Independence, “The Rules,” and Asking for Permission

As Independence Day approaches, Chris Guillebeau asked his Twitter followers “What does independence mean to you?”

For some people, independence means having enough money to quit their job to travel around the world, while for others it’s about having a reliable source of income and a couple weeks of vacation each year. By definition, independence is “freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.”

Independence, for me, means not having to ask for permission to live my life. It’s not always easy.

The vast majority of people (myself included) are required to operate within a certain framework of rules on a daily basis. At work, there are procedures that must be followed and policies to guide our decisions. “The Rules” exist to create an environment of equality, to dictate a standard for quality, and to maintain a certain level of productivity. The Rules serve a purpose.

But the problem with rules is that they’re rules. And because “rules are rules,” the people “in charge” aren’t able to consider the needs of employees on an individual basis. A common refrain from management is “If I make an exception for you, I’d have to make an exception for everyone.” This argument is a logical fallacy (known as the Slippery Slope), but it’s often reason enough to have our needs brushed aside and ignored. Our lives are at the mercy of The Rules.

 If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking for permission.

We’ve grown accustomed to being told what to do. For years we’ve let other people dictate our lives. We’ve been taught to follow The Rules and ask for permission. We’ve had to cancel plans to work late, missed events because we had deadlines to meet, and our entire lives are scheduled around our work schedules.

What a bunch of shit!

It’s time to stop asking for permission to live our lives, and it’s time to stop following someone else’s set of rules. It’s time we stop letting our lives be influenced by imaginary obstacles…obstacles which are little more than lame excuses we use to convince ourselves that we can’t have the life we want and are the reason we believe we have to play by the rules: money, time, security.

Here’s the truth:

You’re only limited by your own choices, and the only rules you have to follow are the ones you want to follow. You’re the only person whose permission you need to ask for. You’ve created this life, and only you have the power to change it. If you’re sick of playing by someone else’s rules, it’s time to stand up for yourself.

Demand change.

At work. From your boss. From yourself. At home. From your spouse. From your children.

It’s your life! Stop asking other people for permission to live it!

…the World Needs You!

Often I’ll hear someone talking about how they wish they could solve the many problems in this world.  Their concerns sound genuine and heartfelt; “It’s so terrible what’s happening in Africa!  Those poor children, I wish there was something I could do.”

They wish there was something they could do, but…

…the money, the time, my family…job, house, school.  It isn’t our fault we can’t save the world…just look at our list of responsibilities!  They’re the reason!!!   We scroll through the archive in our mind, finding countless reasons why we can’t, each a reminder that we have other priorities and obligations that need to be met.  We convince ourselves that it just isn’t possible to escape the commitments.  It doesn’t take long before we’re using our excuses as a waiver of liability. 

Even though we want to help, somehow we’re comforted in knowing that we can’t.  It was a nice thought, anyway.

Have you ever thought to ask yourself whether or not that long list of “responsibilities” isn’t really just a fairy tale?  A bunch of lies that you tell yourself so you’ll never need to deviate from the routine or step outside your comfort zone?  Let me ask you this: if you’re afraid to expand your horizons and challenge yourself to move beyond your comfort zone, are you really living…or simply existing?

When I hear people trying to justify why they can’t [whatever], I think about the people who can, who are and who did.  What if Martin Luther King, Jr had said “I have a dream, but…”, or if Gandhi never was the change he wished to see in the world?  What if all the people who ever changed the world, hadn’t?

All around us are everyday people doing extraordinary things.  Maybe you’ve heard of Albert Lexie, or maybe you haven’t.  He earns $10 an hour shining shoes.  Since 1982, Albert has donated all of his tip money to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburg…more than $150,000.  Albert is only one example of countless people across the world whose actions could inspire a nation.  Each day people are being the change.  They, too, have a dream…

How would your life change if you were to quit making excuses?

