Freedom to Be

Food for Thought @ Clinton St. Baking Company

DeDe texted me last night asking if I would go eat their Bananas Foster Pancakes first thing in the morning and take some photos. She told me I could order whatever else I want. So, my wife and I had a huge breakfast with a glass of Bellini. As I write this, I’m still feeling a bit tipsy.

It reminded me of the period in the mid-90s when many of our friends were barely employed. We would go eat cheap breakfast specials in the East Village; it was like five dollars, including tax and tip. We would watch other people scurry by. I had walked off my Wall Street job without having any idea of what I was going to do next. I enjoyed the sense of freedom.

When we think of “freedom,” we typically think of the freedom to choose, that is, having lots of options. But, over time, we become captive to this idea of keeping our options alive and open—slaves to this idea of freedom. Just as cancellable airline tickets are more expensive, keeping options open is costly in all senses of the word.

The kind of freedom I felt when I abandoned my career on Wall Street was the exact opposite. Because I had pissed off some well-connected people by suddenly walking off my job, I knew I couldn’t go back there. Not having Wall Street as a career choice was what gave me that sense of freedom. I had to confront my psychological attachment to a secure, well-paying mainstream career, and abandon it externally as well as internally. It wasn’t freedom from societal pressures; it was freedom from within, from the self-imposed imperative to keep my options open.

Especially when we are young, we have countless options for what we could be, but ultimately, we don’t want to be everything. There is a particular way of being that makes us happy, which is different for everyone. The point of life isn’t to collect options but to find our own ways of being. Having a wide range of dogs to choose from doesn’t mean anything if you don’t like dogs. Having socially valuable choices is a burden to us if they have no personal meaning. When we let go of them with no chance to take them back, we become free to do what we want to do in life.