Monday, November 3, 2014

12 Steps for Living Free - Introduction

I’ve been on a personal quest to live freer and happier all my life. But, for the last three and a half years, at this writing, it’s become the main focus of my life. I’ve learned much during this period. I guess I could say I’ve minimally “earned” another masters degree and, possibly, a PhD in Living Free. The path has been interesting, exciting, challenging and, often, difficult and, sometimes, painful. We live in a very complicated world and I dare say that it will only become more complicated in the future.

Fifty to sixty years ago, when I was a youngster and a young adolescent, life was pretty peaceful, relatively speaking. I was born just before World War II ended and the following year the Baby Boomer Generation began. It was a time when the economy began to boom as a result of the war effort, finally ending the Great Depression. There were programs like the GI Bill to assist service men and women returning from the war to gain education and to buy homes they could have never afforded before the war. The job market was expanding as technology began a rapid developmental period. Then we had the Korean War followed by the Vietnam War that I participated in as an active member of the U.S. Air Force (and as a result of the Selective Service System draft). Faster and faster our world was getting smaller and smaller and becoming a more and more global society. The U.S. became the wealthiest nation in the world and one of the few Super Powers, ultimately to become the only surviving Super Power. Change was constant and rapid. Technology accelerated the changes by leaps and bounds. 

Somehow, I became a non-conformist. No! I was not a “hippie” or “beatnik.” But, I was an entrepreneur and entrepreneurs are, by their very nature, non-conformists. We don’t see things as they are. We see things as they can be with the innovations each of us adds to a capitalistic society. I became a “serial entrepreneur,” always restless and always looking for new ways to do things that moved business and society ahead. Early in my business career I bought into the idea that it was the small businesses that would lead the world by embracing new technologies. My chosen field was electronic media and more specifically, the growing recording and video production industries.

I began my interest in electronic media when I was about 11 or 12 years old starting with photography (actually, a graphic-visual medium at that time, now an electronic medium), then discovering short-wave radio, becoming a licensed amateur radio operator just after my 14th birthday and going on to found both the amateur radio club and the on-campus broadcast radio station at my undergraduate college. I discovered the recording and sound industries during the first month of my freshman year at Montclair State College (now, a university) in Montclair, New Jersey. What a ride my life has been since that time.

But, here’s the rub. I went into business to secure my own freedom and happiness and, ultimately, created my own form of enslavement. As I went through the four years of my Air Force enlistment, I met my future wife. I began to conform more and more to the traditional values that most people embraced and, in so doing, gave up more and more of my personal freedom and, with it, much of the happiness I was seeking.

Please! Do not misconstrue my meaning. We still lived a fairly non-conforming lifestyle in many ways and there were many wonderful, happy times. My son was born and became the most important accomplishment of my life. He became an intelligent, capable, productive and FREE member of our society. But, I had set aside many, if not most, of my personal ideals and philosophies of personal freedom and happiness.

It was not until I reached my early 60’s that I realized just how much. During all those years there was a continual gnawing feeling deep inside that kept telling me that I had sold myself out and traded many of my ideals, values and dreams for more traditional values and standards. I had relinquished my free spirit, freedom and happiness for a self-imposed imprisonment as a “wage slave.” I had conformed to how “they” (those who chose to live a traditional and conforming lifestyle) thought I should live my life. Of course, I made that choice freely.

I’ve identified and been developing a 12-step approach to living free as I’ve been reinventing myself and traveling on my quest to regain my own freedom and happiness. Sure, 12 step programs are popular for many things beginning with the Alcoholics Anonymous program. Bill W. and Dr. Bob first introduced the AA 12 Step program in 1939. Millions have benefited and the movement has spawned numerous 12 step programs addressing many other addictions and compulsions. My 12-step program is committed to helping anyone who feels trapped or imprisoned by their own thinking and is not as happy as he or she would like to be. It helps you make choices to break away from whatever you feel is holding you back from attaining all the freedom you desire, however you define living free for yourself. Living free should, as a natural consequence, result in a happier, fulfilled life.

Here, then, are my 12 steps. I will list them and provide a simple and brief description of each step. In future posts I’ll elaborate on each step in more detail.

Step 1. Dreams and Reality – You begin by facing your reality as it is today. You grew up dreaming about your perfect life – where you’d live, a lifestyle, who you’d marry, a family, what you would do (occupationally or professionally) to support yourself and your family, your adventures, travels and so on. Dreams always evolve as you grow and experience life. What happened? Life happened, that's what. What is wrong and right about your current life? You know that you’re not truly happy and you never seem to have time to do the things you want to do. This is where you find yourself asking the question, “Is this all there is?” It’s time to take your dreams out of that dark closet, blow off the dust and revisit them.

Step 2. Self-discovery – Once you come to the realization and have accepted that all is not as you feel it should be, then you can begin exploring what you and your life are all about. This is where you will find the roots of your discontent, unhappiness and lack of personal freedom.

