You Are Not Free.

Shane Melaugh
October 19, 2020

I believe that freedom may be the most valuable thing a person can possess.

Taking away or undermining someone’s freedom is one of the worst things you can do to a person.

Freedom is a virtue and we should strive to build a society and a world in which more people enjoy more freedom (as long as that freedom doesn’t infringe on the freedom and wellbeing of others).

And I believe that, right now, you are not free.

You’re not free in many ways, most of which you’re probably unaware of. In fact, some of the very things that look like freedoms are actually prisons that you are, to some extent, captured within.

I believe that you are not free from things like compulsive behavior that is bad for you. You're not free from compulsively consuming substances that harm you, whether that's cigarettes, alcohol, opioids or even just junk food.

You're not free from the habit of sitting all day, which makes your body rot away slowly - and if you're younger than 50 years old or so, then you probably haven't noticed yet just how bad this is for you, but eventually you will.

You're not free to choose to do differently. You're not free from compulsive, destructive behavior like outbreaks of anger and aggression or a habit of being rude or judgmental. Or compulsively comparing yourself to other people and either feeding some emptiness inside yourself by trying to feel superior to them and looking down on them or making yourself feel bad by putting them on a pedestal and comparing the best of them to your worst flaws.

You're not free from reacting the same way to the same thing, over and over again. Whether it's you being a jerk to other people, you letting other people be a jerk to you... or even just a habit of constantly retreating and disappearing into the background.

You're not free from consuming junk content, junk information. You're not free from believing in oversimplified narratives that are wrong and misleading, but have the merit of being easy to understand - and are incidentally being shoved in your face all the time. You're not from the "us vs. them" frame that people want to stick you in.

You're not free from suffering - in countless forms.

You're not free from anxiety and neurotic thought. You're not free from feeling overwhelmed by the stresses and demands that other people, your work, your life exert on you.

You're not free from pain.

You're not free from these things because you don't have the knowledge and the discipline and the skill that it takes to overcome them and give yourself a real choice. You're not free from these things because perhaps you lack the self awareness to even realize what you're doing - to even realize that there's all this self-imposed suffering and to realize there are ways to change what you do and change your outcomes.

And you don't know these things, you don't have these skills and this awareness because no one ever taught you.

And then you are also not free from these things in part because of your circumstances. Perhaps you've struggled all your life and you don't have the luxury to spend time on self reflection, education and self improvement because you're too busy working your 3 minimum wage jobs, trying to stay alive.

But the bottom line is: you're not free in all these ways.

And I believe that you can free yourself.

I also believe that it should be your sole responsibility to free yourself.

Some of us are are in a fortunate position that makes it much easier for us to do the work needed to gain freedom. And some of us find ourselves in circumstances that make it very difficult.

I believe that this is what the strong should be doing: if you're in a fortunate enough position where you can free yourself, you should do it. Even though it does come at a cost of momentary discomfort.

No matter who you are, no matter what your life story has been so far: freedom lies well outside the comfort zone of the average mold our culture creates for us.

Gaining freedom and strength does require discipline and it can't be done without some discomfort and even pain. But you should do it, if you can. And once you are freer and stronger, you should start spending some of your time helping other people free themselves and lifting other people up.

I believe this is the right thing to do because if we have more people who are free from suffering, free from ignorance, free from things that slow you down and sap your energy, free from oversimplified narratives that are meant to push you into a store to buy something you don't need or meant to push you to the ballot box to vote against your self interest and all that shit - if we have more people who are free from these kinds of things, then all of us are better off.

Thoughts on “Buying” Your Freedom

The above is an essay I wrote a while back, reflecting on why I do what I do. It's a big part of the reason I started ikario in the first place.

With the ikario team, I've discussed the concept of "buying" one's freedom a few times and want to add some thoughts about that to this article.

Like many who read these words, I had the good fortune of growing up in a free country (Switzerland, in my case). A place in which it is the norm that many freedoms are afforded to each individual. And that's something I'll be forever grateful for.

But even in a free and prosperous country like Switzerland, it takes a lot to be truly free. Like in most western countries, the average person is relatively safe and well off, but they find themselves nonetheless stuck.

For example, most people don't have a lot of freedom regarding how they spend most of their day. Most people spend 10 or more of their waking hours working a job and commuting to and from that job.

Of course, they are technically free to quit their job and choose a different one. But in practice, this is not a real freedom for most people. Because they know that if they did indeed quit their job, they'd only be weeks or at best months away from serious financial trouble. And they know that finding a new job is difficult, let alone finding a better one than their current job.

And of course, if you don't have a job, you can't buy food or pay rent and pretty soon, your freedoms become increasingly limited.

This is how so many of us end up spending almost all of their time doing things we don't particularly like doing and don't find meaningful. And because that's a pretty dreadful experience, we spend some additional time trying to escape and distract ourselves.

Bottom line: even in the freest of societies, how free are we, really?

My own experience is that of digging myself out of such a situation of limited freedom and, over time, gaining an extraordinary degree of freedom in my life.

Not just financial freedom and location freedom, but also mental and emotional freedom. I've managed to arrive at a vantage point in my life that I didn't even know existed, back when I was stuck in the "I hate this job but I have to do it" rut.

And the truth is: it takes a lot.

You have to buy your freedom and it ain't cheap.

I spent several years building up my entrepreneurial skills to the point where I gained basic financial freedom. And I spent more than 10 years working on myself to gain emotional and mental freedom.

And even now, the things I most want to do, what I want to create here with ikario, costs more money than I currently have and more time than I've spent so far.

As I'm writing this, we're in the process of doing the work that will buy the freedom of the ikario team members and of ikario as a brand.

It takes a lot. But it is well worth it.

Shane Melaugh

About the author

Shane is a serial entrepreneur with a long-standing obsession for personal development and life optimization. He has a habit of buying more books than he can ever read. During his childhood his worldview was significantly influenced by Jackie Chan movies, the Vorkosigan Saga and the writings of Miyamoto Musashi.

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  • I wasn’t convinced I needed ikario at this time of my life because I don’t feel like I’m at a low point. But this video made me see some of the chains I’m blind to. Though lots of things are going well and I’m making progress in some areas, you’ve made me see I’m too complacent in some of the areas that matter most. I’m actually not free. Ok, fine — I’m ready for the hard work.

    • Shane Melaugh says:

      Thank you for sharing, Mark! It’s often a low point where we realize what needs fixing and what our true priorities are, but you don’t have to wait to hit rock bottom to start improving things. In fact, better if it doesn’t come to that. 🙂

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