The recognition that human beings are free gives us the individual freedom to make whatever choices we want for our lives. But anyone who embraces their individual freedom must also accept the personal responsibility to make it happen. Simply wishing for something to happen is not going to do anything; no external force is going to give it to you. Your life is completely up to you, and you are solely responsible for it.
While you are free to make your own choices, it is obvious that the choices you make will be influenced by the society and culture you are in, and that is fine. The key is to live the life that you want, and many of the things that influenced you prior to this point are important to you so of course you’re going to keep them. The important first step is to describe what the ideal life means to you before you can determine how you are going to get there. This isn’t going to be physical things such as possessions, but about how you want to feel. Knowing that, you are able to examine the various ways you can achieve those feelings. This is your goal. It is then your responsibility to set a plan in motion to get there, to do what it takes, to achieve it.
You may be wondering if taking such action, veering from the path of conformity, is risky. Not at all, the biggest risk is to plod along and end your life with the words, “I wish I had,” on your lips. Take heart that it isn’t the achievement of the goal that makes you free. It is the journey, knowing you are in control of your life that makes it so:
Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman — a rope over an abyss. A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal. ~ Frederick Nietzsche
The American founding father, Thomas Jefferson, hit it on the nose when he penned: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” in the declaration of independence. Jefferson understood that happiness in life it was all about pursuing one’s goals, not necessarily achieving them. If you do achieve a particular goal, you will simply have to create another so as to always feel the happiness of freedom. Your life is all about the choices that you make for it.
Most people close to me know that I’ve always been an existentialist, and the current non-fiction book I am working on deals with eliminating stress by being authentic in one’s life. Here’s an excerpt from chapter nine:
Other people see us in a ways that we have no access to, and vice-versa. We are first and foremost an object to other people, just as they are to us, and according to Jean-Paul Sartre this is the basis for relationships between individuals to be one of conflict. Other people cannot see us as we really are, so our existence is one thing for us and something else for them. If we allow the judgment of others to influence us we run the risk of not being authentic and will experience stress as a result, so how can one be a part of the world and live authentically at the same time? We can try to tell people who we really are, but it is only through our actions and the products of our actions that they will judge us.
Consider a man who is living in a shack on the beach. Other people see this person with a scraggly beard and long hair blowing in the breeze walking around every day and they label him as a beach bum. They are unaware that it is the daily wandering that drives his inspiration and creativity, and even if he told them that he was a genius working on a new project they would most likely look at him askance and still judge him to be a beach bum. However, once he publishes a book or produces a painting these people will change their judgment, and from that point on they’ll recognize him as an author or an artist.
It is one thing to see ourselves as artists and tell other people at parties how we have great books or paintings inside us, but quite another to actually be that artist. That requires us to make choices and act on them. So whether we remain as inwardly frustrated artists who dress in suits and go to work in an office every day versus living an authentic life and producing art comes down to our accepting individual freedom and making the appropriate choices, in spite of the judgment of others. It is easy to come up with excuses in order to justify not taking action, but Nietzsche would have considered it weakness to deny ourselves:
“What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? All that is born of weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
You may well be considered a nonconformist bum when you start out, but those same people who deride your choices will be the first ones with their congratulations on your success and will readily accept what they will then consider your eccentricity. More importantly, you will achieve happiness and be free from the stress of inauthenticity.