Instead of just wishing there was something you could do to help the people of the world, without any excuses holding you back you are free to dig wells in Africa so the people can have access to clean drinking water.  If Africa isn’t your thing, you can volunteer at a soup kitchen in your own city and help feed the hungry.  Get involved!  Don’t waste another moment wishing you could help.

It’s time to quit making excuses, not only for yourself but for the world.  We need you!

I Wish I Could Do That

I’d like to discuss a passage from Chris Guillebeau’s book The Art of Non-Conformity:

Almost every time I head out on an international trip, I end up talking with someone who expresses an interest in doing the same thing.  Their statement is usually something like “Wow! I wish I could do that.”

Here’s the thing: I realize that there are plenty of people out there who are not able to travel or make the same choices I can.  Having lived in the poorest countries in the world for four years, I know many of them personally.  Most of the people I interact with now, however, as well as most of the readers of this book, don’t fit into that category.  The people I talk with now who tell me they “wish” they could do something but feel unable have usually made a number of choices that prevent them from doing what they wish.  They have chosen to prioritize other things above their stated desire.

Some of them, I’ve noticed, can even seem a bit resentful of those who step out in a different direction.  When I offered to help a friend plan an upcoming trip to Europe, she eagerly accepted.  But then she said, “You know, not all of us can just take off and fly around the world like you do.”  I laughed it off and helped her anyway, but her offhand remark stayed with me after our conversation had ended.  As I thought about it later, I realized that the statement reflected a common form of jealousy.  This friend made more than $80,000 a year and certainly could have afforded to travel anywhere she wanted, but it wasn’t her priority.

As you begin making more and more of your own choices, you’ll encounter feedback like this fairly often.  Many people are uncomfortable with change and different ideas, and they’ll work hard at rationalizing their own choices when they come across someone who has made different ones.  I’m not saying it’s a bad thing for someone to prioritize a life around working at the office and buying things for their home.  I’m just suggesting that they openly acknowledge that as the priority.

I’ve heard the same comments.  “How can you afford to travel so much?” and “I wish I could travel like you do.”  Each time Erin and I would announce plans for our next trip, we’d hear all the same questions again and again.  Like Chris, at the time of the conversation, we’d laugh them off but also like Chris, the words stuck with us and after a while, even though we wanted to share our excitement, we felt as though we were being criticized for our decision to travel and stopped telling people about our upcoming plans.

When people first asked us how we could afford to travel, I tried explaining to them that our priority is travel, everything else is secondary.  Eventually it dawned on me that these people don’t want to know how I can afford to travel.  They don’t care about frugality or avoiding debt and, as Chris points out, they’re just jealous.

Our decision to live life on our own terms is something that many people cannot understand.  Shouldn’t we be getting married, having children and buying a house?  That isn’t the path that either of us is interested in taking at this point in our lives.  We want to see the world and experience all that it has to offer.  “Nine to five ’til ya die” isn’t the motto I wish to live my life by.

I’ve said in the past that we should pursue our goals ruthlessly and without apologies but that seems hypocritical while I sit in silence, afraid to share my excitement with the world about my upcoming adventures.  I will not apologize any longer for living my life by my rules.

The other day when I was talking about doing handstands, I eluded to upcoming travels but left you wondering where they might be.  The fact of the matter is, at that time, we weren’t comfortable sharing our plans.  The comments, the questions…they get old after a while.  Today, after reading the above passage from Chris’ book, I really don’t care anymore what anyone thinks about my life and my choices.  Erin and I are doing what makes us happy.

And we’re going to Europe in January!

We’ll arrive in Paris on New Year’s Eve to watch the fireworks in front of the Eiffel Tower and from there we don’t have any plans for two weeks.  We’re in the process of negotiating an “itinerary” but haven’t made any commitments.  The only reservations we’ve made are in Paris for the holiday weekend.  After that, we’re going wherever the wind may take us and I’ll be doing handstands all over Europe!

Next time someone asks me how I can afford to travel, maybe I’ll ask them a question of my own: “How can you not afford it?”