We claim to worship at the temple of freedom, but we rarely think about what freedom means.
Maybe when you think of freedom, you think of a lone cowboy riding across the prairie, or maybe you think of the single bachelor/ette dancing and loving the night away, or maybe you think of it as the tycoon commanding an empire from an ivory office.
While each of these iconic images represent America, do they represent real freedom?
The cowboy can ride wherever he wants, but he is without the comfort of home or community. He is trapped in solitude with little access to the most valued resources society has to offer.
The bachelor(ette) can sleep with any woman/man they like, but they often go home alone to play video games, watch trashy TV, or drink to excess. They are trapped in an ego based game of sexual pursuit. No one pushes him or her to grow or develop deeper relationships.
The tycoon is trapped by her success. Her power sets her apart from those around her. She must be guarded against those who want something in return. She must maintain an image of success and professionalism in everything she does.
You might think one or all of these characters has a lot of freedom, but what they really have is autonomy. They have the ability to direct their lives without consulting others. And freedom and autonomy are different.
When I look for those in my life who are the most free, they don’t look like these avatars of freedom.
They are fathers and mothers, they’re in long term relationships, they’re invested in their communities and committed to service.
These ties don’t hold them back. Instead, they are the foundation, the structure needed to create amazing works of art, brilliant concepts, and lives full of love and joy.
We like to imagine that creators and leaders go it alone forging into the unknown, but the truth is that great leaders lead great teams. They see the value in others and they invest into that value. They draw out the best in others.
Their brightness is merely the reflected brightness they create in the people around them.
Of course it makes a better story to say they did it alone, but they never do. Great leaders don’t let their need for autonomy get in the way of real freedom, the kind of freedom that can only be created when we work together with people we admire, love, and respect.
If you want to be free, remember that freedom doesn’t come from going it alone. It comes from creating a community of people who help you fly.