest of your life with your best friend, your soulmate. We went on a spectacular, atypical honeymoon to Peru where we hiked 5 days to Macchu Picchu among other adventurous excursions from Cuzco. This was the beginning of our life together, and it made me a bit more like the typical American family. The real world would try to get in the way of our relationship, but we would make it through.

Then I took a job in China with the same company. We were starting up a new chemical plant and it required non-stop 12 hour days 7 days per week for a while, before we got a break and it decreased to 8 hour days every day of the week. This strained all points of my life, from self-imposed stress, physical exhaustion, and a general bad mood, to straining my relationship with my new wife. At this point, I would like to think I had reached the real world. The long never-ending days must be the pinnacle of the real world. When the plant finally got to a steady state and I was working only 40 hours per week again, I realized that this is not actually the real world either. As an expat our housing is covered, utilities are covered, language training is covered, and we have a personal driver. It is almost like we are living at home again with our parents taking care of us. Is this the real world? No, it is the real expat life, but it is not the real world. It is my current world.

Conclusion

The real world starts when we reach personal and financial freedom, freedom from “the man”. This is when I believe the real world really starts. It is when I get to make the decisions on when to work, when to stay at home, when to play, when to eat, etc. Currently, most of this is dictated by the schedule I am told I have to follow due to being a working stiff. The real world has decided for me the schedule that I should hold and the time I should be allowed to myself to pursue what really matters to me. It seems interesting that the United States was founded on freedom, but we don’t seem overly free to make our own choices. Money drives us to not truly be free because we need a certain amount of it to live the life we choose. My wife found a wonderful quote during some down time when I was working 70-80 hours per week that we try to aspire to while on our pursuit of the real world:

“Love the life you have while you create the life of your dreams, don’t think you have to choose one over the other.” – Hal Elrod

The real world is certainly the life of our dreams. The life of freedom from having to work for money, the freedom to choose our own schedule, the freedom to live where we want, the freedom to pursue our interests in the way we desire, all are part of our dream life. Join us on our pursuit of the real world. It may seem a ways away as I sit here typing on my lunch break at work, working for the man. However, it is not nearly as far as it seems.

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