2020 and 2021 have been some of the most chaotic years of my life, and it is likely they felt that way for you too. So many things changed!
Places that had been open all the time were suddenly closed. There were all these restrictions in place just to leave the house or enter establishments. There were limits on the number of people we should see, how close we could stand, and even the places we could go.
This made some people angry because they felt the government had overreached, while others agreed with the steps put in place, and looked at it as their contribution to the greater good.
Regardless of the camp you fell in, the truth here is that we are a nation of people who celebrate and pride themselves on being free and independent. We lost that back in March 2020 and we are just getting it back.
It has made me question what living an independent lifestyle really means? And how can we go about doing it when chaos strike (because this is life, and something will always come along and complicate our journey for independence)?
What does living an independent lifestyle really mean?
Are any of us truly independent in today’s society? The answer is probably not (and I will explain why in a bit), but some things definitely make us feel stronger and more independent than others. Well Being Central offers seven signs that prove you are an independent and strong person:
- You know how to prioritize: Recognize which obstacles are most important and tackle them first.
- You take pride in your work: You are motivated to do your best, make money, and support your lifestyle.
- You reap the benefits of your career success: You work hard and can support yourself with the essentials and buy your own luxury items.
- Use your downtime to further your goals: This might mean making a business plan, gaining a new skill, or planning for the future.
- You know when to ask for help: You have pride but are still humble enough to know when you need some help.
- You share your success with others: You are a giving individual who believes in paying it forward and helping others out through mentoring or gifting
- You are seen as the go-to person: people know they can depend on you and you are reliable. They trust you know what you are doing.
Each of these sounds like a great way to judge just how independent your lifestyle is if the parameter was career and material success, but is that the only criteria?
And really, a person who lives in their own dwelling, has nice things, or appears successful often depends on their employer or company continuing to pay them.
If the pandemic taught us anything, it is that most jobs are not as stable as we envisioned them to be. Any business could stop running in the right circumstances, and any position could be paused or eliminated. Where do we turn then?
Is it the government’s or society’s responsibility to make sure its citizens, or fellow humans, don’t get left behind? That depends on how you view the world, and I am not here to try to convince you one way or the other is right. However, I would like to propose that none of us is as independent as we think we are because the definition most of us use is problematic.
The problems with our perceived independence
Sure, being super ‘successful’, or even just not living at home and paying your bills could be described as independent. In fact, I think for most of us that’s the goal, but in those circumstances when we feel our independence slipping away, how do we reconcile who we are with what we want?
For instance, let’s say you work but still live with your parents. You help contribute to the household’s financial needs. You also get to spend time with your parents, and maybe you are actually helping them keep their independence. Everyone is happy, and you have some extra money to enjoy life. Are you less independent than someone else?
Or maybe you own a condo in the city and have a high-paying job. You check off a lot of the boxes that indicate you are an “independent person,” but what happens if something happens to your job? Sure, you probably have savings and investments, and even skills someone else will pay you for, but you depend on your job paying your check and funding your existence.
Now, maybe you think the entrepreneur is the most independent of all because he depends on himself to sustain his workflow. He dictates how much money he makes by the amount of work he does, or clients he sees.
However, if the power grid that supports his ability to work breaks for weeks, what happens to him? He might live a life that someone who shows up to work M-F 9-5 envies, but he still depends on something, even if it’s as simple as his clients continuing to require his services.
The person living in a hut in the woods, using solar power, a catchment system, and hunting rabbits for food, might just be the most independent of us all, but few of us actually want to live that lifestyle.
Aside from your personal independence, there are the social dependency constraints we all live under. We are legally required to have car insurance because we might damage someone else’s property and not be able to pay for the damage.
Does that mean that you should be allowed to opt-out if you prove you had x amount of money in the bank to reimburse someone? Or does it mean that only people who have that kind of money should drive because then we wouldn’t depend on the insurance to cover us? Are we being independent paying our taxes and expecting the government to fix things like roads? Or should we all just fix our paths from A to B with our own money? How independent do you really want to be?
This argument kind of reminds me of when my teenager, who is on the cusp of adulthood, says she can’t wait to grow up. Like sure ‘freedom’ sounds fun, but I will not be there to send you money for lunch, or to buy a new pair of shorts, because you don’t want to dip into your summer trip fund.
There is a luxury to her depending on me that allows her a different kind of freedom: the freedom to not worry about her own survival. And in each of these scenarios about how we view independence, there is some outside chaotic force we must guard against.
What if true independence and freedom, doesn’t come how successful we are, or the things we have, or even our level of dependence on others? What if the secret to maintaining independence when life throws us a curveball comes from within?
A new way to look at independence
People want to proclaim their freedom and independence at every chance they get. Whether it’s by lighting fireworks on the 4th of July, enjoying their material successes, or even in a Facebook argument with someone of a different political viewpoint. I think independence is about much more than any of those things.
Independence is exercising the freedom to keep an open mind. It is having the ability to let go of beliefs that no longer serve you and embrace a new truth when one presents itself. Genuine independence comes from our ability to free ourselves, not from the shackles of governments and mask mandates, but from the trauma responses our behavior hinges on.
My therapist pointed out once that I lived with childhood trauma for so many years, and from such an early age, that I had “no idea who I would be if that those things hadn’t happened.” I realized then that despite all the progress, success, and ‘normalcy’ I had achieved, I was not free of the effects of trauma.
When someone lives their truth or states an opinion that differs from yours, do you know why it scares you? Do you know what is causing you to fight and defend your position? Is it a freedom issue or are you so enslaved by your beliefs and perceptions that you can’t acknowledge someone else’s? It doesn’t matter what those beliefs might be. If you are clinging to them so tightly that you are cutting off the circulation in your hand, how independent are you really?
Independence is an elusive goal that we journey toward every day. The chaos of the world is inevitable and the best ways to stay truly free are to keep an open mind, take care of yourself, and be the person you needed someone else to be for you.
Therapy can help you learn new behaviors that will make it easier to do these things. Meditating and self-care are excellent ways to keep yourself healthy. Take care of yourself, be open to learning and growing, accept change, and develop resiliency. Chaos is everywhere, but you have everything you need to be independent, despite whatever the world throws at you.
“Every human has four endowments – self-awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom… The power to choose, to respond, to change.” ― Stephen Covey