Step 3. Personal Inventory – It’s time to take an assessment of your personal assets. This doesn’t mean just your tangible assets, however. It means going back through your life. What are your core beliefs? What did you learn from your parents, teachers, religious experiences (if any), and what are your professional/occupational, educational and training experiences? Who is your family? Who are your friends? Depending on your age, this inventory could become a long list.

Step 4. Simplifying – Life is complex. The average person (and family) has to juggle all the complexities of daily domestic, professional and social life including where you live, relationships with family and friends, raising children if you have any, the complexities of whatever your vocation or profession places upon you, health issues, finances, local, state and federal rules, laws and politics, the economy and the list goes on. The more we have and attempt to do, the more complicated and clouded our lives become. Simplifying our lives contributes significantly to achieving personal freedom and, ultimately, happiness. Simplifying can be done fairly quickly if it is undertaken in numerous small incremental steps evaluating what is important and not important in your life as you progress.

Step 5. Downsizing – If you were fortunate enough to be born and grow up in the United States, no matter what strata of society you come from, you have accumulated “STUFF!” Stuff can take several forms. It can be tangible stuff like furniture, books, CD’s, vinyl records, old clothes, etc. It can also be mental/psychological/emotional stuff (often referred to as “baggage”) like lost friendships, painful memories, unrealized hopes, etc. It’s time to let go of this “stuff” and get out of the “Stuff Warehousing Business."

Step 6. Finances – This is a serious and vitally important step. You have to evaluate your relationship with money, investments, debt and what you really need, financially, to live free and happy. If you are in debt you are not free. You will likely be surprised by the outcome of this step.

Step 7. Avocation – Do what you love and the money will follow. Maybe you’ve heard this before. Living free is not about having the highest paying job or career you can have. When you work for money you’re very inclined to become a “wage slave.” Finding YOUR best Avocation (as opposed to a vocation or occupation) means discovering something that you love doing and would do for free . . . except people will actually pay you. Thus, you can earn the income you need to sustain your Living Free lifestyle while doing something you really love to do.

Step 8. Relationships – Your relationships contribute a lot to how you define yourself. Very good relationships are supportive, encouraging, non-judgmental and collaborative. Relationships that do not provide these qualities are very often toxic relationships and will drain you physically, mentally and emotionally - and many times, financially. This is true of professional and personal - platonic, romantic and familial relationships. In order for you to be free you have to eliminate all toxic relationships and develop positive, mutually beneficial, supportive and collaborative relationships.  

Step 9. Amends – No one, and this includes you, goes through life without being hurt and hurting others. Most often these hurtful events are not done maliciously and often without knowledge that you or the other party has been harboring these painful feelings. To be truly free you must first and foremost forgive yourself for being human and making mistakes. Then you must forgive those who have, in some way, wronged or hurt you. And, equally important, you must seek to make amends with anyone you may have knowingly or unknowingly hurt. They may or many not forgive you. If they don’t that is their burden to bear. You have made your amends and are free of any further guilt. You can’t be free and carry lifelong guilt on your shoulders.

Step 10. Giving – What will you give? You’ve probably heard that you must give to receive. In Biblical terms it was stated that, “as ye sow, so shall ye reap.” Giving of yourself, whether financially, other tangible items such as food/clothes/shelter to someone in need or giving of your time are all ways of giving. You'll gain freedom, happiness and fulfillment from this simple action.

Step 11. Spirituality – This is not about God or any specific religious belief system. And this is not some “New Age” philosophy. This is simply about your connection with nature, the universe and a greater intelligence and truth then you can comprehend. You may choose to identify your spirituality by various names like God, Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah, Jesus, Vishnu, Buddha or any other name. You may choose to connect through nature. Even atheists and agnostics display forms of spirituality, though they may not recognize it as such. How you connect with others and with nature is part of spirituality and that connection helps make living free possible.

Step 12. Life List (aka a Bucket List) – It’s never too early to create a Life List. Like everyone else, you were born with a “terminal disease” called “Life.” The vast majority of human beings don’t know when the end of their lives will actually come. So, why, then, are you putting off creating a Life List of all the things YOU want to experience and accomplish for yourself before you leave this world? As far as we know, we only get one time around in this life on Earth. Life and everything about it is a miraculous gift and we don't get a dress rehearsal. So, what are you waiting for? Retirement? It may never come. It’s time to create your personal Life List and take every opportunity to experience and complete the items on your Life List - BEGINNING NOW!

These are my 12 steps. There are, of course, other facets of the human experience that also contribute to our freedom, happiness, well being and fulfillment, but they can all be incorporated into one of these twelve steps. I’ll define and explain these 12 steps in more detail in future posts. I hope they will help you define living free for your life . . . the Greatest Gift you’ve been given.

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