...or lack thereof. This post dates back to July 12, 2023, a few weeks into what I anticipated would be a summer of rest and relaxation. But too much of a good thing isn't always so good, and freedom comes with more strings attached than I originally expected. In what may or may not become a series of blog posts chronicling my jobless summer, I bring you the first (and perhaps only) snippet of what I documented along the way. As per usual, my thoughts are a little chaotic, but I promise it'll all weave together in the end... sort of. Also, hi! It has been a long time, yes, but I don't feel the need to address that. How boring. Hi! Hello! Lovely to be in your inbox once again!
July 12, 2023
Well, here I am. I’m 27, just quit my first full-time, big-girl, real-adult job, and somehow feeling more free and more stuck than ever. How I spend my days now is mostly up to me. I decided to allow myself some grace this summer to frolic, to play, to be free. But I’m realizing freedom might not be so simple. Freedom isn’t always an open schedule and a full day of whatever you want ahead. Sometimes it’s a structured routine and enough money for a nice meal after work. Sometimes it’s the steady paycheck that comes with a 9-5. And sometimes it’s working unconventional hours. Sometimes it’s laying in a field on a Wednesday afternoon knowing you have nowhere to be and no one to report to. But if there’s one thing I’m learning, it’s this: freedom is not the same for everyone.
When you think of freedom, what comes to mind? I imagine most of us picture some idyllic world where we wake up whenever our body decides and we stretch gleefully as we take in the fact that the day before us is a blank canvas, an open invitation. But that doesn’t have to mean zero obligations. In fact, I think too much freedom can be paralyzing. I’m so free that I don’t know what to do with myself sometimes. Am I being productive enough? Am I maximizing this free time? Am I pursuing the things I always said I’d pursue “if only I had the time”? Well, I’ve sure got the time now! I’ve got all the time in the world. And while I’m grateful for this hiatus from the hustle of being a working adult, I’m slightly disappointed in the feeling of aimlessness and uncertainty that has come with it.
Some days are full of adventures, conversations, little projects, meeting up with friends, doing chores around the house. Some days are so full I can’t even fathom how I ever did all of this and put in 8 hours of work. Other days I feel myself floating. I feel the self-imposed pressure to do more with this generous slice of freedom I’ve cut for myself. I wanted this so bad. I fantasized of waking up on a random weekday without an ounce of work anxiety, without the stress of the day hanging over me. And while I’m deeply grateful to be removed from that daily experience for a little while, I find myself filling that anxiety-shaped gap with other things. What am I really doing with my life? What do I even like? Could I ever go back to sitting in front of a computer for 8 hours a day? Could I ever let my schedule be so controlled by a corporation ever again? And what about my dreams? What about the things I call my passions but struggle to find the discipline to bring to fruition? The words I expected would pour out of me so effortlessly the minute I stopped having to give a day’s worth of energy and creativity to my real job? Where are they now? The elaborate meals I thought I’d be contentedly whipping together every night because I no longer had to drag myself to the kitchen after a long day of who knows what would have been thrown at me at work? What about those?
But there are also many things that I’ve loved in my now 4 weeks of freedom – if we can even call it that. I’ve loved spending time with people throughout the day, not having to wait until the clock ticks far enough past noon for it to be acceptable to make plans during the workweek. I've loved cleaning the kitchen when the urge hits without guiltily refreshing my Slack every 5 minutes. I've loved being out in the world on a Tuesday at 11 am wondering what everyone else is doing out in the world on a Tuesday at 11 am (shouldn’t you all be working?!?!). Pulling out my guitar and singing a few songs, just because. Listening to half of a podcast, then pausing it to play jazz music instead as I do the dishes. Enjoying this slower pace of life where everything that needs to get done gets done, but on my own terms.
Yet somehow I’m still left in this floating feeling. Like I’m hovering above my life, lost in this unexpected limbo of excessive freedom. I guess I’m wondering what I want out of life. What makes me happy? What makes me feel alive? What gets me out of bed every morning? Lately, nothing. I want to sleep longer because I’m tired and, well, because I can. I want to sit and drink my tea and my coffee, in that order, at a leisurely pace as I ease into the day with no real agenda. It’s pleasant, of course. There’s no way this isn’t a pleasant existence. But I know it’s temporary, and I know I can’t live this way forever, and maybe that’s what robs the joy from it. I don’t even want to live this way forever – surely I’d crave something more eventually – but it’s the knowing that this soon will be stripped away from me and I’ll possibly never get this experience again that steals the relief I should be feeling. And that in itself is one big WTF?! Shouldn’t I be basking in every second of this freedom for that very reason – because it is so fleeting and so impermanent and so wonderful? Somehow my brain wants me to feel bad about it, like I shouldn’t even enjoy it because it will just be taken away. I shouldn’t get used to this lifestyle that will never be mine to keep. But I don’t even want to keep it! And that’s the part that feels so ridiculous: why can’t I let myself enjoy this period of freedom because I know it won’t last forever and because I know deep down I don’t want it to last forever, anyway? Are you following?
