Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Freedom



When I was growing up, my family used to attend a Thai Buddhist temple weekly. Once when I was about 13 or 14, we were making an offering with the extended family.  The monk asked the kids what we wanted in life, and my cousins answered that they wanted to be rich or marry rich, have nice things, and travel. 

I said that I wanted freedom. 

I remember he got mad at me, saying that I needed to be grateful because I already have so much freedom. I didn't know that he meant that being an American, growing up in a nice neighborhood with food on the table everyday and school for most of the year, I had more freedom than most kids around the world could imagine. 

What I wanted was the freedom to make my own decisions and not have someone else dictate what was good for me. Even in the privileged first world, people are chained to others or ideas. They're anything but free. I wanted a life that was my own. It's not like I didn't want to be rich, or have plans for my future. Quite the opposite. I just didn't value money more than autonomy. 

All those things would mean nothing if it meant being a slave to others, social standards, and material things.

I forgot about those words until today. I was walking home from class, and that scene played over in my head. I looked up at the gray clouds- I was standing in the wide corridor between two apartment buildings, the sky wide and open above me. And I realized then that I really am free. I live in a beautiful beach city many hours away from my family. Everything- the amazing people in my life, my education, my love life, my work- is in my life because I chose for it to be there.

And I broke down and cried.

I had been lamenting my life for months, wondering why nothing felt stable anymore. I wasn't smart enough to understand the material easily. I don't have a career yet. I couldn't make him stay.

But in that moment, I knew that I was living exactly the life I had dreamed as a child.

Of course I had it a lot easier before. But only today is my life truly my own. The constant change and ambiguity aren't here to hurt me, they're a gift. Saying that I wanted freedom meant jumping off the deep end into the unknown, and struggling until I found my footing. Not the false security that I felt before. The easy classes, the constant retail jobs, the long-term boyfriend. I thought that since those things came easily, that real life would too. 

It's been anything but to easy, but I don't cry at all like I used to. I can walk into a room and know who I am today. However small, I have a place to call my own. I can think independently. And though I may feel stupid sometimes, I'm a LOT smarter than I used to be. It's because I've failed so many times that I now know what it means to be strong, and how to love myself. 

In her TED talk, Psychologist Carol Dweck talks about children who are taught to view challenges with a growth mindset; to meet difficulty with "not yet" rather than "I'm nothing." She says of the extraordinary success of previously underperforming students:

"This happened because the meaning of effort and difficulty were transformed. Before, effort and difficulty made them feel dumb, made them feel like giving up, but now, effort and difficulty, that's when their neurons are making new connections, stronger connections. That's when they're getting smarter."

I think that if little Betsy were here today, she'd be so excited for me. She'd my challenges as adventures. She'd let things go a lot easier. She'd understand- better than I do- that everything is going to be okay. Everything is going to be amazing.  

The ability to choose a growth mindset, to see life with infinite possibilities. 
That's freedom.




Watch Carol Dweck's TED talk here