As we wind down from all of the celebration that surrounds the fourth of July (Independence Day), I think that we all reflect on the gift of freedom. Even as we are surrounded by horrendous violence and unrest throughout the world, the freedom that we enjoy is even more significant and something to be grateful for. And, as we know very well, freedom requires that we make choices.

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.”
-Jean-Paul Satre

We make big and little choices that, ultimately, shape and inform the meaning that we create in our lives. Recently, I was talking with my best friend about the current state of our country and the world. We both expressed the feeling that the choices available to us feel like “no choices.” That no matter what we do we cannot impact the things that matter to us in the ways that we want them to. I am sure that many others share those feelings. However, I am reminded that this is the price of freedom. First, big choices are more often than not hard choices. They are not black and white with a label attached saying which is the right one. That is what occurs when there is not real freedom. Second, choices are not assurances of outcomes. Our challenge is to vet the options available to us based on what matters and has meaning to us. If we have done that, we have done what we should do in response to the freedoms that we have been given.

Without question, these larger choices are important and comprise part of the mosaic of choices that give meaning to our lives. But that which is close to us and encountered every day is the strength of the mosaic. So it is critically important to examine how we practice freedom in the choices that we make daily. It is so easy to assume that we are freely making personal choices. But many of us, consciously and unconsciously, struggle with maintaining and asserting healthy boundaries.

“Having healthy boundaries doesn’t mean a lack of receptivity; instead, it is a discerning receptivity, an openness that can just as easily say a full-blooded “no” as a “yes”….When we cannot voice and embody an unequivocal “no,” allowing ourselves to be closed at times, our only way of protecting ourselves is to dissociate, to get away from what’s difficult rather than face and pass through it. Where being overboundaried appears to promise freedom through security, being underboundaried seems to promise freedom through limitlessness. But both cut us off from living fully.”

Whether we are saying yes to avoid or no to avoid we are not truly making free choices. Free choices come when we are clear about what really matters to us. What do we value in our lives and are we establishing priorities based on what we value most? And are we choosing and acting based on those priorities? My honest answer to this question is that I am a “work in progress.”

Several years ago I was confronted with what I call a “moment of truth” situation. As an officer and senior leader in what is a great company, I was expected to misrepresent a significant event to my employees. That expectation was pushing and probably violating a boundary that was very clear for me. I would not and could not respond to a direct question with a lie. It was a moment of truth because I might have lost my job for choosing not to do what was expected. I did not because, fundamentally, the company is a principled one. I share this example because it is often in settings and situations where we are not totally in control that our boundaries or lack of them are tested.

Often, the options are not as clear. It is our own clarity that allows us to effectively sort and vet the options and make a choice. Making clear choices is a practice; one that we can all adopt and improve. As you consider the choices that you make every day ask yourself:

  1. Do you consider the options in the context of what you value most in yourself and others?
  2. Do you establish priorities for your time and energy consistent with what you value most?
  3. Do you follow through with a yes or no based on the priorities that you have established?
  4. Are you choosing such that you are “mostly” doing and experiencing what gives your life meaning?

We know that all individuals have the ability to fully exercise the freedom to make clear, value driven, and aligned choices. If you believe that your living and working can be improved through this practice, we can help you with our AWE leadership workshops or our individual consulting services. Please feel free to comment below or contact us directly if you have any questions.