Many of us work so we can feel productive, enjoy the gratification of checking off some boxes, and then walk away with a consistent chunk of money to support our outside-of-work interests. That’s fine. That’s great! And I guess not having a job isn’t the cure-all remedy for burnout and stress and overwhelm. Well, okay, it helps. It sure does help. But it might not be the permanent solution. I think it’s important to take breaks when we can, because we are humans having a human experience and surely we aren’t meant to spend 8 hours a day 5 days a week doing what other people tell us to do. Not forever, at least. So I’m thankful for this pocket of life I’m living. I want to say pocket of freedom, but as you can tell I’m struggling with that word.
What is freedom, anyway? All the dictionary definitions bore me. It’s not just about “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint,” as the Oxford suggests. I think it’s something else, something more complex. But I don’t yet know how to define it. I’m still new to life, you know. I’ve got 27 years under my belt, and sometimes I think I’ve learned a whole lot in that time – like when I see 18-year-olds do 18-year-old things and think “wow, I know so much more now than I did back then” – and other times I think I’m just getting started. Okay, I know I’m just getting started. You don’t know what you don’t know, right? And I don’t know what it’s like to have lived even 30 years, let alone 50 or 60 or 100. I don’t know how it feels to have had more life experiences, to have met more people, been to more places, felt more emotions. There are versions of myself that I haven’t met yet. Beliefs I’ll hold strongly that I can’t even fathom right now. Experiences I’ll live through that I can’t dream up in this moment. There are so many versions of myself still ahead, and so many versions of myself that I’ve left behind, and right now I’m this version of myself – this 27-year-old, somewhat free, somewhat lost version.
It’s a little scary sometimes, being here, being this version of me. Being in the unknown, and deep in the thick of it. I’ve never been more lost or more free. I’ve never felt so many opportunities at my fingertips and so many slipping from my grip. I’ve never been so in and so out. My whole life feels like a paradox. Some days I’m this way, some days I’m that way. Some days I want to be conventional and normal and do things the way everyone else is doing them, and other days I want to be unconventional and different and do things in a way a lot of people just don’t understand. And both are okay. At the end of the day and at the end of this life, all that matters is that it makes sense to me – that I’m happy with the choices I make. Because that’s all life really is, isn’t it? A series of choices? No right or wrong, no pre-destined path – just choices. Just following your intuition and trusting yourself to make the right decisions based on how you feel right now. Not based on how you used to feel or how you think you might feel in the future, and definitely not based on how other people might feel about it. These are my choices, and my choices become my life. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. And maybe that’s where freedom comes back into question. We’re free to make our choices; we’re free to determine our own paths. But freedom doesn’t always feel good. Am I allowed to say that? Freedom doesn't always feel good. Sometimes freedom is the very thing that imprisons us. When all the choices are laid before of you, all the endless paths sprawled out ahead, how do you step forward? How do you choose the way, knowing there is no “right” path, but just a path that feels the most right to you in the moment when you find yourself at that fork in the road?
So, the bad news is this: all the freedom is scaring me a little bit. But there’s good news, too: I know myself better now than I did before, if only a little bit. The last time I had this much freedom I had known myself for fewer years. I now have more experience to draw from, more life lived. That counts for something. So while part of me wants to dramatically declare myself “back to square one,” I know that’s not the truth. We never go back to square one. Not ever. We’re always further ahead than we were when we first began, no matter how much it may feel like we’re taking steps back. You can never take more steps back than you take forward... It’s probably a law of physics or something, but how should I know? What I do know is that I know myself better than I ever have before, and that I will continue to know myself more with each passing day. And I think that is one of the most valuable things in life – it’s how we build our internal compass. Mine’s still a bit wonky, of course. Sometimes I think it’s pointing north when it’s really pointing west, and I’d blame my terrible sense of direction but this problem is not one that following the mountains can fix. This one is something only I can see, or better yet, feel.
So, for now, I’m going with the ebbs and flows. I’d say I’m fairly unstable, but not in a bad way (if it’s even possible for that to sound like a good thing). This instability is teaching me more about who I am and what I want. So while it’s uncomfortable and shaky and uncertain, I’m learning to embrace where I’m at and just let life unfold. Let myself make the “right” choice, even when it’s not perfectly clear. Let myself ride the ups and downs, and try my very very best to enjoy this time of freedom I’ve graciously allowed myself. I know it is a privilege to even think of freedom as anything but wonderful, and I know it is a privilege to be able to take a few months off working and still be able to stay afloat (just barely, of course). I blame my inability to enjoy this as much as I should entirely on my Moser genes. What a bunch of wonderful, anxiety-riddled humans living with varying degrees of OCD! My mom is very good at enjoying life and not ruminating so much. Not sure I could say the same about my dad, but I suppose I don't need to drag him into this...
So, for anyone wondering if their life would be significantly better if only they had a little more “freedom,” I urge you to contemplate what freedom means to you. Maybe you’re more free as you are right now than you realize. Maybe freedom doesn’t come from an agenda-less day and no responsibilities (or maybe it does… Still TBD on that one). Maybe affording a nice meal with people you love after a structured day of work with a guaranteed paycheck is more freeing than you think.