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Are You Pretending to Be Independent?

Posted: Updated:
JULY 4TH

Independence Day is a great and proud day in our country's history, one in which we might benefit from reflecting on what independence really means. My experience suggests that most people who proclaim independence are living an illusion and actually wind up denying themselves the very freedom they are seeking.

What about you? Do you like to think of yourself as independent? Do you have friends who also like to think of themselves as independent? If so, I respectfully suggest that you both may be pursuing a myth.

In my experience coaching and consulting with thousands of people, I have found that most people are seeking freedom and settling for the myth of independence. If we could solve this riddle, I think we would go a long way toward solving much of what pains us in today's world of volatile economics and vitriolic politics.

Merriam-Webster tells us that being independent means a few very different things. The first definition, "not subject to control by others" or "not affiliated with a larger controlling unit" is workable for the most part and reflects the meaning and significance of Independence Day.

However, the next several definitions point out some deeper challenges; for example, "not requiring or relying on something else ... (or) someone else" is pretty much a non-starter for darn near every one of us. It's not until the fourth definition that we find the real source of the problem I want to address today: "showing a desire for freedom."

The Independence Myth

If you consider yourself to be independent, try this little test: do you make your own clothes? Ever? Did you raise your cotton? Do you make your own sewing needles? You get the drift; just about all of us are dependent on others for a wide variety of life's necessities, ranging from jobs to clothes. We're even dependent on other people following some basic "rules" -- on which side of the yellow line would you like to see others driving?

The lesson here is more about freedom than it is about independence. If you like to think of yourself as independent, could you imagine substituting the word freedom, the experience of being free, for independence? Would you like to think of yourself as free, of having freedom? One definition of freedom might have something to do with the freedom to experience your well-being independently of what others might say or do.

I know this may sound goofy to you, but stop for a moment and ask yourself what it means to be free: I am referring to true freedom, the only freedom that you have 100-percent control over, regardless of your physical circumstances, the only freedom that no one can take away from you. Perhaps the best way to understand the concept, and more importantly, the power of the difference, is to consider the life of Victor Frankl.

How To Be Free Regardless Of Your Circumstances

Victor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist working in pre-World-War-II Vienna, helping troubled people who were considered suicidal. His work was incredibly successful and caught the attention of some prominent thinkers in Germany.

As the war grew, he wound up being deported to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp, along with his wife and parents. They were quickly separated and sent to different camps. Frankl himself was transferred to several, including Auschwitz and Turkheim (near Dachau). All of his family members, except his sister who escaped, died in one of the concentration camps.

On his arrival at Theresienstadt, he was selected to live, rather than be immediately executed. Once that decision was made, he was sent to the "showers," where he was stripped, completely shaved and clothed in prison garb that intentionally was the wrong size (large people were given clothes way too small, while small people were given clothes way too big). He quickly reasoned that the process was intended to strip the individual of any sense of being, importance or relevance.

Next up, the Nazis gathered up his huge collection of research, records and writings, and burned his life's work in front of him. From there, he endured all manner of cruelty and inhumanity, including various forms of physical suffering and torture.

Along the way, as he struggled to maintain his sense of self and his dignity, he came to formulate some compelling thoughts and bits of awareness, which together allowed him to live, and to exude a dignity that the Nazis could not extinguish.

For Frankl, the critical realization came as yet another indignity was forced upon him. That realization was about freedom. His simple yet powerful realization goes like this: "Freedom is that place in time just after they do something to me, and just before I choose my response."

The following are some quotes from Victor Frankl's seminal work, Man's Search for Meaning, which was published in 1946, after his long ordeal in the various concentration camps. You may find something profoundly resonant with these quotations, something which seems ever more current in today's challenging times:

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms, to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

As we move through the coming days and months of unsteady economic challenges and the prospects of more partisan strife, I encourage you to remember that as bad as things are, you still have a choice about how you respond. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that the shenanigans being pulled off politically or economically are anything close to fair or that what the Nazis did to Frankl was fair or just. However, you still get to choose how you respond.

Try following Frankl's advice: think about where you are headed in your life, what experiences you are having, and what choices you can make about them. How could you choose freedom even in the worst of circumstances? How could you change yourself?

If you can master theses simple questions, you may find that you can achieve freedom in a highly interdependent world.

How about you? What is the freedom that you seek? What are you doing to create that experience for yourself?

I'd love to hear from you, so please leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell!@russellbishop.com.

If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life, and on how you can take a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, download a free chapter from Russell's new book, "Workarounds That Work."

You can buy "Workarounds That Work" here.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about his work by visiting his website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact him by email at Russell@russellbishop.com.

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